One Prayer Most Christians Don’t Say

At 10:30am I finally sit down on my bed, open my Bible and ask God to speak to me from His word. I had a full day of accomplishment. I worked out for an hour and made a new friend at Planet Fitness. I started drafting an e-mail newsletter and had an hour-long conference call with a client about a marketing project. I landed a ghostwriting contract and posted my stories for tomorrow. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep because of an unsatisfied crave.

Crave is an urgent desire that must be satiated. This could be a good thing if you crave healthy, good-for-your-soul food, music or books. Or a crave can drive you to do things you would never think of doing such as selling yourself for drugs. Either way, God has put in our soul a desire that only He can fulfill.

I dutifully read my assigned readings following the ‘read through your Bible’ in a year plan. And then suddenly, three scriptures kept commanding my attention. I wrote them down. I journaled my thoughts and tried to go to sleep. I couldn’t.

Several scriptures convicted me to the core. I bolted upright and imagined King David in his might and glory penning these words. He was the one who slayed tens of thousands, commanded armies, caused a pagan queen to cross an ocean and a continent because of his renown.

An emperor and heroic commander penned these words that pierced my soul:

With your hand you drove out the nations
    and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
    and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
    nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
    and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalm 44: 2-3)

God’s right hand, His arm and the light of His face brought victory.  David declares:

You are my King and my God,
    who decrees[c] victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
    through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
    my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
    you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
    and we will praise your name forever.[d] (Psalm 44: 4-8)

David’s source of might was God’s right hand and His arm and the light of His face.  David’s accomplished his mighty exploits because he had an intimate, hand to hand, arm to arm, face to face, touch to touch, breath to breath relationship with God. He was utterly dependent on God.

I was convicted of how much I depend on myself and my own strength, might, connections and smarts to get done what I need to get done. I can get A LOT done WITHOUT God. I was terrified by my own independence.

I repented of depending on my own strength. I laid down my giftedness, my skills, my talents and connections. I asked Him to teach me how to depend on Him. I laid down my sword and trust in myself.

I don’t hear Christians saying this prayer because we don’t like depending on anyone. We celebrate independence and the self-made millionaire who doesn’t need anyone. We don’t want to need anyone or count on someone.

I’m immersed in a world chasing likes and shares as an editor of an online publication and social media manager. We want our video or our post to go viral. We want fame, fortune and popularity and we can deceive ourselves into thinking we will use this for God’s glory.

The chase for likes and shares creates pressure to hype or manipulate information to get people to read your post or share your video. We become a prisoner of our own hype. God’s victory doesn’t depend on my fame, fortune or hype. Winning God’s way comes by relationship alone.

A friend of mine at the International House of Prayer Kansas City told me how he quit writing for several years to get to know God. His relationship with God was more valuable then his journalistic ability.  I tried to imagine myself not doing what I’m good at for several years to seek God. Frankly I don’t see how I could do that because my family financially depends on my writing and business. God knows my situation and He has opened doors to people I would have considered 10 years ago out of my league.

The prayer coursing in my soul is to know how to depend on Him. To know victory by His right hand, right arm and the light of His face. A win that comes from a touch-to-touch, breath-to-breath walk with the living God.  A win that doesn’t come from my own ability to wield the sword or my talent to shoot the bow.  But a win or victorious season from hearing and responding to Him.

 

When God Rips Your Mask Off

removing-mask

Photo Credit: Steph Robbins

Genesis or the book of beginnings launches the story of a man and woman who had everything and lost it with a lie. That lie from the enemy sent Adam and Eve into hiding. When God came looking for them, they were afraid and ashamed at their nakedness.

“Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. (Genesis 3: 9-11)

Adam and Eve lived in the garden of their dreams with the glory of God as their covering with no shame. “Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

Yet even in this perfect environment, Adam and Eve still fell for the lie that God was hiding something from them. Their disobedience released shame into mankind and we have lived with the effects by growing accustomed to wearing a mask and having a hidden agenda. Steve Brown is a long-time pastor, seminary professor, radio show host and author of Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart. Brown shares his own journey of how God removed the mask of religious success with humorous anecdotes of his own experiences such as failing at speaking at a conference of leaders who he wanted to impress.

