Monday, December 24, 2012

Next Move

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2).

Years ago when Tiger Woods was still busy doing commercials and endorsements, I saw a print ad that caught my attention. The photo showed Tiger standing on the edge of a water hazard, calculating. Hands on his hips, eyes on the lie of the ball, he’s clearly assessing the trouble and how to get out of it.

And then at the bottom of the photo, this caption: “It’s what you do next that counts.” What a fitting tag-line for Christmas Eve.

At Christmas we tell a very particular story. We’ve been telling it for weeks through the season of Advent. We will gather tonight and tell it as part of our Christmas Eve worship. This story is Israel’s story. It’s the story of a people and a hope, and in that sense it is our story too.

At Christmas the hope finds fulfillment in a very specific place, among very specific people. Christmas is the story of God entering this world in Jesus. But, it’s what you do next that counts. This particular story calls for a personal response.

Consider Matthew’s account of the Magi from the East. All of the characters in the story of the Magi have access, at some point, to the same information. The question at the heart of the drama is “Where is the Christ to be born?”

Herod wants to know this. The Magi who have come from the east want to know this. The scholars whom Herod consults provide the answer from their knowledge of the scriptures: “Bethlehem in Judea.” There is a moment in the drama when all the players have the same piece of information. The Christ is in Bethlehem. But it’s what you do next that counts.

Herod sets himself in hostile opposition to what he knows. The information presented to him represents an obstacle to be removed, a threat to his power and sense of identity.

For the scholars the information never becomes more than a book report. They issue a written response to Herod, properly footnoted, complete with bibliography. And that’s it. We never see or hear from them again.

And then there are the Magi. They are the only ones who take the information they have and move with it. They persevere in finding what they had sought all along. The information takes them from one place to another – and when they arrive, they worship.

On this Christmas Eve most of us have all the information we need. The information is simple and widely known. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. To use Eugene Peterson’s phrase, God has ‘moved into the neighborhood.’ We conclude our Advent reflections with a question: What will you do with what you know? You can resist it. You can read about it. But maybe you’ll find yourself moved and changed. Maybe you will worship.

It’s what you do next that counts.

These stories are so familiar to us, O God. We acknowledge that they don’t always move us. Sometimes we listen without ever intending to do anything about what we’ve heard. Send your Spirit this Christmas and move us to respond to the good news of your presence among us, we ask in Jesus name. Amen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Gift of a Good Book

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . (John 3:16)

There’s an irony in the fact that the man who wrote A Christmas Carol, giving us the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge, lost money on the publication of his story.

In the fall of 1843 Charles Dickens and his wife Kate were expecting their fifth child. The writing he was doing at the time was not selling well. He was saddled with a large mortgage and family members were adding to his financial pressures with their own requests for money. In October Dickens began work on A Christmas Carol. The book was finished just before Christmas 1843.

The story is rooted in the soil of social problems that plagued England in the mid 19th century. Dickens was especially troubled by the hardships suffered by the children of London’s poor. The ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’ shows Scrooge the sight of two destitute children, named “ignorance and want.” Dickens’ intent in writing A Christmas Carol was to wage war on ignorance and want, and he labored to advance the cause of education for the poor.

As for publication of the book itself, Dickens and his publishers had different ideas about how the book should be produced. Dickens was determined that A Christmas Carol would be a lavish volume. He ended up using his own money to produce a book with an attractive binding, gilt edged pages, and hand colored illustrations. In addition to this he then set the price of the book low so that everyone could afford it.

One of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time came to us at a great personal cost, born of a heart for the poor. And the first Christmas story came to us in much the same way. In the words of the apostle John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (Jn 3:16).

Charles Dickens gave the world the gift of a good book. God gave the gift of his very life in human form, the love and presence of God embodied. This is what we are called to be as God’s people. This involves both heart and hands.

A Christmas Carol came to us because Dickens’ heart was moved to act on behalf of the poor; the heart wanted to change the lives of real people. His hand possessed a particular skill and he worked at his craft, producing art that would touch the hearts of others.

In some way God has gifted you and calls you to use that gift in a way that is congruent with God’s own heart and his purposes in this world. You need not be a politician or a philanthropist or an artist. Somehow, by God’s grace, you have the capacity to make a difference in another person’s life. After 169 years our hearts are still moved because Charles Dickens gave us the gift of a good book.

How will you do this? What resonates in your heart and what will you attempt in order to make a difference?

We give you thanks, O God, for the gift of your son. Grant that we might discover the gift you’ve placed in us and make us eager to share it for the good of others and the glory of your name. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do the Math

Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth (1 Cor. 1:26).

My children stopped asking me for help with their math years ago.

Back then I was still capable of tutoring them as they worked through whatever it was that had them stumped. However, the effort it required of me was a clue to my kids that math was never my academic strength. They take their math questions to Marnie.

As lacking as I may be in math skills, I can follow Paul’s mathematical reasoning with the Christians in Corinth. This is basic arithmetic, made simpler by the fact that Paul doesn’t actually use numbers. He speaks in generalities. Three times Paul makes his point by use of the phrase ‘not many.’

If you take away the ‘not many’ that leaves a few. A few were wise. A few were influential. A few were of noble birth. But most of them were not. ‘All’ minus ‘a few’ leaves ‘most.’ Most were lacking in wisdom, lacking in social standing, lacking in pedigree. It’s basic math.

For some reason, our minds often do not function according to Paul’s mathematical formula. When we look around a room we are prone to think that most of the people we see have it all together. Along with this we silently carry the weight of being the ‘only one.’

If we’re struggling with a financial crisis we think that most are managing fine while we worry about getting through the month. If our children won’t talk to us we think that everyone else’s families are perfect while wonder what we did wrong. If we’re suffocating in loneliness we look around and think every person we see is surrounded by friends.

Paul would tell us to do the math differently. Yes, in any place where crowds gather you’ll find a few who have it all together. There may even be several. But it is not ‘all.’ You are never the only one in the room struggling with something in your life that you’d rather keep quiet about.

Let’s go one step further. Every person you see has a story, even if they are among the wise and influential and well connected. Even the most well put-together lives have a place where things aren’t tightly nailed down. Again, do the math. You are never the only one on the room covering a wound.

Paul explains why this is so. God is not glorified in our boasting. When we live as if we are sufficient for whatever life brings to us, God remains small and marginal. There is always a point of need. Our boasting is silenced and God’s grace is large and real to us. In what area of your life do you sense your deepest need? In what way are you most dependent on God today?

This is how God works in every story. Look around the room . . . and do the math.

Meet us today, O God, in the place of our deep need. Glorify yourself in our limitations and weakness. And make us mindful of every soul that surrounds us, knowing that all of us have a story. Extend your grace through us, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Scorecard

. . . not many of you were wise according to worldly standards (1 Corinthians 1:26).

Over the weekend the winner of the 2012 Heisman Trophy was announced.

There is usually an element of drama or ‘hype’ surrounding this event. The Heisman is awarded annually to the most outstanding college football player in the country, a selection made by 928 votes: 870 journalists, 57 former Heisman winners, and 1 vote representing ‘the fans.’

This year the award went to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, nicknamed ‘Johnny Football.’ This is a historic selection in that Manziel is the first freshman to win the Heisman.

On Saturday evening before the announcement was made, my son and I were in the car listening to ESPN radio as a panel of commentators debated the merits of this year’s contenders for the Heisman. What criteria should be considered and how much weight should each factor receive in determining the most fitting recipient of the award? How do age, overall record, and position played factor into the decision?

In other words, what is the scorecard for determining the best college football player in the country? Apparently, it’s not a precise science. The process is hardly free of bias and subjectivity. But the scorecard exists and this year a freshman quarterback met the standards.

Scorecards are not restricted to the world of sports. The world we live in has a scorecard and we live with it every day.

We will receive no trophy. We are not the focus of frenzied media coverage. But in some way or another we’re continually asking ourselves if we measure up. We spend our energies every day proving to others that we do. The scorecard might be as simple as what we possess, what we’ve achieved, and who we know. The game is exhausting.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he reminded them that God’s scorecard differed greatly from the scorecard of the culture in which they lived: noble birth, wisdom, power and all the trappings of success – none of these things mattered when it came to God’s grace. God’s scorecard is not at all like ours.

At this season of the year we need to hear Paul’s words again. We need to hear them because Christmas is a clear reminder of God’s disregard for the world’s scorecard. Whenever we tell the story about a young virgin, shepherds in the field, and a baby in a manger we see the truth set forth plainly: God chooses the weak and foolish to silence the arrogant boasting the powerful and wise. We’ll spend this week reflecting on the Christmas story in light of Paul’s surprising words.

What’s the scorecard that you’ve been using as you live your life? What are the criteria by which you determine that you’re doing ok?

