The Purpose of prayer?

I’ve encountered three major concepts, with variations in each theme, which affect our prayer life. The following is a very brief overview.

First major viewpoint: Everything has been pre-determined by God, and we have nothing to say on any issue. In this scenario God has decided everyone’s fate in every situation, and all living beings (from amoeba to humans) merely play a role in a pre-planned, pre-scripted life resembling a Broadway play. I don’t agree with this, and there would be no need to pray.

Second: God has given everyone the authority to determine his/her own fate in every situation. In this scenario God doesn’t intervene. He may or may not foreknow our decisions or the outcome of our decisions. Again, there would be no need to pray. And again, I don’t agree.

Third: God desires every person to interact with Him (Deut. 30:19, Joshua 24:15, John 3:16). God created mankind with the authority and ability to make his own choices, but God gave the Holy Spirit, prophets, and eventually the Bible to mankind to enable us to know God’s desires (I Corinthians 2:16b). God knows everything that will happen, every decision that we will make, as well as the results and consequences of our decisions. However, not willing to impose His will on us, He is available to assist us in making the right decisions when we ask. I agree! God allows us to decide for ourselves because He does not want robots to worship Him. Making someone worship Him will never bring honor to Him. (See step #3 below.)

Prayer is not for the purpose of trying to change God’s mind. James 4:2b-3 says; “You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. And when you ask, you often do not receive it, because your motives are wrong; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures.” Nevertheless, our Father God wants to graciously act on our behalf.

God wants us to pray, but not selfishly. Jesus stated in John 16:23-24 that we are to pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name. Don’t think in terms of changing God’s mind, and don’t demand anything of Almighty God. Rather ask God to reveal to you how you should pray in each situation; then pray confidently, knowing He will hear and answer your prayers. So, what is the purpose of prayer?

  1. The purpose of prayer is to teach us to align ourselves with God.

Jesus said in John 17:22-23: “I have given these people the glory that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one. I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one.” This unity develops as we pray, study the Bible, and worship together.

  1. God’s purpose in answering prayer is to reveal our alignment with Him.

Jesus said in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (I’ll address the purpose of miracles another time.)

  1. The purpose of being in alignment with God is to put into effect God’s will on earth.

And Jesus said in John 14:13: “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.” (I’ll address this another time.)

  1. The purpose of effecting God’s will on earth is to prepare ourselves for ruling with God later.

1 Corinthians 6:2-3: “Surely you know that God’s people will judge the world. So if you are to judge the world, are you not able to judge small cases as well? You know that in the future we will judge angels, so surely we can judge the ordinary things of this life.”

  1. What is the purpose of ruling with God in Heaven? I don’t know; the Bible doesn’t say.

Prayer is simply talking with and hearing from God. Philippians 4:6-7; “Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

True prayer is attempting to align our desires with God’s desires. Our lives in eternity will not be measured by what we do or what is done for us. Rather, our lives will be measured by the quality of our relationship with God.

So pray to God … and listen.

Life When the Power Goes Out

dscn3249In 2014 we were in Southern California visiting my Aunt Betty and the family as we celebrated her 91st birthday anniversary. We had an enjoyable time interacting with cousins whom we seldom see.

Aunt Betty had her sense of humor and her memory was good. When she asked if I remembered staying with her family when I was small, I surprised her with stories of several escapades with her sons Jim and Richard. Betty’s husband (Uncle Garnett) was already in heaven with my dad (Garnett’s older brother) and Aunt Betty still lived close to where my grandparents lived decades ago. When I related stories of my stay with the grandparents when I was seven, she addressed me by the name she gave me sixty-five years ago, and asked, “Little Blue-Gene, how do you remember all of that from so long ago?” I laughed and asked, “Aunt Betty, you are twenty-four years older than I am; how do YOU remember the past so well?” She laughed as we enjoyed the bantering, and she gave me an “Aunt Betty” hug.

