Maine Senate Opening Reflection & Prayer

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I once again had the opportunity to open the Maine Senate in prayer.  This time, I brought one of my daughters with me and shared a brief reflection based upon an experience my family has recently had.  It was a unique occasion for me to talk from a very public platform about what God has been doing in my life:

Maine Senate Opening Reflection and Prayer
May 20, 2015
Rev. Larry J. Lakey
Winslow Baptist Church

Good morning and thank you for the invitation and privilege to open today’s session in prayer. Before I pray, I’d like to share some thoughts based on some recent experiences my family and I have had together.

Exactly three weeks ago today, my wife and I became licensed for foster and adoptive care in the State of Maine.   Of course, this sort of licensing is not an overnight process. The desire to help provide a home for children in need began building in us years ago. Along the way, there were documents and disclosures and inspections and seminars and interviews and approvals. And we also talked to other foster and adoptive parents, those who were further ahead on a journey similar to the one we would begin. We listened to their stories: stories about completing the licensing process, about getting their homes ready, and about finally receiving that first phone call for a child to be placed with their family. We would listen, ask questions, and wonder when our phone call would come – what that day would be like for us. We didn’t need to wait long; the day our license was finalized, our phone call came.

My purpose in telling you about my family’s experience is not to highlight the need for foster and adoptive parenting in the State, nor to bring your attention to any issues as legislators. There are others far better qualified than me to do that. I am sharing this story with you in order to bring you into my moment of decision three weeks ago today, the moment when that phone call came. It came sooner than we expected and, to be forthright, at a highly inconvenient time: Our schedule was full, our energy level was low, and our refrigerator was empty. We certainly didn’t feel ready. But the call came because the need was there. It was an emergency placement; children needed a place to stay within a few hours. My wife received the call first and then spoke with me. We agreed to talk again after a few minutes of gathering our thoughts, a task that proved much more difficult than I had anticipated. My thoughts and emotions were in a whirlwind, and I searched for some degree of clarity under pressure. I prayed that I might somehow boil this decision down to its essence – down to a single principle or question that would help guide whatever choice I should make. The question that came to my mind was surprisingly simple and essential. It was this: If not me, then who? If I was not to act in this moment, who would? If I would not provide a home, where would these children go? Would I stand by, motionless and silent while this need was left unmet? If not me, then who?

That single question helped guide my decision in a moment of need. All of the preparation and anticipation only mattered if, in that moment, I chose to do the one thing that I knew I must do. The opportunity was before me and it would pass me by if I failed to act. So we said, “Yes” and for three weeks now, my family has hosted two young children in our home. We have loved them, protected them, and provided for them as our own. We have been challenged, stretched, and humbled in unforgettable ways. We will never be the same, and I believe we have changed for the better.

I know that the honorable men and women in this body are working hard to make our great State better. I know that your work is difficult, complex, and timely. And I know that you work under tremendous pressure. My hope is that today, as you face the important business before you, this same question might help guide your decisions. Is there work that you must do because the opportunity will pass you by if you fail to act? Is there a decision that you must make because it is yours alone to make? Is there a timely issue – or perhaps a set of issues – for which the pertinent question is, “If not you, then who?”

I respectfully invite you to join me in prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for this day You have given us. Thank you for the men and women in this Senate whom You given as leaders and legislators for the State of Maine. Thank you for the difficult, complex, and timely work that is before them. Please guide them in their decisions: Provide the questions that must be answered to help bring clarity to actions they must take. Give them unity, give them wisdom, give them resolve to do the things that they alone must do. And bless them, I pray, as they serve in this capacity. May they be challenged, stretched, and humbled in their work so that they may serve well.

I pray this in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What has God been doing in your life that you need to share so others may hear and be encouraged?

Maine State Senate Opening Prayer

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Today I opened the Maine State Senate in prayer.  It was a great experience.  I am grateful for the opportunity and want to share with you the text of my prayer as read this morning and recorded in official minutes.  Oh, that this prayer would be answered!