Too many of us, O God, know the Christmas story but know little about your grace. We live our days using a scorecard that you’ve not given us, striving to prove our worth. Bring this familiar story to life in us that we might know your power and love through the gift of your son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

"O Little Town . . . "

"Sola Scriptura"
Sunday mornings @ 9:00 a.m.
Peachtree Presbyterian Church
Rm. 4303

The Advent 2012 Series:

Dec. 2 – Bethlehem: A Place of Surprises (1 Sam 16:1-13)
Dec. 9 – Bethlehem: A Place of Hope (Micah 5:1-6 and Matt. 2:1-16)
Dec. 16 – Bethlehem: A Place of Suffering and Grief (Matt. 2:16-18)
Dec. 23 – Bethlehem: A Place of Worship (Luke 2:15-20)

The origin of this much loved Christmas hymn is not specific. The author of the text was the renowned preacher and pulpiteer Phillips Brooks (1835-93). Brooks made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1865, traveling in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Stories vary here, some saying that Brooks was inspired by Christmas Eve worship in the Church of the Nativity; others mention a ride by horseback to the Shepherds Field. Brooks records both events in writing – but never attributes the hymn directly to a specific moment. It was three years later that Brooks penned the words we sing today, very likely inspired by his memories of the 1865 pilgrimage. He wrote the words for the children’s choir of the Sunday school, entrusting the text to the church organist, Lewis H. Redner, for a suitable tune. Redner is reported to have struggled with the task until the last hours before Sunday worship. The hymn was first sung on December 27, 1868 and published in 1874.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

December's Demands

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . (Galatians 4:4-7)

The fullness of time. We know all about that, don’t we?

After all, it is December. With the passing of each day we feel time getting full. Soon we’ll pass a threshold into the back half of the month and time will be crammed. Many of us, remembering our catatonic exhaustion following Christmases past, have promised that it won’t happen again this year. We’re fooling ourselves.

December comes bringing the same relentless roll call of parties and programs and practices. Stores are crowded, traffic is thick. We want to be polite, but we’re easily perturbed. Some are on edge, harried and hurried. The big kids have exams and the little kids have expectations. Honestly, we’ve all got expectations.

I’ve got a calendar on my office wall. The pages of the year are held together by a spiral binding, a different piece of artwork adorning each month. As one might expect, the wall calendar has been turned to show the month of December. The days of the month are represented by nice crisp squares. Every square is blank. The days are wide open. This calendar is lying to me.

The calendar I actually use is on my computer and my phone. Unlike my wall calendar, the lines that border each day are cluttered. And it’s getting more that way. This is December, the fullness of time indeed.

Of course, what I’m describing is not quite what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the ‘fullness of time.’ Scholars and commentators have much to say when they try to unpack the theological significance of Paul’s phrase. The basic idea seems to be that God sent Jesus into the world at just the right time. Jesus came to us according to God’s plan, accomplishing God’s purposes, all in God’s timing.

My definition lacks exegetical precision, but it retains that basic idea. Christmas comes according to God’s plans and purposes. It comes whether we’re ready or not. The fullness of time has little to do with our crowded calendars. This is about God’s timing. I like John Calvin’s comment on Paul’s words.

At what time it was expedient that the Son of God should be revealed to the world, it belonged to God alone to judge and determine. This consideration ought to restrain all curiosity. Let no man presume to be dissatisfied with the secret purposes of God, and raise a dispute why Christ did not appear sooner (Calvin, Commentary on Galatians)

With December’s demands we easily forget that Christmas is God’s project. God comes to us in the fullness of time. God comes to us when our time is full, crammed and committed. God comes to us at the right moment, according to God’s own plan. As Calvin said, let none of us presume to be dissatisfied with God’s timing and purposes. We’re going to spend the remainder of the week thinking about God’s timing.

The month is still young. What kinds of demands is December making on you?

Find us, O God, in the fullness of time. In the midst of December’s demands grant us your presence yet again. In all our striving, grant us grace and make us graceful, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Work of Waiting

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . (Galatians 4:4-7)

It’s been snowing at my house.

Lightly, off and on. A sustained breeze will always bring a flurry and cover the grass with a fresh dusting – not of crystal flakes of frozen precipitation, but brown and brittle flakes from the large branches that canopy my yard.

The leaves on the ground are one thing, but it’s the leaves that have yet to fall that mock me. Thousands of them are still clinging to branches. I imagine them hanging there, laughing at my labor, waiting for the very moment when the grass can be seen again, and then letting go.

There’s a school of thought that says “don’t even bother.” Until every leaf is down it’s futile to rake them up. Maybe so. Maybe it’s best to wait for this season to run its course. In one way or another it seems we spend our lives waiting: waiting for leaves to fall and the seasons to change, waiting for the market to go up, waiting for something or someone to change, for the big break or the breakthrough.

There is a kind of waiting that lulls us into boredom and atrophies into neglect. But there is also an active waiting, a waiting that works. The work doesn’t hurry things along. It doesn’t exercise control or set the schedule. Rather, it makes ready. The work is preparation for what will be. This kind of waiting is vigilant, guarding against the inattention that slides toward forgetfulness and lands in despair.

In Galatians 4:4 Paul told the story of Christmas in one tight sentence. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son.” We begin our Advent reflections this week by meditating on the fullness of time. This much is clear: Whatever Paul meant by the ‘fullness of time,’ it was God’s doing. We did not bring it about. We receive it and enter into it. These weeks before Christmas (Advent) remind us that our primary task, as much as we may dislike it, is to wait.

Waiting, however, is hard work. We do not always do it well. Sometimes we get tired of waiting and decide to take charge. Sometimes we get tired of waiting and stop caring, allowing our waiting to become neglect.

Perhaps the work of waiting simply means doing what you’ve been given to do today. Bring your life before God. Be obedient in familiar and simple things. Love your neighbor, pay attention to your family, tell the truth, do good work, bless others with your words, give thanks for good health and good food, for trees and sky and all kinds of weather.

Tend to that plot of ground that is your life; go ahead and rake the leaves. You’re not wasting time. You’re getting ready.

"Come thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.” (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Charles Wesley, 1745).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Friday

My plans for the day involved a rake, roar
of blower, hours of bending and bagging
and yet leaves shower down like thick confetti.
This party is nowhere near over.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bring Your Umbrella

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (Acts 12:5).

Years ago I had the privilege of serving as pastor to a wonderful group of people in a community that had a long history as a farming community. It was not uncommon, especially during the long parched days of summer, for rain to be mentioned as a “prayer request.” On one occasion an older member of the congregation recounted to me how in times past they used to gather for specially called prayer meetings to pray for rain. Folks who came to the prayer meeting often brought umbrellas with them.

The umbrellas may have been a symbolic gesture, but I think it was more than that. I think the umbrellas spoke to their confident faith. Bringing an umbrella to the prayer meeting was a quiet way of declaring that God would respond to the prayers of his people. In my mind, those umbrellas also spoke to the church’s power. We don’t make it rain, but we pray to the God who gives rain and all good things.

There is a wonderful story in Acts 12 about prayer and power. Things were not going well for the church. James, the brother of John, had recently been executed by King Herod. Not long after that, Herod had Peter arrested and assigned sixteen soldiers to guard him. We are told that as Peter sat in prison “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).

Making a fairly long story less long, an angel of the Lord appeared and escorted Peter from his prison cell in miraculous fashion. Once free and clear of the jail house, Peter went to the place where a prayer meeting was being held – very likely a prayer meeting for Peter.

Peter knocked on the door. When the servant girl Rhoda announced to the praying Christians that Peter was at the door, they didn’t believe her. They told he she was nuts, out of her mind (Acts 12:15).

These were not the kind of Christians who brought their umbrellas to the prayer meeting. Nevertheless, God answered in power.

The church’s only true source of power is prayer. Nothing of lasting significance happens without it. There are other aspects of church life that appear powerful: large crowds, impressive facilities, wide-ranging programs of all kinds for all ages. But apart from prayer these are wires without current.

Far too many of us will show up to pray, but we don’t bring an umbrella. At some deep level, we’re not sure anything will come of our prayers. Said another way, we’re busy at church but we’re not especially powerful. When Peter shows up at the door, we refuse to believe it.

We need the church, but not because we need something more to do. Most of us are already busy enough. We need the church because we need to pray. We need others to pray for us and we need to be praying for others. That’s where power comes from.

So pray. And while you’re at it, be sure to bring your umbrella.

Too often, O God, we live in ignorance of the power you make available to us. We pray with low expectations and we live as if it all depends on us. Move your people to bold prayer, trusting your promises and resting in your grace. Through our prayers grant your power and change our world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Fool

And I will say to my Soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:19)

Jesus had a strong word for anyone who calls someone a ‘fool.’ Hold your tongue. Restrain your anger. If you call your brother or sister a ‘fool’ you’ll be liable to the hell of fire. Best to drop that word from your vocabulary (Matt. 5:22).

