Monthly Archives: January 2012

Emails to God – Needing an Explanation of the Parable (Matthew 13:18-23)

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Dear God, I find it interesting that in verses 16 and 17 you tell they that they are blessed because the can see and hear, and yet you go on to lay the meaning of the parable out for them anyway. Perhaps they were not as seeing and perceiving as they might have been. It seems to me that the disciples were continuously not seeing and perceiving. They missed your lessons all of the time.

Of course, I miss your lessons too. I don’t always (or even often) understand what is going on around me. Heck, I don’t quite understand what is going on around me right now. I don’t know what you are doing in me and through me as a dad, husband, employee, church attendee, son, brother, or friend. I know that it seems like there is something missing in me in each of these areas, but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Father, right now, I really need your wisdom, vision, insight, and discernment. I really need to understand how to love my wife. I really need to understand how to parent my children. I need to understand how to be a friend to those who need me. I need to understand how to lead the organization where I work. So help me. Since I am currently on vacation with my wife, please help me to be the husband and father she needs me to be. Help me to be the husband and father that you need for me to be for her sake. I can’t tell what that looks like, but I know that right now I am afraid I am missing it somehow.


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – 6 Levels of Faith (Mastering the New Testament: Job)

Mastering the Old Testament – Job (written by David McKenna)

Dear God, okay, I am going to do things a little differently for a while. I am on vacation and I feel compelled to spend some time really digging into the book of Job. Frankly, it has always daunted me a little because its structure is too complicated to just journal through like I normally do. This is literature, and it is to be contemplated and studied as such.

So, much like I did in high school when I had to read something that I feared would overwhelm me, I am using a commentary to help me. It is from Word’s Communicator’s Commentary Series, and all I have read so far is the Introduction, but it is great. There was one part of the Introduction that I want to pray through this morning because I think it will lay the groundwork for the rest of the book.

I am just going to shamelessly quote about half of a page here:

Obviously, faith is not static. Compatible with other theories of human development, a person either grows, plateaus, or regresses in faith as the circumstances of age, experience, and events change. [James] Fowler [from his book The Stages of Faith] has also devised a helpful scale of faith development with six sequential stages:

  1. Intuitive-projective faith is associated with a child’s faith, based upon fantasy and imagination.
  2. Mythical-literal faith is the family faith of the early school years, which is sustained by moral rules and either/or thinking.
  3. Synthetic-conventional faith is an adolescent faith that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith whom it models or rejects.
  4. Individuative-reflective faith is the faith of the young adult who is capable of critical thinking, independent reflection, and dialectical reasoning.
  5. Conjunctive faith is a mid-life and old-age faith that integrates self-identity with a comprehensive world view to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served.
  6. Universalizing faith is the rare faith of a world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.

Wow, there is a lot of meat here, and I feel like I need to dig into each one and be able to understand and recall each one frontwards and backwards in order to move through the rest of this book. So let me at least try to start by writing a definition for each one in my own words.

  1. Intuitive-projective faith is something that you believe without facts or knowledge. Your intuition tells you it is true, whether it is nor not. Santa Claus is an example of this. So are the Bible stories like the burning bush, the walls ofJericho, etc. You hear it and no real explanation is necessary because you aren’t in to thinking about things critically yet.
  2. Mythical-literal faith is what you pick up from your family’s structure. It includes your family’s values (what foods you eat, how much TV and what kinds of TV you watch. It’s pretty black and white. There is little room for grey area. There is always a right and a wrong answer, and your family structure helps to define those right and wrong answers.
  3. Synthetic-conventional faith is a little more mature than Mythical-literal in that it takes into account the social norms of the surrounding community, but there still isn’t an independent interpretation of beliefs the group has. For example, is homosexuality a sin or not? One can let their community form this opinion for them instead of studying, contemplating, and putting together their own opinions and beliefs on the issue.
  4. Individuative-reflective faith is the beginning of independent thought—hence, “individuative”. This person is starting to critically analyze some of their own long-held beliefs. For example, “Is scripture truly inerrant, or are there inconsistencies with which I must deal?”
  5. Conjunctive faith involves having to know yourself and then adding life experience and knowledge of the world to that so that it can inform your faith. Individuative-reflective faith can still be idealistic because it is often ignorant of experience. Conjunctive faith is the coming together of all aspects of the human experience.
  6. Universalizing faith is where it all comes together into a life that is, on the one had, at peace, and, on the other hand, driven by faith in God and hearing His call regardless of the personal circumstances.

