Effective Prayer

www.bible.com/72/jas.5.16.hcsb

Ever feel like your prayers are ineffective. I know I do. I heard a long time ago that God offers three answers to prayer: yes, no, and wait. It’s hard to tell the difference between the third and the first two sometimes. I know there are many who feel like their prayers don’t reach past the ceiling, that God isn’t listening at all. I do know from 1 Peter 5 that sometimes God leaves us alone for a while in order to test our resolve. But there are others who don’t pray enough or at all.

This verse stresses righteousness for powerful and effective prayer. It presents this in the context of forgiveness for sin. Here is a definite contrast between sin and righteousness. Those who have sin, confess it to a fellow Christian. Allow that Christian to pray for you (this is in light of the previous verse about being physically ill). And pray for one another. James poses here that physical illness may in fact have something to do with spiritual sin. And that confession and prayer have the power to effect healing.

There are some illnesses, we call them psychosomatic, that directly link one’s emotional state to their physical well-being. When you feel uneasy, your stomach starts to churn. When you are under stress, you get a headache. Tell what guilt does? Tell me what shame does to the body? Sometimes, extended shame and guilt lead to unexplainable physical illnesses. When the doctor can’t figure it out, maybe it calls for confession and prayer. That’s why we include Chaplains in our healthcare system, just to make sure all of our bases are covered. Include your pastor and your church in your health care. It might make a difference.

Just s thought for a Wednesday.

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Taking Sin Seriously

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Do you take sin seriously? As Christians, it is one area that we are especially good at: identifying sins in others. Since we know the Bible, we usually have no problem pointing out the sins of others for their correction. After all, aren’t we supposed to do that?

Jesus once addressed this problem with the Pharisees. He likened their “helpfulness” as one who has a log in his own eye helping someone else get a speck out of theirs. Honestly, the reason we know sin so well is probably because we’ve committed a few ourselves, not out of any serious study of Scripture.

But one thing that our culture is famous for is miscasting sin as “disease”. There are lots of diseases, like alcoholism, substance abuse, sex addiction (and the host of addictions), obesity, and the like that are caused not by a virus or a malady which the victim was helpless against, but by the power of his own elbow. The result is that many of these sins are being “treated” by medicine rather than cured by the power of God.

What happened if we took God at His word and treated sins like, well, sins? What if instead of “mental health” we strove for soul health? Who can truly change the heart of a man? Is it medicine? Therapy? Conversations with a psychiatrist at $200/ hour? Or is it Jesus?

Surprisingly, many of the things we diagnose as mental disease may only be diseases of the soul. And who can cure all our soul’s diseases? Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. But in order to pursue this “soul health” we must first identify the problem, and admit that it is the problem. There are actual mental problems that have to do with biology, and they fall into a different category that what we will deal with, and I will try to help you discern the difference. For example, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are actual diseases of the brain, not necessarily a result of sin directly.

Are you suffering from something that a psychologist has told you is a mental health issue? Have you been told only a long series of one-hour a week sessions are the only thing that will keep you sane? Do you really think God has nothing to say about “mental health”?

Source Code

I had the opportunity to watch “I Can Only Imagine” last night, the biographical movie about Bart Millard’s journey to stardom in the band MercyMe. If you are familiar with his story, you know he grew up in a abusive home and left as soon as he could, only to discover he couldn’t be “authentic” until he resolved his issues with his father. In the meantime, his father had turned to Christ and became a different person. Their reconciliation becomes the impetus for Bart’s own transformation. His father’s death prompts him to write the eponymous song. The shining point of the movie is Bart’s moment in Nashville, having sung his song, seeing his father clapping for him. In an interview, Bart explained that he believed he sang to two people that night, both his father, and His Lord. It moment worthy of the Kleenex.

That moment also got me to thinking about father-son issues, in which this movie traded heavily. Even if our parents, mothers or fathers, treat us horribly, even if we hate every fiber of their being, every breath of their body, there is still a part of us that cares. There is still a part that longs for reconciliation, even if it’s no longer possible. That’s why this moment is so powerful in the movie, because it resonates. Everyone has a father, and everyone desires approval from that father. We all want our fathers to be proud of us because it is built into us to care what our father’s think of us.

We can’t explain it, because it isn’t part of the intellect. In fact, it defies the intellect. It is part of what I liken to “source code”, or more exactly, that code that a computer has burned in to its motherboard that tells it how to read a hard disk, before it ever loads the first bit of the operating system and everything its ever learned. It’s the BIOS of the human psyche. It is built into us as human beings to have a relationship with our parents. When that relationship isn’t “right” it leads to a host of other problems, “daddy issues”, psychological syndromes and traumas later on. As described in the movie, Bart couldn’t have a close relationship with his girlfriend until he resolved his relationship with his father. How many people labor today in horrible marriages, live-in situations even same-sex relationships because that one aspect of their being was wrong?

We are all built with this source code, called a conscience. The Bible recognizes this:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
(Rom 2:15)

Written on our hearts, our BIOS if you will, is the law of human beings. As sentient, rational beings, we are built with a set a laws of interaction (not unlike Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics) that direct the “rightness” and “wrongness” of our actions. Our conscience (C.S. Lewis’ moral law argument) is universal. Every human being has one, and they are all coded with a set of unwritten laws of human interaction. One of those laws is that relationship between parents and children. And when we willingly violate those laws, that’s when we run into problems,from simple (in the form of fractured relationships) to complex (in the form of mental illness). I believe that a person who consistently violates his own moral code, deterred by his “conflicting thoughts” in his conscience, is well on the road to insanity. He is trying to reconcile a world of his own creation with the real world as written in his source code. A logical being (which we are, to a fault) cannot hold two diametrically opposed points of view simultaneously, and still have a hold on reality.

So how do we address this innate moral code so that we can correct ourselves for error? Can we correct ourselves?  Let me re-introduce you to the most succinct explanation of our innate moral code ever written, complete with correctives for repair. You may know it as the Ten Commandments.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
    (Exo 20:3-17)

I will come back to this issue of parents and children, but to do so, I need to look at the Ten, the underlying principles that each describe, and how they affect us when they are broken. These commandments are so well written, that if you know how to read them, you can discover both the underlying moral code that we were built with, and the correction for applying that moral code to life. The manner in which God sends these ten is I believe one of the most dramatic in history (He wrote them down with His own finger so we wouldn’t miss how important they are). He doesn’t do anything like this until Daniel 5 (where he writes again, saying, “you have been measured and found wanting”). These ten, though immediately applicable to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, describe the innate moral code of all human beings, which is why they affect people every time they are posted. This is why many want them taken down.

For the next several posts, I will be taking and looking at each commandment individually, and its parallels in Deuteronomy 6, with other passages in tow. I can’t wait to dive into these things with you. Thank you for reading and I hope this is an encouragement to you.