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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Emails to God – Calling of Peter, Andrew, James, & John (Matthew 4:18-22)

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Dear God, it is interesting that Peter is among the first disciples called. I am currently in an RCIA class at the Catholic church, and they consider Peter to be the first Pope, so he is a big deal. I double checked the other Gospels, and they are pretty consistent about how Peter and Andrew were recruited. Luke adds the story about the fish and the nets breaking, but even that is still consistent with these others.

I like that this passage includes the calling of James and John because in my mind I always link Peter and John together. I don’t think about Andrew and James that much. I wonder what it was like for them to be the brothers of Peter and John. I don’t think James felt slighted during Jesus’ life, but I wonder how he was treated as the church evolved. I think I need to read some more history about how lives of the apostles played out between Jesus’ death and their own. As I remember, James was killed pretty early (perhaps even the first one killed for his faith).

I have always loved Peter because he is so front-lobed. I swear he must have been A.D.D. He was constantly acting impulsively for good and for ill. While those traits can frustrate the friends of A.D.D. people, I also have a strong feeling that those who get the most done have a little bit of that impulse. I wish I had a little more of that in me. But I am more cautious—like John. I don’t know that John accomplished that much, but he was much more pastoral and there is a role for people like him too.

Father, help me to be at peace with the role you have given me to play in the world. Help me to only long to add those things to my personality that you want me to add. Refine me and mold me. Live through me and accomplish your plans through me. Thank you for wanting me. I want you.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Jesus Figuring Out His Ministry (Matthew 4:12-17)

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Dear God, I wonder how much of the plan for the rest of his earthly life Jesus understood at this point. Did he know he was three years away from the cross, or did he just know what the next step was? It is interesting that at the beginning of his ministry his message is strikingly similar to John the Baptists: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In fact, according to this translation, Matthew put the same words in both of their mouths.

My guess is that Jesus was figuring this out as he went. Perhaps he started to get a clearer vision during the 40-day fast. I am sure there was a lot of prayer time with you out there. I am also sure that the angels ministered more than food and water to him at the end of the fast. They probably gave him some encouragement since he was possibly bothered by the revelations he was getting.

What I have learned for my own life is that it is better if you keep me in the dark regarding the future. It is not good for me to know the long-range plan because if I do, and the path will be difficult, I am less likely to walk down it. It is good for me to focus only on today and not tomorrow. Kind of like coaches of all types tell their teams: “We just have to take it one game at a time.

Father, help me to be at peace with the day you have given to me. This day, in particular, has the potential to be a great day because I am going to spend it on vacation with my mom and her family. So I ask that you help me to be a blessing to my mom. Help me to be a blessing to my uncle, aunt, grandmother, and cousins. Help me to decrease as you increase. Be glorified through me as I simply seek to submit myself to you today without thinking too much about tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Humoring Satan (Matthew 4:1-11)

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Dear God, I find it interesting that Jesus played along with Satan and humored him so much during this interchange. First, Satan came to him and tempted him with food. That makes sense. I can see how that would happen. But why did Jesus go with him to the holy city (presumably Jerusalem) and get on top of the temple? Why did Jesus go with him to a very high mountain? Why allow himself to be tempted in that way? Why didn’t he tell Satan to leave immediately?

There are a lot of question marks in that last paragraph. I guess I am just trying to figure out how much I am supposed to be in the world, but not of the world. My theory (and that is all that it is—a theory) is that Jesus knew that part of his earthly existence was to be tempted like we are tempted and to withstand those temptations. He knows that we are faced with temptations all of the time. He knows that we find ourselves in compromising situations, and I figure he wanted to ensure that we knew that he experienced big temptations and gave us an example of resisting them.

One of the struggles I have as a parent is knowing where to draw the line between not letting my children be exposed to temptation and then allowing them to be exposed to temptation. If I totally block off their exposure to temptation and put them in a box then they will not know 1.) how to deal with it as an adult, 2.) what it is to choose you and your glory over evil, and 3.) the wonder and beauty of repentance.

Father, guide me. Guide me in my own rejection of sin and help me to parent my children through their own decisions regarding sin. Life is hard. Life is complicated. Help me to glorify you in this life so that others might be drawn to you.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Seeing Someone for the Last Time (No verse)

Dear God, over the last couple of years I have had an experience that was new for me. I have visited someone who was terminally ill, and I when I left the room I knew I was seeing that person for the last time. Sure, I have seen people for the “last time” before, but I never KNEW it was the last time. But a about 20 months ago I took our kids to see my mother-in-law for the last time, and I knew at the moment it was my last time to see her too. Then, about a month ago, I went to visit a volunteer in the hospital. At the time they thought he would pass away any day. Any day ended up being yesterday. But the day I visited him in the hospital I knew when I said goodbye that I was doing it for the last time. I knew that he knew it too.

