Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”

Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”

I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.

“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”

They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.

Poor Joseph.  He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…

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Free Information: Random observations from the old folks’ home

At the end of this piece, I want to point out how Sandra Bullock’s character learned to pray in the new movie “Gravity.” If you’ve not seen it and think this might interfere with your enjoyment, be forewarned and skip it. Or come back later.

One of the fun things about having online pastors’ magazines reproduce our stuff is reading the comments from God’s people far and wide.  I did that just now with an article lifted from this blog recently and sent to perhaps 50,000 subscribers far and wide.

I have no trouble when people take issue with some point we tried to make.  What’s fun is when one reader rips me apart and another one responds to straighten him out.  One said I need to stick to cartooning and leave preacher stuff alone. Ouch.

Sometimes readers take seriously something I said tongue-in-cheek and go off on a rant about it. One said today, “I had a hard time listening to anything more he had to say because I couldn’t get past those introductory statements.”  I had said no preacher should preach longer than 45 minutes.  He started listing preachers, most of them famous, who preach an hour or more and do it well.  I replied that  I had meant it half-seriously and had even said (in the article) that it was just my thought and I might be wrong.

He just wanted to fight. I pity his wife today. Or his church staff, if he’s a preacher.

Incidentally, I’ve heard sermons from some of those guys he mentioned and even though they may preach an hour, after 25 or 30 minutes, they are through. They just don’t know it.

A pastor will pad his sermon?  Of course.

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What to do after your moronic two minutes

Pastor, have you ever had a meltdown in the pulpit?

In the news this week, two Atlanta radio jocks were fired for the on-air mocking they did of a New Orleans icon, former Saints football player Steve Gleason who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) and lives in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer.

They made fun of him, parodied his situation, and someone role-played Steve speaking of his coming death and such.

It was the ultimate in offensive.

In the article which ran here in New Orleans, one of the terminated idiots (I’m so objective in this story, as you can see) said, ‘What were we thinking?” The jocks apologized, and in a subsequent story, Gleason said he accepted their apology.

One of the men called it “a moronic two minutes.”

No argument.

I have had a few moronic two minutes in my long lifetime, and expect some of our readers have also.

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The rarest (and best?) way to give thanks

Recently, I spent part of a morning sketching the first graders in Jill Strahan’s class on the next-to-last day of school.  As I finished and was about to walk out the door, she handed me a booklet the children had put together thanking me for drawing them.

The booklet was not unlike many I’ve received before, childish drawings throughout, with festive sentences saying “Thank you, Mister Joe, for drawing me” and “Thank you for coming to our school.” One or two said, “You are a good drawer.”

It occurred to me later that Jill had led the class to make that booklet before I ever arrived (since there would not be time afterwards). So, the children had thanked me for a job well done before I ever did it.

They had thanked me by faith.

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Why you pray for revival and it does not come

“…you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

1) We do not want revival. Not really.

2) God does not trust us with a revival, and for good reason.  He refuses to arm an enemy, to endow a rebel.

There! Those are the answers to the question.

Now, pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.

It’s that plain and simple: we really do not want a Heaven-sent, life-rearranging revival.

We want the results, the good part, but not the upheaval in our personal lives, priorities, and schedules which a Heaven-sent revival would cause.

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About Your Prayer…I’d Like to Apologize

If you look over the 20 or 25 articles on prayer in this blog, you will see I have sometimes taken people to task for their faulty prayers. I’ve teased them about silly prayers and laughed at their funny mistakes and grown exasperated at what I considered foolish, Pharisaical prayers.

May I apologize?

After all, a prayer is directed to the Father not to the children. None of us has been commissioned to or gifted for the task of correcting the prayers of our sibling

I’m impressed by how little criticism of actual prayers we find in Scripture. In Luke 18:10-14, our Lord did say that the tax-collector went home “justified” (forgiven, made right with God) that day. But He did not say a word about the Pharisee and his prayer. Granted, it was implied that the boasting prayer was rejected, but the Lord sure let that fellow off easily, I’ll say that.

And in James 4:3, we’re told that some prayers are offered from wrong motives, resulting in silence from Heaven.  And Isaiah 59:1-2 says our sins separate us from the Lord and prevent our prayers from getting through. But in neither case did they criticize actual prayers.

I hereby promise to stop criticizing prayers.

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Your Poor Prayer

….We do not know how to pray as we should…. (Romans 8:26)

I find it liberating to know that the great Apostle Paul was dissatisfied with his prayer life. At least, that’s how I read Romans 8:26. And if he could admit that “we do not know how to pray as we should,” it’s a dead-on cinch that you and I don’t either.

One thing almost everyone in your congregation has in common on a typical Sunday morning is a dissatisfaction with their prayer life. That is not to say that all are doing poorly, only that none of us feels we have got it down right, that we are praying with the effectiveness we’d like.

In this life, we are always going to be doing things partially. “We know in part,” Scripture says. “We prophecy in part” (I Corinthians 13:9,12).

Good music, they say, is music that is written better than it can be played. The Christian life is like that: written better than any of us can hope to attain in this life. The standard of God is still the same: “Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We will not attain it in this life, but that’s how it’s written.

So with your prayer life. You and I mumble in our prayers, like a child still learning to talk. It frustrates us and disappoints us, but–do not miss this–is oddly pleasing to the Father in Heaven.

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“Lord, Help Me!”

My mother’s Alzheimer’s has taught me something about prayer.

As a young pastor visiting local nursing homes, I would sometimes hear patients calling out, “Help me! Would somebody help me?” as I walked down the hall.

“What’s wrong with the staff here?” I wondered. “Why aren’t they helping this poor soul?”

Since my mom, almost 96 years old now, came down with Alzheimer’s or one of its relatives (senility, dementia) over the past few months, our family has been trying to take care of her in her own home. Recently, I spent a long weekend there contributing what I could to her care.

“Help me,” she calls out repeatedly. Even when she’s feeling fine and seems to have no needs at all, she repeats this. If you ask, “What do you want, mom?” she doesn’t have an answer. She seems to have been unaware she was saying that.

On one occasion, as I awakened from a brief afternoon nap, I heard mom in the next room chanting that mantra. “Help me. Help me.” I walked in and said brightly, “Mom, would you like some ice cream?” She stopped chanting abruptly and said, “Yes, I think I would.” I had to laugh at the speed of that transition.

A few days later, on the way to church, I sent up a quick prayer to the Heavenly Father. “Lord, help me please.” And just as clearly I heard His answer.

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5 Things You Do Not Know About Prayer

To be sure, we know a lot about prayer. We know it’s of faith–addressing a God whom we cannot see and are unable to prove that He’s even there, much less listening to the likes of us–and we know we ought to do more of it and do it better.

But, it occurs to me, it might be helpful to address some of the things we do not know about prayer.

See if you find any of this encouraging.

1. We do not know how to pray as we should.

That’s Romans 8:26. “Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

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Pray or Else!

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

Pray or quit.

Pray or grow discouraged and drop by the wayside.

Pray or weaken and wither away.

If I were the devil, I would do anything within my power to stop God’s people from praying.

If I were the devil, I’d be patting myself on the back about now, since it would appear that very few are praying. Well, praying in any sort of meaningful, situation-altering way, anyway.

No one believed in prayer the way the Lord Jesus did.

Perhaps no subject so permeates the four gospels like prayer. Jesus exhibited it, taught it, reminded His disciples of it, and told stories of people who did it well.

Pray or else, disciple of Jesus.

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