Month: December 2010

The Lonely Place of Prayer

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:15-16

What was Jesus thinking? Crowds of people were anxious to hear him teach and there were throngs of sick people who needed healing, yet Jesus took a break to be alone and pray. It seems that would stop his momentum and suffocate the growth of his following. The buzz was at full strength and Jesus did something counterintuitive to most modern church leaders. He stopped, found an isolated, lonely place and prayed. And he did this often because it was a discipline, a part of his lifestyle.

It would seem every leader would follow the habits of Christ and schedule time to be away from the crowds, away from the pulpit and it’s teaching responsibilities and even away from the pressing needs of people. There are a few reasons why we don’t make this a part of our personal discipline.

1. We feel guilty

Pastors love people and want to help people. Regardless of the size church we lead, there are always people who want to meet with us, need us to come pray for them or would like us to teach more often. We know we need to rest, but the guilty feelings drive us to an impossible schedule. After all, how can a real shepherd leave his sheep? Truthfully, we are doing our sheep more harm than good if we do not rest. In the end, we will burn out and then the sheep have no shepherd at all.

2. We fear people

What will the people think if I am not at every meeting or attending to every hospital, funeral or wedding request? Will they leave the church and attend somewhere else? Worse yet, will they stay at the church just to remind me of why others left. 🙂 Proverbs 29:25 says “Fearing people is a dangerous trap …” When we are caught in this trap, we are ensnared in a perpetual cycle of performance and insecurity.

3. We like the attention more than rest

Ouch! Just writing that brought me conviction. No matter how much humility we may have, it is still a temptation to love the adoring stares of the crowd more than a private pursuit of God. Our primary motivation for solitude and rest is to make sure our personal fascination with the nature of God has not waned and to calibrate our primary motivations for ministry. In the end, we are to make Jesus known and not make ourselves famous.

For this reason, I am going to spend some time alone this week. No crowds, no email, no social media, some football 🙂 and very few phone calls. I will be back at New Life for Celebration Sunday on January 2nd and for the week of worship and prayer January 3-7. Until then, may we all withdraw to a lonely place and pray.

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The Lady who Kept Praying

“Then Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Luke 18:1

I believe God can immediately heal people. He did in the stories of Scripture and I have witnessed and experienced immediate healing many times. However, many prayers are answered after months or years of persevering and not giving up.

Such is the story of Jefferie, a sweet lady who attends New Life with her husband Kent. I first met them after a Sunday morning gathering when she asked me to pray for her. She was smiling and had obvious joy, but she also had advanced cancer in multiple places in her body.

We prayed that day and I told her to keep asking for prayer. Sure enough the next Sunday, I spotted her waiting for me again with the same smile and the same joy. This scene repeated itself for almost a year every Sunday after the 9am service. In fact, I begin to look forward to that special prayer time each week.

This past week, she got a late phone call from her doctor who told her she was 99% cancer free. He could not believe the cancer had disappeared so quickly. Her voice is still weak, but she whispered the story and the good news to me on Sunday. It was the highlight of my day for sure.

What are you praying for today? Have you prayed a long time and become discouraged that the answer has not arrived? Keep praying for healing, for the prodigals to come home or for your marriage to be restored. Don’t give up and keep praying. Jefferie did and so can we.

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Three Years Later, Reflections on a Tragedy

December 9th marked the three-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at our church that took the lives of Rachel and Stephanie Works. Three others were wounded and the young gunman took his life in the children’s hallway after being wounded. It was the darkest day in the life of our church.

Some days, the events of that Sunday afternoon seem distant and some days the emotions are still raw like it happened just last week. God has brought healing to many of us while others still wrestle with the realities of a senseless act of violence that robbed us of three young people.

I walk that hallway all the time and tell people the story. I show them the one bullet hole we did not repair and walk them outside to the memorial in our parking lot. Two Blue Spruce trees tower over a pair of benches with each of the girl’s names inscribed. I sit on those benches and remember how a normal Sunday afternoon turned dark with the crackle of gunfire.

The predictable rhythms of life have returned to our church, but we will never be the same group of people we were before the shooting. We are more grateful now and maybe more cautious. We are not fearful, but we are painfully aware that the world is not at peace. We cherish each other, love one another more sincerely and I believe we are more honest about our hurts and scars than ever before.

We will not have a public memorial gathering on December 9th, but I will gather with a few families who were most affected, including the Works family, and we will pray, cry and possibly laugh at one of David’s jokes. We will probably walk through that long hallway and end up outside at the memorial, each of us telling our stories of God’s grace on that fateful day. There will be no bitterness, regret, or anger and that alone is a true miracle, given what happened.

Our joy has never left us and our strength to move forward has finally returned. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and now, we pause and look back. None of us want to repeat the journey, but each of us are so thankful for what we have learned about God, ourselves and each other along the way.

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The Big Ideas of Fear No Evil

I spent some time this week with the folks at Zondervan finalizing the details of my first book, Fear No Evil, which releases in April 2011. The manuscript is all but done, the cover design is nearly finished and all of us seem ready to go public in a few short months. For over a year, I have worked on this project, prayed over this project and sometimes fretted over this project. Honestly, I don’t want to write a book for the sake of writing and selling books. I want this to be helpful to people.

Here are the big takeaways from this work that I hope are helpful to the people who choose to read it.

1. Bad things may happen to us, but God is with us even when everything seems dark. He is near us and He is for us.

2. Life may never be the same as before, but life on the other side of the dark valley can be magnificent if we follow the law of the farm. You will have to read chapter 10 for more insight.

3. No one wants to repeat the trip that took us through the dark valley, but what we learn about God, ourselves and our friends is worth the journey.

Fear No Evil is dedicated to the tribe of people called New Lifers who are the most courageous and faithful people I have ever met. Together we have worshipped and prayed our way through dark days and nights and now we stand on the other side, reflective of the journey and thankful for what we have learned.

Pray with me that many others will find the same hope in their journey and find the courage to take one more step out of the valley of the shadow of death. We do not have to fear evil, but we do have to face it. May the miracle story of New Life give them the strength to do just that.

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