Friday, February 27, 2009

An Invitation to Prayer: The Lenten Devotional Series 2009

This, then, is how you should pray . . . (Matthew 6:9).

Maybe we’ve made it harder than it ought to be. Prayer, that is. It is sometimes said that for followers of Jesus praying is like breathing. Our spiritual lives depend on it. Sounds nice, but if that’s true one has to wonder why so many Christians are blue and gasping. Praying may certainly be as important as breathing, but it isn’t as easy.

Jesus gave us permission to be simple in our prayers. He relieved us of the need to wax eloquent. Prayer need not be poetry (Matthew 6:7). Our Lord’s invitation to simplicity notwithstanding, too many of us feel inadequate with prayer “language” – and this is especially true when we pray out loud.

Paul reminded us that when we don’t know what to say, the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). The writer to the Hebrews states that even now Jesus is making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is praying for you. Powerful thought.

So we have plenty of help. We have Jesus’ assurance that simple prayers are perfectly good and worthy prayers. But we still find it uncomfortable and difficult. While we might not say it aloud, we sometimes find prayer burdensome.

In his fine book Praying with the Church, Scot McKnight distinguishes between two kinds of praying. Most of us learn to pray by saying our prayers in church. These are our personal and spontaneous prayers. It’s what we say when someone in a class at church or a small groups says “would you open us in prayer?” This is the kind of prayer that confronts us with a sense of inadequacy.

But there is a different kind of prayer that is just as important and even necessary. Our prayers in church need to be coupled with our experience of praying with the Church.

Praying with the church is a way of praying in company with other believers. It is prayer that connects us with God’s people all over the world. Both Jesus and the early church prayed according to set times and liturgical use of scripture and Psalms. This kind of praying is typically characterized by

1. A given content – the prayers are read in unison.
2. A set time – the prayers are offered according to a daily rhythm or schedule
3. A gathered people – the community prays together.

The daily devotional series for Lent 2009 is intended to be an experience of praying with the church. Of course, we will not be gathering as a group every day, but the email that comes to you each morning will pull you into an experience of prayer being shared by hundreds of others. Beginning Monday, March 2, each daily experience of prayer will include

1. A selection from Psalms
2. A short scripture reading
3. A thought / question for reflection.
4. A brief closing prayer to prompt prayer words of your own

All of the content needed for each day will be provided in the email. You can use this is at the office or in an airport just as easily as you can at home.

Maybe one of the ways we’ve made prayer harder than it ought to be is by thinking that we pray alone. As you follow Jesus toward the cross, preparing for Easter, you are in good company. The Holy Spirit aids you in prayer – and many others are joining you. May you sense the Spirit’s presence and the strength of many other fellow travelers as we make our way to the cross and to the empty tomb.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pay Attention

Jacob became angry with [Rachel] and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:1)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Since the day of his birth Jacob had been a trickster. The name Jacob means something like “heel grabber,” suggesting one who trips up or supplants another. Indeed, that was the story of Jacob’s life.

He had opportunistically swindled his brother Esau out of the birthright that belonged to the first born. Jacob cut a shrewd deal over a bowl of stew and walked away with what rightly belonged to Esau.

Later, posing as his brother, Jacob took advantage of his father’s old age and blindness. Jacob played the imposter and received the blessing from Isaac. Esau’s anguished plea to Isaac went unheeded. “Bless me too Father!” Too late. Crafty Jacob had received what could only be given once.

In Laban it seems that Jacob met his match: A deal for seven years of labor in return for Rachel, Leah slipped into the mix on the night of the wedding, seven more years of work for the younger good-looking Rachel. Jacob got what was coming to him.

But in the midst of his deceptive, scheming life and his dysfunctional marriage to two jealous sisters there is a moment when Jacob gets it right. A brief interlude of honest clarity is glimpsed in the middle of Jacob’s conflicted story.

In his anger over Rachel’s demand for a child Jacob confesses that he is not God. “Am I in the place God?” he shoots back at his whining wife. Implied answer: “No, I am not God.” There are things that only God can do. Creating life is one of them. Jacob knew his limitations.