My wife, Carol, spent time with my cousin Dave’s wife, Cheryl, and they shared some of theirdscn3268b views of Linzey family history. It was a full-house, and I enjoyed interacting with all the cousins. You know how it is at family reunions: since we don’t get together very often, we all try to catch-up on the latest. I even got many of their phone numbers on my cell phone. (Alas: the phone hiccupped and I lost most of them. I’ll eventually get them all back.) The cake was outstanding: beautiful, as well as tasty! The 91st birthday party was a wonderful event.

Suddenly, in the midst of the camaraderie, it happened! The lights began to flicker, got dim, then totally went out! Happy talking morphed into “What happened?” Laughter subsided. A touch of bewilderment set in. Several cousins lit candles and continued a different level of conversation while others got out the flashlights and checked the breaker-box. The breakers had not tripped. Some of the family became concerned about walking around in a darkened, crowded house because physical safety was now an issue. Basically, the big party was over.

dscn3272cThe mystery was growing until several of us looked outside, and VOILÀ! The power in the entire neighborhood was out. Taking it in good humor, Aunt Betty said, “Oh that happens whenever someone around here has a party. It was our turn this time.”

Some of the family decided to go home, but others of us stayed for a while because there is life when the power goes out. With candle light, we ate more cake, looked at more pictures, and told more stories. But gradually the energy level began fading and we all went home. That is not bad; it’s part of life. Carol and I eventually left with cousin Jim.

But isn’t it interesting how fear can creep into our minds when we are in the dark? Also interesting is how folk respond differently to the same power-outage. Some people might withdraw in fear and have difficulty reaching out to others; some leave the darkness for a lighter environment; yet others reach for the flashlight and help others find their way.

But there are other ways our “power” goes out. Sometimes life is going smoothly—we have a good-paying job, the grown children love us, our retirement income is covering our needs, we are in good health, etc.—and we have sufficient energy to get through and enjoy life. But suddenly, darkness descends and tries to suffocate us like a wet shroud: a family member dies, we develop cancer, the stock market plunges, or some other catastrophe thrusts us into the darkness of life. What should we do?

We can withdraw in fear and avoid others; we can fill our life with noise and activity toimg_1578 overshadow, or drown out our emptiness and hurt; or we can reach for the true source of light: Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). This light, Jesus, can expel all darkness and restore power and life if we turn to Him. Jesus said, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)” There is still life when the power goes out; so share God’s light and life with others who are in the dark. 

An added benefit is: Jesus also supplies more power in life. You can trust Him.

Valentine’s Day

image00771I remember Valentine’s Day in 1965. Valentine’s Day was on Sunday that year, and Carol and I were attending SCC (Southern California College: now VUSC – Vanguard University of Southern California). I remember thinking: “If Carol accepts my invitation to the Valentine Banquet, I’ll know that she is the girl I will marry.” So, nervously, I asked her.

Laugh if you want. I am chuckling now as I write because I was somewhat immature at the time, and I was overcome with “puppy-love.” (Yes friends, she accepted.) I know that isn’t the way to1966 wedding decide whom to marry, but we DID get married a year and a half later — August 22, 1966 — and 52+ years later, we are still in love.

Someone asked Carol several years ago, “What’s it like being married to the same person for all those years?” Carol responded: “Oh, he’s not the same person I married. He’s changed.” She is right. Through time we all change — hopefully for the better. For one thing, my puppy-love grew into a true, full-fledged love for Carol. Maybe not fully-mature even now, but definitely going in that direction. I have learned (and am still learning) to love her with the love of Jesus Christ; and His love supersedes or surpasses any love humans think they have. But how do husbands and wives keep their love and devotion vibrant through the problem-laden decades?