“I will never remove my mask or set aside my agendas as long as I think Christianity is about fixing me and others, building empires, changing the world, making my life count, correcting doctrinal truth, promoting programs, raising money and being nice. It’s not. It’s about the forgiveness of sins.” (Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart p. 70)

Brown’s confession of being a pastor that smokes or having to clean up after suicides are bittersweet reminders of how Christians make smoking cigarettes the unpardonable sin or hiding the fact that Christians commit suicide. I’ve laughed and cried through his stories and questions that challenge me to take off my mask. I realized as I read the book that God sent a child with special needs into my life to remove my mask of professional or so-called religious success. With the removal of my masks, I have a lot more love and mercy towards people who can’t give anything to me. Removing my masks set me free and yet I’ve been more cognizant of the religious masks that Christians wear to hide their shame.

Brown explains how the kindness of God removes masks by allowing us to suffer, be embarrassed and being wrong in a big public way. I’ve never heard of Christians praying for God to let them suffer, be embarrassed or wrong in a public way. Yet Brown points out the leaders in the Bible that we admire experienced suffering, being embarrassed and publicly wrong. A prime example is David who was hunted for years by King Saul, called out by a prophet for his illicit relationship with Bathsheba and humiliated by the death of a child. There was no public relations machine that existed then for David to spin his failures.

The removal of these masks is a freedom to love and follow God without any hidden agendas. Brown also gives advice on how to safely remove your mask in a church prone to gossip or being human. I don’t want to give away his juicy material because I want you to read his book. You’ll be shocked, moved to tears and if you don’t experience any of that, you’ll have a burden to pray for pastors. Brown rips the mask off religion by exposing the hurt and pain that pastors endure to take care of their congregations with love and mercy.

You can use the book in a bible study setting which I’m thinking about doing but I know it will be uncomfortable. Living with someone elses mask is easier than seeing who they really are. The first mask Adam and Eve attempted to create to hide from God has been worn by mankind since the Fall. Yet God cries out, “Where are you?” while knowing the failures we want to hide. He still longs for us to walk with Him naked and unashamed. If only we could give love, grace and mercy to other people so they could drop their mask with us and God.

How Does Holiness Act or Look?

When I think of holiness, I think of a mean Puritan holding a Bible and pointing the finger at me.

I asked my sons, 15-year-old Alex and 19-year-old Chris what picture they saw in their mind when I said the word ‘holiness.’ Their images of how holiness looks and acts is dramatically different from my flawed perception.

“When I think of someone who is holy, I think of someone who is friendly, hopeful and laughs a lot. Someone who is free.” – Chris

“Holy means to be set apart to serve God. I think of someone who is serving God.” – Alex

Chris and Alex’s perception of how a holy person looks like – happy and free.

Chris and Alex both grew up in a vibrant, healthy church. I had no Christian influence in my upbringing. And the perception of holiness shows the influence that we have all grown up under.

My caricature of holiness is based on movies, history and the spirit of the world. My son’s perception is from the people they see in church who love God. Our friends at church aren’t perfect people by any means, but they are for the most part consistent in their faithfulness.

The word “holy” first appears in Genesis 2:3: “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

God use the word ‘holy’ to define a moment where He blesses the work of His hands and rests from all of His work of creation. This is a wonderful moment where God takes a day off to admire the beauty of His handiwork.  In the context of this first mention of ‘holy,’ God sets apart Himself for a day to enjoy His creation.

To be holy is to enjoy being set apart to God’s use only. Holiness isn’t deprivation from fun. Holiness is a release to the joy and rest from our own work to His presence. Now I can see how my children perceive holiness as freedom, joy and laughter. What does holiness look like to you?

Why You Can’t be a Christian Without Holiness

For the next few blog posts, I feel like God wants me to focus on holiness. I know this is not a hot cool topic and don’t expect a bunch of shares. But I feel so convicted about this that I believe I would be in disobedience if I didn’t write about holiness. So buckle your seat because this is going to be a bumpy ride. Every post will be fresh from my time with God and I’m learning this with you.