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We will never find God in the everyday while we’re trying to be God in the everyday. Our efforts to exercise sovereignty over our own lives blind us to the true Sovereign. Our inclination to manage and manipulate people and circumstances squeezes God to corners of our days. God is eclipsed by our unruly self.

In the New Testament, there is a variation on the name “Jacob” that shows up as “James.” In a short letter written by James we are reminded that every good and perfect gift comes from above. God is the giver of all that is decent and good and cherished in this life.

So we have Jacob: Acknowledging that he is not God, reminding us that we cannot be God. And we have James: Inviting us to pay attention and receive thankfully every good gift that God places in our lives.

This is a fair description of what it means to wake up every day and live a life of faith. Recognize that whatever this day brings, God is sovereign. As the clich├ęd wisdom puts it, “there is a God, and it’s not you.” You don’t have to play God today.

But you are asked to pay attention. Ultimately this is what it means to find God in the everyday. Stay out of the way, look carefully and listen closely. You are surrounded by good gifts – all of them coming from above.

Prayer:
With every new day, O Lord, teach me more of who you are and what you are doing. I relinquish my claim to your role in my life. Help me to trust you, to follow you obediently, to notice your presence in the everyday – today and always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28)

Jesus had made a mess in the temple. He had overturned tables of money, sending coins rolling and bouncing, causing every head to turn at the raucous sound of his indignation. The vendors of sacrificial animals had also been sent packing. Jesus had disturbed the cozy industry that had cropped up around the traffic of pilgrims who needed an animal to give to the priest or currency exchanged for the offering plate.

So the next day, as Jesus walked in the temple courts he was confronted by those who regarded themselves as caretakers of the place. They raised the question of authority. “What gives you the right?”


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We are rarely confronted with that question in such a blunt manner, but we wear ourselves out answering it anyway. Every day is another day to prove ourselves, to show that we belong, that we really are capable, that we are worthy of trust and confidence and admiration.

There are two kinds of authority. One kind is the kind of authority that is placed upon us by a title or a job or a role. A police officer has authority when he or she wears the badge; the lifeguard has authority when perched in the lifeguard chair.

But there’s a different kind of authority that comes from some deep place within us. The Greek word for authority used in Mark 11:28 (exousia) can be literally rendered ‘out of being.’ It’s a kind of rooted strength that you possess when you know who you are.

The first kind of authority allows us to accomplish tasks: negotiate contracts, hire employees, make decisions, give direction. This is a legitimate authority and the world would be thrown into chaos without it.

But the second kind of authority is what allows us to love people, to give a blessing, to listen to another’s pain, to sit quietly with someone and be present without trying to fix things, to tell the truth in love. This is possible only when we know that we have been loved and blessed by God. We know who we are.

Many of you have authority – the kind that allows you tell your client how to plead or your children to get in the car. But you’ve also been given a deeper authority in Jesus. This day is much more than another chance for you to prove yourself. You will be the presence of Christ in the world today. You are loved by God the Father and filled with his Spirit. You are sent. Let that flow out of your being.

Prayer:
Remind me today, Lord Jesus, who I am and who you’ve called me to be. By your spirit empower me to be that person and live that life, carrying your presence into the world with quiet authority. Amen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taming a Ravenous Heart

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1).

When I was in the sixth or seventh grade I wanted a mini-bike. Not just any mini-bike. I wanted a Honda mini-trail 50. A friend of mine had a Honda mini-trail 50. I had ridden his and was convinced that my life would not be complete until I had one just like it.

Christmas approached. I spoke to my parents using the scriptural words of Rachel in Genesis 30:1. “Give me a Honda mini-trail 50 or I’ll die!” I wasn’t quite that demanding, but I made sure my parents saw the glossy color brochures from Honda that had pictures of the gleaming Honda mini-trail 50 and images of people who looked supremely happy as they sat astride the blessed bike.

Christmas came. My parents did indeed get me a mini-bike. It was not a Honda mini-trail 50. I later learned that it was a refurbished mini-bike that had belonged to my cousin Ben. It was a decent mini-bike, and I enjoyed it. But by next Christmas my interest in mini-bikes had diminished significantly. The mini-bike sat neglected in a shed in the back yard. And I know now that the same thing would have probably happened even if I’d gotten the Honda mini-trail 50.