So knowing those levels of faith, I will hopefully be a little more prepared to experience Job’s faith walk along with the faith walks of his wife and friends. Where are each of them at any given time? Where am I in my life right now? Have I reached #6. Am I still at #3? I guess that’s what the writer of Job wanted me to figure out.

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Job


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Emails to God – Ever Seeing, but Never Perceiving (Matthew 13:10-17)

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Dear God, I wonder what it was about these twelve men that made them different. What made them seeing AND perceiving? What made them able to hear AND understand? (verse 14) Why wouldn’t you want all of us to “see with [our] eyes, hear with [our] ears, understand with [our hearts] and turn, and [be healed]”?

I admit that there are some things that you try to show me that I just don’t understand. It seems like I am one of the people that you do not reveal things to. But then there are other times when I “get it” and can respond to what you are calling me to do. As I sit and think about this, my inability/ability to “see” seems to change depending upon what area of my life I am talking about. I have pretty good clarity at work. I can often see what you are doing and calling me to do there. I have a little less clarity in marriage. I often know how to respond to my wife, but there are times when I am insensitive and don’t have a clue. And I have even less clarity in my parenting. In fact, I was wondering recently if Satan wasn’t really trying to attack our family’s unity and I was missing it.

Father, help me to be seeing AND perceiving. Help me to hear AND understand. I want to glorify and honor you in every area of my life. In addition to that, I want to feel your peace and be a minister of your peace in every area of my life. Help me to bless my wife and children. Help me to bless my family. Help me to bless my friends and coworkers. Help me to bless our patients. And help me to bless those I simply encounter today. Touch the world through me.

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Accepting the Fruit God Grows in You (Matthew 13:1-9)

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Dear God, what does fruitfulness in a life look like? I think it can take a lot of forms. Of course, in this context it all starts with allowing your Word to take root in our hearts and flourish. But then, when it has flourished, how will it reveal itself to others?

I had a great experience yesterday. My wife’s birthday is tomorrow and so some of her blogging friends that she mainly knows through the Internet (although she did meet many of them once in the fall at a writer’s retreat) decided to shower her with loving posts, poems, etc. It overwhelmed her. It was fun for me to read because what I saw was a woman who had touched so many others without even realizing it. And what was it about her that was touching them? It was the fruit returning “a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

Ever since I have known my wife I have seen the ability she has to connect with people on a deep, deep level. I connect with a thousand people about an inch deep, but she digs deep with someone within moments. I have not only admired this trait in her, but I must confess that I have coveted it too. I would love for someone to spend thirty minutes with me and leave feeling known and loved. That is the fruit that you bear in my wife’s life, and it is beautiful.

Father, I know that you have gifted me in completely different ways that you gifted my wife. The problem is that the gifts you gave me are often more publicly acknowledged and affirmed than the gifts you gave her. But days like yesterday, when she saw the comments of dozens of people telling her that their lives are better for having known her, are powerful. I am grateful for that for her. Please help me to be at peace with the gifts you gave me. Let them take root and grow. And please continue to encourage my wife for the fruit that is born in her life.


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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Figuring Out When Your Child is Grown (Matthew 12:46-50)

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Dear God, it can be so hard to know what is appropriate when you grow up. Sure, Jesus was at least 30 in this story, so he was pretty grown up, but I am 41 and it can still be hard to know when to bend to my parents’ will and when to draw a line and say that I need to do something different.

