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Monthly Archives: May 2021

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Dear God, where did Paul get this? Was he always right about some of these things? Did he misunderstand any of this end-of-time stuff? I think it’s safe to say that he thought Jesus would return much sooner than 2,000 years after his ascension. But did he have the rapture wrong? And I’m not trying to question Jesus’s ultimate return. I just wonder if it might be in a paradigm or reality that is beyond our human comprehension.

My own personal theory, which is not to be taken as truth is that death is at the intersection of when we cease to experience our “time” and we start to experience your “timelessness.” I know of too many stories of people experiencing heaven immediately, only to return. But I actually have one that is greater than that. When my mother-in-law died, my niece, who was, I think, 2 at the time, saw my mother-in-law in her home within minutes of her death. It was about 5:00 in the morning, she was with her mom, and she said, “Ama?” (That was her name for her grandmother.) Her mom asked her why she saw, and she said to yer mom, “Ama’s not scared.” It was only a few minutes later that her mom found out that AMA had just died.

I remember my mother talking about my grandmother being on her deathbed in the hospital and she reported seeing dead relatives in her room. I completely believe all of these stories.

There’s even one from Jesus’s own life. He got to hang out with Moses and Elijah. Now Elijah never died so we can see how he might be there, but if Moses was waiting for either Jesus’s death and resurrection or Jesus’s return in the rapture, how did he get there?

Father, at the end of the day, I don’t have to understand any of this as absolute truth. Frankly, I don’t think I’m capable of comprehending the absolute truth. What gives me peace is that I believe the reality you provide is for my good, and I can be at peace in my life, my death, and the lives and deaths of my friends because you have provided Jesus for my and our reconciliation, and your love is bigger than my ability to screw it up.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2021 in 1 Thessalonians

 

Discernment

Dear God, I’ve never been great at reading people. I tend to play things pretty straight so I expect others are doing the same. I forget to look beneath the facade someone is showing me and try to see what might be driving their motivations. I mean, I’ve gotten better at it over the last 10 or 15 years. I at least recognize the need to do it. One of the first things I do for new volunteers and employees at our clinic is show them a Chick-fil-a training video called “Every Life Has a Story.” It shows a camera panning through a Chick-fil-a restaurant, zooming in on each person, including the staff, and revealing a fact about their personal life in a caption beneath their smiling or not smiling face. If only we all came with captions.

There are some people around me that I need to really live up to being better about reading what’s going on beneath the surface. My wife. My children. My staff. My friends. I was talking with one recently, and I just knew that the words I was hearing didn’t match the demeanor I was reading. There was an unconvincing disconnect that told me things were not as they were trying to portray. Responding to that disconnect is another thing altogether.

Father, make me the husband, father, and friend you need me to be for those around me. Help me to know when and how to reach out, and when and how to remain silent. Help me to be what you need me to be in each life so that I would consider my own life worth nothing to me, but that I might complete the task and finish the race you have given to me, regardless of what it costs me. For your glory and your plan, oh Lord.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2021 in Miscellaneous

 

Sirach 44:1,9-13

Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time. But of others there is no memory, for when they ceased, they ceased. And they are as though they had not lived, they and their children after them. Yet these also were godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten. Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants. Through God’s covenant with them their family endures, their posterity, for their sake. And for all time their progeny will endure, their glory will never be blotted out.

Sirach 44:1,9-13

Dear God, I don’t normally look at the apocrypha, and I am not familiar with it at all. But I looked at the Old Testament reading for the Catholic church today, and this seems to fit with my current situation. Key words from this passage: ancestors, children, virtues, heritage, descendants, posterity, endure, glory. It’s what we all hope for, I suppose. At least a lot of us do. I certainly feel the weight of passing on things to my children and grandchildren that were passed on to me. I want there to be integrity and honesty. Humility and a strong work ethic. A willingness to sacrifice for what is right. A reputation of honor.