But then Jesus told a story about a successful businessman, blessed with good fortune and skilled in leveraging it to maximize his profits. He was by every measure a very smart man. But in Jesus’ story God sums up this man’s life with one word: ‘Fool.’

My question: Why was this man a fool? What was it that God saw that merited this judgment?

Interestingly, these two scripture texts use a different Greek word for ‘fool.’ The word that Jesus forbade, the one which places our souls at peril, is the root of our English word ‘moron.’ It is a derogatory word, an insult. By contrast, the word God speaks in judgment upon the savvy rich man is a different word. God is not insulting the successful farmer. God is simply telling the truth, as God always does.

Sometimes ‘fool’ is an outburst, a slanderous word spoken in anger. But sometimes ‘fool’ is a word of truth. A person may rightly be named a fool because that’s exactly how they have chosen to live.

Note that God’s word of judgment is spoken at the very end of the man’s life. For this reason we may rightly regard this man’s death as tragic. The tragedy is not in how he died, for we do not know that. His death is not tragic because of when he died, for we know nothing of his age. The man’s death is tragic because of how he lived.

Embedded in Jesus’ story is the brief mission statement by which the main character had chosen to live. In our culture, whether consciously or not, so many have adopted the same mission statement. Lay up ample goods . . . relax . . . eat . . . drink . . . be merry.

The man in Jesus’ parable was not a fool because he was successful. He was not a fool because planned well and managed his resources wisely. He was not a fool because he built bigger barns. He was a fool because the aim of all of this was his own comfort. All of it was directed back at the self. The highest aim of his life was accumulation for the purpose of indulgence.

Such aims are not worthy of your life. Upon such a life God will pronounce his judgment. To use our energies and resources and intelligence to create a self-serving existence is foolish.

So, work hard. Manage well. Invest wisely. Grow your business. Advance your career. But live for something worthy of the gift of life. Use every grace that is yours to glorify the one who gave it to you. This is why you were made. This is why you are here.

Rightly used, earthly treasure reveals God as our greatest treasure. Where and how are you “laying up treasure” today?

Guard us, O God, from foolish living. Make us thankful for your gifts and grant us wisdom in using them well. But keep our hearts from loving the gifts above you, the giver. Make us bold to use what we have for glory of your name in this world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Zeal and Fervor

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord (Romans 12:11).

I’ve concluded that the propane tank on my grill has some kind of sensor that tells it when guests are at our house. Without fail, it is when guests are present and the burgers are on the grill that the propane tank refuses to make fire, literally runs out of gas.

The frustration in this is that I don’t know what’s happening until I check the burgers, only to discover half-cooked meat sitting on a lukewarm grill. This usually means a hurried trip to get a new propane tank and an awkward delay in the meal.

I came across a Native American proverb that said something to the effect of “better a pot that boils over than one that does not boil at all.” The same could be said of a gas grill. No fire, no food.

In his letter to the Romans Paul gave this exhortation: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). The Greek word “slothful” that Paul uses here is the same word used in the Greek translation of Proverbs 6:9; it is the word “sluggard.” It suggests indolence or slackness.

The positive command coupled with this warning about sloth is a word that means “to burn.” It suggests the idea of a boiling pot. Thus we are told to burn or to be “fervent in spirit.”

Interestingly, few Christians aspire to zealotry. Zealots are dangerous. We think of zealots as being out of control, often angry in their passion for a cause, violent in the expression of their convictions. In American culture, the last thing a Christian wants to be is “zealous.” We prefer other words life “faithful” or perhaps “devout.” But zealous? No thanks.

However, in our fear of zeal we have unwittingly become slothful. Our faith is thoroughly tamed, void of adventure and risk. We’ve done the very thing that Paul warned us not to do. Spiritually speaking, the burgers are on the grill but there’s no fire. The pot doesn’t boil at all.

For the remainder of this week we will examine the deadly seduction of sloth by looking at its opposite: Zeal and fervor. Specifically, we’ll get a picture of spiritual zeal by looking at one of the most fervent and passionate characters in the New Testament – John the baptizer.

Consider your own life: is there something in your life that stirs ‘zeal’ in you? Perhaps the more familiar word for what we’re after is ‘passion.’ Where do you see this in yourself? When it comes to spiritual matters, what do zeal and fervor look like? Specifically, what would a fervent spirit look like in your life of faith?

Grant to us, O God, a zeal and fervor in our walk with you. Above all, make us passionate for the glory of your name in this world. Guard us from the timidity that so easily becomes sloth. Help us to live our faith in such a way that zeal is expressed in love and service to others. We ask this is Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

More of the Same

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:8-9).

The words of Solomon are baffling. That a king could be bored is hard for us to believe. Here is a man who lacks nothing, bemoaning his boredom. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again.” Poor Solomon.

I find it hard to be sympathetic with a bored King. His words hit me in much the same way my children’s words do when they complain of boredom. “You’ve got to be kidding; how can you possibly be bored?” And yet, kids with computers and Xbox and smart phones get bored. Busy grown-ups with comfortable homes and beautiful families and well paying jobs get bored. And, as Ecclesiastes plainly shows us, Kings get bored.

Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, wrote that boredom is “the desire for desires.” That captures something of the inner deadness that boredom is. Look deeply into the deadly seduction of “sloth” and you’ll find boredom. The heart beats but never races. The eyes see but never dance in what they behold. The mouth speaks words but rarely to truly say anything.

Thus was Solomon afflicted. Maybe you know the deadening weight of this particular seduction. Caring about things requires so much energy and seems to make so little difference. Sloth isn’t a sin we commit. Sloth settles on us as we abandon our commitments.

In Ecclesiastes the boredom is described as a numbing repetition. What has been will be again. Solomon observed the movements of the sun and the wind. He watched the relentless flow of streams that feed the ocean but never fill it (Ecc. 1:5-7). All of this left him numb. That’s what sloth does. It makes us numb to joy and blind to beauty.

We observe the same traffic patterns in our morning commute, the same scheduled meetings, the routines of carpool and practices and laundry. Imperceptibly the sloth settles and the numbness spreads.

Typically, our first response is a change of pace, a new variable in the equation of our lives. This might mean a vacation or a career move. But over time even the new element becomes tired and familiar. What we need is the capacity to see into the ordinary repeated parts of life and discern the presence and purposes of God.

Sloth is what we’re left with when God is bleached out of an otherwise wonderful life. Absent God, the gift of ordinary things, of routines and practices, becomes burdensome.

Try this today: Look for God in something familiar. Identify a person in your world with whom you interact every day or every week. Determine to learn one new thing about that person’s life.

God, through this day and all of its familiar routines, help me to detect your presence. Remind me that you are at work in the most ordinary details of the most ordinary day, and help me to live this day in eager expectation. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Help from an Old Hymn

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . (Galatians 6:14).

My wife and I readily admit to our children that we are nerds. My children readily agree.

Marnie and I proved this to ourselves several years ago when we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a trip to London. Among the many places we visited there was Bunhill Fields Cemetery. I doubt that many visitors to London intentionally spend an afternoon at Bunhill Fields, but being church history nerds we did so eagerly.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries Bunhill Fields was a ‘nonconformist’ cemetery. That is to say, it was a burial site for those who had renounced their ties with the official Church of England. The names of those to whom the Church refused a ‘decent burial’ are surprising. They are, in my mind, some of the greatest names in Christian history.

As you walk among the gravesites at Bunhill Fields you’ll see the burial place of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Also buried there is Susanna Wesley, the godly mother of the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley.

Keep walking and you’ll come upon the burial site of Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748). Watts was a pastor, but we know him best as the composer of the much loved hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

The opening verse of the hymn is of particular interest to us this week:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.

We close this week thinking about what we can do to wage war on pride or, in the poetic words of Isaac Watts, “pour contempt” on our pride. Watts’ answer is simple. We pour contempt on our pride as we look to the cross of Jesus. Pride is put to death at the cross.

We would be wise not to speak of the cross in a way that subtly inflates our pride. The cross does indeed tell us of God’s love for us, but it says much more than that. It tells us that God loved us while we still sinners. In this, we are profoundly humbled.

Every illusion that pride constructs, the cross demolishes. The first sin an every sin that flows from it will not be made right by more education or better economic systems. We need a savior. That’s what the cross tells us. And if we’ll look at the cross and ponder it prayerfully, our pride will look silly to us, worthy of our contempt.

In what other ways does the cross kill our pride?

“Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.” Amen. (Isaac Watts, 1707).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grace and Grasping

. . . she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6).

Your life is a gift, everything about it. Ponder that for a moment. Ponder it and ask yourself whether you believe it.

