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We got off to a good start on our Lent theme of drawing prayer circles at the Ash Wednesday Communion Service several weeks ago. Our Lent theme is based on the book “Draw The Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge” by Mark Batterson. Many in our congregation are taking the challenge. Wednesday evenings we are looking at several concepts from the 40 day challenge. Then we form prayer circles and circle our congregation, people and community in prayer.
Prayer is not always easy. I pray to God for the energy to continue to pray through. God is calling us to ask, seek and knock in prayer for Grace and for the community around us. In obedience to Jeremiah 29:12-13, at 12:01 [noon] every day we are encouraging members to stop, drop and pray for our congregation and any needs they may have.
We are stepping out in faith believing that God is leading us to draw circles. If God is in this, and we believe he is, we can anticipate the touch of his Holy Spirit!
When I was studying at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle, Washington [1971-1973] we had chapel at least three times a week. As I recall, there got to be a certain prayer before the sermon that the pastors would inevitably pray; “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” It comes from Psalm 19 verse 14. I recall the preachers changing the wording to “…the words of my mouth and the ‘meditations of our hearts’…” as we gathered together to listen to their sermons.
I was thinking through this Psalm several months ago and it dawned on me that this prayer is more than just a prayer to begin a sermon. It is a prayer for every day. “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart,” — this day when I am in the workplace, and when I am with my family, when I am with people in the neighborhood — may my words and meditations “be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” My wife Kim and I find ourselves praying this prayer every once in a while as we have a time of prayer together before we leave for work.
We are excited here at Grace in Deephaven as we approach this fall season. Septemember 14 is our Fall Festival. It is the beginning of our fall schedule which includes the sermon series on the movie “God’s Not Dead.” I will also be leading a Bible Study on Wednesday evenings [6:30] discussing Sunday’s sermon and other topics related to the movie. Real faith isn’t blind. It asks questions at times, tough questions at that.
When I here the title of this movie, “God’s Not Dead,” I think of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Last Sunday in my sermon I mentioned some reasons why I at least begin my devotional time on my knees. My knees do not allow me to spend too much time in this position, but I do start that way.
Kneeling reminds me that God is on the throne, not me. It tells me that God is in control, not me. It sends me back to square one, the place of dependency on God. It is a place of surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Kim and I had the opportunity to visit China during the month of July. It was a very worth while trip. Although Kim has been in China on several previous occassions, it was my first time. We visited some friends, taught at an English Camp and spent time with our daughter Nancy who teaches English as a second language.
At times during this trip Kim and I felt as if we were on the Amazing Race. We would jump into a taxi and try to explain where we wanted to go even though the language barrier was great. But we did managed to arrive at the places we wanted. I enjoyed teaching English to older teens. The team that we were with was an international team with people from New Zealand, England, Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA. In the mornings Kim and I would get up and do our morning walk, watching the town of Wuming come to life, all the while spending time talking with the Father.
A highlight of course was seeing our daughter Nancy, content and enjoying her work, teaching English as a second language. I enjoyed watching her relate to Chinese children. We had an opportunity to meet several of her co-workers, both Chinese and expatriot. We hope that we were a source of encouragement to all we came in contact with.
When I was in high school an evangelist from the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement came to our church. I remember him saying that he thanks God every morning for two great blessing we have from Him: 1] the forgiveness of sins, and 2] the Holy Spirit. Taking heed to what he said, I have at times diligently thanked God for both these blessings as I began my day.
Recently I read a newsletter article by Peter Churness in which he states “7 things I tell myself every day.” I mentioned them at a Lent Bible Study and the participants made several affirmative comments about them. I have taken that list and used it several times these past months.
Even more recently I have sought to appropriate the fullness of the Holy Spirit by telling myself in the morning before I go off to work, “Now Dan, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And then I take a deep breath of air and imagine the Holy Spirit filling me up.
These are good exercises to begin our day. They remind us of spiritual truth that we are to live. If I do not intentionally do this, I too easily forget about these things. This type of self talk is much more refreshing than other self talk that goes on during the day.
Busy days through the Easter season. I am joyful that we are an Easter people and that because of Good Friday and Easter, God’s Story can become our Story.
Shortly before the Easter season I wrote in my prayer journal something like, “The Spirit-led life doesn’t panic, it trusts.” It seems like I am being challenged to live those words ever since. The busyness of ministry and life, the situations that come to my attention, sermon preparation, etc. all call for trust, not panic. In fact there is a verse in Proverbs 3 that tells us just that; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” When I lean on my own understaning, I panic. So, I take a deep breath and turn each situation over to God. And the “peace that passes all understanding” does keep my heart and mind in the Lord.
As I exercised this morning at Anytime Fitness, I decided to do something I haven’t done for a while. Lately I have been watching the news or some sports game. Well, this morning I pulled out my memory cards to look at as I worked the treadmill. What a joy it was! I have written on these cards passages of Scripture, parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, and some quotes by authors whose words have challenged me in some way.
I reviewed a quote from Larry Christenson’s book “Ride The River.” It was refreshing to put this into my mind again. Here it goes: “Recurring remembrances of the indwelling presence of the Holy Trinity lifts you to a different level of life and living — not a place where problems disappear or instance blessings flow in abundance, but, paradoxically, a place where you recognize the hand of God even in the midst suffering, the forward movement of God’s plan despite difficulty and discouragement.” [pp. 176-177].
Today I have needed to recall the indwelling presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I desire to live with a vivid sense of the indwelling presence of our Lord, with an awareness of His presence as I journey through my day. It helps me keep the right perspective of God’s Upper Story coming down into my Lower Story. Members of Grace will know what I mean by that.
I am at the end of the day here at Grace. I have found myself walking around humming Lent Hymns these days. “Wide Open Are Thy Hands” is one that has been on the top of my list. I need to soak in that message this evening. My mind crosses over to another hymn with the same tune but different lyrics: “Make me a captive Lord, and then I shall be free!” I first began to appreciate this hymn when I was out at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle, Washington in the early seventies. Pastor Conrad Lund gave a whole sermon on it, going through it line-by-line.
“Make me a captive Lord, and then I shall be free!” It is only in being a captive to the Lord that we can find freedom. Yes it is paradoxical, but it is true. “For freedom Christ has set me free,” the Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians chapter five. As I surrender to Him I find freedom. I need to be conquered by the Lord in order to be free. Without that, I am just a slave to myself and sin.