The things we believe we simply must have will never make us right. We transfer the “must” to something else. Something within us is always craving something outside of us, hoping to finally be fulfilled. The Bible calls this idolatry.


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Idolatry is an insidious thing, and it never goes away. A sixth grader’s conviction that life depends upon a mini-bike becomes a high-schooler’s conviction that life depends upon a car, a certain kind of car. For my kids and their peers it’s a cell phone or ‘ipod touch.’ Later it becomes a career or a spouse or, like Rachel, a family.

These are not bad things, and nothing in scripture prohibits praying for things we want, especially things like relationships and children. But the belief that we’ll die without those things, that fullness of life cannot be had apart from those things, this is desire gone awry.

Rachel’s demand, “Give me . . . or I’ll die” makes it nearly impossible to live with a sense of gratitude. Ravenous demands and humble thanks rarely inhabit the same soul. And apart from gratitude it is impossible to find God in the everyday. The everyday is often something we didn’t ask for, and sometimes something we’d be glad to do without. But to receive what’s in front of us with thanksgiving opens windows to the presence of God that are tightly closed when we live a “give-me-or-I’ll-die” kind of life.

Is there something that you ache to have today? Know that your desire may be perfectly legitimate. Feel free to pray for whatever it might be right now. But after you’ve been honest with God about what you want, speak your gratitude for what you have in front of you – and know that God, God and nothing else, is enough.

Prayer:
At times, O God, my desires are unruly. I believe I must have something or someone to be complete. Forgive me, and make me thankful for the everyday that this day will bring. Turn my ravenous heart into a thankful heart by the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Second Seven Years

Jacob . . . loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years (Genesis 29:30)

To read how they first met is to get a picture of awkwardness. Jacob saw Rachel at a distance and was immediately smitten. Did he ask around, get her address, learn who her friends were, finagle an introduction? No. None of that. We’re told that Jacob simply walked right up to her and kissed her and then . . . he wept. I think he could have done without the weeping, but the ancient world had its own ways of wooing women.

The bottom line is stated crisply in Genesis 29:18. “Jacob was in love with Rachel.” He was so in love that he agreed to work for Rachel’s father for seven years so that he could marry her.

The seven years flew by (Gen. 29:20). Jacob’s love for Rachel burned hot and the years melted. The wedding day arrived. A week of feasting and celebrating and apparently a liberal amount of imbibing. Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law managed to give his other daughter to Jacob on the wedding night. Jacob woke up, rubbed his eyes and saw Leah next to him. Leah was the plain older girl. Rachel couldn’t marry before Leah did.

Jacob was told he could also have Rachel – but it would cost him. Laban wanted seven more years of work. Jacob agreed. I’ve always thought Jacob had to work the extra seven years before he could have Rachel. The Bible doesn’t say that. After the first week of marriage to Leah, Jacob also took Rachel as his wife – but he owed Laban. Seven more years.

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Sometimes you get what you’ve always wanted, but it costs you more than you ever imagined. Sometimes you get what you’ve longed for, and in the process get more than you bargained on.

For Jacob it was seven more years of servitude to Laban – and Leah thrown into the household. He had Rachel, yes. But at a cost.

You get the promotion and the trappings that go with it – but it costs you at home and places more problems on our desk during the day and they stay on your mind at night. The job is your Rachel.

After years of trying, a baby is on the way. There is joy – even though the pregnancy becomes dangerous and you’re on bed rest for months. The baby is your Rachel.

The first seven years are sustained by passion and dreams and deep longing. They fly by in anticipation and hope. The second seven years are different. In the second seven you have what you wanted – and now you’re keeping a promise; living a commitment.

Many of you are living the second seven years today. You’re up and at it because someone is depending on you. You’re doing what you said you would do, doing what you have to do. This isn’t bad, but it is ordinary. It’s what we’ve been calling the “everyday.”

God is at work in the second seven years. The story of Jacob’s marriage to his dream girl isn’t a very pleasant story, but it is a story that God authors. God is actively accomplishing his purposes in Jacob’s difficult life. God does the same in your life, even in the second seven years.