That’s not the same as asking whether you can affirm it. Sometimes we affirm things without really believing them. We may say that life is a gift but we don’t actually live as if this is true. We are prone to ignore all that we have received while we obsess over what we resent and regret. Our stress, our edginess, our fatigue tell the world that life is more grind than gift.

The story of what happened in the Garden of Eden may explain why we live this way. Yesterday we observed that the tempter’s first strategy in stoking human pride is to diminish God. In the midst of this something else is happening. In a very subtle way the tempter shifts the focus of life away from all that has been given to the one thing that has been withheld: The one tree of which God has said, “No.” Grace slips into the distant background. The goodness of the giver is called into question.

When life is no longer gift and when there is no good giver, there is only one way left to live: We define the good life based on our desires. We spend our energy scraping and clutching at what we want.

The verb “took” in Genesis 3:6 is very significant. Until now all has been given. The breath of life was given. The abundance of the garden was given. The work of tending the garden and naming the animals was given. All was gift – until the serpent appears in Genesis 3. Drawn to the tree by the serpent’s promise, the woman “took.”

This act of taking changed everything. Grasping, not grace, became our way life.

One of the most practical ways you can wage war on pride in your life is by identifying the ways in which life comes to you as a gift. If we can recover our capacity to see life as gift, we will cultivate thankfulness. Gratitude is the only fitting response to a gift. And gratitude has a way of tempering our pride. If truly proud people have a hard time being thankful, maybe truly thankful people will have a hard time being proud.

Your life is a gift, everything about it. Do you believe this?

If not, begin paying attention to the grace that surrounds you today. Wage war on pride by naming the gifts that God has placed in your life. Receive them all with gratitude. More grace, less grasping.

With each new day, O God, your gifts come to us afresh. Too often our sight is clouded by pain or we miss your gifts because of our frenetic way living. Grant that we might live this day with open hands, ready to see and receive what you give, ever thankful and humble before you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus, the greatest gift of all. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Empty Promises

. . . your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

Say the word ‘sin’ and immediately our minds go to a list of bad behaviors. To sin is to break a rule, to do something harmful or dishonest, to lie or steal or gossip or injure someone violently.

Perhaps, having managed to tame or avoid those clearly prohibited behaviors, we sin in more subtle ways. We define ‘sin’ in terms of wrong attitudes and disordered emotions. We manage to hide these fairly well. The well behaved are generally well thought of, and that suits us just fine.

But beneath the outward disobedience and the inner deceptions something deeper is at work. Sin has to do with what we believe, what we trust to make us whole, what we look to for our sense of well being in this world.

Every sin makes a promise and to sin is to believe that promise.

Seven of those promises will hold our attention in the weeks ahead. To the extent that a promise has the power to lure and entice we may rightly speak of these as ‘Seven Deadly Seductions.’ You may be more familiar with the designation of ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ But before there is a sin, there is a belief, a promise embraced, a seduction.

Pride promises you that the praise and adulation of others will make you whole and happy.

Sloth promises you that leisure and ease are the mark of success and the aim of life.

Lust promises you that the pleasure of someone’s body will cure your boredom.

Gluttony tells you you’re hungry when you aren’t and promises that the emptiness you live with can be fixed by food.

Envy promises to ease the pain of your resentments and tells you that if you can have someone else’s life, then life will be good.

Anger insists that you’ve been wronged or deprived and promises that hitting back is right and just, bringing satisfaction through venting.

Greed tells you that you deserve more, that more is possible and permissible. Greed promises you that getting more will prove you matter.

Each of these promises has one thing in common: they are all lies. And yet we are prone to believe them. In the weeks ahead we’ll be trying to expose the empty promises we’ve embraced. We’ll also look for the alternative promises that come to us from God and from the good news of God’s grace through Jesus.

For today: Which of the promises above are you most vulnerable to believing?

Far too often and far too easily, O God, we embrace empty promises. We place our trust in things that cannot save us and live our days restless and discontented. Help us to face hard truths about ourselves that we might embrace the blessed truth of your promises. As we go through this day remind us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

God's Design in Our Depletion: Five Lessons from Elijah

“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7).

When long-distance runners or cyclists hit a state of depletion it is usually a sign that something is going wrong. The body is beginning to shut down. Runners call it ‘hitting the wall.’ Cyclists call it ‘bonking.’ Whatever you call it, if you are an athlete you don’t want it happening to you.

As strange as it seems to us, unlike physical depletion, a depleted soul is not always a mistake. In fact, God often has a design in our depletion. If we’ll linger with Elijah under the broom tree we might detect what God’s design is. Here are five lessons drawn directly from the text.

1. A depleted and empty soul is not the same thing as a loss of faith; people of faith find themselves in this valley of emptiness. (19:1-9).
Throughout the entire story Elijah is in constant conversation with God. This is the essence of a life of faith. Faith is insisting that in all things we must deal with God: questions, complaints, doubts, everything. People of faith experience this depletion, this emptiness of soul.

2. Our depletion and emptiness of soul may be grounded in a disordered view of reality (19:2-4)
When Elijah stood on Mt Carmel God was the defining reality of his life. God was large; Baal and his prophets were small. Jezebel and Ahab were small. But under the broom tree, his view of reality changed. Jezebel was suddenly large and threatening and God was small. How does this happen? We’ll look at this later in the week

3. Depletion of soul and body are connected (19:5-7)
When God responds to Elijah’s complaint God does so with bread and water and sleep. Spiritual depletion and physical exhaustion are integrally connected. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your soul involves taking good care of your body. Eating and sleeping can be spiritual disciplines.

4. In our depletion God is bringing us to himself; be patient with this journey (19:8).
The journey from Beersheba to Mt. Horeb can be done on foot in about 14 days. However, God led Elijah on a 40 day journey. In our depletion God is at work to bring us to himself. That might take longer than we expect. Be patient with the journey.

5. Depletion is remedied by hearing the word of God in a fresh and personal way (19:9).
On Mt. Horeb Elijah heard God’s voice in a powerful way. The word of God came to him and restoring his vision of reality and renewing his call. What we need more than anything in our depletion is the voice of God in a fresh and personal way.

We’ll take a closer look at a few of these in the days ahead. For today: What would you identify as the signs of your own spiritual depletion?

Your ways, O God, are not our ways. We struggle to understand your design in our depletion – how you work your will in the dark and barren places of our lives. Renew our faith today, provide what we need for this journey, and make us attentive to your voice. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Us' means 'You'

Therefore . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)

Spiritual disciplines are not elitist. Take a moment and read that sentence one more time.

There’s a chance that deep down you don’t believe that statement. Somehow you bought into the falsehood that ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ Christians don’t really have time to train when it comes to faith. Only the ‘good’ Christians get up in the morning to pray or read scripture; only the most ‘advanced’ among us ever fast or memorize parts of the Bible.

The weeks ahead will be of little value to you if you think that way.

So let me try one more time to be very clear about this: There are no ‘advanced’ Christians; there is nothing elitist or super-spiritual about the intentional practice of holy habits. Anyone can do this.

I make no claim to being a runner. I don’t especially enjoy running. But three or four times a week I do a four mile route in my neighborhood. I don’t run the entire route. I walk about half of it and when I run I feel like I plod along. I see others running who make want to go home and never run again. And then I see others plodding along, doing the best they can, and I’m reminded that comparisons are not helpful.

Anyone willing to put on a pair of shoes can run. And the spiritual disciplines are likewise for anyone who wants to grow in their faith. Simply put, you can do this.

The writer to the Hebrews spent the whole of chapter 11 rehearsing the names of those who had lived by faith. The roll of honor included Abraham and Moses and Enoch. These well known names are followed by a reference to the unnamed faithful “of whom the world was not worthy.”

And then at the beginning of chapter 12 we read a very significant word: “Therefore.” That is to say, since they lived by faith we can do the same thing. Given the example of these giants in the faith, let us run the same race. Don’t miss the word “us.” That includes you.

Don’t make excuses. Don’t make comparisons. Begin where you are today and start training. Be intentional about going deeper with God. Be purposeful about growing in your faith. This isn’t for the elites or for the advanced and uber-devout. This is for you. But it will require more than good intentions.

Who do you look to as exemplary in their life of faith? How will you begin to live the life they live?

Grant me grace, O God, to move beyond good intentions. Help me to take specific steps toward you and the life you’ve called me to live. Guard me from making comparisons that breed discouragement. Help me to draw inspiration from exemplary people of faith, both living and dead. I will run, even if slowly, doing all in reliance on your son Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Soul Check

My soul thirsts for you . . . as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).

I should have known something was wrong.

The thermostat in my hallway told me that it was 80 degrees on the main floor of my home. The house felt warm but not miserably so. I performed two simple diagnostic tests. First, I checked to see if air was coming from the vents near the floor. Second, I judged if the air was cool. Yes, there was air. Yes, it seemed cool enough to me.

