Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Prayer God Won't Ever Say "No" to?

Prayers of Paul--1 Thessalonians 3:13 & 5:23-24

What kind of prayer will God always be willing to answer?

Have you ever thought of that? 

Many people pray and ask for/about people or other things.  Sometimes our prayers are competitive in nature.

 Sometimes we ask with wrong motives, maybe God knows better than we do about what we need, not what we want.  Sometimes God answering "yes" to your prayer may be bad for someone else.

But can we pray about something that God would not refuse?

I think these two verses are examples of things He will never be unwilling to fulfill.

1 Thess. 3:13--“May He strengthen your heart so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.”

Personalize these and ask them for yourself and for others:
“God, strengthen my heart so I will be blameless and holy in Your presence.”

1 Thess. 5:23-24—“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Personalized:     “My God of peace, sanctify me through and through.  Keep my whole spirit, soul and body blameless both now and at Your coming.”

Praying for sanctification and blamelessness are not easy things to pray about considering all the
temptations that we are dealing with. 

I asked the college students in our class what kinds of issues they or their classmates are facing

  • ·         Alcohol
  • ·         Drugs
  • ·         Profanity
  • ·         Sex
  • ·         Pornography
  • ·         Anger/Revenge
  • ·         Smoking
  • ·         Laziness/Hard Work
  • ·         Partying

This is by no means an exhaustive list and those temptations do not stop with college students.  However, these temptations can affect our prayer and our usefulness to God.  They can interfere with and put a barrier up between us and God to where we don’t want to talk to Him anymore.

Think of it in these terms, growing up, when I did something I knew I shouldn’t do, the last people I wanted to talk to or run in to was my parents.  Why?  Because there was the chance I could slip up and give myself away or worse, they already knew about whatever it was I had done.  If they didn’t know, I would be in a state of fear and/or guilt—so it was best to just avoid them if possible and keep going as if nothing was wrong.  It created a barrier between us that my behavior put up.

We treat God the same way.  When we are living things like those listed above, the last person we really want to get close to is God.  Why? Because we suspect He already knows—and we know on some level that it will have to be dealt with before true closeness or fellowship is restored—before our prayer is truly “heard”.

To be “heard” means to be given an audience.  God is fully aware of everything, but He does not “hear” or give an audience to everything or everyone—not while sin needs to be dealt with.

In order to be in the presence of God, we must be blameless.

Blameless is the same concept that was said of Abraham back in Genesis—“walk before me and be blameless”.  It does not mean perfection that can be attained through effort but a status that exists when one’s sins have been atoned for or covered.   A life characterized by the influence of atonement creates a quality of character and integrity that will not give cause or evidence to accusation.  It is a life of faith—“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

In the strength of our own heart, we cannot be blameless.  We need God to act upon our heart, to give us strength in order to be blameless.

When was the last time you asked God to strengthen your heart so you can be blameless?  If you’re like me, it’s either been a while or never.

Paul expresses a similar thing in 5:23—“may God Himself… sanctify you through and through.”   

When was the last time you asked God to sanctify you?

To sanctify means to make holy or set apart for a holy purpose.  Paul is asking for you and I to be made holy so we can be used for holy purposes. 

Have you asked God to use you for a holy purpose lately?  You might be missing out on some great opportunities.

You may think you are nothing special, that God could never use someone as ordinary as you, but In the ritual sacrifice of the Old Testament—normal items can be made from the same lump of clay (for example) as items to be used to worship God—something to use at home, and something to be used in the temple can have the same source.  See Romans 9:21 & 2 Timothy 2:20-21

What separates them is whether something has been sanctified, set apart to the service of God—this usually required a sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice. 

By having the Blood of Christ placed over you, covering your sin, our sin is atoned for, God’s just wrath appeased, the righteousness of Christ (not our own righteousness) is credited to us just as righteousness was credited to Abraham. 

In doing all this for us, we are also set apart or sanctified or made holy for a greater, noble and holy purpose.

And not just part of us, but all of us.   We are to be sanctified completely, through and through.
Too often, we try to hold back part of our life for ourselves.  We say, “God, you can have this part of my life, but this is mine and I’ll do with it what I want.”

Paul points out that we really can hold nothing back.  He sets apart, He sanctifies all of you—“spirit, soul and body.”

You are a whole person and each part either feeds and nourishes the other, or tears down and diminishes the effectiveness of the other.

For example, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  When you or I sin sexually in our physical body our spiritual life is greatly impacted and diminished.  That’s why there is such a struggle for sexual purity in the life of believers and our culture. 