Prayer:
Gracious God, you are true to you word, faithful in all things, loving us with a steadfast love. Give us the grace we need to be like you in the details of this day, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Abounding

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight . . . (Philippians 1:9).

I’ve been gaining insight into my wife for almost thirteen years. I’ve learned much. I have much to learn. But from time to time I realize that what I’m learning is a variation on a lesson I glimpsed early in our relationship, the Christmas before we married.

Marnie had gotten a Christmas tree for her apartment. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this thing could have gone on the White House lawn or in front of Rockefeller Plaza. It was massive, consuming most of the floor space and forcing her to move furniture in her apartment. The size of the tree got my attention. But what I found most revealing about it was the fact that she had purchased it, brought it home, and put it up all by herself.

She was on a mission. She put her mind to it and made it happen. I’ve seen that same story played out over and over again. My insight deepens, and so does my gratitude. God knew exactly who I needed in my life.

As Paul prays for the church in Philippi he prays that their love will abound more and more. I like that. This isn’t a prayer that asks for help putting up with each other; it’s not a prayer for strength to gut it out and hang on. Paul isn’t settling for that, and neither should we. The language he uses suggests abundance, an overflow.

But this abounding love has shape and definition. This love abounds in knowledge and depth of insight. Knowledge and insight can do funny things to love. Sometimes the more we know about a person, the harder it is to love them. Sometimes knowledge deepens love. Most of the time, the kind of love that truly grows and abounds is the kind that gains knowledge and depth of insight, and loves anyway.

Paul likely meant that as knowledge of Christ and insight into who Christ is increases, our love will abound accordingly. That makes sense. You can’t grow in your knowledge of Jesus and be stingy with love. If that’s happening there’s probably no true knowledge and insight into who Jesus is to begin with.

But more than the abounding love, more than the increasing knowledge and depth of insight, I am struck by the sheer fact that Paul prays.

Apart from prayer we won’t love as we should. Love isn’t something we conjure up by trying hard; love isn’t something that comes naturally to us when another person is lovable. Good intentions aren’t much help.

Love is a gift. God gives the gift to us and teaches us how to love. Our role is to ask. We pray. Try it this weekend. Pray for the one you love and pray for the love you share – that it might overflow in abundance; that you’ll have knowledge and insight into who that person is, and who Jesus is. Pray that the Holy Spirit would create the kind of love God wants you to experience: Love abounding more and more.

Prayer:
Loving God, we pray Paul’s words as our own. Give us love that abounds more and more, love that grows with increasing knowledge and depth of insight into who you are. Help us to know you better that we might love as we should, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rebuked

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he was indignant . . . (Mark 10:13).

Have you been rebuked lately? I have, and I probably deserved it. I took a book to my daughter’s basketball game. I received a gentle but firm rebuke for this from Anna. In my defense let me say that I saw every minute that she played. She knew this, but it didn’t matter. “You don’t take a book to a basketball game,” she said. Fair enough.

The Greek word for “rebuke” keeps showing up in Mark’s gospel, and there’s a connection between what is being rebuked and the ways we find God at work in the world.

In Mark 8:32 Peter rebukes Jesus for talking plainly to the disciples about death and suffering. This isn’t good for morale, so Peter pulls Jesus aside for a little talking to.

In response Jesus rebukes Peter – and with a scathing line: “Get behind me Satan” (Mark 8:33). Peter has an agenda that directly opposes what Jesus is trying to do. There’s not much God in his thinking and Jesus will have none of it.

A little later the disciples rebuke those who are bringing children to Jesus (Mark 10:13). This rebuke causes Jesus to become indignant. Jesus welcomes the children and even holds them up as exemplary of those who will have a place in God’s kingdom.

The journey to Jerusalem continues and as Jesus and the disciples pass through Jericho a blind man begins to shout out, hoping to get Jesus’ attention. There’s the word again; those around Jesus “rebuke” the blind man (Mark 10:48). But what others rebuke, Jesus hears and takes notice of. The blind man is healed.

