9/11 – 20 Years

Today marks 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Those of us who are old enough to remember it can all remember where we were when it happened, but those who are younger have all felt its effects. 

Personally, I remember that it was a Tuesday and I was working for Christy Sports in Golden, Colorado in the snowboard shop, and we had the day off to attend a seminar hosted at the Burton Snowboards Colorado headquarters in Denver, so I was parked behind the shop waiting for a colleague to meet me so we could drive down together. He was over an hour late. This was before most people had cell phones, so I just had to stand and wait for him. When he arrived, he told me what had happened. I remember the confusion of that day; at first, people assumed it was an accident, until it became clear it was an attack. 

We went to Denver and instead of a seminar, we ended up watching the TV reports at the Burton headquarters. Downtown Denver was absolutely empty, as no one knew if there were going to be more attacks. 

I went home, and my dad was there; he worked at the Denver Mint, and since that was a federal building, it was considered a high risk for attack.

At this point in September, I had just returned home from my first trip to Hungary, after which I felt called to move to Hungary, and was making plans to go there in January. I did end up moving to Hungary in January, and one of the ministries I worked in was a refugee camp.

The camp was in an abandoned Soviet military base which had been reopened in 2006 by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) to house refugees from the Bosnian war, and had then been kept open to house refugees from Kosovo. Around the time I came, there were still many refugees from former Yugoslavia, but quickly the camp filled with over 2000 Afghan refugees.  

While working in this camp, I got to know my now wife, Rosemary, and together we saw many people from Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, and other muslim-majority countries become Christians. As these people came to Europe to escape the conflicts back home, many of them had the opportunity to read the New Testament and hear the gospel, and meet Christians, and attend a church for the first time in their lives – and God used His Word to change their hearts and their lives.

My heartfelt condolences go out to the grieving families whose lives were changed when over 2,997 people lost their lives on September 11. I pray that the Lord would be their comfort and that they would find in Jesus the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

May we also honor and thank the first responders and emergency workers who served that day and in the weeks following. May we pray for our medical workers today as well as they serve the hurting and sick in the midst of this current crisis.

Let us also be in prayer for those who served in the military over the past 20 years, and for the families of those who lost family members in service. And let us pray as well for the Afghan people and the Afghan Christians who are now suffering under Taliban rule today.

How Much Faith Must You Have to Have Your Prayers Answered?

What is the relationship between your faith and having your prayers answered? Certainly there is a relationship, but how much faith do you need to have?

What about righteousness, or personal holiness? If 1 Peter 3 tells husbands to dwell with their wives in understanding lest their prayers be hindered, does that mean that a lack of personal holiness can hinder your prayers? If James 5 says that the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much, then what about an unrighteous person who prays?

In our weekly Sermon Extra video, Mike and I discuss this topic. You can get these videos, or the podcast audio version of these discussions, every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel or our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Here’s our discussion of the topic of the how faith and righteousness affect prayer:

Global Prayer & Local Music Videos

Prayer Around the World Extended for another week

For the past 2 weeks Calvary Global Network leaders around the world have been leading live prayer on the Calvary Chapel Facebook page. The idea is that you can log on at any time and join in prayer as well as submit prayer requests.

I have been leading prayer from 1:00-2:00 PM Mountain Time each day, and it has been encouraging to see God use it. I have had people ask to pray to receive salvation, I’ve had several times when we prayed for something and then received a report within a few minutes that God had answered that prayer, and I had someone say that God has used these prayer times to change their life!

It would be great to have you join me for these times of prayer; it has certainly been good for me to spend an hour in prayer each day for all that’s going on. I’m sure God would use it in your life as well.

Music from Good Friday & Easter

One of the benefits of having our facility is that we are able to do more with music and video. We have a great worship ministry, and we look forward to having them lead us in worship together once the current crisis subsides.

Here are two songs they did: one for Good Friday and the other for Resurrection Sunday:

Prayer Around the World Extended for Another Week

Last week I invited you to join me for a week of global prayer on the Calvary Chapel Facebook page along with Calvary Global Network leaders around the world. The idea was to have every hour of every day filled with leaders leading live prayer sessions, in which people could log on and pray and submit their prayer requests.