Temperatures in Atlanta last week were somewhere around 106 F. I assumed my air conditioner was working overtime but struggling to keep up with the withering heat outdoors. I gave thanks to God for ceiling fans.

Then came the weekend. We had a technician to the house to do a routine check on our AC units. After a few moments of poking around with the unit in our basement he came up and asked us if we had been feeling warm indoors. Turns out the unit that cools our bedrooms had no refrigerant. For all practical purposes, we had lived through the hottest days of the summer with no air conditioning.

The unit was running. The air was blowing. But the substance that actually makes the air cool was not there. The unseen element that allows an air conditioner to do what it was made to do was missing. I had misread the signs.

As we take up a regimen of training in the life of faith, the practice of spiritual disciplines, it might be a good idea to read the signs and assess the condition of our soul. This is not easy. We live in a world obsessed with the body. We get plenty of help with staying healthy and staying in shape. We are not as good at tending to the well being of our souls.

It is so easy to live our days with the assumption that everything is working just fine. The unit seems to be humming along, we can feel air coming from the vents, but still we have a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right.

What we manage to ignore is that the soul – that unseen reality that allows us to be what God made us to be – is empty or weary. In the well known words of the Twenty-third Psalm we say that the Lord “restores my soul” (Ps. 23:3). One of the ways God does this is through an intentional life of spiritual practices or “holy habits.”

It is said that the Puritans used to ask “How are things with your soul?” It’s a good question. Maybe we can ask it this way: Where in your life do you have a nagging sense that something is not right?

Invite God to show up and work specifically in that part of your life. Invite God to restore your soul as you practice holy habits in the days ahead.

Help us, O God, to read the signs rightly and to know truthfully the state of our souls. Show us those places where things seem to be fine, but are in fact empty and weary and not what you intend. Restore our souls, we pray, so that we might live as you created us to live, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Gold Rush

. . . you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise (1 Peter 1:7).

Think “Gold Rush” and your mind will likely conjure up images of the unruly Western frontier. What your mind is far less likely to conjure up is a picture of Dahlonega, Georgia.

Dahlonega – a Cherokee word meaning “yellow money” – was at the center of an enthusiastic search for gold in the early nineteenth century. I recently learned that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family had invested in a gold mine near Dahlonega. Nothing much ever came of that.

In the weeks ahead we’ll be witnessing a different kind of gold rush. This time the action is in London and crusty miners are replaced with highly skilled athletes from all over the world. In the deep bowels of a mine or in the throes of athletic competition, gold represents a singular attainment. You find gold and strike it rich. You win the contest and receive the gold medal. But in the life of faith, gold is seen differently.

The apostle Peter reminds us that faith in Jesus is more valuable than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Furthermore, like gold, faith is refined in testing. It is purified by fire. For followers of Jesus, gold is not for the lucky ones who happen to find it. Gold is not for the highly skilled who work hard to win it. Gold is faith itself, a life at rest in the care of God.

And here’s the thing: in the life of faith, the treasure is in the digging. The treasure is in the training. In the work of unearthing this treasure and in the efforts of training, faith is refined and developed.

The focus of these daily reflections will be on the practices, the spiritual disciplines, by which the life of faith is cultivated and refined. With a particular interest in the athletic imagery of the Olympics, we will meditate on what scripture teaches us about living a life of faith. Our desire is to run well the race that is set before us. No one, however, will run well without training to do so.

These daily meditations are offered as one part of your training plan. Being an avid spectator of the USA teams is fine for the Olympics. The role of spectator simply will not do as you seek to live your faith. It’s time to train, time to get in the game.

So come each day ready to read the scripture; come ready to think about what it says to you; come to spend time with God in prayer. Let the games begin. Go for the gold.

Gracious God, we don’t want to live our lives haphazardly, doing what we can to get by. Rather, we would live well, intentionally, with focus and purpose as we seek to become more like Jesus. In these days grant your grace, and move us to action as we pursue the gold of mature faith. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, June 29, 2012


He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . (Luke 4:18).

Several weeks ago when we started our series of daily reflections on “Breaking Free” I expected a particular challenge with regard to the theme of freedom. I thought it would be hard to say something compelling about the gift of freedom to people who already assumed they were free.

My assumption was that a compelling message about freedom would first require a compelling exploration of our lack of freedom, the peculiar nature of our bondage.

As we conclude this series, I’ve come to think my assumption was wrong.

Most people, even in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ know the places in their life that are shackled and stuck. We acknowledge the horrific realities of slavery and human trafficking in our world. And we know all too well the more subtle forms of bondage like addictions and debt and chronic depression.

The chains that leave our souls raw and bruised are not that hard to see. The real challenge with regard to freedom is in knowing with certainty that freedom can be had right now, today.

In our modern day captivity the widely used mantra of hope is “someday.” Someday things will change. Someday things will settle down. Someday we’ll find the right job or the spouse we’ve been waiting for. Someday the market will bounce back. Someday something will happen to make us truly free. We will shed what burdens us and slip free of what holds us in its grip. Someday we’ll find freedom.

When Jesus launched his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth he did so by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He read a passage of scripture in which God spoke through the prophet about setting captives free, releasing the oppressed and restoring sight to the blind.

After the reading Jesus sat down and began his teaching on the text with these words: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Jesus announced to the Nazareth congregation that the freedom God wanted to bring about was not merely a promise. It was a present reality and it was happening in Jesus’ works and words.

And what Jesus did then he does now. Jesus makes us free. He does this by the power of the Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” wrote Isaiah. Jesus grants to us the gift of that Spirit and “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

So we end with a simple invitation with regard to your freedom. Don’t look to someday. Don’t look to something. Look to someone. God’s gift of freedom is yours in the life and death of his Son and that gift can be yours. Today.

We know the chains that bind us, O God. We bring them to you and we ask you to change these things; we ask you to change our world. And we ask you set us free by changing us. Make us messengers of freedom as we live each day in the power of your Spirit, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

More Yielding . . . Less Wielding

This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (Mark 9:29).

He had had enough. For years he had stood helplessly, watching his child suffer.

He could barely remember the sound of his son’s voice. A spirit had long ago rendered the boy mute. And as if that were not enough, it would from time to time seize him in such a way as to cause convulsions, foaming at the mouth, sometimes attempting to burn him or drown him.

This was not something a father could fix. And it was not something a father could bear. He took his son to Jesus.

In Jesus’ absence, the disciples attempted to cast out the spirit. They couldn’t do it. We don’t know what they did, but whatever it was, whatever they tried, it was ineffective. Frustrated, they ended up arguing with some scribes who had been spectators to their failure. When Jesus finally arrived he found a scene of utter powerlessness: humiliated disciples, desperate father, afflicted boy.

So Jesus did what no one else could do. He drove out the spirit. He restored the boy to his father, whole and well.

Later, in private, the disciples got up the nerve to ask, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

As many times as I’ve read this story I’m continually perplexed by the final line. “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

I’m perplexed because I’ve asked the same question the disciples asked. “Why couldn’t I do it?” Why couldn’t I make the situation right, why couldn’t I get through to that person, why couldn’t I get the win, why couldn’t I save the day?

And I’m perplexed by Jesus’ answer because I’ve prayed. I’ve sought his help. I’ve asked for his grace. Maybe you’ve prayed too. You’ve prayed for your child, you’ve prayed for your marriage, you’ve prayed for a job, you’ve prayed to get well. And ‘this kind’ – whatever that is – simply will not budge.

I’d like to be able to explain Jesus’ peculiar answer to his disciples. I don’t have a good explanation. What I have is more of a hunch. Earlier this week we called prayer a weapon. But prayer is more than that. Sometimes prayer is a window. We can’t just wield prayers, use them like clubs and set them aside. Sometimes we need to open a window to God’s power and grace, like letting air and light flood a room.

We won’t do anything against ‘this kind’ by simply saying prayers. We need prayer – the kind of prayer that opens our lives to a power that comes from beyond us. This kind of prayer calls for more yielding and less wielding.

How will you yield to God’s power today? Where in your life do you need to open a window?

With our prayer today, O God, we want to open a window to the light of your presence and the power of your grace. We bring our lives to you now, especially those things that we cannot fix and cannot bear on our own. You know ‘this kind’ of thing in every life, and we look to you for help and strength today, through Jesus our lord. Amen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reframe the Fight

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12)

Doug Dworak is the Executive Director of Tiny Hands International, an organization “committed to finding the greatest injustices in the world and working toward bringing relief to those living under its oppression--especially orphans, street children, and the victims of sex trafficking.”

Founded in 2004, Tiny Hands began modest efforts in 2007 to patrol the border between Nepal and India. Each year in Nepal, approximately 10,000 girls are taken across the border and sold to brothels in India. The average age of these girls is 15. Some are as young as 7.

