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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Emails to God – Praying in Secret (Matthew 6:5-15)

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Dear God, this verse always gives me pause when I consider the fact that I am publishing my prayers to you for others to see. My original motivation was to inspire others to take scripture and apply it to their daily lives. But does any pride sneak in here as I write these and publish them for others to see? Do I hope people are reading them and impressed with my spiritual insights? Do I hope they think more of me because of it? The answer to all three of these is yes. Yes, there is a part of me that gets some amount of pride through the responses of others. But I can honestly say that that is not my motivation for posting them. My motivation is to try to show other Christians that it is possible to take scripture and allow it to transform your life on an almost daily basis.

I actually stopped publishing these altogether for a while. In addition to publishing them online each day, I also have a few close friends, including my wife, to whom I email them. But earlier this year I stopped doing that. I wanted to spend some time writing to you and praying to you in complete private. I found that it wasn’t as much about not letting them see me pray as much as it was about feeling like I was changing what I was praying because I knew others were reading. I was letting the publishing impact the praying and that is where I cross the line.

Father, I want to pray to you with all earnestness, and then show others my failings and not my strengths. I want to be vulnerable and transparent in my life so that they will be able to better come to peace and complete submission to you. I also want to continue in my path of complete submission. Help me to decrease as you increase in my life. Help me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow you. Help me to do it all for your glory’s sake.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Giving in Secret (Matthew 6:1-4)

1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Dear God, since I have a professional career where I minister to the needy, it is hard for me to do the things I do in secret. At least, it is hard to do ALL of the things I do in secret. I do suppose that there are a number of things my wife and I do that others don’t know about. We support causes that others aren’t aware of. We give money that others don’t know about.

I can say that I feel rewarded for the things that my wife and I do. Not that we are wealthy and living in luxury, but we do live a nice, middleclass life. You are good to us and you provide for our needs. We appreciate that. We really do. The rewards I feel, however, come in the areas of joy and peace. I feel peace whenever I am able to turn loose and give some of my resources (time as well as money) to others. I learned a long time ago that you want me to turn loose of everything I own and offer it all to you as sacrifice. I learned that there is joy in giving. There is peace when I deny myself things for the sake of others.

On the other side of things, I see different kinds of donors through my job. I see those who want no recognition and I see those who clamor for it. I always feel sorry for the clamorers, and I do my best to respect the privacy of those who wish it.

Father, help me to joyfully give of myself to you. Help me to give of my time, my thoughts, and my resources. Help me to be willing to deny myself little luxuries and toys for the sake of others. Help me to be satisfied with what you have given to me and my family. Help me to embrace all that you are for your glory’s sake.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Eye for an Eye (Matthew 5:38-48)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Dear God, like the previous passage with oaths and marriage, I am going to link the two parts of “eye for an eye” and “love for enemies” together since they seem to go hand-in-hand.

I have not had too many enemies in my life. I will always remember what my dad went through when I was in high school with a lawsuit from an attorney who put together over 2,000 plaintiffs and sued my dad’s company for $50 million. I can’t imagine the stress that this event plus the economic crash that coincided it in the late 80’s put on my dad. I could see it on him, but he also masked it pretty well for us. I learned a lot of things from him through this.

  1. He taught me that it is okay for your family to see you stressed and vulnerable, but, at the same time, you need to hide some of it from them for their own sake. Those who are being led need to feel the confidence of their leader. You CAN be TOO vulnerable.
  2. He taught me that you can forgive your enemies and reconcile. I think there was a lot of hatred for the attorney at the time, but within a couple of years of the lawsuit’s resolution my dad and the attorney became friends.
  3. He taught me to try to objectively find fault in yourself. It didn’t happen immediately, but he ultimately decided that they did have some amount of responsibility in the lawsuit and it wasn’t totally groundless, eventually settling out of court.
  4. He taught me to share my failures with others. I have heard my dad talk about this time in his professional career and he owns the mistakes that his company made during this time. The response I see from that in the people he tells isn’t judgment, but respect, appreciation, and even a little relief as they then feel free to share their failures with them.

Father, thank you for giving me a father who gave me a good example of how to follow you, how to be a faithful husband, how to be a forgiver, and how to be vulnerable. I know he wasn’t perfect. I am not perfect as a father either. I just hope that one day my kids will be able to get past the judgments they feel towards me now (as all teenagers feel towards their parents), and feel like I gave them at least a little of what my dad gave me.

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Marriage and Oaths (and a little Thanksgiving) (Matthew 5:31-37)

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Dear God, I want to take the part on divorce and the part on oaths and put them together. First, I have to say that I am a product of adultery since my father married a divorced woman. I know there was physical abuse involved in my mom’s divorce. I can’t remember if there was sexual immorality on her husband’s part or not. But I know that it is something that, after my dad became a discipling Christian, really kind of stuck with him. Where did he stand in this area? Was this something for which he needed to repent? What about the person who gets an “inappropriate” divorce? Is Jesus simply making the point that they need to be more humble about it and ask your forgiveness?