Bishop Valentinus, or Saint Valentine as he is remembered, gave us a hint by manifesting a two-fold love: An undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people. And that’s what Carol and I have applied in our marriage through the years.

dscn7495Carol explains it this way: “Marriage is made in heaven. But it comes in a kit that must be assembled here on earth.” She also says, “Marriage is like a pyramid: God is at the top, with husband and wife at the bottom corners. When husband and wife focus on each other, they tend to repel each other. But if they both focus on God and grow toward Him, they inevitably grow closer together. And growing toward God helps us to become more like Him. Therefore, we find ourselves loving each other more with the pure love of God. That’s why God should be at the center of every marriage.”

That reminds me of a song written in Pasadena, California by Frederick Lehman; but the lyrics are based on a Jewish poem titled “Haddamut” written in Aramaic in 1050 AD by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany. The words to the chorus are: “Oh Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the saints and angel’s song.”

Another supporting factor in keeping your love going strong is to let your spouse be your very best friend. That way, NO one can ever come between you! Carol has been my best friend for these 52 years, and she will never be deposed from that position as long as we both shall live.

Our friends Gary and Carol Kroah, formerly Associate Pastors of the Siloam Spring (Arkansas) Assembly of God Church say, “To start out, it’s not hard to love someone who is lovable. But our love for one another has endured through the years because of our mutual commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another. The closer we have been to Him, the closer we are to each other. Our determination to care for one another has motivated us to stay together, and love with unconditional love.”

Unconditional Love—growing toward God—growing closer together. It sounds like Bishop Valentine’s two-fold love: an undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people.

You’ve probably figured out that I like the Valentine’s Day celebration, but I do not subscribe to the superficiality ascribed by the world. Using the celebration as an enhancement in courting and marriage is fine, but don’t use it for defrauding someone or for sexual immorality.  A person who truly loves someone will act honorably toward that person. Acting selfishly or dishonorably is devoid of true love. Read 2 Samuel 13.DSCN0185

Jesus exhibited the purest love by sacrificially giving Himself in order that we may receive eternal life. (John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosover believes on Him will not perish [eternally] but have everlasting life”. Respond to Jesus. Receive His love, and live. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A Labor of Love

gene's info 120For over three years we were pastors of a church in Springer, New Mexico that was 200 miles from our home. Some routes went through winding mountainous roads and took longer. Living in the hills in northern New Mexico and driving the 6-8 hour trip to church and back every weekend – while working 50-60 hours a week at a national laboratory – we were late for church only twice. You may ask “Why did you accept that challenge?” That, and the results of our efforts, is another story for another time. Today’s story is about the trips; and of the eight possible routes to church, we found six that we took quite often.

In all our travels in over 52 years of marriage, we have had fun. Even when we made a wrong turn or were detoured due to highway work, we made a mini-vacation out of it. Last December, traveling from Missouri to home, we decided to take some roads we had never been on. We discovered only one problem: highway 221 turned into a gravel road. We laughed, turned around, and went another direction which took us through Eureka Springs; so we stopped and had dinner before resuming our trek. We make enjoyable memories out of potential irritations in life. But back to the story.

One Sunday morning, one of our deacons asked, “Pastor, what’s on your hands?” I told him I was bleeding. He said, “Blood isn’t that color. What’d you do?” Carol quickly said, “We went through Mora, and picked raspberries yesterday.”

mora, nmOne of our routes to Springer was through Espanola and up the canyon through which flowed the Rio Grande. At La Cienaga we turned east toward Sipapu then over the mountains and down into Mora. And that is where my hands turned red – or maybe, purple. Mora is well-known for its raspberry farm, and Carol had often asked me to stop and pick raspberries. Each time I said something like: “I’m going to be preaching and teaching, and berry-picking isn’t on my mind.” Although that was true, it was also a smoke-screen: I didn’t want to pick berries.

Now, for all you who have never picked blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., let me tell you: I don’t enjoy that activity. We reach inside the foliage to find the berries, and these bushes have thorns containing toxin. Picking berries was both painful and made my arms itch for over a week. Now you might understand why I don’t like picking berries.

