Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Putting Aside Our Desire To Be Right In Order To Love.

I want to be right. Who doesn't? In a debate you rarely see one side say "That was a great point that challenges my view and makes me rethink my position." It's laughable. No one does that. And in the age of the internet, the fight to be right can get downright ugly sometimes. 

When being right is the goal, we leave casualties behind. We aren't sensitive to others viewpoints, opinions, or life experiences. We aren't interested in open dialogue because we're right and they're wrong and we want them to say we're right. Even if they don't think we're right, we'll just keep yelling louder and louder that we're right. 

But as I reflect on 1 Corinthians 13 I can't help but wonder if being right shouldn't be our aim. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

If this verse is true, nothing trumps love. Our knowledge, giving, faith, all mean nothing without love. 

The great thing about the internet is everyone can communicate with everyone. The problem with the internet is everyone can communicate with everyone. And we're all trying to have the loudest voice or the bigger platform to communicate to the world about how right we are and how wrong they are. We fight to bridge this gap, eliminating us and them, only to create new us vs them parameters. I see people whose work I like take to twitter to speak out against fellow believers who are "wrong" only to see those fellow believers strike back. We defame and defraud people we've never met, never read their work, haven't talked to in the name of being right. Isn't the best way to speak truth into someone's life is to be in relationship with them? Isn't someone you know and who knows that you genuinely love them going to be more open to accepting truth and rebuke in their life than someone whose blog you skimmed and decided they were wrong? 

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says we are one body with many parts. What if we could see those who we don't agree with or understand as a foot or a pinky finger? And what if we choose to walk in "the most excellent way" of love?

Paul closes 1 Corinthians by saying Faith, Hope, and Love will remain. Not our books, podcasts, blog posts, opinions, or knowledge, but faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

From Ugliness, A Beauty Emerges

This isn't my idea. This comes directly from Brian McLaren's "We Make The Road By Walking." I read this a couple of weeks ago and it's been stuck in my spirit ever since. And it's too good not to share.

"But don't need to stop there. We can turn to other voices in the biblical library who, in different circumstances, told competing stories to give a different - and we would say better - vision of God.

For example, take the passage in Deuteronomy 7 where God commands Joshua to slaughter the seven Canaanite nations. They must be shown no mercy. Even their little girls must be seen as a threat. Then we can consider a story from Matthews gospel that offers itself as a respond to the earlier passage. There, we meet a woman who is identified by Matthew as a Canaanite. This identification is significant, since Canaanites no longer existed as an identifiable culture in Jesus' day. Calling this woman a Canaanite would be like calling someone a Viking or Aztec today. She asks for the one thing that had been denied her ancestors: mercy...mercy for her daughter who is in great need.

Up until this point, Jesus has understood his mission only in relation to his own people. After all, they're pretty lost and they need a lot of help. So he hesitates. How can he extend himself to this Canaanite? But how can her refuse her? In her persistence, he senses genuine faith, and he hears God's call to extend mercy even to her. So he says yes to the mother, and the daughter is healed. From there, Jesus goes to an area to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee. He teaches and heals a large crowd of people there who, like the woman and her daughter, are not members of his own religion and culture. Their non-Jewish identity is clear in their response to Jesus' kindness: 'And they praised the God of Israel.' What was an exception yesterday is now the new rule: Don't kill the other. Show them mercy.

Then, Jesus repeats a miracle for these outsiders that he had done previously for his fellows Jews, multiplying loaves and fish so they can eat. In the previous miracle, there were twelve basket left over, suggesting the twelve tribes of Israel - the descendants, that is, of Jacob and his twelve sons. In this miracle there are seven baskets left over - suggesting, it seems quite clear, the seven Canaanite nations that Jesus' ancestors had been commanded to destroy.