As we journey with Jesus through the everyday aspects of our lives we might be surprised to learn that the things that annoy us or irritate us are actually the places where God is most likely to show up. What inconveniences us may glorify God.

The disciples were annoyed by children; they had no social or political clout. They felt like a distraction, a bother. But what the disciples rebuked, Jesus received and touched and blessed.

The people around Jesus rebuked the whining blind man. What they rebuked and told to be quiet, Jesus heard and invited to conversation. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).

Interestingly, what Jesus rebuked were pretensions to self-importance, power, upward mobility and busy-ness that can’t be interrupted by children and blind people.

What annoys you or irritates you? Where do you find yourself spewing a word of rebuke in the course of a typical week? Take another look. What you rebuke may well be the place where God is at work in ways you haven’t dreamed of.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to see things the way you see them. Keep me from living my days reacting to what annoys me, distancing myself from what is inconvenient. Redeem my tendency to rebuke and help me to find you in those very people and places. Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monday . . . Again

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them . . . and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd he had compassion on them . . . (Mark 6:32-33).

Reality returned with a vengeance Sunday night. Marnie and I had spent the weekend at a couples’ retreat. As is clearly implied in the phrase “couples’ retreat,” we were kid-free for nearly 48 hours. But by Sunday night, less than twelve hours back at home, the leisure and pace of the weekend felt like something that had happened a long time ago.

We safeguard our Sunday nights, but we can still feel the week ahead breathing down our necks. Laundry comes down from the hampers in bedrooms; trash needs to be taken to the street for Monday pick-up. Papers sent home on Friday have to be reviewed and signed by a parent. The everyday makes its presence felt even on Sunday.

Getting away for a weekend marriage retreat is always a good thing, but the value of a marriage retreat isn’t fully understood until you get home and have to sign school papers and take the trash to the street and empty the hampers. This is where marriage is lived out; this is where we practice loving each other.

We step away from the everyday in order to better live the everyday. We focus on our relationships so that we can live and love in the routines of daily life.


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Jesus gave his disciples authority to preach and cast out demons, and then he sent them out to get after it. When they returned they were elated with their success, full of stories to tell. Jesus invited them to come away by themselves to get some rest (Mark 6:31).

No sooner had they found that quiet place than the needy crowds found them. Their escape was short lived. The many manifestations of human brokenness never take time off. God’s mercies may be new every morning, but so are details of our need.

What is noteworthy is Jesus’ response. No resentment, no complaining, no lamentations about relentless demands. Jesus has compassion.

There is a rhythm to life that Jesus modeled for us; we move between seasons of rest and retreat and seasons of intense engagement. We may discover God in the place of retreat, but God doesn’t intend for us to live there. What happens in the solitary place prepares us to engage the world.

A weekend away is good for a marriage (very good in fact). But marriage isn’t truly lived in the place of escape. The benefit of the escape is finding what we need to go back to the laundry and the school papers.

We sometimes escape to find God: retreats and conferences are available in abundance and offer much that is spiritually helpful. But the benefit of the escape is finding what we need to discover God in the everyday. Don’t resent the mundane tasks that confront you today or the needy people that seek you out. In such places, in the everyday, miracles happen. Don’t miss out.

Prayer:
Gracious God, I don’t want to grow weary of the places or people in whom you often reveal yourself. I don’t want to waste this day dreaming of an escape plan. Fill me with compassion for others and passion for my tasks. Use me today, and lead me to places of rest and refreshing that allow me to find you in the everyday. Amen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Destinations

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:30-34)

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. The closer he gets the greater the urgency to teach his followers about where all of this is headed. Thus, passing through Galilee, Jesus avoids the public eye; he opts for anonymity so that he can teach his disciples. In Mark 10 he does the same thing, taking “the twelve aside” (Mark 10:32). In both Mark 9 and 10 the lesson is the same: suffering, death, resurrection.

The disciples don’t understand this. What’s more, they don’t bother to ask questions. They don’t seek clarification. It's not for lackof interest. Fear keeps them reticent. Sometimes there are things we’d prefer not to know.

Rather than seeking further instruction on what it means for them to follow Jesus to the place of suffering and death, they argue with each other about the nature of their rank and position. The twelve are competing for the highest spots on the roster.