State Senate Opening Prayer
March 25, 2014
Rev. Larry J. Lakey

Good morning and thank you for the invitation and privilege to open today’s session. I respectfully ask that you would stand and join me in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the religious liberty that has been secured in our nation as a basic human freedom.  Please bless this Senate for recognizing and exercising this liberty today. May human freedom flourish as this practice of prayer is continued. 

Our thoughts are first with those who are suffering today. Please be with those who are grieving following tragedy.  Bring comfort to those in need today.

We confess that our nation has been deeply divided.  Discourse in the civic arena is often angry and contentious.  Trust in elected officials is low.  We no longer assume the best of each other or portray each other in the best way possible.  This same division is visible at times in the political discourse of our own state. Forgive us for this. Help these elected representatives to lead the way forward and out of bitter division.  Let their respect for each other and collegial manner set an example for others.

Please give them patience to listen.  Help each member of this assembly to realize that no one person or one party has all the answers to the important questions, or solutions for the difficult problems that we face.  Only you, Father, see all and know all.  By your grace, give them insight and understanding.

Please give them honesty to speak truth to each other and to the world. Protect them from the temptation to oversimplify or exaggerate or tell only part of the story. Only you, Father, dwell in perfect truth.  Help them to see, to know, and to speak the truth.

Please give them the unity to act.  Help them to find common ground today where there seemed to be none before. Bless them with creative solutions.  Only you, Father, can do the impossible.  Help them to know which steps of action to take and how to build a necessary consensus to do good.

Please give them humility to serve.  Remind them of their place in your grand scheme. Protect each from thinking too highly of herself or himself.  Only you, Father, have demonstrated perfect humility in the Gospel. Help their actions to benefit those whom they serve in these elected offices.

May today, gracious Father, be a day of great accomplishment. No authority exists that has not been granted by you.  Throughout history, not all have been good stewards of this authority. Help this assembly, help each member here today, to faithfully administer this stewardship for the common good, and for the prosperity of every citizen in the Great State of Maine.

I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Thank you and may God bless you in every way.

Tell me what you think: If you had the chance to open a government assembly in prayer, how would you pray?

Joy: Advent, Week Three

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Since we cancelled Sunday’s worship gathering due to a snowstorm, I am offering a version of my planned message here.  We are celebrating the Advent season and I am sad that we missed being together to focus on Joy.  But thanks to the Internet, you can read through some teaching on joy and even participate in this week’s live we event.  You’ll find the scriptures I reference and ways to interact about with your own thoughts too.  You can access our live web event (until 12/21) here: http://bible.com/e/1DU7.

What is joy?

In the last few years, our family has added a tradition to the list of Christmas celebrations.  It’s called “Elf on the Shelf” and it works like this; a little elf doll made of felt and stuffing, with a slightly mischievous smile, migrates around your home to various observation points.  His job is to report back to Santa Claus the naughtiness or niceness of family members.  Of course, this is neither creepy nor matching the legal definition for stalking in 35 states; it’s a beloved holiday tradition!

Elf seems to have become increasingly popular in the last year or two.  You may have seen little outfits available in the stores or Pinterest posts online with creative ideas.  Facebook friends share photos of the mischief that little Elf creates, which also serve as seed ideas for other elf wrangling parents.  In other words, Elf doesn’t usually stay on the shelf!

In our home, Elf sometimes finds a creative pose but sometimes…he forgets to move.  It’s sad really.  But sometimes Elf finds a comfy spot and decides to stay there until we remem he decides to move on.  This isn’t a new phenomenon in our home; once in a while the tooth fairy experiences “high winds en route” and is delayed for a day (or three).  Our kids enjoy the Elf on the shelf tradition, and it’s fun when they discover a new Elf observation position.

Last week, though, we witnessed something strange that seemed to make Elf on the Shelf a little less special to us.  We saw a TV commercial where young kids were shown – via alleged home video footage – hysterically screaming with excitement upon finding little Elf in their home.  Kids can usually smell a fake a country mile away, and my kids cried foul at the commercial.  Sure Elf is fun to find and they have every right to expect regular Elf migration in our home, but there is NO WAY any kid would get that excited when they find him.  At least my kids never have, and to them it smells like foreign factory-manufactured joy.

