Great expectations

We get so used to hearing a recorded message when we call places that when a live person answers and starts talking we’re a little surprised and almost not sure what to do. Sometimes our prayer life and our time in the Bible can get a little bit like that. We pray because we know we should, but do we live like we believe someone is listening and it’s going to make a difference?

It is easy for our spiritual life to become just following a routine. We do what is expected, but we maybe don’t have great expectations. Prayer can become just mouthing words and repeating phrases. True prayer is having a conversation with the living Lord of the universe who is active in the world and able to move heaven and earth. He listens to us when we pray and, amazingly, our prayers impact what happens.IMG_7580 Jesus talked about mountains moving when we pray and then He gave the incredible promise: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

We pray expecting God actually turns His ear toward us. “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2). Prayer is not repeating words because we are following a tradition. We are talking to God who is alive, listening intently and graciously interested in what we have to say.

In I Samuel 3 we read of when the Lord spoke to the boy Samuel who later became a great prophet. The first two times Samuel heard the voice of the Lord he thought it was the priest Eli. He went to Eli but the priest told the boy he hadn’t called him and he should go back to bed. It wasn’t till the third time that Eli figured out it was God calling. It appears Eli wasn’t expecting God to come and talk to them.

Eli was very religious and faithfully followed the traditions. But it seems he didn’t expect God to speak or get too involved in people’s lives. When we open the Bible, because it is God’s inspired Word, we can expect God will speak to us through His Word. If we truly spend time in God’s Word, we will hear from God and something is going to happen in our lives.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God” (Romans 1:16). The word that is translated power in that verse has the same root as the word dynamite. Whendynamite_logo a person lights a stick of dynamite they expect something is going to happen. In a similar way, when we read the good news of Jesus and share the good news, we ought to expect great things are going to happen. Guilt and fear can be blown away. Peace and hope can be found. Lives and families can be transformed. Eternal destinies can be changed.

We pray and read the Bible not just because we have been told to do it. We pray and read the Bible expecting God is going to work in ways more powerful and wonderful than our mind can begin to imagine.

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Treating women with honor

When I was a kid I remember evenings when our family would watch the news on TV with Walter Cronkite. These days a lot of parents have their kids leave the room when the news comes on, at least during the time when the presidential election is discussed. The discussion has often been inappropriate for young ears. We hear the recording from 11 years ago of one candidate bragging about how he is able to force himself upon women. We are reminded about how the other candidate’s husband treated an intern and we hear many accusations on both sides of disgusting deeds.

As I hear these stories of men in power, using their wealth and position to treat women poorly and satisfy their lust, I think of female friends I know who have been abused and mistreated by men. Some have suffered physical abuse, some sexual, some emotional, some mental, some spiritual.

We are told these immoral words and actions were spoken and done many years ago. Some of my friends were abused many years ago, but the memories haven’t gone away and the pain is still there.

Some of the language and deeds have been described as just locker room banter, the way guys talk, the kind of things “good ol’ boys” do. Let’s call it what the Bible does: sin. It is treating disgracefully women who are created by God, loved by God, of great value to God. Women are not to be looked at by men as objects but as people who are precious and priceless.

Talking about and treating women as sexual objects is wrong, no matter the political party of the one who does it. Some political leaders in the past have treated women shamefully and still been effective, but their behavior was still repulsive. Mistreatment and abuse of women is not excusable just because it is done by somebody we agree with politically and admire for other things they have done. It is not excusable because their opponent has done things that are worse. Mistreatment of women should anger and upset us men, no matter the political position of the man who did it. We are called to honor women and speak up in their defense and try to take steps to defend them. It is sad and tragic that so many women are living lives full of fear. It is heartbreaking that so many have painful memories that still haunt them and hinder them from experiencing the joy and peace God wants to give them.

Leaders taking advantage of women is sadly not a new thing. In the Old Testament we read of King David, lusting after Bathsheba, another man’s wife. He slept with her. She got pregnant. He had her husband killed and thought he got away with it. But then the prophet Nathan confronted him: “You are the man! … Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” (II Samuel 12:7, 9).

David repented of his sin. He didn’t blame circumstances or say Bathsheba shouldn’t have been looking so beautiful and should have been wearing more clothes. David didn’t talk about how bad the other kings were. He confessed to the Lord: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4).

God forgave, even the ugly sins David committed. Jesus values each person so much He went to the cross and took our punishment upon Himself. Because of Christ and the cross, we can find forgiveness, even though our sin is as terrible as David’s was.

David’s prayer of repentance also includes rejoicing in God’s forgiveness. “… wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Psalm 51:7-9).

It is easier for me to write about how bad it is to mistreat women than it is to write about how forgiveness is offered to those who have hurt people I care about. But God is far more gracious and forgiving than I am and far more gracious and forgiving than I can fully comprehend. I rejoice that forgiveness is offered to those who have committed terrible sins like David did, because it means forgiveness is offered to me as well. My sin is as bad in God’s eyes as David’s was. But the same amazing grace that was showered upon him is offered to you and me as well.

In the Lord’s great compassion, grace and love those who have been mistreated and abused have hope of healing. It can take time, a lot of prayer, a lot of time reading the promises of God and a lot of sharing with caring friends, but hope is found in the kind, gracious and loving way our Lord treats us. While some people treat other people terribly, the Lord treats us as treasures He wants to take care of and hold close for all eternity.

Waiting

I turned the page on a calendar in my house and the verse for the new month was Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Like most people I expect, I like that verse – especially the second part about God giving me the desires of my heart. I need to remember the first part of the verse, though. If I delight in the Lord it will affect my desires. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be desiring selfish, temporal things if I’m delighting in the eternal joy of knowing Jesus and belonging to Him.

After being reminded of the promise that God will give the desires of our heart when we’re delighting in Him, then I read Jeremiah 29:11 where the Lord promises that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This sounds great and it fits well with God saying He’ll give the desires of our heart. The Lord has good and gracious plans to give me the desires of my heart when those desires flow out of delighting in Him.

In the midst of all these encouraging promises I read Jeremiah 29:10: “This is what the Lord says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.’” Seventy years! That sounds like an awfully long time. I like to hear that the desires of my heart will be given. I like to hear of God’s good plans for me. But I’m not so thrilled to hear that when God first gave the promise of good plans for hope and a future, He said it would be seventy years till the promise was completely fulfilled.

I want my desires met now. I want to know now the nature of God’s good plans for me and I don’t want to wait seventy years for them to be fulfilled. But so often the call of Scripture is to wait. Soon after the promise is given that God will give the desires of our heart the call is given to “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

pulsante-semaforo

At a crosswalk I often use there is a button you press to get the signal to change to walk. I really don’t think constant pressing of the button causes the light to change faster, but that doesn’t stop some from pounding away at it. It’s hard to wait, even for the brief time it takes for the signal to change.

It’s hard to wait patiently for our desires to be met. We’re tempted to “pound away” and try to do something to speed up the process. Often, instead of pounding away and trying to make things happen on our schedule, we need to be still and wait on the Lord.

God operates on His own schedule, which is always the best schedule. He is the eternal God. Even seventy years, which is a lifetime to us, is just a brief moment to Him.

What helps us to wait patiently is remembering the nature of God. The Lord is good and He faithfully keeps His Word. At the best time and in ways better than we can even imagine, God’s good plans will become reality and He will give us the desires of our heart.