The same is true from the parents’ side. Our children are teenagers right now. They aren’t quite ready to be on their own (although they probably think they are more ready than my wife and I do), but they are ready to make some decisions for themselves. So what kinds of decisions do we turn over to them and what do we keep for ourselves? I make mistakes in this area all of the time. Frankly, lately, I have been wondering if I haven’t been erring too much on the side of letting them make their own decisions. I actually feel like I have given them too much freedom and it isn’t working.

Father, teach me to parent my children at the ages they are at now, and to parent them as they grow. I have no answers. I only have questions. I had no idea it would be this hard and that I would feel soooo unequal to the task. So please love them through me. Parent them through me. Please help my wife and me to be completely united as their parents. Help us to be completely united as man and wife. Love and encourage them through us and guide them into a life of oneness with you.

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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Exploring–and Understanding–Domestic Violence (“Love the Way You Lie”)

Okay, we’re going to go a little edgier with this one. I heard this song as I drove home from a meeting tonight. I’ve heard it several times before, but thought I would share it with you tonight. It’s pretty powerful.

Domestic violence is something that is scary and can happen in every socioeconomic background. It isn’t just something that happens to the poor. One time I was having lunch with a donor to our Center. She was elderly and widowed. Her husband had been a prominent member of the community. During lunch she told me about the years of physical and emotional abuse. She was not very sad when he died.

On the other side, we had a patient at our clinic who shot her husband this summer because she couldn’t take the violence anymore. Why didn’t she leave before she did this? That’s a complicated answer.

This duet between Rihanna and Eminem explains a little of what women and men experience when they find themselves in the cycle of domestic violence–especially if they grew up in it. Did you know that women have to leave their husband/boyfriend an average of seven times before they finally leave?

Since you can’t really appreciate this song without hearing the song, here is a link to a youtube version that gives you the lyrics along with the audio. Maybe it will help you understand the friend who won’t leave her husband. Maybe it will give you the courage to break this type of a cycle in your own life. Anyway, here’s “Love the Way You Lie Part 2“.

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Hymns and Songs


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Emails to God – Aspiring to be a Ninevite (Matthew 12:38-45)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Dear God, Jesus seems to be pretty frustrated here. But I like the analogy here to Nineveh. I have always been amazed at their willingness to repent. What was going on in their lives and society that made them so willing to submit to you? How were they so ready to embrace you.

There is some kind of line here between those who believe themselves to be righteous (the people Jesus is speaking to) and those who know they are not and need you. But I think what Jesus is looking for are those who already reject evil and yet are willing to embrace him/you too.

Father, help me to be embrace you regardless of how in control I might feel. Help me to completely turn loose of my self-righteousness and consider it as worthless to me so that I might feel your direction and love. Be glorified in me. Give me your peace. More importantly, give me your direction. Show me how to leave my family and lead my business. Show me how to manage my own life. When you think of me, I hope you think of me more as someone who is from Nineveh and less like someone who is in Jesus’ audience in this story.

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – The Hope and Despair of Poverty (“Fast Car”)

I was out on a bike ride tonight and one of the songs that came on my play list was Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. You may have heard it, but have you ever really listened to the words. I used to work for a nonprofit near a government housing project and I can see a lot of the pain and the cycle of multigenerational poverty in this song. So let’s take a look at what it says:

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

You got a fast car And I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal Maybe together we can get somewhere
Anyplace is better Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something But me myself I got nothing to prove

You got a fast car And I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won’t have to drive too far Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs And finally see what it means to be living

You see my old man’s got a problem He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working I say his body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car But is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision We leave tonight or live and die this way

I remember we were driving driving in your car The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car And we go cruising to entertain ourselves
You still ain’t got a job And I work in a market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted
We’ll move out of the shelter Buy a big house and live in the suburbs

You got a fast car And I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better Thought maybe together you and me would find it
I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere So take your fast car and keep on driving

You got a fast car But is it fast enough so you can fly away
You gotta make a decision You leave tonight or live and die this way

See what I mean? Cool song. I see people like this every day in my job. Some of them dream. Some of them work hard and hope for better, but then something happens. I think my biggest fear as the father of a girl is that she will find a man who turns out to be like the man or the father in the song.