In particular, TV commercials pushing products to desperate-for-something-new-but-not-digital parents and grandparents tend to go a little overboard.  Kids are shown squealing with delight, “Thank you, Grandma!” over not-available-in-stores-so-call-now foreign factory-manufactured junk as my own kids only stare at the TV in disbelieving horror.  “No way would kids say that,” they say.

Now, I have nothing against buying your grandkids stuff from TV offers or elves on shelves or capitalism or kids squealing with delight.  In fact, I have no gift buying or Christmas tradition advice to offer you.  It’s just that I know how much parents and grandparents love to hear that response from children and I resent when commercialism uses that genuine desire to make a buck on something.  It’s not fair.

And it’s not true.  Stuff doesn’t bring happiness that lasts.  Sure, it’s great when a gift is well-received or a surprise elicits a delightful squeal.  I’m all for that!  Gift-giving is a form of art, I think.  But let’s not pretend that giving or receiving stuff brings lasting happiness.

Joy is prolonged wonder.

True happiness that lasts is what the Bible calls “joy.”  What causes joy?  Well, imagine the wonder of Christmas in the heart of a child, only it lasts and lasts.  Does that sound too good to be true?  Well, it’s both possible and impossible.  Just look at Luke 1:26-45 when Mary received the news from the angel Gabriel that she was a vital part of God’s redemptive plan.  Why was Mary blessed?  Because she believed in God’s promises.  Mary, along with all of Israel, waited expectantly for God to send a redeemer king for His people.  Imagine the wonder that Mary and the others were filled with as God’s miracles were seen firsthand:  Even a baby in the womb leaped for joy!  Apart from believing God, all of these events were just plain strange.  But looking through the eyes of faith the fulfillment of God’s plan brings blessing; a joy-producing wonder that lasts.

I was mildly amused when I read about a recent article in Popular Science magazine titled, “Could a Virgin Birth Even Happen?”  The article explained how virgin birth was impossible because of the complexities of cell division, chromosomes, and DNA.  But that’s the whole point!  I agree with Derek Rishmawy that “We already know it’s generally biologically impossible – that’s precisely why we make a big deal about it.”  It’s not that Christians believe virgin birth isn’t impossible.  It’s just that we worship a God who does the impossible because nothing is impossible for Him.

So in attempting to disprove a major tenet of Christian belief, the article only highlights what Christians actually believe: That God promised a virgin birth as a sign.  He promised the impossible, and then…it happened!  God’s promises always come true and it produces lasting wonder in our hearts.   So we experience joy as God keeps His promises.

But does this kind of joy really last?  Is it really more powerful than any of the bad things that life brings?  What about tough times?  What about when it seems like God isn’t keeping His promises?

Joy is not dependent on circumstances.

Joy runs deeper than happiness caused by good times or things.  It’s not that the good times and good things are bad; they are indeed good and we should receive all good things with gratitude as God’s gifts.  But if happiness is grounded in anything changeable, it’s going to change.  Joy is more resilient than that.

We all go through difficult times, and those times test our resolve.  The writer in Hebrews 12:1-11 compares life to a race.  Life has a set path and it requires endurance.  It is difficult and requires discipline.  But, like all forms of discipline, we naturally resist.  And that only makes the race more difficult to run.  No one is spared the pain that a broken world causes – and sometimes the pain is even caused by us.  We try to good, but we’re not as good as wish we were and trying wears us out.  That’s why Jesus came; to run the perfect race because we cannot.  He ran His race path all the way to the cross.  He suffered and died and secured victory, so don’t lose heart!  Keep running and keep running well.  Victory is assured.