Sexual sin, outside of God’s design of marriage between a man and a woman is both a symptom of and a cause of spiritual decline.  And in most cases, the sin does not start with a physical sin.  It starts in the soul or mind.  That’s why Jesus can say that men who look at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery—and this has affected the man’s spiritual walk.

That’s why we need God’s strength to work on our heart.  He is the active agent of our purity and blamelessness.  He acts upon us, He strengthens us, He makes us holy: spirit, soul and body.

When we ask Him to sanctify us—there’s nothing we can hold back—God wants to purify and set apart all of us—our whole being for His great purpose.

When was the last time you wanted God to have all of you?  When was the last time you asked Him to keep you blameless, to sanctify you, to strengthen your heart?

Do you really think God would ever say “No” to this kind of prayer?

I don’t.

Maybe we should be praying like this more often.  Our homes, our churches, our nation wouldn’t be the same because… “He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”—1 Thessalonians 5:24

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Reviews - North or Be Eaten & Monster In the Hollows

I finished books 2 & 3 of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson last week.   This is the much awaited review of them.  Again, I'm trying not to spend a lot of time on plot so as not to give too much away.  My review of book 1 can be found HERE.

Here's the Links for the books.

I must say the further I went into this series, the better they got.  The first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, was at times silly and whimsical as you learn about the world the characters live in.    There are still funny moments in these two, like the Castle D├ęcor based on kittens or Podo Helmer’s story to a group of thieves about their famed founder, but the danger is greater and the pace of the books is faster. 

Best of all, of the features that made the first book so good from a parental perspective are still there and built upon.  The characters are in greater danger so in a sense, these books are darker, but there is also a great sense of hope.

There were times in these remaining two books that I was moved to tears.  The tears were inspired by good writing and wasn’t always caused by something sad, but often being proud of the characters, or rejoicing with them.

North or Be Eaten starts with the family soon to be on the run.  The story focuses more on the older brother Janner and how he responds and reacts to things like duty, honor, expectations & responsibility.  Many times his sense of these ideas becomes judgmental toward his younger brother Tink as the two boys come to terms with their roles.  Janner is the protector of his brother and sister and he struggles with being brave or strong enough to fill the role, but especially when he is frustrated by his brother’s actions and decisions.   But throughout, love, the closeness of family and honor overcome even sibling rivalry.

Again, this is one aspect that is powerful in all the books: the connection and closeness of family, something that is typically lost in our modern culture.  Multiple Generations rarely stay together and interact like we used to.  Here in America, our lives are less likely to be in jeopardy in ways that the family has to stick together to watch out for each other in order to survive.  There are fewer causes for which risking our life to save the others is necessary.  But in many instances, it is those types of hardships that make the bond of family tighter.

There are several instances, especially in the third book, when the brothers and sister stand up for each other that brought me to tears for being proud of them.

Another aspect that is powerful is the reality that actions and decisions have consequences.  And sometimes, those consequences will create problems later.  For example, in the second book, the family gets separated and it is agonizing for all involved.  The boys get separated from their mother, sister & grandfather.  This uncertainty makes for difficult decisions—should they continue in the journey or wait and risk capture?  Then the boys get separated from each other because of bad decisions.  Both boys suffer consequences.

Janner’s experience brings to light the tragedy of child slavery that is still too prevalent in the world today.  It also shows how hope of escape must not be lost and can be an inspiration to others.
Tink’s experience brings to light elements of prejudice but also how one’s own suffering can and should move you to greater compassion.

Other characters struggle with the fear of failure and wrong actions from their past.  They fear what will happen or if anyone will still love them if the truth is found out.  There are some powerful moments of redemption and forgiveness in these moments.

Another powerful element is that the kids especially are repeatedly told not to forget who they are.  They have a unique identity that the pressures they are under are going to try and tear away from them.  No matter what the world throws at them, the darkness of their circumstances, it is their identity that unites them, gives them strength and hope to face the moments.  They face capture & bullies because of who they are, but it is out of that identity that they overcome.

This is a powerful lesson to those of us “In Christ”—our identity should define us and not our circumstances.  We are adopted into the family of God, a child of the King: Ambassadors for our true Kingdom and Priests to serve and worship the Most Holy God.  We fall into despair, purposelessness and failure when we forget who we are.

By the time book 3 rolls around, there are fewer footnotes and that’s OK as I wanted as little as possible to distract from the story.

Overall, I’d say these are some of the best and most moving books I’ve read.  Even though these are targeted for a “younger” audience, there are impressive moments, insights and lessons of great depth that adults can draw from.