But one weekend my Precious wife was so desirous for those delicious, reddish-purple clumps ofraspberries juice, and she was so gentle in her running commentary about how delicious those berries would be in ice cream or made into a berry jam, that my mouth drooled and I just had to stop. When Carol excitedly asked, “Are we going to pick berries?” I said, “Yes. I don’t want to, so this will be a labor of love.”

“Yeah, right! You just want berries and ice cream!”

She was at least partly correct.

That time of year the berries were ripe, and many of them leaked their contents because they split or crushed easily as we picked them. But we left with five quarts, and Carol kept her word: they were GOOD over ice cream, over angel-food cake, in fruit salads, and made into jam. In the long run, I was glad I stopped. (But my hands did get stained with the juice, and I itched for a week.)

But do you know that someone else performed a labor of love that far surpassed anything I could dscn0464do ever for Carol? Where I merely paused on my trip and received a few scratches on my arms, Jesus deliberately left His home in heaven and came to earth to rescue mankind from an eternal separation from God the Father. Jesus didn’t have mere scratches on His arms; the soldiers made a wreath containing inch-long needle-sharp thorns and jammed it onto His head. Jesus purposely allowed Himself to be killed in a gruesome manner in order to reveal the depth of the pain we would suffer eternally without God.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer, and because of Jesus’ labor of love, we can have a home with Him forever. (Romans 8:35-39)

The results of my labor lasted only several months; but the results of Jesus’ labor will never end. I hope you accept God’s Love through Jesus Christ, our Savior. (Luke 19:10, John 3:16)

Your Reality – My Reality

Critical Thinking 2“Your reality may be good for you, but I have my own reality.” Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that?

Statements like that have made the rounds for decades, if not centuries; but the question is: Do we have our own realities? I think the answer is a qualified “yes.” Hold on now, and let me explain. My reasoning is simple: we all perceive, feel, and think differently. I experience things and situations differently than you do.

What is real to me (what is understandable, comprehensible, vivid, important, beautiful, unpleasant, detestable, etc.) may not be real to you. You may not have seen someone die, I have. Your favorite color may be yellow, mine is blue. You may enjoy the mountains while I enjoy the oceans. You might be moved by country-western and rock music while I listen to church hymns and John Philip Sousa marches. You may study art, music, and eating habits, while I study the Bible, science and history. What strongly impacts your emotions or mind may not appeal to me. And, of course, you and I have different family backgrounds, personal histories, and possibly different religious beliefs. Even my siblings (I am one of ten children) and I view life differently.

However, although you and I may have different realities in a temporal or philosophical sense, we must not confuse these differences with absolute reality or absolute truth. I remember when a philosophy instructor exclaimed, “There are no absolutes!” One student asked, “Is that absolutely correct?” How should the professor respond? Either “yes” or “no” would invalidate his primary statement. So rather than try to unsuccessfully pry himself out of that predicament, the professor merely changed the subject. The Prof didn’t realize that absolutes, or absolute laws, govern the universe, and that his statement was self-contradictory.

Normally when a person states, “I have my own reality,” the statement is based on relativismIMG_1797. That is the concept that all truth is relative to the individual, time, or place. However, relativism is a faulty philosophy that attempts to negate absolutism. Absolute means: complete; not limited by restrictions; unconditional; unrelated to and independent of anything else. Interestingly, after a short investigation we find absolute truth in math, history, the Bible, and in every-day life. Often, the denial of absolutism is not about life, but is aimed at the reality of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. And the one who claims his own reality actually claims to be the supreme ruler in his own life; but living for just twenty-four hours will prove that is false.

An example of the difference between a temporal reality and absolute reality is: A blind and deaf person may not know you exist. Therefore, you are not real to him, and you are not part of his reality. However, you do exist. But when you are brought into his presence where he is allowed to touch you and is “introduced” to you through a Braille or hand-manual message, you are incorporated into his reality. Absolute truth hasn’t changed; but his understanding, or his temporal reality, has changed.