Tiny Hands began with one border monitoring station and in their first year they intercepted 64 girls. In a recent interview at Texas A&M University, Dworak said, “if we had only intercepted one girl that would have been enough. If it was my daughter . . . that would have been enough.”

On the heels of this initial success, the leadership team at Tiny Hands began asking what it would take to have more of an impact on this overwhelming issue. As they pondered this, a conviction settled upon them, deep rooted and urgent. They realized their real enemy in this matter was not a corrupt government or systemic poverty or ruthless criminals. Their real enemy was “The Enemy.”

What they had engaged was not merely a social plight, but a spiritual battle: a fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. This conviction led to a weekly time of prayer and fasting focused on this fight.

Since that time Tiny Hands has opened 15 border monitoring stations. Whereas in 2007-2009 they intercepted around 100 girls, since 2009 they have intercepted 4500 girls.

Sometimes you have to reframe the fight in order to fight well.

This is true not only with regard to widespread and obvious evil like slavery and human trafficking. It is true with regard to most of the challenges and struggles you’ll face in the course of this day.

Jesus said that our enemy comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Peter wrote that our adversary actively seeks someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Your real enemy is not your spouse or your neighbor or your boss. They cannot truly steal your joy. But your soul has an adversary, and this adversary will gladly use your spouse or your neighbor or your boss or anything else to draw you into discouragement.

Try to reframe the fight. And remember this: you have a weapon and that weapon is prayer.

What ‘fight’ are you up against today? How will you preserve your joy in the midst of that struggle? Don’t try to engage the challenge without prayer. Reach for your weapon. It is close at hand, powerful and effective.

Keep us faithful in prayer, O God. Remind us daily that our fight is not against flesh and blood. Make us confident in the power and effectiveness of our prayers. We lift our struggles to you today and look to your strength and power as walk by faith, ever joyful in the fight through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We Do Not Lose Heart

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen . . . (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The International Justice Mission reports that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today.

Some slavery today takes the form of relentless, meaningless labor. Some of it takes the form of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Whatever form it takes, we can barely get our minds around that number. Twenty-seven million people enslaved. We don’t know what to do or where to begin. We are prone to ignore it, or if we choose to face it head on as we should, we are tempted to lose heart.

In his classic Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis explains the Christian virtue of ‘hope’ with these words:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking . . . It does not mean we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next . . . The English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven, and you’ll get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you’ll get neither. (p. 119) 

In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart.” A close reading of the letter reveals that he had good reason to lose heart; his present was marked by affliction and suffering. But against the backdrop of eternity, these afflictions were seen as “slight” and “momentary.” Paul lived with a profound awareness of things unseen and because of that he was able to say “we do not lose heart.” Lewis helps us understand that this is not escapism.

Slavery is a real issue today. But it is not the most real thing. Paul and C. S. Lewis remind us that what we see impacts our influence in this world far more than what we feel. Losing heart is not resisted by pumping up our emotions. We fight against losing heart by getting a vision for a world we cannot see. When it comes to slavery or poverty or hunger or homelessness, remember: a mind occupied with heaven will leave a mark on earth.

What is the most “real” thing in your life today? What reality most occupies your mind?

Gracious God, we are constantly urged to give attention to what we feel. We ask today that you would make us equally aware of what we see. We ask you to give us a vision for your presence in afflictions and troubles that surround us. Open our eyes to things unseen that we might live for your glory in this world. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Free from Regret

Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father (Genesis 37:22)

As far as Reuben was concerned, he had failed.

The inconsolable grief of his aging father was his fault. Most nights, before sleep came, Reuben saw again the sight of the empty cistern. He heard the echo of laughter as his brothers counted the shekels and explained that Joseph had been sold and was on his way to Egypt.

The original plan was to murder Joseph. Lacking the stomach for murder, but possessing the guts to speak up, Reuben offered an alternative plan. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern.” Rueben didn’t disclose his real plan. He would come back later for Joseph, get him out of the pit and take him home to Jacob.

Reuben left the others for a while, thinking his plan was in place. When he returned he was told that Joseph had been sold to some Midianite merchants.

And Reuben was left with his regrets. If only he had stayed close by. If only he had been there when the merchants came. If only he had come back sooner.

Most of us have said this kind of thing to ourselves about something. We’ve relived the moments that we think we could have changed if only we’d done better or done more. We’ve rehearsed our failure over and over again. We’ve given ear to the low murmurings of our regrets.

If only we had been there. If only we had known. If only we had said something sooner.

We can easily imagine that Reuben lived long with his regrets, that he rehearsed them often. But what looked and felt like failure to Reuben wasn’t failure at all. God wanted to get Joseph to Egypt. God’s plan trumped Reuben’s plan, but this is hard for us to see.

The divine hand is often hidden behind what goes wrong.

One of the most practical ways we experience God’s gift of freedom is in knowing that God’s grace covers all of our regrets. What we would do all over again if we could is guided by the will and ways of God who does all things well from the start, every time.

What would you do over again if you could? How will you place your regrets in the hands of a sovereign God?

Gracious God, I’ve replayed my mistakes enough. I’ve rehearsed my regrets and know them well. Today I give them to you, trusting your unseen hand to work something good, something redemptive, from every part of my life. Help me to trust you with all of my life, and grant your peace, I pray. Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Embrace a 'Holy Must'

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things . . . (Mark 8:31).

We call it the ‘terrible twos.’ The phrase is descriptive, but not accurate.

What we see at age two was there at birth. Turning three won’t get rid of it. That first sin, the catastrophic ‘fall,’ left a deep bruise. We feel the ache of it across a life time and in so many different ways. One of the most common is the reaction of our fallen hearts to authority. We don’t like it. We are inclined to push back.

Fred Craddock sees a particular expression of this in what he calls our “resistance to ‘must’.” He observes that so many of us work hard to keep our options open. We don’t like being saddled with burdens and obligations, commitments and covenants. In fact, some regard a life dominated by ‘must’ or ‘have to’ as unhealthy. Craddock doesn’t mince words. He names our resistance to ‘must’ a copout – a rejection of responsibility.

To live a life in which we continually squirm out from under the weight of necessity is to live a life that will make little difference in this world. Craddock explains

As long as we spend our energies protecting all our alternatives, keeping them alive and well, we will achieve very little. Do you recall meeting now and then a really significant person? Someone who impressed you as really making a difference? Then I’m sure you noticed one thing about her. She possessed a sense of having something she had to do. To others she may look burdened, perhaps obsessed . . . The really burdened person is the one who gets up in the morning, goes to bed in the evening, struggles with great issues such as what should we eat, what should we drink, what should we wear? Gets up in the morning, goes to bed in the evening, grows old, and dies, without a burden. (The Collected Sermons, p. 92)

And so Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He had to go there. He repeatedly told his closest friends that the “Son of Man must suffer many things.” Jeremiah knew this ‘must’ as “a fire in his bones.” Preachers of old spoke of unction. Nehemiah spoke of a “great work” from which he would not be distracted.

Mark Buchanan calls it a ‘Holy Must.’ It is a burden, a weight laid upon the heart and mind. And those who are so burdened know what it is to live free.

There is a beautiful clarity to life that comes with a holy must. The clarity brings freedom, liberation from every distraction that seems to promise us joy. Strange isn’t it? A light burden, resisting ‘must,’ is actually cumbersome. The heavy burden is a joy.

What is the one thing you must do - your ‘Holy Must’? How will you embrace that freedom today?

Grant to us, O God, the gift of a Holy Must. Lay upon our souls the weight of a great necessity, a free life defined clearly by what you have called us to do in this world. Subdue our resistance, and keep us faithful to the ‘must’ you give, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Eight Days Later

Eight days later the disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them . . . (John 20:26)

Thomas had made himself perfectly clear.

He was resolute in his ‘unless.’ Absent compelling evidence, the kind that he could see and touch, he would not believe. Never mind that he was surrounded by believing friends. Their enthusiastic reports were not enough to pull faith from the clinched jaws of doubt. Thomas would need something more.

And something more appeared. Jesus came and stood among them: “Put your finger here . . . put your hand here.” The resolute ‘unless’ gave way to worship. “My Lord and my God.” The one who had announced his unbelief was now a believer.

We are hardly surprised that Thomas’ story ends as it does. How could it be otherwise? Thomas refuses to believe. Thomas believes. He insists on evidence. He erupts in worship. The scenes unfold quickly, a seamless transition from here to there, from doubt to faith.

Except for this: Eight days.

Jesus does not rush in to rescue Thomas from his questions. Before Jesus appears among his disciples there are eight days . . . of what? We are not told. Most likely those eight days were days of conversation, eight days of argument, eight days of efforts to persuade met by stubborn resistance, eight days of frustration.

Why does Jesus linger? Why does he take so long to show up and show off and bring the skeptic to his knees?