Matthew's version of this story makes a confession: Our ancestors, led by Moses and Joshua, believed God sent them into the world in conquest, to show no mercy to their enemies, to defeat and kill them. But now, following Christ, we hear God giving us a higher mission. Now we believe God sends us into the world in compassion, to show mercy, to heal, to feed - to nurture and protect life rather than take it."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Embracing Where You Are

When we were deciding to move to Philadelphia, it was a struggle for me to get on board. For five years before, during nine months of pregnancy and four months of maternity leave, I (and later Amanda) had been praying for full-time employment so I'd be the breadwinner and she would be able to stay at home with Emily. Moving to Philly meant a pretty definitive "no" answer to those prayers.

Plus, we love the DC area. Our best friends (most of them) were there. I was playing guitar in a band again. And we LOVED our church community! There was a lot of talk about family and being a body and community that would raise kids together. It was tough leaving that.

But we did. And we now live in Philadelphia and there's no changing that.

As I was cleaning our old house in Virginia and praying this past weekend I felt conflicted. Because I still don't understand why God called us to leave in the way that he did. But I feel unburdened in Philadelphia. I'm not agonizing with God over His seeming unwillingness to answer a prayer for me I watched him answer countless times for friends of mine. I'm not feeling bitter about the situation we're in. I'm just enjoying learning more about God. I'm enjoying being home with Emily and our new neighborhood. I'm trying to get back into some more creative things. I've lost weight!

But it could've been different. I could have grown more bitter. I could be constantly questioning God. I could keep praying the prayers I've prayed for years and let disappointment and discouragement and anger rule my life.

We're always waiting for something. A job, marriage, children, retirement, new homes, etc. And we can enjoy the journey and the waiting or be bitter, constantly asking God "Why not yet?" The why questions should be asked. And there is a time and place to bare your heart and soul and grapple with God. But sometimes you need to let go and enjoy the present moment.

There's going to come a season when I'll get back on the horse and be on the job hunt again. But who knows what I'll miss if I stress about that now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Letting Our Prayers Reshape Our Lives

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” - Soren Kierkegaard

"I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me." - CS Lewis

Reflecting in yesterdays post, along with some other things brought me to the idea of prayer. And the above Kierkegaard quote stuck out in my head. Because a unified church has to start with each of us personally. My prayer needs to be, "Lord how can I better live out Jesus' prayer that we (the church) be one as You and Him ar e one?" Our lack of respect or unwillingness to discuss, openly without judgment, the convictions and thoughts of others is something we have to take a personal responsibility for. 

This Kierkegaard quote always brings me back to Moses. 

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’” So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself. When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.” When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it. Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him. Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. (Exodus 32:7-33)

This isn't the first time Moses has had to intercede for Israel. I've posted before and I'm sure I'll say it again, Israel was a major thorn in Moses side. They kept him from enter the promise land by not believing Caleb and Joshua and trusting that God had their back. And I honestly believe it was frustration with the Israelites that led Moses to disobey God with the waters of Meribah.

But I was thinking about these stories with this new perspective in mind. What would have happened if Moses hadn't interceded for Israel? The first time Moses says "Ok ok I'll pray for you." The second time he says "Ok, ok guys, once more." But maybe the third time Moses just stays silent when God wants to wipe out Israel. What would happen? Would God have wiped Israel off the face of the Earth? Would Palestine currently be fighting with the descendants of Moses? Or would Moses have been punished for not praying for his fellow Israelites? Was it a test of Moses character?

We'll never know the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. Those prayers shaped Moses. They had! Most of us would gladly let God destroy the people who are causing us so much strife! But Moses asks God to remember his promise to the faithful who came before. Moses "reminds" God that he doesn't want His (God's) own name to seem powerless by wiping the Israelites from the face of the earth. Why would Moses keep praying for the Israelites? I don't know for sure but I have some thoughts.

