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Monthly Archives: April 2021

Faith

I prayed and prayed, never heard a sound.

Keith Green
Dear God, I have a lot of cliches that I've kind of developed over the last few years going through my head. One is, "There's a fine line between living by faith and living in denial." Another is, "I measure time in days, weeks and months, but you measure it in years, decades and centuries." 

My wife and I pray together every morning. We pray for our children and their significant others. We pray for immediate and extended family. We pray for friends and coworkers. We pray for ourselves as individuals and our marriage. We've prayed for work things in the past. We've prayed for healing. And sometimes it can feel like we are praying into the thin air. Sometimes it can feel fruitless and hopeless. Sometimes, I don't see the point. But according to Hebrews, "faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see." There are times I feel like my prayers are pure faith and I start to wonder is my faith real, or am I just living in denial. Or I wonder if I am expecting the wrong thing from you, and you are telling me no. 

Something happened today to showed us what you've been doing while we never heard a sound. And it's not like I know really what you're doing, what your endgame is, or how you are going to enact your will. But today, at least in this moment, we heard a sound, and it brought me to weeping tears. 

Father, thank you. Thank you for being smarter than me, more knowledgeable than me, and for not giving me what I want when I want it. Thank you for teaching me along the way. Thank you for helping me to work out my faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Thank you for honoring your promises to us. I know that I need these trials to draw me closer to you. I wish I didn't, but I do. So I submit to whatever path you have for me and those I love.

In Jesus's name I pray,

Amen
 
 

Job 19:21-29

“Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for the hand of God has struck me. Must you also persecute me, like God does? Haven’t you chewed me up enough? “Oh, that my words could be recorded. Oh, that they could be inscribed on a monument, carved with an iron chisel and filled with lead, engraved forever in the rock. “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! “How dare you go on persecuting me, saying, ‘It’s his own fault’? You should fear punishment yourselves, for your attitude deserves punishment. Then you will know that there is indeed a judgment.”
Job 19:21-29

Dear God, I have had so much difficulty interpreting Job in the past. I tried reading it on my own and my attention span was too short to make it all of the way through the book and get a bird’s eye view of it all at once. I would read a chapter here and a chapter there, and my problem was that it all sounded pretty reasonable to me. I couldn’t parse through what was good theology and what was bad theology. So I finally used a biblical commentary to go through it, and that’s when I learned a basic truth. Job and his friends were still looking at you as a God who punishes and rewards. They saw good things and assumed your blessing and they saw bad things and assumed your curse.

So in the case of this passage, Job recognizes you as his redeemer and has not yet turned his back on you, but he also makes one critical error in verse 21: “…for the hand of God has struck me.” He was wrong. Your hand had not struck him. If anything, Satan’s had had struck him. You might have allowed it, but you didn’t cause it. In fact, what Satan didn’t realize through all of his glee at Job’s misfortune and torment is that you were using the crises to mold Job into something he never would have become otherwise. Not only that, but you used it to teach us thousands of years later.

Father, I have friends who are going through trials. Use them for your glory. I have trials of my own. Use them for your glory. Job’s ultimate lesson was that his life was not about him, but it was all about you. This is something that Paul figured out remarkably fast as he suffered for your kingdom’s sake without complaint. Give me the insight and courage to do the same. I’m sorry for the times I’ve questioned you. I’m sorry for complaining about the lot in life you’ve given to me. I’m sorry for being disappointed that you didn’t give me something I thought I deserved. I bring it all to you and simply say thank you for being such a glorious God and for loving me. What else could I possibly want?

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2021 in Job

 

The Creator Who Abhors Me

You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing?

The Monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Volume 2, Chapter 2.

Dear God, my wife and I have been reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to each other for the last couple of weeks, and I came across this sentence as she was reading last night. The thought just fell on me while I listened to her: What would it be like if my God—my Creator—abhorred me? How lonely would that feel? Would there be any hope in my life? In my existence?

There are many children who never feel loved or liked by their parents. Some even feel hated and abhorred. And those wounds cut deep. They leave tremendous scars. But that seems less significant than what the monster is communicating to Victor Frankenstein here. He is lost in a confusing world, and his Creator abhors him.

It made me grateful for your irrational love for me. You have been gentle with me. You have allowed me to go into valleys of my own making and walked with me through valleys that were not of my own making. You have inspired me. You have imparted your vision to me. You have said yes to some of my prayers and no to others. But one thing you never did. You never ignored me. Instead, you come looking for me when I’m lost.