Jesus wants to talk about laying down his life. The disciples want to argue about climbing the ladder. The road Jesus walks has two-lane traffic; it’s difficult to find Jesus in the everyday when every day is consumed with moving in a direction other than the one Jesus is trying to take us.


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Of course, few are called to martyrdom. Not many of us will be on the receiving end of hostile persecution. Jesus isn’t modeling for us a life of intentional misery that postures as holy. But Jesus is certainly moving in a direction that feels odd to us; the way he walks is a narrow way that lives life by giving life away. Jesus refuses to feed our ambitious appetites.

Like the disciples, we don’t always want to know this. We don’t eagerly inquire into the way of suffering and death, service and sacrifice. We like being on the Jesus team. We don’t always like running his plays. We walk the road he walks, but to a different destination.

How would you define the destination of your life today? What would it mean for you to work hard, to give your best to this day – but step off the ladder and simply go where Jesus is going? Sometimes the destination that Jesus chooses is not one we would have chosen for ourselves.

Be well warned: once we actually find Jesus in the everyday, we are not allowed to simply observe where he goes. We do not find Jesus in order to talk about what he does. Once we find him, we are called to follow. Where might Jesus be leading you today?

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, how easily we give our energy and attention to our standing in the world rather than our walk with you. Teach us what it means to follow you, allowing you to determine the way and the destination of our living, today and always. Amen.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Faith, Fear and Peanut Butter

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

I’m sitting down to write this just having eaten peanut butter. According to Saturday’s New York Times, that makes me a brave man.

Seems there’s a widespread avoidance of peanut butter these days. The salmonella poisoning that is blamed for nearly 600 illnesses and eight deaths and has prompted massive recalls of peanut buttery type products. People are scared. The fear isn’t directed at the recalled product lines only. It has morphed into a general fear of peanut butter, driving sales down 25% and creating a public relations nightmare for the entire industry. Jif is launching an ad campaign and offering coupons to reassure the public that their peanut butter is just fine.

They won’t have to do a hard sell at the Crumpler house. I’ve got a big jar of Jif that I’m into right now and when that one’s empty there’s another just like it in the pantry ready to be called to duty.

Some might say that’s reckless or foolish, that a measure of caution is called for right now. Of course the makers of Jif will disagree and insist I have nothing to fear and urge me to continue to stock up on those big jars of creamy goodness.

I make no claim to courage in the matter of peanut butter. Truthfully, it’s a bad habit. I’ll put peanut butter on just about anything. For some reason I’m just not afraid of the peanut butter in my house.

Maybe it’s just stubbornness. We’re eaten up with fear these days. We receive relentless daily reminders of reasons why we should worry and fret. Perhaps eating peanut butter can be a form of protest, a refusal to be afraid of one more thing. That’s a stretch – but our fears are out of control. They are disordered and misdirected. Our disordered fears keep us from seeing God in the everyday.


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One of the most familiar stories in the gospels is about a storm that swept down on Jesus and his disciples as they made their way across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep in the boat; he must have gone down like a brick because this storm didn’t disturb him in the least. Meanwhile the disciples are nearly undone with fear (Mark 4:35-41).

The story is simple. In their panic they wake Jesus. Jesus speaks to the elements and restores calm to the waters. The telling piece of the story is what happens after the threat has been dealt with. Jesus asks his disciples “why are you so afraid?” The implication is that they should have been secure in his presence and that their faith in him should have strengthened them in the storm.

But in response to what Jesus did, we read that the disciples were “terrified.” This is a different kind of fear: Awe at the power of Jesus; a healthy fear that senses something holy and divine in Jesus. That’s a fear we ought to have.

Our fears are skewed these days. God seems small and impotent, not really able to handle international tensions and global recession. All the while, as God is dwarfed by the cares of the world, those cares grow more ominous with every day. They keep us from finding God in the everyday.

What are your fears today? Maybe it’s time for a quiet protest. Something more than eating peanut butter. Maybe it’s time to let God be God – ruler of all things, large than economies and wars. When God is large we are more likely to see him in everything every day.