Sometimes it can be hard to know how to live up to these ideals myself, much less pass them on to my children. How do I ask them to be something I am not? And then when it is time to try to mold them through the responsibility you have given to me, how do I do it in mercy and love, while still not sacrificing the lesson you might have for them in the moment? If there is a fork in the road with my children or grandchildren, what lesson do you have for them in that situation, and how do I not get in your way and short circuit what you might be trying to accomplish in their life.

Father, when I am in the middle of the battle–when I am in the fog of war–help me to see you clearly. Help me to be wise enough to know how you need me to respond and when you need me to remain silent. When to act and when to not act. When to accept the things I cannot change, when I need to summon the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2021 in Sirach

 

Acts 20:24

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. – Acts 20:24

Dear God, you know I have a long history with this verse that goes back 34 years. It was one of the first verses I chose to memorize without someone like a Sunday school teacher or youth minister asking me to memorize it. But did I understand it then? Do I understand it now?

I came to see it differently a couple of years ago when I was studying Job. I used to think this verse was about being willing to be reckless for you. After all, that’s what Paul was doing. He was intentionally risking his life. Is that what I should do? Then realized after studying Job that that was partially true, but there was more. Job went through unbelievable trials to ultimately get to a point where he realized that nothing in the world or about his life was about being for his personal luxury. It was about whatever path you had fir him so that your will might be done in the world and in the lives of others–even an example for me thousands of years later. After studying Job, I realized that of all of the biblical characters, Paul seems to have gotten to that place of submission easier and faster than others. He sat in jail without complaint. He submitted to a path that, even though it meant his suffering and ultimate execution, lead to Christianity spreading to the West. And all of that spirit and knowledge is captured by what Luke recorded Paul as saying here.

Father, I have a financially comfortable life, and I sometimes feel guilty about that. But there are certainly other things that I don’t like about my life that you are using–at least that I pray you are using–to bring your kingdom and will into the world. So help me to really—ooo, this is a dangerous thing to pray–help me to really live into this concept. Help me to consider my life worth nothing to me. Help me to complete the task and finish the race you have asked me to run.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2021 in Acts, Uncategorized

 

John 3:17

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:17

Dear God, my high school pastor loved this verse. He used to have a passage for us to recite at the end of each church service. One year, he had us do John 3:16-17. He made sure we didn’t forget this part. If his goal was to get us to memorize scripture it worked because I’m sitting here 35 years later and I can still hear the words ringing in my ears.

One thing about this pastor is that he really focused on Your love and grace. In fact, as I grew older and went back to listen to some of his sermons on cassette while I was in college, I realized his sermons were almost always on grace and there wasn’t much on discipleship. Going further down the road, as it turned out, he was a bit tormented by some guilt/shame in his own life. Putting it all together, I’ve wondered how much of his sermons and methods were an effort to emotionally reconcile himself to you, not quite grasping just how deep your love for him was.

Father, your desire is to love us all. As a father myself, my desire for my children is good things. Knowing how I feel about them informs, at least a little, of how I view your love for me. So help me on my journey of working out my faith and reconciling what my head believes and my heart feels. Help me to love my children the way you love me. And help me to carry your love and presence into the world.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2021 in John, Uncategorized

 

James 1:19-20

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
James 1:19-20

Dear God, yes, quick to listen. I’m such a lousy listener. My wife is much, much better at it than I am. And some of my biggest mistakes have come from getting angry fast and communicating it. I can be a mess.

There is an issue at hand right now that is testing how much I believe this passage, and my willingness to learn from it. What are you doing in the lives of everyone involved? Where are they coming from? I have my assumptions, but I’ll bet I would be surprised to see the world from their perspective. I think I know their perspectives, but I really don’t.

Father, I submit to you. I submit to this passage and James’s wisdom from 2,000 years ago. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for loving and guiding me. Thank you for using me however you will in this world as your ambassador.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2021 in James

 

Romans 12:9-10

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Romans 12:9-10

Dear God, I like the last part here where Paul encourages us to take delight in honoring each other. It can feel so good to pump someone else up. Why is that? What did you plant into our nature that makes it feel good to 1.) work, 2.) give, and 3.) love selflessly?