That’s one thing that struck me as we read the story up to this point—after Victor created the creature he didn’t follow up. The monster disappeared and Victor did not follow. He was too self-absorbed to follow. That’s one of the weird things about you, God. You aren’t self-absorbed or narcissistic, and you have a right to be. In fact, you want us to worship you, but the odd twist is that it ends up being for our good. The more we decrease and you increase in our own eyes the happier we become. It’s an incredible paradox.

What if Satan were my creator? What if he ruled heaven? What if selfishness and narcissism ruled the day. What if my creator abhorred me and lived for my torment and destruction just for his amusement?

Father, help me to remember at every moment to offer my neighbors your love. Help me to remind them that you are a lover of their soul. Help me to explain the peace, love, joy, faithfulness, gentleness, patience, goodness, and kindness that are waiting for them if only they will turn loose of themselves, believe, and follow you. And help me to be a spokesperson for the idea of not just believing in you but following you. Following you, after all, is what you called even the first of your disciples to do.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2021 in Miscellaneous

 

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John 10:11-21

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him. Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
John 10:11-21

Dear God, it’s so interesting to see how Jesus apparently referenced Gentiles in this speech here (I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd) and, while people probably didn’t understand the reference at the time, John was careful to include it in his account of what Jesus had said. Yes, indeed, I not only have a right to be here praying to you this morning. You want me with you.

So, do I know your voice when I hear it? Going back to my common theme over the last few weeks, am I simply a believer in Jesus or a follower of Jesus? Do I believe there is a shepherd or do I follow the shepherd?

Father, it starts with me. I am prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. I am prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. I will do my best to be a follower of you. Thank you for wanting me in your flock.

In Jesus my shepherd’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2021 in John

 

Romans 14:5-13

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to God. ’” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
Romans 14:5-13

Dear God, but it’s so much more fun to judge other people. It’s so much more fun to get caught up in the minutia of I’m right and you’re wrong. I want to find little hills I can die on so I can feel superior to other people.

Okay, obviously, I’m being sarcastic, but am I really? I mean, I can have a tendency to do all of the things Paul is describing here–and more! I can judge other Christians by how they spend their money, how they dress, how they present themselves in public, how they raise their children, how they treat their spouse, how they worship you…the list can go on an on. And why do I do it? Why do I look at speck in their eye while ignoring the log in my own? All I can say is that I’m obviously an insecure mess, and I need your mercy.

Father, help me to focus more on the mercy I need from you than the mercy others need from you. And please forgive me. I’m so much less than I want to be. I’m not the worshipper, the giver, the worker, the father, the husband, the brother, the son, the friend, the citizen I need to be. I’m sorry. Thank you for loving me anyway.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2021 in Romans

 

Romans 1:21-25

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.
Romans 1:21-25

Dear God, an astute reader of scripture would note that I cut this passage off right before Paul started getting into specific sins, including homosexuality. I did that intentionally. I wanted to talk to you this morning more about the idea of worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. Why is it so hard for us to worship you? To quote Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

Just off of the top of my head, and without pondering it too much, I think there are maybe two main things at play. The first is that Satan actively tempts us to drift from you. Even his temptations for Jesus, whether spoken in the wilderness or through Peter were about Jesus inserting his own will over yours. And isn’t that what he does to me too? He tells me I deserve better than I have. He tells me I need to protect myself at the expense of truth. He tells me I should be afraid of any number of things–immigrants, the government, my neighbors, my family. The fallacy in every lie is that they are all predicated on the false assumption that my life is my own. That I have a right to safety, money, power, comfort, etc. It’s not about me. It’s about you.

The second is the very desire that Satan plays off of doesn’t need Satan’s encouragement. I am selfish enough all on my own. And while I don’t build idols to which I pray, I certainly have things in my life in which I put my feelings of safety and security. I put my faith in my job and bank account. I put my faith in my government’s power in the world. I put my faith in the safety of my neighborhood/town. I put my faith in my health. My sense of certainty is based in all of these things, and in the midst of it all I lose the rest in you that only your Holy Spirit can offer.

Father, I give this day to you. I give my worship to you. I give my wants to you. Help me to live my life for you. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see what you need me to do in any given circumstance. And do it all for your glory and not mine.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2021 in Romans

 

John 10:22-30

It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
John 10:22-30

Dear God, I am going to go back to the concept I talked about a week or two ago after listening to an Andy Stanley sermon. He talked about the difference between believing in Jesus and following Jesus. Now, in this case, these people were experiencing everything real time and they weren’t sure what to believe or follow. But they knew what they wanted. They wanted Jesus to say that he was the Messiah, he was forming an army, and it was going to be go-time against Rome. So he told them he was the Messiah, but what they didn’t seem to realize is that they believed in the wrong kind of Messiah.