In the same way, many folk do not know that God exists because they are “blind” to His existence. But they can be introduced to God and Jesus Christ through the “Braille” of Holy Scripture and Holy Spirit-directed lives. Many of us need a guide, such as a blind person needs a guide dog or as wagon trains on the Oregon Trail needed guides to get them across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The guides we need today to help us understand absolute reality are pastors, teachers, and primarily the Holy Spirit. Temporal realities change all through our lives; but absolute reality never changes.

pict0377Another example of absolute reality: God knew you would be born and that you will live forever – somewhere; but it is your choice as to your eternal destination. Whether or not you believe in heaven or hell does not change the reality of either place: our personal belief neither establishes fact nor eradicates truth. Absolute truth stands on its own foundation.

Your reality? My reality? We need to align our temporal realities with the time-tested truths of absolute reality as found in the Bible, and prepare ourselves to meet the author of absolute truth: Almighty God.

Guided by GPS

navigation-system-147970I’ll never forget the first time I asked to be guided by a GPS gizmo. Ron, our oldest son, and his family were with Carol and me as we were traveling. It was night time, and we were looking for the motel. Ron said, “I’ll look it up on my cell phone.” That was a bother for my wife who had been my navigator all of our married life.

Carol said, “I can find it on the map like I’ve always done.” But I wanted to try out a new scientific gadget for the first time.

“Okay, Ron-ole-boy; find the motel.” So he programmed in the address, and we drove up to the side gate of an army base. As I turned the car around, Carol said, “I can find the right street by using the map.” But I wanted to try the GPS.

Ron reprogrammed and we drove around town, only to find a different gate to that army base. By this time Carol was a little irritated.

Ron reprogrammed once more, and we found the main gate … to that same army base. So I drove up to the soldier and asked him for assistance. He directed us to a 7-11 store. There, the clerk informed us that there were four (yes: 4) streets in town with that name, and the primary street was on the army base.

Have you ever been stabbed with a visual “I Told You So!”? Carol found that motel for us, but the “weather” remained cool for a while. (She forgave me the next day.)

GPS programming improved dramatically in the ensuing decade, and it seems that a great many folk have a GPS unit of some sort. I heard on the news that presently, there may be 10 billion cell phones with GPS apps installed. But what is GPS?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system consisting ofearth a network of at least 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use.

These satellites circle the earth twice a day transmitting signals to earth. Receivers triangulate this information to calculate our precise location. The more satellites that are involved, the more accurate the results, and GPS units today are very accurate. Carol even likes using them now.

It’s fun watching the little blue dot (we call it the Blue Bug) moving across the screen of the cell phone as we drive across country. Carol often says, “The Blue Bug is staying with us.” But at times she will say, “The Bug is getting lost.” That’s when I make a correction and get back on the right street.

However, since the GPS units know our location, they also know our altitude. They enable precise operation for our interactive maps and our compass apps. The little gizmo can tell us where the restaurants, motels, and gas stations are, and can even tell us the temperature outside – all within seconds.

When we take pictures with our cell phones, the built-in GPS units record when and where they were taken. And when we cross a time zone, Carol and I always have a contest: whose phone changes time first?

Some folk worry that these technological advancements are a way for the government to keep track of us. That is correct. But they are also a great help to us. Many vehicles are equipped with OnStar which has helped a great many folk. OnStar located my car several years ago after it had been stolen.

But another GPS is available to those of us who honor Almighty God. I call this GPS “God’s Protective Service”.

Bible.docxAs I live by Godly principles that are found in the Bible, as I live for the Lord, as I as I honor God in every way that I know how, the Holy Spirit guides me. He knows where I am every second of the day, and knows what kind of difficulties I am facing. He sees what lies ahead of me, and gives me precise directions. If I am about to make a wrong decision, God sends a signal to get me back on track – if I’m listening.

Have fun with the GPS gizmos; but tune in to Almighty God for both temporal and eternal directions.