Moses got to spend time in the presence of God! He got to see God face to face and talk to God voice to voice. Moses had a special relationship with God. It would've been easy for Moses to feel special and superior. Why shouldn't the descendants of Moses be the ones to enter the Promised Land? But Moses had already done hard time in the desert. He'd seen plenty while living with Pharaoh and he'd seen hardship, tending sheep as a fugitive in the wilderness for his father-in-law. And God found him, to call him back to Egypt to be the guide for his people Israel. Moses understood God's character. Moses knew that God's promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still mattered and wasn't going to go unfulfilled. It probably didn't hurt that at one point early on God wanted to kill Moses but Moses' wife intervened. (Exodus 4:24-26) Having to deal with Israel kept Moses pride at bay. Yes, he spoke face to face with God, but the people he was leading were just as stubborn and disobedient as they were when they left Egypt. While it was frustrating, I'm sure at times Moses felt bad for them. There had to be some love for them. And I believe Moses knew that Israel getting to the Promised Land was much bigger in the grand scheme of life than just someone getting there with God's blessing.

I talked in my last blog about praying for the Islamic State. That's a tall task to ask someone to pray that a terrorist group would come to Jesus because we've all witnessed and been upset and hurt by their actions. I wrote a post years ago about Love Wins and touched on the idea that there are people we don't want to see in heaven. And that's a personal issue. I struggle with certain biblical teachers, TV news anchors, and politicians I disagree with. But in wanting to see us unified and one, I have to pray prayers that don't ask God to change others, but to change myself to relate better with others. How do I engage in conversations with a healthy respect for someone I might not agree with? How do I love them and truly hear them out, and present myself and my case, without getting frustrated and calling them awful names? How do I interact with people at the grocery store, coffee shop, or homeless guy on the street in a way that shows a genuine interest in their life that reflects God's love and care for them? What should my response be when I watch TV and see terrorist killing my brothers and sisters? How do I pray for someone I'd just as easily see destroyed?

I need to change my prayer life from asking God for blessings and things, and find a prayer life that reshapes who I am and how I interact with those around me. Because those will be the things that matter more in the end. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Praying Like We Believe It Could Make A Difference

"About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.
So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.
Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed." - Acts 12:1-16
What if the church collectively prayed? What if the Church - Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc, put aside our differences and came together under what unites and bonds us and prayed together? Could we see real change in the world?
I love this story in Acts 12 because of the simplicity. James had been killed and Peter is in jail awaiting the same fate. The church is being persecuted and those who are left could very easily be next. And they gather and pray. Imagine this happening right now. #PrayForPeter Everyone changing their avatars to Peter's mug shot. Social media activism. But probably not a lot of all church prayer meetings. 
But the church in Acts gathers to pray for Peter. Not just for an hour or two. The church was praying all through the night. I imagine they would have prayed into the next day, through Peter's trial and execution. But God hears their prayer and Peter has more work to do. The church is still praying when Peter shows up and knocks on the door. It's quite funny because they don't even believe it could actually be Peter at first. 
What would happen if 75% of the American church was so deeply moved and affected by the stories of the brothers and sisters being killed by IS and Al-Shabaab, that we stopped arguing silly laws about who should bake a cake for who and united as Christians, under the blood of Jesus that set all of us free, to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world suffering real persecution and who could lose their life at any moment? What if we believed the words of Isaiah 24, that God will turn spears into pruning hooks and swords into plows and prayed for revival in the lives of those hunting down and killing our brothers and sisters? (Instead of hoping we bomb the country and send them straight to hell) Imagine what would happen if churches across America didn't hold Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday night services, but instead devoted themselves to praying for revival and changed hearts, and peace where there has been war and terror for so long.
Can you imagine turning on NPR (or CNN or Fox, whatever your poison is) and hearing reports that IS has destroyed all their weapons and were asking for forgiveness? We wouldn't believe it. It would be, wait for it, a miracle! 
Is it wishful thinking? Sure. Not because I don't believe God could turn the hearts of the "enemy" to him, but because some days it seems like the bigger miracle would be a unified American church. But just imagine with me, a world where our differences didn't divide us, but we stood together based on what we had in common, our status as the sons and daughters of God. What if that mattered more than what side of an issue we stood on? We would be instruments of change and bearers of peace! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loving Without Borders

Last week I read a story about a high school in New York celebrating National Foreign Language week. In a celebration of different cultures and in the spirit that America is a country full of diversity and citizens from around the world, Pine Bush High School decided it would have a student recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a different language each morning that week. 