If Jesus finished the race perfectly, then why do we face difficulty?  Has God forgotten about us?  Is he withholding joy from us?  No!  Joy isn’t bound to circumstances, so joy can be experienced in difficult circumstances.  In fact, the promise of God is that He will treat us as sons and daughters because of Jesus.  So, believing in God’s promises means trusting that difficult times does not negate His promise to love us.  In Christ, difficulty is used for our good – building up our endurance as we run the race path – so that we run well and finish well.  We experience joy as we trust God through difficulty.

I sometimes wonder just how many “church people” understand this.  We too easily despair when difficulty comes our way.  Instead, we should see it as a promise being fulfilled and an opportunity to grow.  Of course, this requires believing God’s promises are true.  But when we do, joy blossoms despite the circumstance and that is when we realize God is doing the impossible again.  Only this time, it’s the impossible happening in us.

This past January, I was invited to watch the New England Patriots football team host a playoff game in Foxboro, MA.  It was a great game for two reasons: First, the home team one; second, it was warmer than expected.  January in Massachusetts can be very cold and four hours sitting outside can be a test of endurance.  But the temperature was in the fifties, so the game environment was more than bearable.  But then came the drive home, at night, back to Maine.  The warm area hung over just-recently-frozen ground and produced fog for the final two hours of the drive.  It was tough going.  Actually, it was exhausting.  I used as much concentration as my tired mind could produce to focus on the fog-covered road as we drove.  I needed to drive at reasonably fast highway speed in order to make the trip last no longer than necessary.  At the same time, high speed reduces reaction time and I feared seeing a deer or moose appear on the road in front of us.  Driving through fog is difficult, especially when there may be obstacles in the way.

When we race along life’s path without trusting in God’s promises, it’s like driving blind in the fog.  It’s exhausting and we can’t see the destination.  Perhaps this is what robs so many people of the joy that trusting in Christ should bring.  Believing in God’s promises opens our eyes in faith to what He is doing.  But focusing on the circumstances will keep us in the fog; we only see what is directly in front of us.  The destination isn’t what is immediately around us anyway.

So what is joy?

Joy comes from trusting in God’s promises despite our circumstances.  So it can’t come from the things we give or receive, from other people, or from everything going our way.  In fact, it is often experienced most powerfully despite nothing going our way at all.  This Christmas, remember that this is why Jesus came.  No so that we can get – or even give – what will make us happy.  Instead, He offers us a lasting happiness that will keep the wonder of Christmas alive in our hearts all year every year.  That is real joy.

Have you experienced joy despite your circumstances?  Tell us about it in a comment below…

For Alice Lakey

My grandmother was called home to be with her Lord on Thursday.  Since I can’t be present at the funeral service today, I’ve asked for this to be read aloud:

Today, I honor the godly grandmother that I was blessed to know.  In 2 Timothy 1:5, the apostle Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”  Paul expresses gratitude for the heritage of faith that Timothy received; a heritage passed down from his godly grandmother.  In a similar way, I have received a heritage of faith passed down from my grandmother, who remained steadfast in her heart for the Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember her love of life.  What a delight it was to see her eyes twinkle as she would laugh!  I must confess that I often tried to say something funny just to make her laugh.  Her love for life’s good times was fueled by her love for others, especially her family.

I am grateful for the gentle kindness that my grandmother showed to others.  Just as she gently held many babies over the years in the hospital maternity ward, her caring hands held me as an infant and held my children too.  Over the years, her gentle spirit never faded.  I’ve met many other people who harbor resentment or display a harsh spirit as a result of life’s difficulties.  But my grandmother did not respond this way; her concern for others seemed only to deepen as she weathered the storms of life.

Through many ups and downs, trials and triumphs, victories and disappointments, her faith endured.  The most visible evidence of this was seen during the most difficult season of my life.  During nearly two decades of heartache as my father turned from the Lord, my grandmother persisted in prayer.  She also persisted in love and in kindness.  While many prayed for my father, for family members, and for me during those years, the prayer of my grieving grandmother is something that I will always hold most dear.  Her trust in the Lord, offered from a broken heart, was the sweet fragrance of worship.