Such questions are hard for us. We may not doubt God, but neither do we understand God’s ways. We may not question God’s love, but we have plenty of questions about God’s timing. We may not question God’s power, but we have plenty of questions about God’s plan.

This we know for certain: For eight days Thomas had friends who were willing to tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” He didn’t believe it – but they told him anyway, probably over and over again. And what’s more they stayed with him. They didn’t leave. When Jesus appeared they were all there.

It is in those eight days that all of us a prone to be doubters. As unlikely as it seems, God is at work in the ‘eight days.’ When it looks as if nothing is happening, more is happening than we know. We may be stuck; the Spirit moves freely, often in ways unnoticed.

Are you waiting for someone to come to faith, make the move from resistance to receiving, from questioning to believing? That can be a long story: it may be eight days . . . it may well be eight years. Keep saying what you know to be true. And stay with it. Stay with him or her, lost friend, wayward child, stone-cold spouse, just stay there and live a life that says “I have seen the Lord.”

Trust Jesus to show up and do the rest. He is at work, even in the eight days. Don’t miss the end of the story.

Few things are harder for us, O God, than waiting. We crave quick results and speedy answers to prayer – eight minutes rather than eight days. Keep us faithful in the waiting seasons, whatever they may be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Needed: A Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11).

Not too long ago I read something that bothered me. I’m not sure it should have – but it did.

The author, a highly regarded pastor-teacher, is someone whom I greatly respect. I listen often to his podcast. So when he said in an interview that the word “shepherd” was irrelevant, he got my attention. Here’s the quote, admittedly removed from context:

“That word [shepherd] needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to . . . I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus but it’s not culturally relevant anymore.” (Leadership Journal, May 28, 2007).

Ok . . . I think I get that. I claim little to no experience with shepherds or flocks of livestock of any kind. In my first church in Oklahoma I knew that several of my members owned cows, but I never actually had interaction with their cattle. Shepherds are not easily found in metro-Atlanta. But while I acknowledge the truth of what this fellow-pastor says, I just can’t reach his conclusion. Bottom line: I think he’s wrong.

For one thing, his position elevates (his) personal experience to an unworthy height while it sells people short. Meaningful knowledge cannot be tethered to what I myself have seen and done. And it is also possible that intelligent people are capable of comprehending the meaning of a metaphor that is foreign to their own time and culture.

Jesus didn’t use the word “shepherd” because there was one in a field that he could see and point to. Jesus used “shepherd” because he had read Isaiah and the Psalms. The concept came to him from Israel’s history, not a Judean hillside.

But beyond that there is this practical matter. If you jettison the biblical image of a “shepherd” what will you use in its place? Is there anything that we can see or identify that offers an adequate substitute for the Biblical image? What speaks most powerfully to the deepest needs of our life?

The Lord is . . . my adviser? We need far more than advice. The Lord is . . . my boss or CEO? That hardly stirs our affections. The Lord is my . . . coach? That might get at what we need. Personal coaching is big these days. The Lord is my . . . counselor? Maybe – but good counselors pay close attention to boundaries. The shepherd risks his life the sheep. Counselor is close, but not quite there.

Maybe what we need is exactly what Jesus said he was in John 10:11. We need a shepherd.

How do you see it? Why does it matter that Jesus is a “good shepherd?” Could he meet you in the details of your life or at your point of deepest need as something else?

Lord Jesus, you called yourself a good shepherd. While the image is strange to us, we know you in what you do with us – the way you guide us and seek us out when lost and lead us to what will sustain us and give us life. We will not fight over words. We only seek to follow you as you do your work among us by your Holy Spirit. Do that work today, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Exclusive Claims, Inclusive Aims

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also . . .” (John 10:16).

Exclusive claims. Inclusive aims.

The minute you begin the Christian life, the moment you take a step on the Jesus way and begin living his life, you’ll find yourself in this tension. There are some things that simply do not work properly without tension. Relieve the tension on guitar strings and you’ll get no music. The Christian life is not too different from this.

Jesus made exclusive claims. He said he was the gate for the sheep; he said no one came to Father except through him; he said that if you have seen him you have seen the Father; he told very devout people in his day that they were blind because they couldn’t accept his words; he told top-flight Bible scholars that they were ignorant because they refused to see that scripture pointed to him. Time and time again in John’s gospel Jesus speaks of his own identity with variations on “I am.”

But Jesus also had radically inclusive aims. For Jews, Samaria was a very bad neighborhood – but Jesus gladly went there. Lepers were to be avoided and quarantined – but Jesus willingly touched them. Tax collectors were thieves – but Jesus had a good time at their parties. No decent Rabbi would be caught dead in the presence of a prostitute – but Jesus allowed one such woman to weep at his feet. Jesus had “other sheep” and he was intent on bringing them into the fold.

This tension can be uncomfortable, even tiresome. But we need to be careful about hastily seeking to resolve what makes us uneasy.

Holding deep convictions about Jesus’ exclusive claims should never produce a heart that is stingy and small, or a reach to the world that is stunted in its scope. And embracing the world with a generous heart, inclusive and broad, should never produce thinking about Jesus that has morphed into something generic and benign.

Some of us are very clear about what we believe about Jesus, but we’re ensconced in a small world that looks like we look and thinks like we think. Others of us are intent on making the tent wide, vaulting over the ethnic or ideological walls that so easily divide us, but discovering in mid-air that we’ve left a clear and compelling word of ‘good news’ about Jesus.

Exclusive claims. Inclusive aims. They must be held together, no matter how uneasy it makes us.

Ever tempted to ease this tension? How are you most likely to do so?

Help us, Lord Jesus, to love and to treasure both your claims and your aims. Grant us the boldness of deep convictions firmly held. Grant us compassionate hearts intent on bringing all people into the care of the good shepherd. We pray this in your powerful and merciful name. Amen.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Unmet Expectations

The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they head he had done this sign (John 12:18)

Few places are harder to live than in the gap between what we expect and what we get, that barren stretch that separates what we think we deserve and what our lives have actually delivered to us. We can barely tolerate being there and we’ll do anything to find a way out.

Sometimes that means we adjust our expectations. The pain of disappointment is alleviated by lowering our sights. But with every downward adjustment hope is diminished, and eventually we find we’ve stopped dreaming altogether.

Another strategy moves in the opposite direction. Sometimes the tension between what we expect and what we get pushes us to do whatever we need to do to secure our own happiness. We lash out at whoever or whatever gets in the way of what should have been.

Of course, we often ricochet back and forth between both of those responses: resignation or anger, passive acceptance or violent force. What we find most difficult is what the Psalmist urged. “Wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

Holy Week is bracketed by shouting crowds. On the front end of Holy Week we remember the day Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Luke tells us that the crowd that welcomed him that day “praised God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (19:37). Their shouts were grounded in past events, but those past events had shaped their expectations of what would soon be.

Holy Week is the story of what it means to walk with Jesus in the midst of unmet expectations.

This kind of disappointment isn’t unique to the godless or the wicked. Even Jesus’ closest followers struggled during those final days of his life. And they failed. Some of them failed big.

And as for us – plenty of us live every day with unmet expectations. Some of them are minor. Others go to the core of who we are. The long-awaited retirement brings a deadening boredom and feelings of uselessness. The new purchase becomes a draining burden rather than the status symbol it was supposed to be. The promotion proves to be a wrong fit for your best skills. In short, things are not working out like you had hoped they would.

That gap between what we expected and what we actually experience is the place where faith wanes. During this week – or for that matter during any week – when the tension between what you hoped for and what you’ve received feel unbearable, hear the invitation of Jesus. Stay with him. Don’t get swept up the noisy demands and expectations of the culture. God is at work. Such hardly seems to be the case, and you may not see it now. But God is at work.

To all who feel the ache of something that hasn’t worked out according to plan, welcome to Jerusalem.

Lord Jesus, keep us close to you in the final days of this Lenten journey. Our expectations so easily become demands. We stop praying and start giving direction. Keep us attentive to what you are doing, especially when life unfolds in ways we didn’t expect or ask for. Teach us trust, even in the shadow of the cross. Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Could be Worse

Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you (John 5:14).

We’re all preachers. Every single one of us.

It doesn’t matter how you earn your living or what you believe about God. Everyone preaches – and usually to a congregation of one. We all preach to ourselves. Sometimes our sermons comfort. Sometimes they condemn.

In the world of psychology we call our preaching ‘self-talk.’ All of us have ways of exhorting and encouraging ourselves. We have messages that we speak to ourselves to get us through something or guide us in a mess. Yes, we are all preachers.

And this is a standard sermon: “Could be worse.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say those words. Having done three years of hospital ministry I can say with confidence that this is standard doctrine among the afflicted. Even those who are actually experiencing the ‘worst’ will remind themselves that it could be worse. It is a universal exhortation.


At the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem Jesus had healed a man, relieving him of some nondescript affliction that had had a chokehold on his life for 38 years.