“For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy. You must not defile yourselves by any swarming creature that crawls on the ground. For I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44-45, Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

The essence of God is holiness. This foundation of our faith is lost in the faddish, me-centered, humanistic form of Americanized Christianity. We forget that the roots of our faith were born out of separation from a pagan culture that threatened the extinction of the people of Yahweh.

Even today, the Jews live under the shadow of annihilation. We’re so busy trying to be like the world and assimilate into the dominant culture that I believe we’ve forgotten the roots of our faith. God is taking me back to those roots to remind me of the value of holiness.

For I am Yahweh
The Hebrew definition of Yahweh which originally was YHWH is “He causes to be” or “He creates.” Other definitions include “to be” or “to become.” In other words, He declares that He causes and He creates everything. Because of who He is, He is holy. His holiness, His consecration causes Him to be who He is as a Creator.

Because of who He is, we are to imitate Him by valuing holiness and consecration. For years the Lord watches over the nations that are barbaric in their worship by sacrificing their children, worshipping multiple gods and committing sexual perversion. He separates Himself by who He is which is holy.

Out of Egypt
The definition of “holy” is: 1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated: holy ground. 2. dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion: a holy man. 3. saintly; godly; pious; devout: a holy life. 4. having a spiritually pure quality: a holy love. 5. entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred: a holy relic.

Let’s take a look at how God consecrates His people in Leviticus 11:44-45. God miraculously delivers a nation from slavery to worship Him. With signs and wonders, the Hebrews are thrust into freedom that has never been seen on the face of the earth. God marks the memory of the Egyptians and every pagan nation in the world that this is how He acts.

The purpose of the freedom and deliverance was to worship Him. It wasn’t to bring comfort and riches, although that was certainly a byproduct of God’s deliverance. After all, the Egyptians gave their treasures to the Hebrews as they were leaving. The purpose of the deliverance was to worship Him and make a statement to every nation worshipping multiple gods that He alone is powerful, He alone is God and He alone is worth our worship.

Worship is War on the gods of Egypt
The acts of deliverance so the people of God could worship Yahweh were intentional. When Moses turned the river into blood, God made a statement that He ruled over the river god. When God sent locusts to attack the Egyptians, He decreed that the locust god that the Egyptians worshipped were in His hand. With every plague, God made war on the gods of the most powerful nation on the planet. Calling His people to worship was an act of war on the gods of Egypt. He sent a message that He was God and there would be no other gods before Him.

God scarred the Egyptians with a message that His people were to be holy and He forever engraved in the memory of His people. To be holy is a fearful, wonderful, great act that only God can perform within us. It is a call to be separate from Egypt, from the world system, from the world’s influence.

To be holy is to show the world the rare treasure of a life based on worshipping Him alone. This is a life under His system of justice, goodness, faith hope and love. The Hebrews were called to be a model of God’s system to the world. And that calling is still on His people. We are to be an example of how God operates in government, the justice system, economy, and much more.

The foundation of God’s activity is holiness. He is motivated by holiness alone. May this bedrock of our faith be restored to the Church. We need holiness more then ever!

Part 2: Why I Go To Church

Lee Grady called from a magazine in Orlando and invited me to go to Smithton Community Church. I thought there must be something to this church if he was getting on a plane to visit the church that was really in the middle of nowhere.

Smithton Community Church

When we walked in the doors of this church, I instantly felt a presence that I had never felt in my whole life. It was like my best friend, the love of my life, a presence way bigger than me was in the room. The people were also really friendly.

The church had more people in the services than were in the town.

I encountered God that first time at this church. I wanted to continue visiting because I really liked the preaching and the worship but I wasn’t interested in making anymore friends. In my mind, church people were gossipy, threw each other under the bus and treacherous.

I sat on the back row sometimes by myself at these services. I bawled like a baby as God’s word cut through the hard places in my heart. My husband said I was a new wife. Suddenly I felt joy, life and hope that were gone a few months ago.

Over 250,000 people from every nation and every state visited Smithton Community Church over 3 1/2 years that they hosted 6 services a week.