Why am I talking about all of this and praying about it? I don’t know except that I am grateful that as I get older I am seeing more precious friends and loved ones die, and I am getting more and more comfortable with the idea of death. What is on the other side? I am not sure. I don’t know exactly what I will find when I die, but I know that billions of people have lived and died before me, and my experience will be the same as at least a few of them. I read an interesting quote about Steve Jobs when he was dying. His sister said his last words were, “Wow! Wow! Wow!”

Father, there is nothing that can separate me from your love. Neither life nor death can separate me from your love. Help me to be a source of peace for the sick and dying. Help me to be a source of strength for those who are sick. Help me to remember to pray for your healing so that we will know that if you choose to heal then the healing is with your power. Death is not to be feared. There will be grief for those left behind. But fear for ourselves as we face our own death is wasted fear.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Emails to God – Growing Godly Kids (Genesis 3:13-17)

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Dear God, I am fascinated by the phrase, “…it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” I still don’t understand where baptism came from. Why did it all of a sudden become something that was necessary for Jesus to do to “fulfill all righteousness”?

One of the hardest things about spiritually parenting our kids during this time of trying to figure out our own church lives is that it is becoming harder to give them a sense of a spiritual anchor. Right now, my wife and I are the best spiritual anchors they have, and we are losing our influence over them with every day that they age. So when they were younger we didn’t have them baptized because we went to an evangelical church that didn’t do infant baptism (and we agree with that). Now, we have visited churches that don’t emphasize conversion or adult baptism because they expect that the children were baptized as infants. So what will happen with our kids? Will they “fulfill all righteousness”? Is there room for what has happened to them in your plan and grace?

Father, I believe there is all kinds of room for this in your grace. At the same time, I do pray for my children. I pray that you will guide them in a path that is in complete submission to you. Raise up people in their lives who will speak to them with your voice and love. Strongly support them as they grow. Protect them from themselves and from Satan’s plans for them. Show my wife and me our roles in their lives. Parent them through us. Love them through us. Protect them from our sins and our flaws. Protect over our home. Let your Holy Spirit reign there.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Baptism Invented? (Matthew 3:1-12)

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’”

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Dear God, where did the whole baptism thing come from? This is the first time it appears in the Bible, to my knowledge. Did John just make it up out of his own eccentricities? Was it something that you wanted the Israelites to do all along? What is interesting is denominations have taken this issue through the years and used it as a way to divide us as Christians. But there is very little here that describes the practice from a theological perspective. Why do we do it? Why did it become so important? But it is something that even Jesus had to submit to for whatever reason, so it must be important.

Having grown up Baptist, I think I am definitely influenced by that tradition in how I see baptism. I see it mostly as an outward symbol of humility and submission to you. Other denominations see it as a cleansing of original sin from the soul, and that is why they do it with infants. I’m not sure where John got it, or what, if anything, he expected us to do with it after he was gone, but it became part of what Phillip did with the Ethiopian, and it became part of Jesus’ great commission.

Father, I need to know more about this. I want to understand it better and not ignore something that is obviously important to you. Help me to know if there is something here for me to pay attention to. Help me to also not be like the Pharisees and Sadducees. I do not want to be like a brood of vipers, but I want to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Help me to repent and be the best man I can be for your glory’s sake.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Jesus in Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23)

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Dear God, it is interesting that Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth totally skips Egypt, the death of the babies, and Herod. I wonder why. Luke’s account is supposed to be from Mary, so I wonder why Luke would have left this out. Did he not think it was important to the narrative he was trying to tell? He obviously goes into more detail about a lot of other things regarding the birth, including John the Baptist, Mary’s angel visit, etc.

I can’t imagine the strain of this period for Joseph and Mary. They had to have been thinking, Okay, when I signed up for this I never imagined I would have to move to Egypt in order to save the child’s life. Now they are left with moving here and there trying to keep the kid safe, eventually ending up in their hometown after a few years.

I wonder what the Egyptian years were like. I wish we had some kind of account of them here. I just read some Wikipedia explanations of the time in Egypt, and they sound interesting, if not a little fantastical. There is apparently a lot of apocrypha about Jesus’ family in Egypt, and the Coptic church in Egypt uses them extensively as they describe Jesus’ time in their land. Some of the miracles include palm trees bowing to him, idols falling before him, springs of water suddenly appearing out of the ground, etc.