I was listening to the Holy Post podcast tonight while I worked out, and they talked at one part about “table-flipping Jesus.” When Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of passion week, they welcomed him, but who were they welcoming? They were welcoming the wrong Messiah. They wanted David. They wanted someone to overthrow Rome like David defeated the Philistines. They wanted power. They wanted victory. What they ended up getting pretty early on was a Messiah that challenged them. He went to the temple and flipped over tables. He went up against the church leaders. So by the end of the week, they not only rejected his version of Messiah–they not only didn’t believe in him as the Messiah–but they killed him. They weren’t following or believing.

So what is my Messiah like. In whom do I believe? Whom do I follow? When I follow Jesus, what kind of man am I emulating? Do I seek influence and power? Do I seek authority, judgment, and condemnation? Do I seek affirmation of my own biases? I hope this isn’t the Jesus I follow, but sometimes I think I do.

Father, help me to follow the man who was more interested in giving mercy, encouraging people to die to the things that gave them security and power, and living in such a way that established his authority without harming people. The fruit of the Holy Spirit, which he/you left for us, is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, and self control (I might have missed one or two there). The Messiah I follow wanted us to have those things. Help me to be a man who will introduce people to you so that they might find those fruits as well.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2021 in John

 

“Genesis Review: Finding God in the Details” by Andrew Crumey for The Wall Street Journal

Dear God, I was reading a Wall Street Journal article this morning about marrying up modern theoretical physics and Genesis when it comes to the creation story. How we must amuse you! We try so hard to understand. We stretch our brains. We think and ponder. And I’m sure in some ways you’re really proud of us, like when a parent is proud of a child for learning something new. But there’s still so much we don’t know or of which we can’t conceive.

The weird part is how we argue with each other through our ignorance. “No, God created the earth in 144 hours (six days)!” “Are you crazy? There is no God! Nature just formed!” Such foolishness! Such arrogance! Such pride! It must look completely ridiculous from your perspective.

Father, help me to major in the majors. I don’t need to know everything. I don’t need to be right about everything. What I need is a heart of worship. So as I prepare to worship in church this morning, the words to “How Great Thou Art” are in my head: “MyGod, how great thou art!”

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

Romans 13:1-7

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.
Romans 13:1-7

Dear God, I’ll confess that this has always been a passage I’d rather skip. First, as a general principle, I’m fine with it, but when I think about the man who wrote it, the government under which he lived and the circumstances through which he lived (and died) through the last part of his life, I have to wonder if it should be read with more nuance and not just taken at face value. Then there is the reality that a lot of the world lives under despotic governments. How does the North Korean or Iranian Christian respond to this passage?

As I think about the weaknesses of being a Christian in a more modern society like ours or the Europeans, one thing I note is that life can be deceptively comfortable. A little like the frog slowly boiling in the water. When life is too easy and conflict-free, we get lazy. Then we stop hindering for you and depending on you. We make idols of the society we built instead of worshiping you. Even me over the last few days. I’ve taken moments here and there to pray for individuals in need of your comfort and healing, but I haven’t hungered for you.

Then there are the things that are corroding our society from within. The first among them is social media. But other forms of entertainment are doing it as well. Yes, we are corroding from within.

Father, I suppose at the end of the day respecting our government is our default position, but it shouldn’t be replaced by pursuing you. Worshiping you. Sacrificing our lives to you. Help me to do that today. For your glory’s sake, and for the sakes of those around me who need you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2021 in Romans

 

Romans 3:23-24

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Romans 3:23-24

Dear God, this is a passage (well, the first sentence is) that my new youth minister memorize when I first became a discipling Christian in 1987. He had us memorize Romans 3:23, 6:23, and 10:9-10.

I was talking with a young man today about what you and I have been talking about lately in terms of my evangelism, or lack thereof. I told him that one thing we need to figure out is what we are selling when we share our faith. Are we selling heaven? Are we selling relationship with you? The fruits of the Spirit? And how do I package all of that into a nice, neat little bundle that will draw someone into an authentic relationship with you?

I guess it starts with the idea that we are all equal, regardless of gender, race, wealth, or social/political standing. We are all sinful. We have all fallen short of your glory. While we see each other as different, I’m sure we would be surprised to see how much you see us all as pretty much the same. From the very genuinely good pastor who lives completely for you to the murderer on death row—on a scale of 1-10, one might be a 1 and the other a 1.5. But I suppose this isn’t about a rating system. It’s simply pass/fail and we all fail.

Father, thank you for sending Jesus and freeing me from the penalty of my sin. Thank you for not seeing me differently than you see anyone else. Thank you for that equality. It takes achievement in man’s eyes off of the table and puts living in worship of you in perspective. So help me to take my eyes off of me, off of my priorities and idea, and put them solely on you and hearing your voice. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2021 in Romans