The week of prayer around the world went so well that it has been extended for another week.

My time slot has changed for this second week; I will now be on from 1:00-2:00 PM Mountain Time from April 3-10 (Friday-Friday).

I’d love to have you join me for these times of prayer! They’ve been very encouraging, and I’m excited to see how God will answer all of these prayers we’ve been lifting up together.

Join Me Online for a Week of Global Prayer

Starting tomorrow, March 26-April 2, 2020, I will be one of several Calvary Global Network pastors hosting a live hour of prayer on the the Calvary Chapel Facebook page.

Pastors across the world will be going live at times in their respective time zones to lead prayer for our countries and communities, particularly related to COVID-19 and everyone affected by it, and to receive and pray for the prayer requests of those who tune in live.

I will be hosting the 12:00 PM Mountain Time slot. I’d love to have you join me online for that, and send me your prayer requests!

Once again: March 26-April 2 (Thursday-Thursday) at 12:00 PM Mountain Time.

“Anything” and “All Things”?

In Romans 8:32, Paul poses the rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

In the Gospels, we read these words from Jesus:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 14:13-14

Does “anything” really mean anything? Does “all things” really mean all things?

What if I ask for a dinosaur?  What if I ask for Abraham Lincoln to be raised from the dead? 

You might say those would be ridiculous requests, but don’t they fall under the umbrella of “all things” and “anything”?

What about the times I’ve prayed for things, and I did not get them? Why did I not get them? Did I pray wrong? Or did God break His promise?

In the Bible, there were people who prayed, and their prayers were not answered – or at least not in the way they originally hoped they would be. Joseph was beaten up and thrown in a pit, then sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37), and we’re told in Genesis 42, that when this was happening, Joseph was crying out and begging for mercy and to be rescued. Paul prayed three times earnestly that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12), but God refused to remove it, because He wanted to use that pain in Paul’s life to shape him.

Apparently, God reserves the right to say no to some of our requests. 

Another interesting Biblical text to consider is James 5:2-3, which says:

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Two things are interesting about this passage: 1) we are told that we sometimes don’t have because we fail to ask. The implication is: ask – and you will receive. However, 2) we are told that sometimes we do ask and God doesn’t give us what we ask for, NOT because we fail to pray in Jesus’ name, but because we ask for wrong things with wrong motives, and therefore God chooses not to give it. 

So then why does God say that He will give us “anything” we ask for, and that He will give us “all things”?

Consider Psalm 84:11:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

In Jesus, we have been made righteous, and we have been given the Spirit of God to empower us to walk uprightly. We’re told that God does not withhold “any GOOD thing” from the righteous, those who walk uprightly. God is committed to giving us that which is good for us. Thus, if God chooses not to give you something you ask for, you can rest assured that in His loving omniscience, He knows that thing would not actually be good for you, or perhaps it wouldn’t be good for you right now in light of what He wants to do.

What we have in God, therefore, is a Father, not a genie – and that is immeasurably better!

Keystone Habits and Christianity

Image result for keystone in an arch

In his book, The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg talks about something researchers call “keystone habits.”

According to Duhigg, keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Like the keystone in an arch, these habits have a synergistic effect that overflows into other areas of your life.

Exercise is a well-known keystone habit. When people start exercising, it has an affect on many other areas of their lives, including patience and productivity.

Having dinner as a family is another keystone habit which has outsized beneficial effects in areas such as children’s emotional control and performance at school. [1]

Keystone Spiritual Habits

What about spiritual habits and disciplines? Are there any keystone habits when it comes to Christianity? There most certainly are, in fact – most of the spiritual disciplines that are taught in the Bible would qualify as keystone habits, which have effects which overflow into other areas of your life.

See also: The Role of Habits in Transformation & Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

Giving

For example, giving, both in generosity towards others and to support the work of God through the church, is a spiritual discipline. One pastor I know used to explain tithing and financial giving like this:

“Tithing isn’t God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.”

His point was that when God calls us to give, it’s not because He needs money, but because we need to benefit from the practice of giving away 10% or more of our money.