Things went off the rails when they asked a girl to read the pledge in Arabic. Because apparently when we hear Arabic in America we instantly think terrorist. No, for real. Mere moments after finishing reciting the pledge, a poor high school girl was called a terrorist by fellow students. The ignorance of "This is America, speak English" began to fly. The class president who allowed the girl to read the pledge has been stripped of his duties as pledge reader each morning and will face possible impeachment. Because he let a girl read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. There is no lack of hate in America.

As an American, I usually think about what the Bible says about how we relate to foreigners in terms of undocumented immigrants. But this morning when I read Deuteronomy 10, I had another thought. 

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. - Deuteronomy 10:17-19

This girl is in need of love. How many mosques were vandalized after 9/11 and could have used a loving hand to help them clean up. How many new citizens enter this country feeling lost, lonely, and rejected? I think we forget that people are not our enemy. If there's a living, breathing person, God loves them. There are sons and daughters of God who aren't home yet, and it's our love that will help show them the way! Race, language, nationality, non of these matter to God. We need to find a way of having them not matter to us. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Kind of Joy That Makes You Smile

Going from living in the suburbs with a nice back yard, to living in a loft in the city, I knew changes were coming. One of those changes was the dog. With no backyard, I could no longer simply just let the dog go outside so relieve himself or burn off some energy. If Charlie needs to be outside, I have to take him. It's a minor annoyance at times. Because taking the dog outside isn't just me putting the leash on him and going outside. It involves having to make sure Emily is dress appropriately for whatever the weather might be. Because she has to go outside with us. And we live on the second floor in a building that doesn't have an elevator. So you can forget ever using the stroller when mommy's at work. I don't have enough hands for that! (I know, I know. First world problems for sure.)

But I've come to enjoy these little trips outside. Because Emily loves them! The moment we step out into the hall, her little face lights up and the chatter machine kicks into high gear. It's a new and joyous experience for her every time.

If I could bottle the joy she gets just from seeing our dog, I imagine I'd sell enough of those bottles to retire in six months. People would want that kind of unadulterated, pure, and simple joy.

Emily gets excited about and is filled with joy at everything. And yes, I understand that's mostly because her world is opening up to her more and more every day. But it's fun to watch. It's infectious! I'm not sure what it would take to get me that excited or joyful. And that's the saddest thing of all.

Jesus said unless we become like little children (Matthew 18:3), we won't enter the kingdom of heaven. Most people say to have faith like a little child. But I think we also need to be joyful like a little child. The miracles of God are all around us and we've become so accustomed to them that we don't even notice them. We walk into that hallway at least twice every day and Emily is overjoyed and excited every time! We need more fresh eyed discovery. We need innocent and pure joy. We need to find ways of taking in the world around us better so we notice the miracles happening each and every day.

Because if we, as adults, have that kind of joy, we could make a difference in those around us!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Adventure Is Out There

When God says his ways and thoughts are higher than our's, he means it. And sometimes we see how clearly we don't understand God or His ways.

Behind the scenes we've been praying for me to have a job that was lucrative enough for Amanda to leave her job and stay home with Emily, so Amanda could stay home and raise our daughter and follow through with some of her other dreams and passions. She had supported my craziness for long enough and I wanted her to be able to have the desires of her heart and be a stay at home mom. We both did.

But that didn't happen before Amanda had to go back to work. It just so happened that were fasting along with our church the week she went back to work. Perfect. 10 days to seek God and figure out what we were to do next and hope that Amanda's time back at work wouldn't last very long.

But God... God had other plans. And much like being falsely sentenced and imprisoned before getting to the promises of God, God's answer didn't really make much sense to us.

On Amanda's second day back, she was asked to be a part of a project that would have us leave the DC Metro area. Not what we'd been praying for. And honestly, it wasn't really something I thought could be an option. We didn't want Amanda to commit to working.What would moving mean for my job situation? How is this possibly what God wants for us?