The members reached out to me and my family and walls started coming down. I looked forward to driving to visit the church and the people. They were down to earth, simple and funny. I thought people that regularly encountered God must be super-spiritual and perfect. I was actually intimidated from becoming a member of this church because I thought I had to be super-spiritual.

To the contrary I learned that the Bible was written for the imperfect, the weak and the frail who loved God. The letters that Paul wrote to the baby churches in the New Testament were written to people who were coming out of paganism or Judaism and trying to live out this faith everyday. They were not super-spiritual perfect people.

After being told to leave, and all the crazy stuff I encountered in church, why do I go to church? For me, it isn’t because I’m super-spiritual. In fact, my reason may seem really earthly or immature. But I go to church for the people. I also go to church because I hear life-changing messages and I encounter God.

In every church I’ve attended, the people kept me attending. The bonus I found at my current church is every time I walk in the doors I hear messages that change my life and have an encounter with God.

I attend because I get to see Thora, who is an amazing woman in her 70s that I desperately want to be like.

Thora Evans is an incredible woman who I admire and hope to be like when I grow up.

I attend because I get to see Harold who has battled cancer and divorce and I’ve got see God rebuild his life and his health.

Harold with his beautiful wife, Sharon. I loved watching God bring Sharon across his path.

I attend because I get to see James Koppang who is a pastor and I’ve watched his life transformed from being an aimless teenager to a powerful leader.

I attend so I can see Roy Mingo at the door greeting.

I attend because I get to see Steve and Diane Dailey, people that I admire for their stability and maturity. I attend because I get to see Henry and Mildred Washington, Trena Dunham, Gabrielle Bayless, Mary Seidler, Levi O’Brien, Cindy and Ron Phelps, Clay and D’Lynn Watts and so many people who have been transformed by the power of God and the community of faith. I go to church because of the people who I’ve watched stand through dark times.

But I know that it is the Word of God and His spirit at work among us that creates this amazing dynamic of transformed people that change each other just by being with each other. They are not perfect people. They make mistakes yet it is this power of agreement and covenant that holds us together.

In our individualistic culture we forget that Christ is returning for a church without spot or wrinkle. Not an individual, but a group of people who follow Him. We were not meant to live the Christian life alone. We need each other and we need preachers and a place where we can meet God.

If you have stopped going to church because there isn’t a good church in your area or you have experienced treachery, I encourage you to visit my church or stream into the services online. You don’t have to struggle in your faith alone. God wants to set you in a community of faith. Join me, Thora, Harold, James, Roy and all of my other friends on this incredible journey. Let’s walk together!

Prove God

One thing God loves to do is show off. I know this is hard to fathom but God loves to display His power and glory to make a point that you’ll never forget. In I Kings 18, God marks the memory of His people by consuming a sacrifice by fire.

Some of you may know the story of how Elijah challenged 400 prophets of Baal. This was a showdown between Baal and the God of Elijah during a severe drought in the land. Elijah had declared a drought over the land and it was so bad that people were eating their children to live.

During this time water is as precious as gold/ Elijah prepares his sacrifice and asks for 12 large jars of water to be poured out on the water. You have to wonder where did Elijah store 12 large jars of water when everyone was thirsty. He was pouring out the most precious commodity of that time on God.

I’ll never forget this lesson that one of our pastors at World Revival Church taught during an offering. Pastor Dustin Smith said that Elijah poured out what was most valuable on the altar. God responded immediately by consuming the water and the sacrifice by fire.

“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (I Kings 18:39-40)

God responds
The response didn’t stop with the sacrifice. “And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.'” (I Kings 18:41). The sacrifice broke the drought over the land.

If you’re struggling with a drought in your life – it could be a famine of the word of God, lack of finances or a famine for the presence of God – take note of Elijah’s action. Elijah took what was most valuable in his day and poured it out on God.

God proved Himself faithful by pouring rain on the land. When you show your utter dependence on Him by giving Him what’s most valuable to you – your time or your money – God will respond. We’ve sowed numerous times into the work of God when we didn’t have it.