I am greatly looking forward to the 4th installment of the book that Andrew Peterson is supposed to begin work on soon, out either late this year or spring of 2013.  I look forward to that and hope he is able to finish it even sooner!  No pressure…

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Music by Andrew Peterson - selections

Since I've been reviewing Andrew Peterson's books--second & third installment reviews coming soon--
I thought I would share some of his music.  

Family Man - It's new to me and it's a great song.  The artwork in the video takes a great song and makes it amazing.  Here is a better, full size link to the song.

Here's some more.   The Good Confession.

Dancing in the Minefields

High Noon - just heard this one for the first time
God of Our Fathers

World Traveler

One of my all time favorites-- Holy Is the Lord

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Book Review Andrew Peterson's, "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness"

For Christmas, we gave my son a book series by Andrew Peterson, the songwriter. 
He finished the three books by 6 PM on Dec. 26th and loved them.

I’ve been trying to read the books out loud to my family off and on ever since to moderate success.   My son, who is already engaged with the story loves it as I get to use different voices and say names or other things that are hilarious when spoken verbally.

Well, I haven’t been able to read fast enough because I found the book too engaging, so I finished reading the first book yesterday.  It is called On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure, Peril, Lost Jewels and the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree

You can get the book directly from the author at that link.  

Honestly it was the musicians storytelling ability that first drew my attention.  Here and here are some videos of his songs.  

Then the subtitle made me laugh and want to find out what a Toothy Cow was.  I found out... what a fearsome creature!

The books are written to a Middle School+ aged audience, but I must say I found the story very engaging in a Fantasy adventure genre.

And it is very funny.  When my son (11 yrs old) was first reading it, we would occasionally hear him start giggling, then laughing out loud, then, he would bring the book in to us and actually try to read the passage to us. (something he’s never done)  Usually this attempt at reading it himself failed miserably because he couldn’t stop laughing.

Having read the book myself, I can see why.  The only thing that saved me from a similar fate was that I was reading the book during down time at work.  Uncontrollable laughter wouldn’t help me with job performance, and besides, my co-workers think I’m strange enough as it is.

Without going into a plot summary and giving away secrets, I wanted to share some elements why I enjoyed this book and why it is a great young adult story.
  1. It is written very creatively, with both tension and humor.
  2. The world of the characters clearly has a long history that footnotes gives you insight into.
  3. Three children are the main characters (12 and under) but the story centers around the whole family.

    a.       A great emphasis is made on the family sticking together and watching out for each other.  All the children know of their father is that he was killed when they were young and they are beginning to truly feel his loss.

    b.      Also, I’ve noticed that in most contemporary books written for this age group or on television, they depict the parents/adults as borderline idiots while the children are truly intelligent and have all the answers.  In other words, the world is saved by the children despite the best efforts of the parents to screw it up.  This is not the case here.  The children don’t have all the answers but are figuring some things out.  The adult family members are also very capable and heroic.

    c.       A great emphasis is placed on the children to watch out for each other and protect and fight for each other.  While normal sibling issues arise occasionally—they are not the focus of the story—rather the story focuses on the larger battle that unites them together in a common cause.

    d.      The family clearly loves each other.  There is no abuse, yet there is discipline and expectations.  The adults, while not always understood by the kids are not undermined and devalued.
  4. There is a great and dangerous enemy that is occupying the land.  The book does not pretend that children are capable warriors that can defeat an armed and trained adult or Fang –a fearsome lizard creature.

    a.       Adults do the majority of the fighting in protection of their family—so far anyway.  The swords, armor and other weapons that do appear are typically too big for the kids to handle effectively.  This is true to reality.

    b.      A long standing irritation now that I’m grown up (a little anyway)… a punch from a twelve year old will not knock out a grown man with few exceptions, no matter how many times you’ve seen Robin do it with Batman.
  5. The characters have a faith of some kind, referred to as “the Maker”.  There’s not so much religion talk that would make an atheist or agnostic cringe, but it is referred to in respectable ways.   In a similar theme, there is no bad language/sex/nudity and would be surprised if anything appeared in later books.  There is some rough battle sequences and disturbingly gross food recipes that the Fangs eat (maggotloaf & critternose casserole), but otherwise it is clean.
  6. There is a mystery  in the characters, their relationships and hidden elements that I look forward to seeing developed.
  7. There are real consequences to decisions—hurt and pain does not magically go away (very often anyway).  This helps reinforce the subject of responsibility.
Like I said, I really enjoyed this book and can really see why my son liked it.  As a parent, it has many elements that I would want to encourage and recommend to my kids.  I am looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series. 

UPDATE:  Here is my review of books 2 & 3