You could say one of our family values is "adventure is out there." So it seems like we would have jumped at the chance to take a new adventure. And I think Amanda did,  but I wasn't so sure. But after much prayer and lots of conversations, we decided that this wasn't a distraction keeping us from something else God wanted us to do. Actually, it was exactly what he was calling us to. It was something that Amanda became excited about pursuing. While we're still reconciling what all of this means for our family, we're looking forward to walking out this commitment.

So Amanda, Emily, and I are moving to Philadelphia, Pa!

Eventually, in theory, we'll be back in DC when Amanda's involvement with this project is done. But for this season, we are leaving DC and heading northward.

I don't understand what God is doing, because this isn't the answer for prayer I was expecting. Not even a little close. But I'm embracing this next step in our family!

We want to hang out and see and enjoy as many of our DC friends and family as much as possible before we roll out. So please, hang out with us!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making the The Lord's Prayer Real In Our Lives

This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." - Matthew 6:9-13

There was a season where I only prayed the Lord's prayer every day. I had reached the end of knowing what to pray and decided to just put the Lord's prayer on repeat. 

But recently I've been thinking about Jesus' command on how to pray and what if we lived this prayer. The Lord's Prayer has the potential to completely change us and, if we live it, the world. 

"Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

In Love Wins Rob Bell talks about bringing heaven to earth and making life a little less like hell for people. Stephen Colbert describes hell as being separated from God's love. People describe heaven as a place of peace. Where sickness and pain and hurt and poverty and hunger and evil is abolished and God's love is everywhere. What is God's will in heaven that we are to bring to earth? God sent his son as a means to reconcile the world back to him. Jesus' time on earth was spent bringing healing, reconciliation, redemption, peace. Jesus said repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here. Repent, turn from your selfishness, from your sin, so you can enter into the love of God. In the love of God comes healing, peace, restoration, that we are to share with the world around us because of those things that God has birthed in us. Bringing heaven to earth is not just about converting and evangelizing to as many people as possible, but by brining the life changing love that Christ offers to reconcile people to each other and to God, through healing and restoration. 

"Give us Today our Daily bread."

I don't remember who posted it, but I saw someone tweet about our daily bread being just that, daily. It's what got me thinking about the Lord's Prayer. Give us today our daily bread. Jesus wants us to recognize that our reliance on God is daily. Not just when things are going poorly, but daily. There are moments when all I can ask is God help me get through today. But that should be our every day. Jesus is far too often our last option, our last resort when all our resources and energies fail. But God should be our daily dependance and where we turn to first. 

We also spend much of our time asking God about the future. What's the next step? Who am I suppose to marry? When will we have kids? What's my next career move? Jesus said not to focus and worry about tomorrow because today has enough for us to worry and focus on. We should be asking God, what do you want of me today. What's in store for today. 

The last note on daily bread is the bread itself. Bread isn't sexy. Sure, bread comes in a variety of flavors, shapes, and sizes, but ultimately it's just bread. I think most of the time we would rather ask God to give us today our daily steak or our daily lobster. We want God to do something big and flashy or use us to do something big and flashy for him. But God's commands, while not always easy, are simple. It's the bread that we need each day. 

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

This is a verse where I would like it to read "Lord help us forgive our debtors as you have forgiven us our debts." It would be easier because it wouldn't be a conditional prayer. Lord forgive us in the same way that we forgive those who have wronged us. I need God's forgiveness. Daily! And if that's dependent on how I forgive others, then I'm in a heap of trouble! Now, I don't believe that God's forgiveness is conditional to my forgiving of others. But what if I lived like it was? 

Just let that sink in for a moment.

The wages of sin are death and God's forgiveness, God's love covers you and takes you off of death row. We have wronged God to the point where the punishment is death and God has forgiven us that debt and we are called to show that same grace and forgiveness. If we put that into practice, it's revolutionary! That's a kind of forgiveness that could change the world if every christian lived their life forgiving people in such a radical way. Even if we prayed with that kind of grace to people and groups who have wronged us unintentionally! I forgive you and want you to find and have life! 