I guess my point in all of this is that there is sooooo much that I do not know. There is sooooo much that I do not understand. Are these stories true? I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But, in the end, there is certainly an indication that this man made an impression, even when he was a baby. There was certainly something heavenly and divine about him. His arrival changed the course of time wherever he went. It’s amazing.

Father, I read this story and I simply worship you for it. I can only try to appreciate what Joseph and Mary suffered through this time, but it is more than I can imagine. But through it all I see that I owe you my complete submission. I give myself to you. All that I am for all that you are—that is the exchange I make with you.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Helpless Parents (Matthew 2:13-18)

 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
   weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
   and refusing to be comforted,
   because they are no more.”

Dear God, I cannot imagine feeling this helpless as a parent. I have spent some time in the past talking about Joseph and his faithfulness/obedience to you here. His responsiveness to your word was impressive. But I don’t want to focus on that today. I want to focus on the idea of the powerless parents who saw the government come through and kill their children. They had absolutely no power to stop it. All they could do was watch in horror. And why did it happen? Because an insecure man couldn’t stand the idea of his successor having been born. If only he had known how the plan could work out.

So there are a few things here:

  1. The obedience of Joseph:
  2. The horror the Bethlehem parents experienced
  3. Herod’s insecurity over invalid presumptions he made

I have heard stories about the Sudan and the atrocities there. Women and girls being raped and killed. Men being beaten and killed. And there is nothing the fathers can do to protect their families. They are helpless. They are impotent in the worst way.

I think that there are similar forces at work against my family, but they are harder to see because they infiltrate the mind. Media is the worst. Television. Internet. Music. They are all working against my family, and while I can make some draconian rules against allowing such things in the house (and we do have limits), there is simply no way I can completely shield my children, wife, or myself from them.

Father, protect families in a way that only you can. Protect the families of the Sudan and everywhere else where atrocities are occurring, including human trafficking. Bless those who have suffered and give them peace. Free the captives. Ease the souls of those who were charged with protecting them but were unable to. And protect my family. I feel the attacks. I feel the insidiousness. Please help me to navigate my way through parenting my children so that our family might be a place where we feel your presence and love despite my sin.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Who were the Wise Men? (Genesis 2:1-12)

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

Dear God, there are so many mysteries about these men. Who were they? Where did they come from? What made them follow the star? Why did they choose the gifts they brought? When did they arrive? Why didn’t Herod send a representative with them to ensure he learned more about Jesus? How did they know about the Jewish prophecies?

 

Given all of that, I think the overall takeaway from this story is that something significant happened when Jesus was born. People like these men could see it. Time changed. I don’t know how they counted years before the B.C. and A.D. system came about, but somewhere along the way it was so significant that they decided to go back and renumber everything around his birth almost 600 years afterward. Jesus’ arrival rippled throughout creation, even into the heavens. No only did earth experience it, but the universe experienced it too.

 

Father, I look at this story and, while I have more questions than answers, it is simply a reminder that you are to be worshipped. Jesus is to be worshipped. I accept this blessing and offer you my love. I submit my life to you. All I am for all that you are. I submit my life to you regardless of what is in it for me, for you are worthy of living my life for.

 

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Joseph is Remarkable (Matthew 1:20-25)

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Dear God, again, it is hard to journal on these passages about Joseph because I have studied them so closely before. I am now too close to them to see anything new. But the things I have learned about Joseph from the past are still valid lessons for me today.

  • Joseph decided to do the benevolent thing to Mary BEFORE his angel visit. Makes you wonder why the angel didn’t visit Joseph before he knew about the pregnancy. Was it a test?
  • He obeyed the angel and took Mary home. This obedience would cost him more than he could know—reputation, standing in the church, business (those are the things he could foresee). Then there were the things he couldn’t foresee—taking a pregnant woman to Bethlehem, delivering a baby in a stable, fleeing to Egypt, returning, eventually, to Nazareth, the stress of raising God’s son.
  • He denied himself his husbandly rights by not consummating the marriage with Mary. Frankly, he could have proven whether or not she was a virgin by having sex with her before the baby was born. But he decided that the best thing for your plan was to deny himself. Is it any wonder that you picked him to be Jesus’ earthly father?

Father, I will never be a man like Joseph. I will never live up to that standard. You were wise to not wait until 1990 for Jesus to be born and have me be his father. You were wise to pick a man who was seemingly so selfless that he could totally give himself to you, his wife, and his children. Thank you for this example. Please help me to get a little closer to it as I strive to completely submit myself to and worship you.

 

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Matthew

 

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