Anyway, I think it is interesting that Jesus follows the marriage paragraph with the oath paragraph since probably the biggest oath we take as Christians, beyond our oath to follow you, is our oath to our spouses. We even put, “So help me God.” At the end of it. Now, we aren’t going, “I swear by God that I will…,” but we are taking our “vows”. Are we doing something wrong there?

I guess I have always treated the passage on oaths to be that I need to be a person of integrity whose word is not doubted by others. I need to be known as a handshake kind of person. I need to be known as someone who is true to his “yes” and his “no”.

Father, it is Thanksgiving Day, and I thank you for more blessings than I can count. My tendency is to look at the frustrations in my life and dwell on how my life can be better, but the truth is that I don’t deserve a better life. I deserve less than what you have already given me. I heard Rich Mullins say once that we all have it better than we deserve. That is true. So I thank you on this Thanksgiving Day. I thank you for my wife, my children, my job, my parents, and all of the normal things. But I also want to thank you for peace. Thank you for joy. Thank you for patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control (Galatians 5:17). I appreciate that you care enough to develop fruit in us as we pursue you. So help me to be faithful to my wife, be a man of truth, and to bear the fruit of your love for me.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Repentance (Matthew 5:27-30)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Dear God, you know the sad thing about this passage is that I committed adultery long before I ever met my wife. Most of us men probably have (and not a small number of women either). This is an awfully high standard, not only in remaining sinless in this area, but also how we should remedy it if we do sin in this area. I know I have been disobedient on the first one, and I have obviously been disobedient on the second part since my eyes and hands are still intact.

When I read this passage it almost makes me think that you are simply showing the people in the crowd that they cannot live up to your standard, regardless of how self-righteous they are. Do they hate? Guilty! Lust? Guilty! Divorce? Guilty! Swear oaths? Guilty! Avenge wrongs? Guilty! This isn’t just, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” This is, “You might not think you have to repent, but you do! So repent, for the kingdom of God is near.”

I guess one question I have is, How often do I repent? How often do I examine myself and truly beg for your mercy? How often do I find my faults and tell you that I will never do it again? I have been learning more lately about Catholic confession to a priest, and I think, frankly, there might be something to it as a discipline. I don’t believe that it gives us any more absolution from our sin than just straight confession to you, but there is probably something healthy about getting in front of a priest and consciously going through my sin.

Father, help me to examine my heart and repent. Help me to find the areas where I am harsh with my children, negligent of my wife, lustful, vengeful, dishonest, etc. I can think of examples of all of these and more even as I sit here and roll them around in my head. So forgive me. Forgive me for failing you. Forgive me for failing my family. Forgive me for failing my friends. And again, forgive me for failing you.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Modeling Reconciliation (Matthew 5:21-26)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Dear God, these are some very high standards. I can understand the part about hating someone being the same as murder, but being angry with them and not having it resolved? Wow, that seems pretty harsh.

Reconciling with people can sometimes be hard. Our lives have so many relationships. There are relationships with our family of origin, our spouses and children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and just people we know about around town or on the news. Within each of these relationships is the potential of anger. Frankly, as a father I experience anger a couple of times a week. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. And sometimes it is difficult to reconcile because you have a kid who is just as angry. On the other side of it, however, is my responsibility to model reconciliation to the child so that when they grow up they can know how to handle the relationships in their own home.

Father, I think one of the most important parts of reconciliation within families is the aspect of modeling. We need to model for them. We need to help them to know how to reconcile with their spouses and their children. The results if we don’t model that for them can be catastrophic for their future relationships. So help me to model it for them, and help them to learn from my mistakes when I don’t model it from them. Make this a lesson that I live as I really do earnestly try to be the man you need me to be.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Practicing and Teaching the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Dear God, there is a part of verse 19 that caught my eye: “…whoever practices and teaches these commands…” It could just be a matter of translation, but the idea that “practices” is listed here before “teaches” reminds me that I can speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love then I am nothing (paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13). I can talk, and talk, and talk, but my example is so much more important than my words. James would later call it “faith without works”.

The problem I can run into sometimes is that I can be tempted to focus on the works. I can try to make sure that the works are there for others to see, but what is my motivation? Is my motivation to pursue you, or is my motivation to impress others?

I went to a wedding and a funeral yesterday. Why did I got to them? For the wedding, the motivation was purely to show love to the bride because there was nothing in my attendance for me. Perhaps some standing is the eyes of some of my staff who saw me there, but I would say that they are not why I went. I went to show love. The funeral, on the other hand, did have some political motives. The funeral was for a dear man who used to volunteer where I work. I would have gone to his funeral regardless, but I have to admit that there were some political benefits to people seeing me at the funeral. I was also grateful that the family designated our Center as a beneficiary of memorial donations on his behalf, and I wanted to show them that I didn’t take his loss for granted.

Father, I guess my point is that I will always have a mixture of motivations for every “good deed” that I do, but I want the core of every motivation to be my love for you and my decision to submit my entire life to you, regardless of what the submission costs me. There is a part of the play I saw last night where a one girl is manipulating another, and ultimately gets her to swear an oath of servitude. It is chilling and awful, but that is the kind of relationship I have freely and willingly entered into with you. And I do it because I believe that your plans are greater than my life. Your will is more important than my success. In short, you are God and I am not.

 

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Matthew

 

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