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."

Jesus says God is our father, and we are called to bring heaven to earth, rely on God every day, and forgive radically! And then Jesus says we need to make sure we ask God to help lead us away from temptation that could cause us to sin. Paul said he did not want to sin but what he doesn't want to do, he does. Sin and temptation is everywhere. And without the self-control that only comes from spending time with and being in God's presence, we will fall more often than not. Jesus understood that even if we could wrap our heads around the ideas of needing God to be our supply every day, and bringing heaven to earth, and radical forgiveness, that if we didn't have self-control and weren't looking to God to help us out of situations that could destroy us, we would fall and shortchange what God wants to do in our lives. 

The Lord's Prayer is revolutionary if we take it to heart and live it out and not just let it be something we memorize and throw out in Sunday School. The power in this prayer could change the world. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

That Black Hole Between Here and Heaven

On Monday I started my new life as a stay at home dad.

This is not what I was hoping for. This is not what my wife was hoping for. This is not what hundreds of people having been praying for. But alas, it happened.

Please don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. I love Emily so much and I love having the ability and opportunity to stay at home with her. Amanda and I are blessed that one of us gets to stay home with her. But I don't want to sugar this...

The miracle we and others were expecting, that God would show up and show off and provide me a job that would cover our expenses and Amanda would get to stay home, like she desires, when that didn't happen, it upset me. I was mad. I was mad at God. If we're being honest, I'm probably still mad at God.

Look, if God never wants to answer another one of my prayers for as long as I live, so be it. God had done so much for me before I was even born and I am already blessed beyond belief. So I'm not mad that my prayers went unanswered.

But seeing the pain that my wife is going through. The hurt of having to leave her baby every day. The stress about interrupting and changing sleep patterns, and milk supply verses Emily's demand and the possibility that she might become reliant on a bottle. To watch my wife struggle and hurt upsets me. It makes me says "Damn it, God! Why?"

This one prayer request. This five year old prayer request. It just seems to hit the ceiling, never making it to God's ear. Or it's getting sucked into a black hole between here and heaven. Those are the only logical explanations, right?

But the Bible is full of moments where the protagonist should jump up and shout "Damn it, God!" Abraham, Joseph (take your pick of moments), Moses, David, even Jesus. Maybe they did have those moments but the writers of their stories knew that having Biblical characters swear wasn't very Christian. Or maybe their resolve was deeper than mine (obviously, Jesus had more faith and resolve than I do). Is my lack of faith, my so easily disappointed nature, keeping me from the blessings of God? Is that where my prayers are being sucked into oblivion?

But Moses had to spend 40 years in the desert, with quite possibly the worst version of a family reunion imaginable, and he never got to enter the promise land. And he died knowing that once in the promised land, the Israelites were going to turn their back on God. Joseph had to do time in prison. And being in charge of prison, while a prisoner, still means you're in prison and so, life is not that great. Jesus died on a cross. So maybe 5 years without a full-time job but always having the funds to pay my bills isn't a situation to really compare myself with Moses, Joseph, or Jesus (again, obviously not really comparing myself with Jesus).

Sometimes life seems unfair, and in this moment, things seem really unfair to my wife. Even though we could both acknowledge the blessings in our life and recognize how lucky we are that one of us gets to be home, it's not the situation that we were hoping for. And we both started fasting on the day she went back to work, so I'm not sure why either of us thought this week was going to be cakewalk.

I said earlier that I was mad at God. That's a tough thing to admit. I didn't really have those words in my head until I verbally found myself blaming God for not changing our situation last week. I still love God. I still believe in God. I still believe that he could intervene in our life and in our situation as I type this. And I still believe that even if he doesn't, he's still good and has a plan.