Among her answered prayers are that my brother and I have remained followers of Jesus.  Rather than harboring bitterness and allowing resentment to rule over us, our grief has been turned to gratitude and our pain has become blessing as God faithfully worked even these things together for our good.  I am sure that not all of her prayers were answered in the exact way she asked, but her persevering faith endured as God’s faithfulness over time came into view.

My prayer is that I will pass on this heritage of faith to others, especially to my own children and grandchildren.  Her example of love, kindness, and persevering prayer is one that I will always remember and strive to emulate.  I am grateful to have known her in this life, and grateful for the hope to be reunited with her again in the presence of our Lord Jesus one day.

Warrior Class #4

On Saturday mornings, men in our church gather for “The Warrior Class.” It’s a simple breakfast, simple (one principle) lesson, and simple mini-group discussion. If you missed this week’s lesson, or want to revisit the principle again, here’s what we covered:

Principle: A godly warrior fights alongside brothers-in-arms.

Passages: 1 Samuel 18:1-5, 19:4-7, 20:16-17 & 23, 20:41-42, 2 Samuel 1:25b-27 

Knowing: Warrior brothers share in need, defend each other from evil, honor their word.

Do I have men in my life that I completely trust?  Who?

What fears need to be conquered for me to trust other warrior brothers?

Believing: I cannot make it alone; the Gospel proves this and enables this.

Do I believe that I need godly men in my life?  Why or why not?

What does Jesus’ death and resurrection means for our relationships with each other?

Doing: Warrior brotherhood is based on love; we put each other before ourselves.

In what ways do I share what other warrior brothers need?  In what ways do they share with me?

What is one thing I can immediately do to build trust with another warrior brother in life?

Bonus: Read and discuss the verses below.

Proverbs 18:24

Proverbs 17:17

Proverbs 27:17

Ephesians 2:11-22

Each week we report back with success stories from applying the lessons. Feel free to comment below, too.

Warrior Class #3

On Saturday mornings, men in our church gather for “The Warrior Class.” It’s a simple breakfast, simple (one principle) lesson, and simple mini-group discussion. If you missed this week’s lesson, or want to revisit the principle again, here’s what we covered:

Principle: A godly warrior fights with his life.

Passages: 1 Samuel 13:19-22, 1 Samuel 17:40, 48-50, Ephesians 6:17-19, Hebrews 4:12

Knowing: Ordinary lives empowered by the Holy Spirit are Gospel weapons.

Do I usually see human weakness as God’s opportunity? Why or why not?

Do I tend to see God’s Word as ancient & dead or living & active?

Believing: The weapons God gives are adequate because of Jesus.

Do I have doubts that Jesus has secured victory for me?

What area of weakness am I struggling to surrender to Jesus?

Doing: A godly warrior is disciplined in prayer & Bible reading.

How are my disciplines of prayer & Bible reading? [Do I lead my family in this?]

What ordinary things of my life can I commit for God to use?

Each week we report back with success stories from applying the previous week’s lesson. Feel free to comment below, too.

Warrior Class #2

On Saturday mornings, men in our church gather for “The Warrior Class.” It’s a simple breakfast, simple (one principle) lesson, and simple mini-group discussion. If you missed this week’s lesson, or want to revisit the principle again, here’s what we covered:

Principle: A godly warrior always follows orders.

Passage: 1 Samuel 15:1-35

Knowing:  God’s idea of right and wrong is better than mine.

Is your sense of right and wrong influenced more by God’s Word or by your own ideas and values?

In what ways are you tempted to lead by your own values?

What missed opportunities or consequences has sin caused in your life?

Believing:  My failed life and leadership must be redeemed by Jesus.

Do you believe that God’s Word is always right and good?

What areas of your life and leadership need to be redeemed by forgiveness?

What is God calling you to painfully surrender for the sake of obedience?

Doing:  When I trust God, my actions reveal it.

Are your actions always consistent with your stated beliefs?  Why or why not?

What have you been bargaining with God instead of obeying?

What is one thing that you know you must do to obey God immediately?

Each week we report back with success stories from applying the previous week’s lesson. Feel free to comment below, too.