I’ll close with giving you Wikipedia’s description of the song and what it means.

The song is a narrative tale of genrational poverty. The song’s narrator tells the story of her hard life, which begins when her mother divorces her jobless, alcoholic father, forcing the narrator to quit school in order to care for him. Eventually, she leaves her hometown with her partner in hopes of making a better life. Despite her employment at a grocery store she falls victim to the cycle of poverty, as her life begins to mirror her mother’s: her partner remains largely unemployed and becomes an alcoholic. She is left alone with her children while her partner spends time drinking with friends. Finally, after getting a job that will support her family, she comes to accept her life as the way it is and to give up chasing empty dreams. She tells her partner to leave her; to take “your fast car and keep on driving.” The final refrain is sung in variation, changing from “We gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way” to “You gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way.”

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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Hymns and Songs


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Emails to God – There’s a Time and a Place for Breaking the Rules (Matthew 12:1-14)

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Dear God, I have to admit that I never liked the story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread. I don’t think Saul could have gotten away with that. The only thing I can figure out is that you realize that there is a time and a place for breaking rules. The times are few and the places are few, but apparently there is, indeed, at time and a place.

So what kinds of rules are open to interpretation at these special times and places? Of course, there is no way for me to figure that our here. And I think that I will end up having to make these evaluations as I encounter any given situation. But what I think the ultimate thing comes down to is, where is my heart in the decision to break a rule?

I spoke with a friend recently about her divorce. I have seen the pain of divorce up close and personal through my parents having been separated three times, so I can empathize, at least a little, with her pain. Ironically, that same night I was in a Bible study that discussed marriage. It was a Catholic study so they idea of divorce was nonexistent—you have to go through an annulment. The man who led the discussion, to my surprise, was on his fourth marriage. The first was in a Methodist church when he says he was young and dumb—it was short-lived. The second and third were done by Justices of the Peace—one was short and the other 16 years. Before he could marry the fourth time, however, he had recently become Catholic and they told him that he would have to go through the annulment process for at least the first one since that one was in a church (the other two were able to not count since they were civil ceremonies and not before you). The annulment process is apparently arduous, thorough, and not automatic. The Catholic church sees marriage as something that you joined together and only you can break. BUT, to their credit, I think, they do recognize that there is a time to break.

Father, I know my friend is still hurting. I know she would still love reconciliation. I don’t know that that is possible. That ship has likely sailed. So I ask that you would speak to her through your Word, through the books and devotionals that she reads, and through her friends. Help her to see how you are loving her through this. Help her to feel your hand on her life. Help her to see the ways you are touching her each day, each moment, that she didn’t realize before now. It’s an ugly situation, and while she is probably not totally blameless for all of the problems in the marriage, she is blameless in the area of wanting it to end. So honor her for that, help her to feel your release from it, and help her to live this day for you and not be distracted by what she no longer has.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – The Weary and the Burdened (Matthew 11:25-30)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Dear God, I wonder if verses 27 and 28 are linked together more than I have thought. I almost separated them, but I am starting to think that Jesus reveals you to those who are weary and burdened, looking for rest.

I know that, as my children grow, one of my prayers for them is that they will get to a point of complete submission to you. Frankly, unless we get to the point where we are broken of the idea that we can do it in our own power then there is no way that we will find the peace and joy of surrendering to you. So my prayer for them is that they will completely submit to you, but that their burden will be as light as possible in order to get themselves there. I am their dad and I don’t want to see them suffer under a burden at all. Of course, that is not a realistic goal, so I simply ask that you make their burdens and suffering as light as possible in order to get them where you want them.

Father, I want to be a good father to my children. I also want to be a good son to you. So I turn my life over to you and ask that you do whatever you will to draw me into complete submission to you. I understand it might mean my suffering. I also understand that it might be more than I THINK I can take. But I tell you in this moment that I want you more than I want anything else. Be glorified in me.

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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Matthew


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