I think admitting I'm mad, or was mad, and probably will again in the future find myself mad at God is ok. If God's ways and thoughts are so much higher than mine and I can only see through a mirror dimly, then I can't really understand God well enough to get what he's up to most of the time. And in my frustration, I get mad because I don't understand. It's like when I was trying to get Emily to take a bottle at first. It wasn't normal or what she wanted, so she screamed and cried and was super upset and didn't take the bottle. She didn't understand that I had what she wanted all along. And now she knows and understands that the bottle is good and takes it without a problem. And in the same way I get mad and frustrated and cry, and curse at God because I don't understand. All I can do is pray and trust that he does have a plan and is still watching out for us. I have to believe that he still hears. Even when it seems like my prayers are getting sucked into space.

Friday, January 9, 2015

What We Can Learn About God From The Sea

People connect with nature. It's ingrained in us. When we climb to the top of a mountain or see a beautiful sunset, we take pictures and comment about the beauty. Even those without a belief in God recognize the beauty of nature. You don't hear people say, man I really hated that sunrise today. People would stare at that person like they'd lost their mind. What's not to like?

"This week, choose one facet of creation that you love - birds, trees, weather soil, water, light, children, sex, aging, sleep. Observe it, think about it, learn about it every chance you can, with this question in mind: if that element of creation were your only Bible, what would it tell you about God?"

I'm sure this sounds like some hippy dippy nonsense to a lot of people, but I love the idea that Brian McLaren lays out in the first chapter of We Make The Road By Walking. Instantly my mind went to the sea.

Whether locally overlooking the river as I run or walk the dog, or walking along the beach, looking at the ocean, I love the view and perspective of staring out into the distance over the water. And as I think about the parallels between God and the ocean, my mind begins to wonder and churn.

God is big and can invade the tiniest parts of our world.

From the ocean to the sea to the river, flowing into streams and into our water systems that we use for cleaning and drinking, water is everywhere. We, as humans, are mostly water. God is big like the ocean, everywhere and ever present. But God is also personal and intimate like the water in our homes. God flows in and out of every area and aspect of our lives. Even when we don't acknowledge that He's present, God's still there.

God is powerful.

One of my memories from my childhood is family vacations to the beach. My dad would take my siblings and me out into the water where we would try to catch waves and body surf. As a kid that wave would grab you and if you weren't prepared, it would drag you straight under sending nasty salt water straight up your nose! Occasionally, the tide would be pulling so far in one direction that after 20 minutes you wouldn't even be able to see your family because you had been dragged, almost unaware, farther down the ocean. The thing about the tide and the waves, is most of the time it doesn't look like anything's happening that could move you in such a powerful way. God has the power to completely overwhelm us. He has the power to overtake us and turn our lives upside down. He has the power to move us and take us place we didn't know we were going. But a lot of times, his power doesn't look like much. And he's working, even when we can't see it (something I need to remind myself of all the time).

God is refreshing.

A glass of water when you're thirsty. Jumping into the pool on a hot summer day. Taking a hot bath or shower after a long stressful day. At the right moment water can cool us down, help us forget about the stress of a day, and rejuvenate us. I love a hot shower. Especially right after a winter time run when I'm freezing. Nothing feels better than just standing and letting that hot water hit my body. The peace of God can take our stress away. It's refreshing. That's why Jesus called us to take his yoke. Because it's light. It eases our load that we waste too much time trying to carry.

This is just a short list and I could probably keep going and compile a super comprehensive list. But it's good to take a moment and reflect on how God is reflecting his character through his creation. While humans might be made an the image of God, his nature and character is reflected in all of creation.

Monday, January 5, 2015

We Make The Road By Walking

Having gotten Brian McLaren's new book for Christmas, I decided to add it to my morning devotions. One chapter a week for the next year. One chapter in and I can tell it's going to be a good read and a great addition to my bible reading. I love the questions and meditation points at the end of each chapter create a a means to dwell on what you've read and on the character of God. It's also looking like it will give me a ton to blog about! 

So this is my "word of warning" to expect lots of blogs to come out of this book!