Giving/tithing/generosity is a keystone habit; it shapes the way you live in other areas of your life. It shapes the way you think about what you possess, and the purpose of your life. Since money is literally effort and time made tangible, you are making a choice to spend your life on things other than yourself: on other people, and on furthering the work of God.

Jesus told us that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. This is true: if you give towards someone or something, you will be much more interested and invested in what happens, rather than if you did not have any skin in the game.

Another pastor explained it like this: when you give, you are making a conscious choice not to let your money or possessions possess you. You are choosing to love people and use money, rather than love money and use people. You are deciding that you will not let money set its claws into your heart.

Prayer

According to an article about these studies in Psychology Today, praying makes you nicer, more forgiving, more trusting, and offsets the negative health effects of stress. Prayer has also been shown to boost self-control.

Bible Reading

In his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, Drew Dyke cites a study on spiritual growth which surveyed more than 250,000 people in 1,000 churches. Their conclusion was that nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than engagement with Scripture. Their research showed that Bible-engagement is the single most spiritually catalytic activity a person can engage in.

Church Attendance

A 2016 Harvard study found that frequent church attendance actually lowers the likelihood of death over a 20 year period 😮. Studies show that churchgoers are less prone to mental illness, report higher levels of happiness, and have better sex lives.  Students who attend church regularly have higher GPAs on average and are less likely to live in poverty. [2]

See: “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith” – from the Babylon Bee

Before it was cool…

Basically, the Bible has been teaching “keystone habits” since before it was cool. What we have now is a large body of research which explains how and why these practices are so effective in shaping us our lives, leading to greater well-being all around.

May we, by God’s strength that he gives us, apply these habits in our lives, for His glory, and our good.

A Father, Not a Genie

selective focus photography of child hand

There are at least 11 instances recorded in the Gospels of Jesus stating that whatever we ask for in his name, will be given to us. And yet, if you are a praying person, it is likely that you have asked for things in prayer which you did not subsequently receive.

Furthermore, there are several stories recorded in the Bible in which people prayed and God did not grant their requests. In one of these cases, it was Jesus Himself whose request to the Father was denied! How then can these statements of Jesus be true, that whatever you ask for in His name, it will be given to you?

Many people ask: “If God makes these great promises and has all this power, then why am I not getting the things I ask for?”

A Father, Not a Genie

Timothy Keller explains that in order to understand petitionary prayer, you have to understand that it works on Father-Child terms. (see: Petition: Our Daily Bread)

We pray to “Our Father” not to “the Genie of the bottle”. The genie of the bottle gives you whatever you wish, even if what you wish for is not ultimately good for you. A father, on the other hand, gives you what is best for you; because He loves you, He gives you exactly what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.

A Safety Catch

When you have small children around, you have to baby-proof your home. The reason children are a danger to themselves is because they think they know what they are doing, even when they don’t. Children often ask for things they think will be great, even though they will be harmful to them.

The more powerful a machine is, the more important it is that the machine have safety features, to protect people (not only children) from hurting themselves with that machine.

Imagine what might happen if you gave Aladdin’s lamp to a toddler or a young child. They would likely make requests which were not the result of long-term thinking, sage wisdom, or perspective. Their requests might be too shallow or simple, on the one hand – or even dangerous, petty or spiteful on the other, depending on their mood.

Prayer without a safety catch is like giving Aladdin’s lamp to a child.

Many of us assume that we know what we need, or what would be best for us, but the truth is that we don’t have the wisdom or the full scope of knowledge necessary to make those determinations. The good news is that we have an all-knowing (omniscient), and loving God, who relates to us as a Father, not a genie.

The Magic Words?

“In my name” means “according to my will”. If I asked you to go to the pharmacy or the post office “in my name”, it would mean that you were acting on my behalf, according to my will and desires. To pray in Jesus’ name, and to say “Amen” are not the Christian versions of “Abracadabra” or other magic words; they are to submit your requests to God’s will, wisdom, and plans.

There have been times in my life when I have prayed for things which I now thank God He did not give me. I’m thankful that I have a Father, not a genie.

Psalm 84:11 says: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Knowing that you have a father, not a genie, helps you to understand that when God doesn’t grant a request, it may be because either that thing is not good for you, perhaps not right now, or that He has something else good, perhaps even better than what you asked for.