We’ve seen God prove Himself over and over again with an unexpected $15,000 or $60,000 to $70,000 in scholarships and grants that our son didn’t even apply for, or new clients that came to me without having to market myself. Before we moved to Kansas City, the Lord put on Jerome’s heart that I should move ahead of the family. We were moving to Kansas City to help build World Revival Church.

Jerome opted to stay in Columbia, MO. to get the house ready to sale. “It will be easier for you to find a job,” he said. He was right because I was offered several jobs. Of course that meant I had to leave my 1-year-old and 4-year-old sons. I remember praying and crying out to God about the anguish of leaving them.

My sacrifice

Then a scripture came to my mind, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

I remember weeping as I read that scripture over and over again. OK it wasn’t like I was one of those missionaries I’ve read about who left their kids in another country so they could preach the Gospel in a dangerous area. I was just moving 1 1/2 hours from them.

But I remember Jerome and I praying about this and laying this before God. I believed that for that season of sacrifice, my children would reap. I prayed that they wouldn’t have to see a therapist when they turned 30 about that season when I left. I felt like a bad mom but I got to see them Friday through Sunday.

Now we’ve lived in Kansas City for 14 years and we’ve seen tremendous blessings. I poured out being with my babies for a few months for the sake of the kingdom. And He has poured the blessing of being a family that serves God together back on us. My sons don’t even remember me being gone for those 3 months when I lived in Kansas City Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then drove back to Columbia Friday, Saturday and Sunday to be with them.

I proved God to my own hurt and He proved Himself over and over and over again. God will not be outdone in sacrifice. Prove Him.

When God Rewards Your Imperfect Teenage Son

Recently my oldest son, Chris, became the first valedictorian in my family. He also became the first at his school to receive the largest scholarship in the history of the school. He saw the reward of putting God first and the needs of others before his own desires.

Pastor Steve Gray, founder of World Revival Church Academy and my son, Chris.

Ever since Chris could hold a crayon, he was always drawing. He drew on the walls of our hallway when he was one-year-old. He was so cute that I couldn’t discipline him for the scribbles of purple and red jagged lines. Instead, I wiped them off with 409.

At 8-years-old, he had drawn by hand a mural that spanned two walls. The mural of a jungle scene featured an elephant, flying monkeys and a giraffe that were drawn to scale, perfectly porportional. When we shopped for paint, he was picky about the shade of green that he wanted for the grass versus the leaves on the trees.

We spent one week painting that mural. And he continued to draw on everything he could get his hands on. I bought books that taught you had to draw and he devoured them.

At the school he attended, the emphasis was on singing, acting and playing instruments. He had taken drum lessons and became leader of his drum line. He had a desire to pursue art, but since the class didn’t offer a lot of art classes at the time, he put all of his effort into singing, acting in the school’s plays and playing the drums, the synthesizer, the acoustic guitar, whatever the school needed him to play.

In May, we received a letter from the school he wanted to attend since he was 10-years-old. The letter stated that he had been awarded a merit scholarship of $60,000. We thought it was a scam and called the school to verify that this was a legitimate offer.

The award was legitimate and he had actually received more awards beyond that initial scholarship. Chris was blown away that he gets to attend the school of his dreams to study graphic design and animation. He has seen firsthand God’s provision because he had put God first and the needs of others before his own desires.

Now he can act, sing, play numerous instruments and gets to study what he loves to do – art. Chris experienced what my husband, Jerome and I had seen in our own college experience – the amazing provision of God. I know there’s a lot of bad news right now with rising prices for attending college. But your child can enjoy God’s provision when they learn how to put him first and put the needs of others before their own needs.

Chris doesn’t like me writing about him because he is not perfect. He likes to play Xbox games, skateboarding and hanging out with his friends. He is not super-spiritual. He has a girlfriend who is his best friend. What I’m trying to say is that he is a teenager like everyone else.

I think Chris learned that you don’t have to be a super-spiritual giant for God to reward you with the desires of your heart. Just someone that loves God, responds to Him and interested in Him. Chris doesn’t like the limelight and shies away from getting up in front of people.

Is your son or daughter in school and wondering if they will be able to pursue their dreams? Teach them how to put God first right now and He will provide for them. Trust God and serve others and He will reward you.