Prayer:
Grant us the grace today, Lord Jesus, to see you as you are – Master of all that is, of all that happens. Expand our vision of your place and your power in this world and in our lives. With that vision, increase our faith and make us bold, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

There Are Days

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind . . . so I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13).

There are days you’d do over again if you could; days when you didn’t get it quite right, when the distance between who you want to be and you are is as wide as a galaxy.

There are days when you slacked off and simply got it done because you were tired and wanted to go home; you told yourself that no one would know the difference and your best efforts could wait for another day, the next task.

There are days when you took refuge in the sound of the radio because the silence in the car was too uncomfortable; the ride to school didn’t go well and you glared threat into the rear view mirror and watched your children climb out with a silent “good riddance” in your mind; the welcoming smile of the teacher on the curb mocking you in your frustration.

There are days when you wake up having barely slept, regretting the night before. The sun went down on your wrath and rises on your shame.

There are days when you thought you’d moved on only to discover that you haven’t; an old memory stokes a fresh grief that feels like it will never go away. There are days you have to try hard not to cry and days when you couldn’t cry if you wanted to.

There are days you swear you’ll quit, you’ll walk if it happens again and if something around that place doesn’t change; on that same day you remember you really can’t do that.

There are days when God’s grace opened a door and you couldn’t walk through it. You barely noticed it because something was restless in you. You kept moving, no peace of mind. How blessed we are that grace follows us and comes our way over and over whether we look for it or not.


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Paul had such a day. He remembered it clearly, a specific time and place. Paul found himself in Troas, waiting to rejoin Titus who was bringing word to him about the state of the church in Corinth, particularly their relationship with and regard for Paul. Paul was at odds with this congregation and anxious to make things right.

In 2 Corinthians 11 when Paul lists his weaknesses, the weaknesses in which he boasts, he mentions his constant anxious concern for the churches. At Troas, Paul’s weakness got the better of him. He missed the open door, missed what God was doing right in front of him.

And there are days when our weaknesses will get the better of us. God is in the everyday, but we will not see it every day. Fatigue, distraction, regrets, grudges – any number of things can keep us from seeing it. But in our weaknesses God is faithful.

There are days, more than we care to admit, when the best that can be said about the day is just that: God is faithful. Maybe this is one of those days. Grace will follow you through it. Thanks be to our all sufficient God.

Prayer:
Gracious God, every one of our days comes to us as a gift. We do not always receive them that way. There are days we’d gladly forget, days when we ignore the door of opportunity, days when weakness gets the best of us. In every such day you walk with us. Great is your faithfulness and we give you thanks in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What Can't Be Fixed

Now Naaman . . . was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded . . . he was a valiant soldier but he had leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-2).

Our weaknesses are often masked by the trappings of power and influence. Such was true of Naaman. Commander of the army of the King of Aram, Naaman was accustomed to giving orders. People did what he said. He was a winner on the battlefield and his winning ways had earned him political clout. Naaman was a key player in Aram.

But there was something about Naaman that the troops never saw, something that most of the public would have never imagined. At the end of every day when Naaman removed the garments that spoke to his rank and laid aside the sword that spoke to his strength, the diseased condition of his skin was plain to see. Turns out Naaman the warrior was also Naaman the leper.

An Israelite girl who served Naaman’s wife mentioned a prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman. Naaman wasted no time seeking the prophet out, but he used the means with which he was most familiar for getting something done. Naaman worked his political connections, securing a letter from the King of Aram to the King of Israel. Naaman backed up his diplomatic efforts with a handsome payoff – plenty of money and ten sets of clothing. He made his way to where the prophet was, accompanied by an impressive entourage.

It was all a disaster. The diplomacy backfired, causing the King of Israel to think that Aram was actually seeking to provoke a war. Once Naaman actually located the prophet Elisha, Elisha showed no interest in the clothes or the money – and barely any interest in Naaman himself. He didn’t come out to meet him. He simply sent a message telling Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times.

Naaman refused. He had a better plan. His plan was very similar to what the prophet had told him to do, but it allowed him to go home to cleaner rivers. Naaman was still trying his best to mange his life with his own resources. Giving direction came easier than trust.