Come to Him as a good Father, and trust Him with your needs and requests!

Thoughts on Prayer: “God is Most Glorified in Our Dependence On Him”

Recently I sat down with Matthew Spencer of #LongmontPrays, a local initiative to encourage prayer in Longmont.

In this interview, I share some thoughts on prayer, such as that intimacy is created through shared experience, and we get to share experience with God through prayer, thus building intimacy.

We go on to talk about Jesus and how he was the embodiment of God’s glory, and that he showed us by example what it means to be dependent on the Father.

Check out the interview; I hope it encourages and blesses you!

Encouragement for the Fainthearted

back view photo of person walking out of a cave

It’s been said that if you speak to hurting people, you will never lack an audience.

In Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote to a group of people who were discouraged and fainthearted, worn down and tired from the struggles of life. Maybe you can relate to those feelings as well.

In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, Paul gives the Thessalonians three things in order to encourage these fainthearted people: an outside perspective, an explanation of God’s justice, and a surprising prayer.

An Outside Perspective

We know that the Thessalonians were dealing with very difficult things: persecution, false teachers, problematic people in their congregation. And yet, Paul, in seeking to encourage them, gives them an outside perspective on how they are doing. He tells them that he can see growth in their life, in the areas of faith and love.

We all need those people in our lives who will put their hand on your shoulder, look you in the eye, and tell you what they see in you. I’ve had a few people like that in my life, and it is incredibly powerful.

This isn’t only true in regard to encouragement; sometimes we need someone to do that for us in order to help us see where we’re off-track or need to improve. An important, but often overlooked passage in the book of Genesis is Genesis 49, where Jacob gathers his sons to him in his old age and gives each of them a “blessing suitable for them” (Genesis 49:28). He takes each of his sons, and speaks into their lives, telling them what he sees in them that he is proud of, and what he sees in them which is cause for concern.

For parents, I think this is absolutely essential: that we give our children and outside perspective on what we see in them. It can be incredibly life-giving.

This is also important in friendships. This past week, in the wake of Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s death by suicide, there has been an outpouring of love and kind messages posted online from people who knew Jarrid. Many people who struggle with depression are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, and lies from the enemy, Satan, “the Father of Lies”, that they are alone, that people would be happier if they were gone, that no one would miss them, that no one cares about them, that their life is not worth living, etc. For a believer, our minds are the primary battle ground of spiritual warfare. To make it worse, our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), which means that telling someone to “listen to your heart” is some of the worst advice you could possibly give. It is important, therefore, that we give those who are discouraged or fainthearted an outside perspective on how we really see them, think about them, and feel about them, so they know how much they are valued and appreciated, so they are encouraged by the growth that we see, and challenged by the things which cause us concern – lest they be abandoned and left alone to the spiritual battlefield which is their own hearts and minds.

An Explanation of God’s Justice

Many people feel that human hardship and suffering calls God’s justice into question (see: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Lets Bad Things Happen to Good People”). However, in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul evokes God’s justice in order to encourage fainthearted people.

He explains on the one hand, that God is not unfair in allowing these things to happen to them, because God is allowing these things and using them in their lives to shape them and grow them. Additionally, God is just and will deal with those who abuse and do wrong. Finally, God is beyond just, in that he will bring about a day of relief from suffering for those who are in Christ, will all sin, death and evil will end forever and we will be glorified with Christ.

A Surprising Prayer

My tendency, and perhaps yours as well, when I face difficulty that causes me discouragement, is to pray that God would take away the problem or fix the situation. Surprisingly, that’s not what Paul prays for when he prays for the Thessalonians. Instead, he prays that God would strengthen them, and that God would be glorified through them, no matter what happens – whether their situation improves or not.

As human beings we seem to be obsessed with our circumstances. In our culture, we tend to pray disproportionately for God to protect us from bad things happening to us (think: “traveling mercies”), compared to how much we pray for God to be glorified in our lives, whatever that might entail. I am challenged by Paul’s prayer here to be asking this key question all the more: How can I glorify God the most in the midst of this situation?

For more on this topic, check out the sermon from White Fields Church: Encouragement for the Fainthearted