This man had not sought Jesus. He had not asked Jesus for healing. He appears not to have known who Jesus was or to have had any kind of faith in Jesus. As far as this man knew, he was simply answering a question about his illness, explaining his hopeless plight. Jesus’ act of healing was pure gift. It was all grace.

But in the aftermath of this grace and mercy there is a strange line at the end of the story. Jesus finds the man in the temple crowd (again – notice who does the finding) and tells him, “See, you are well. Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.”

This sounds odd, even a bit harsh. Is this a threat? What does Jesus mean? Having shown so much mercy is Jesus now saying “You better be good or God will strike you with something worse?” If the man was crippled, is Jesus now threatening him with crippled legs and blindness, or blindness with leprosy? Probably not.

This is no threat. This healed man would not be afflicted by God with more severe pain. He would not be ravaged by a more vicious disease. He would not be sent back to the pool.

What Jesus knows is this: There is something worse than 38 years of affliction. What’s worse is a pain-free life void of God. A life centered entirely on self. A life given to advancing a self agenda and basking in self indulgence. What we sow in this life we reap in the next. And that is indeed the worse that could happen.

What’s worse than suffering with an awareness of God’s presence and grace? Living at ease with no knowledge of the same. Sure, things could be worse – but worse is not always what we think it is.

We give you thanks, O God, for the way your grace finds us in the worst of circumstances. We thank for the way you take what is hard and use it to bless us. Guard us from the worst that could happen – a life lived without you, centered on self. We turn to you today in constant reliance on your mercy, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2012

As Then . . . So Again

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion . . . will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

We imagine David as vulnerable and poorly armed for battle. We are wrong.

He had been offered the King’s armor. He had even tried to wear the “helmet of bronze and the coat of mail.” He had strapped on the King’s sword – and the weight of all that strength was paralyzing to David. He could barely move. He laid all of that aside and took up the weapon he knew best – a sling.

This is God’s way. What looks to us like pathetic weakness is actually power in God’s hand.

But David stepped into the valley that day armed with something that no one there could see, certainly not Goliath and not even Saul. It was not weapon that could be held in the hand or placed on the head or draped over the body.

Perhaps David’s most formidable weapons that day were stories and memories: stories and memories of God’s help, God’s deliverance, God’s presence in trouble, God’s power in the face of threat. David had lived this. David had seen this. And it made him confident. These stories had made a giant killer of a shepherd boy.

This is no mere belief in God. When it’s time to face a giant it simply will not do to say “I believe in God.” Killing giants requires more than the kind of agreeable mental assent we often label as ‘belief.’ Those who kill giants have stories to tell. They have seen God at work. They know what Go can do. They are utterly convinced that God is able. And for this reason they are dangerous.

David had field experience . . . literally. In the remote regions where shepherds dwell David had faced enemies. When beasts came to prey on the flock under his care, David had gone at them aggressively. And time and time again God had delivered. Every such story was a weapon in David’s soul.

As then . . . so again. What God did once God will do now. David knew this. Do you?

Throughout the Bible this is God’s way with us. When Joshua was called upon to take the place of Moses God encouraged him with this promise: “As I was with Moses so I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5). As then . . . so again.

When the disciples were in a boat with Jesus and worried about the fact that they had forgotten to bring bread, Jesus reminded them of how he had fed thousands with meager provisions and how they had gathered days worth of leftovers (Mark 8:14-21). Why worry about bread? As then . . . so again.

So what stories do you tell? When and how have you seen God unmistakably at work in your life? When have you known his presence as close to you as your own breath? When have you sensed his peace taking up residence deep in your chest? Be specific – and remember. Tell yourself and others this story. Rehearse it. It will make you dangerous today against whatever you face.

Psalm 143 is a Psalm “of David.” In it the Psalmist cries out to God about threats coming from an enemy – an enemy who “has crushed my life to the ground.” The Psalmist responds to this threat with memory: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done” (Psalm 143:3-5).

As then . . . so again. What work of God will you remember today?

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the works of your hands . . . my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life . . . destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” Amen. (from Psalm 143)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thursday Book Club: A Praying Life

I want to let you know about something that’s starting this week. I know . . . short notice.

Anyway, I’m trying to gather any and all interested persons in a five week book club to read through and discuss Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World. The format is very simple: you read the book week by week and we gather and talk about what we’re learning. You are welcomed to bring a lunch with you . . . or not. This will be a very relaxed kind of thing, not a “class.” We’ll open each week with “what did you read that you liked or learned from, etc” and then we’ll see where things go.

The Book: A Praying Life by Paul Miller (in the Peachtree Bookstore now)

The Day: Thursdays beginning January 26 – ending Feb. 23 (a good read just as Lent begins)

The Time: 12:05 – 12:55 pm

The Place: The Lodge @ Peachtree Presbyterian Church (one of the classrooms upstairs)

Call 404-842-3172 for more information

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Circle Maker: Praying "For" and "Through"

Seems to me that Mark Batterson may be the E. M. Bounds of our age. Bounds wrote almost 100 years before Batterson, but the voices are similar. Both of these men talk about prayer like it really does something. Both urge the kind of praying that expects something - a confident coming before the throne of grace, a persistent knocking like a widow demanding justice.

When was the last time you found yourself flat on your face before the Almighty? When was the last time you cut off your circulation kneeling before the Lord? when was the last time you pulled and all-nighter in prayer?

There are higher heights and deeper depths in prayer, and God wants to take you there . . . But if you want God to do something new, you can't do the same old thing. It will involve more sacrifice, but if you are willing to go there you'll realize that you didn't sacrifice anything at all. It will involve more risk, but if you are willing to go there you'll realize that you didn't risk anything at all.

Make the sacrifice . Take the risk. Draw the circle. (Circle Maker, 34)

Batterson calls this "praying through." Praying through is different than "praying for." It is marked by a particular intensity and consistency.

So what are you praying "for?" What are you praying "through?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vague Prayers: Reflections on Mark Batterson's "The Circle Maker"

Over the past several weeks I’ve been making my way through Mark Batterson’s latest book, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears.

The way Batterson approaches prayer reminds me of a statement I heard from the late Elizabeth Achtemeier. Achtemeier taught Bible at Union Seminary in Richmond, Va. for many years. In this particular sermon she was talking about the prophets and how they viewed and spoke about God. Without recalling the exact context, I remember her observation that “many people in our churches believe in God . . . they just don’t think he does anything.”

The Circle Maker has challenged me because it raises my suspicions that my own prayer life proves Professor Achtemeier’s point.

In my own defense, I do believe there is a variety of streams or schools of prayer. Richard Foster’s Prayer covers them quite well.

Most of my reading has dealt with a more contemplative approach to prayer - and that has naturally shaped the way I pray. Contemplative prayer seems to be a way of giving attention to God in the midst of what is actually there – the circumstances that exist now, the people I encounter. The act of paying attention is at the heart of this kind of praying.

But Batterson’s book is about a way of praying that visualizes what isn’t actually there – at least not yet. It goes beyond paying attention to visioning a desired reality. This is how Batterson prayed as he went to plant a church in Washington, D.C. His book is full of examples and stories of how he has seen God work through prayer.

My discomfort comes from the sense that I’ve never really prayed this way. But I want to. At least I think I do.

To be specific, I want to pray circles around my ministry and my family.

From time to time I’ll post a quote from the book. I might offer some commentary along with it. Batterson is an engaging writer – pithy in the style of Rick Warren. I’ll begin today with this statement about vague prayers.

A few years ago I read one sentence that changed the way I pray. The author, pastor of one of the largest churches in Seoul, Korea, wrote, “God does not answer vague prayers.” (p. 25)

If our prayers aren’t specific . . . God gets robbed of the glory that He deserves because we second-guess whether or not he actually answered them. We never know if the answers were the result of specific prayer or general coincidences that would have happened anyway. (p. 26)

Questions: Does God answer vague prayers? How do you know? And what specific prayers are you bringing before God these days?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Winter - Spring 2012 Bible Studies Begin this Week

"MIDWEEK" starts this Wednesday, January 11 @ 6:00 p.m.

Wisdom . . . what exactly is it, and how do we get it? We learn early on that we will be rewarded for being smart (good grades). And ewe eventaully learnd that we will be admired for our wealth (status). But wisdom is rarely applauded. We recognize it, but how do we pursue it? This semestrer in "Midweek" we'll be looking at the books of Proverbs and James and thinking about what it means to live with wisdom. Not a bad pursuit for a New Year.

"SOLA SCRIPTURA" starts on Sunday, January 15 @ 9:00 a.m.

Making use of Eugene Peterson's book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best, we'll spend some time with the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had a prophetic ministry that lasted about 50 years . . . a half century of being ignored. How did he stay at it? And how do we walk faithfully with our God when it seems to be doing little "good?"