With some gentle persuasion, Naaman finally submitted to the prophet’s word. And in that moment of obedient submission, Naaman was healed. “His flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (2 Kings 5:14).


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Most of us invest a great deal of energy trying to fix our weaknesses. We work hard to manage them in such a way that no one else will notice them. We compensate for them by playing to our strengths. We mask our inadequacies with other obvious gifts, whether a stellar resume, a network of influential connections, or access to wealth.

Centuries before Paul wrote to the Corinthians about boasting in weakness, a Syrian by the name of Naaman lived what Paul would later articulate. Naaman’s efforts to manage his weakness got him nowhere. What God’s prophet asked Naaman to do was simply to face his weakness and submit it before God in an act of humble trust. Not an easy thing to do. To wade into the Jordan was to expose his skin, the very thing he tried so hard to conceal.

Our weaknesses are not something God asks us to fix. We are not encouraged to hide them or disguise them. Nor are we urged to flaunt them. But we are invited to face them and entrust them to our all sufficient and all powerful God. In our obedience we wade into the river, fully aware of our inadequacies, and God makes us whole. So go ahead and get your feet wet.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know my weaknesses. I work hard at fixing them, hiding them, concealing them, compensating for them. What I resist doing is facing them and giving them to you. Grant me the courage to wade into the river where grace flows. Meet me there today in my weaknesses and make me whole, I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Every Day

Five times . . . three times . . . three times (2 Corinthians 11:24-25)

The assignment was due on Friday. As of Wednesday everything looked good. I was proud of my son for not waiting until Thursday to get started. And then it happened. I’m still not sure how or exactly what went wrong – but part of what had already been written was accidentally deleted. Gone. The gone-for-good-not-to-be-retrieved kind of gone.

There‘s a biblical phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I saw it first-hand. Unlike the biblical weeping and gnashing which is divinely appointed and always just, this didn’t seem fair. My offers to help were rebuffed. My calm attempts at a reasoned solution to the problem were getting nowhere. My son would not be consoled. I finally had to give him space, leave him alone and let him do whatever he needed to do in order to come to terms with what had happened.

After a few moments he sent me a text message – a surprising but helpful means of parental communication. Five terse words. “No spirit to write it.” I understood. I’d have felt the same way. When you’ve worked hard and done it once, it’s hard to do it all over again.

What is true of lost work and deleted assignments is true of our days. Some days wear us out. The rhythm and demands of a week leave us depleted. Finding the spirit to do it all over again can be a challenge.


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When it comes to finding God in the everyday, the problem isn’t the everyday. The problem is that the everyday happens every day. Over and over. Same song second, third and tenth verses. We wake up on some days and sense that we don’t have the spirit to do it all over again. The every day makes it hard to find God in the everyday.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul rehearses a series of setbacks that have marked his ministry. What is noteworthy about these is their repetition. Paul keeps talking about Jesus, and his reward for that faithfulness is constant resistance. He was beaten five times with the whip. He was beaten three times with rods. He was shipwrecked three times. He was in danger on frequent journeys. He lives through many a sleepless night. He has often gone with out food. Over and over, time after time (2 Cor. 11:24-27).

The setbacks were relentless. But so was Paul. He wrote plenty of letters, masterpieces of spiritual counsel and encouragement. We might expect that after a while he would have sent a brief note, a text message: “No spirit to write it.”

But Paul’s spirit never wavers because the Spirit that drives him isn’t his own. Something more than noble ideas and good intentions and dogged determination sustain him. The Spirit that lives in Paul is the very life of Jesus. The Spirit of the living God. So Paul keeps at it, day after day, setback after set back, undaunted, unintimidated.

This Spirit is ours every day. God has promised to give it. Our first order of business with each new day is to pray and ask for it. What we see around us in the everyday may depend on what lives within us. God’s Spirit transforms both us and our days, each and every one of them. Every day becomes a gift, and we live it gladly (Psalm 118:24).

Prayer:
Gracious God, grant us the gift of your Holy Spirit that we might live every day to your glory, embracing both hardships and blessings with the strength and gratitude that come only from you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.