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Monthly Archives: July 2009

An Uncommon Book of Prayer

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Read this article on my blog and post comments there.

I’ve read a lot of books about prayer. Years ago I read Rosalind Rinker’s Prayer: Conversing With God, one of many books to describe prayer as a conversation rather than a ritual observance. More recently, I read Steve Brown’s Approaching God: How to Pray. Despite the how-to subtitle, I didn’t find it to be a very practical guide. It didn’t address the fundamental issues that cause prayerlessness.

Paul Miller knows why we pray and why we don’t. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World is absolutely the best book on prayer I have ever come across. Miller, using compelling examples from his own life as well as scriptural teaching, shows us why we need to pray, why we don’t pray, and how to pray.

He begins with establishing child-like trust, moves on to how cynicism undermines that trust, and explains how to overcome cynicism by deconstructing its allure and false promises. A lot of prayer is petition, and petitioning—asking—is the very thing we find hardest to do. Complaining, “dialoguing,” soul-searching, and even praising are all easier to do because they don’t require trusting God. We can do them even if no one is listening. So Miller wisely focuses on asking and examines why we don’t ask and what we fail to ask for.

Finally, Miller integrates prayer into the story of God. Every life is a story, and prayer can make that story exciting and compelling if we let it. He concludes with some practical suggestions for helping us gain our Father’s perspective on our story through prayer cards and journaling.

This book has transformed the way I think about prayer, and I have already begun to put it’s suggestions into practice. It has also helped build my faith as I have seen real needs met and real prayers answered. A must-read for anyone interested in prayer. Even non-Christians would benefit from understanding the fundamental difference between prayer as the desperate cry of an overwhelmed child and prayer as ritual observance. Get this book, read it, and pray.

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Death In The Family

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My brother Mark lost one of his children yesterday. He drove off the road into a ditch on a country highway in Nebraska. The airbags deployed, but he was not wearing a safety belt, and he suffered serious head trauma. A witness called the police, and they responded right away. My nephew, Scott, was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Lincoln, but he never regained consciousness, and doctors this morning determined that his brain was not receiving blood flow. Mark and his wife, Amy, made the difficult decision to allow his organs to be donated and to terminate life support.

I spoke to Mark this morning, and he was shaken. The tone of his voice told me more than words: how exhausted, how hopeless, how overwhelmed he was. I wanted to hug him, but my arms were too short. What comfort could I give him? Yet I prayed with him, and he was comforted a little. Tomorrow I am going to Nebraska to visit him.

There is perhaps no more painful experience than to lose a child. When they first appear, children are mysterious and demanding. They disrupt our lives and require us to be become less self-centered. But as they grow, something miraculous takes place. They become independent persons. If we are fortunate, they become our friends, and we see in them the bright potential of unfulfilled dreams and continuing possibility. Children give us hope for the future and remind us that life is good. The tragedy, then, of losing a child is compounded by losing a friend, losing a future, losing part of the goodness in life.

For some, the grief is so great that they become angry and bitter toward God. Some have rejected God, becoming atheists because they cannot believe in a God who would cause or allow such pain. Others, those who have learned to trust their loving Father, run to him in their pain, crying out to him, raging against him—yes—but also taking comfort in his arms.

No distant or abstract God took Scott from us. Our own dear Father took him or—perhaps more charitably—allowed him to be taken. If we turn away from him, where can we go for comfort? “[T]o whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). So the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). But more than that, the Lord comforts those who mourn (Matt. 5:4).

We live still in a world groaning under the burden of our first parent’s rebellion. It was not supposed to be this way. In a perfect world, there would be no car accidents, no sudden, tragic deaths. But our enemy still seeks to kill and steal and destroy. Sometimes he succeeds. But when he does, we remind him of our Savior’s victory over death. We comfort one another with the hope of rejoining those we have lost.

My heart is broken for my brother Mark and his wife Amy, for their children, and especially for Marshall, whom Scott was driving to meet. Words fail me, but I will be there soon. Meanwhile, may our Father comfort you and give you peace.

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Voodoo Science

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If “voodoo science” sounds like an oxymoron, it’s because it is. Robert Park uses the term to cover all kinds of situations where the language and authority of science are invoked to lend credibility to outrageous claims. In his Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness To Fraud, he identifies three types of science that he calls “voodoo science.”

The first is pathological science. This is science that started out as real science but left the path of honest, peer-reviewed study for some reason. He cites the hoopla surrounding cold fusion in the mid 1980s as an example. A similar case could be made today against embryonic stem cell research. Pathological science is science gone awry.

Park shows how pathological science can easily become fraudulent science. This is science that has no other aim than deception, perhaps even self-deception. Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s claims to have greatly advanced the possibilities of human cloning in 2004 and 2005 are examples of fraudulent science. His results were later shown to have been falsified.

Finally, Park addresses pseudoscience, quackery dressed in scientific garb. Homeopathy is a good example. The supposed “medicines” are solutions diluted with water or alcohol to the point where it is unlikely that even a single molecule of the original solution is in the final product. Park explains:

In over-the-counter homeopathic remedies, for example, a dilution of 30X is fairly standard. The notation 30X means the substance was diluted one part in 10 and shaken, and this was repeated sequentially thirty times. The final dilution would be one part medicine to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts of water. That would be far beyond the dilution limit. To be precise, at a dilution of 30X you would have to drink 7,874 gallons of solution to expect to get just one molecule of the medicine.

As Park points out, there is no way to enforce quality control. The resulting solution should be pure water, and there is no test that can tell what the original medicine was, since no molecules of it remain in the solution.

The section where Park tells about Dennis Lee was embarrassing to read. Lee was a flimflam artist hawking perpetual motion and free energy with all the trappings of a traveling evangelist. He began his show with prayer, seemed to be healed of laryngitis, and repeatedly invoked God to legitimize his claims. “He even made references to his jail time—naturally, his incarceration had been part of a plot by the greedy polluters to suppress the technologies that might save the world.”

Throughout the book, Parks clearly describes in nontechnical language the fundamental errors made by voodoo science, and he equips readers with knowledge that will help keep them from being taken in by ridiculous but plausible-sounding claims.

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