Here’s an epiphany I just had as I wrote that question. You gave us your nature and these are things that you do. These things are in your nature. You work hard. You give good gifts to your children. And you love us and delight in watching us grow and develop into better people. How interesting that the things that bring us joy in our existence are the same things that bring you joy in your existence. Hmmm.

Father, as I go through this day, help me to work hard, give sacrificially, and love genuinely. Help me to turn loose of self-pity, anger, pettiness, lethargy, and selfishness. When there is conflict to be addressed, help me to do it in love. Help me to do it with the other person in mind. For your glory, oh, Lord. So that you may increase, I may decrease, and my joy and peace in you can be complete.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2021 in Romans

 

17 Reasons People Never Want to Have Children

Dear God, I was just scanning headlines this morning when I came across this article from Buzzfeed. Let me just list the 17 reasons really quickly:

  • I have never seen a person with children and thought to myself, ‘I want that life.’
  • I’m too mentally ill from childhood trauma and have various autoimmune diseases It wouldn’t be fair to have a child when I’m not completely present for them. I love kids, but not for me.
  • Once I’m a mom, I can never not be a mom. I like deciding what I can do whenever I want to without having to care for a child. I feel like a partner is already ‘compromise’ (for lack of a better word) of free time.
  • I understand the immense responsibility and sacrifice they are, and choose instead to work on myself and continue to nurture my own experiences and growth through the one life I have.
  • Pregnancy is terrifying to me. I never want to try it.
  • I’ve just never had that desire. I always thought it would ‘kick in’ as I got older, but no. It’s been kinda hard to come to terms with it in regards to society’s standards and expectations.
  • I don’t want to go through birth and don’t like the baby stage. Children and toddlers are fun and can be adorable, but not 24/7. I like money and the peace of mind that I won’t do anything to screw up their lives, and finally, I’m not responsible or mature enough.
  • I love my life too much. I hate mess and noise, I love traveling whenever I like, I love going for trips and meals out with my husband, and I love being able to do what I want whenever I want. I don’t want to spend my days listening to crying, arguing, whining, doing the school run in the rain, and shopping for food. The planet has plenty of humans and we have done a great job of wrecking the planet and treating animals so cruelly, I don’t want to add to that problem.
  • In my opinion, I should justify why I want kids instead of finding reasons why I don’t want them. In my case, I don’t have a reason to want them.
  • On the relationships front, I remember seeing a statistic that more marriages with kids end in divorce than marriages without kids — having kids wrecks marriages. Other studies have found that child-free couples are FAR happier than couples with kids.
  • I don’t have the delusion that having children will somehow guarantee love or that I won’t be alone on my deathbed. Lots of people are alone on their deathbed anyway (I work in end-of-life care). Also, given the state of the Earth with regards to climate change, I feel it’s kinda s***** to keep making more humans. We probably can’t turn this ship around.
  • Our society is structures so that nearly everyone but the wealthy are living hand-to-mouth. I feel no security in my life and find life stressful. I can’t imagine how bad that would be if I had to worry about another soul.
  • I’m selfish, so I’m not going to sacrifice my time for them. I don’t want to bring kids into this world if they can’t be unconditionally loved.
  • I’m absolutely terrified of developing postpartum depression.
  • I’m stingy. I don’t want something that takes up the majority of my life for the foreseeable future.
  • I’m the kind of person that often changes his mind. Like, to do whatever he wants and go back if need be. Where will my return option be if I have a child?
  • I’d rather regret not having children than regret having them.

Wow, that’s quite a list. My responses to it have morphed throughout the day. My first response was to focus on the selfishness that most of these quotes claim for themselves and how it’s good for all of us to be broken from our selfishness. This is something that needs to be purged from all of our lives, and children is not a sure-fire way to do it, but it’s certainly a side-effect if I let it be. But the more I think about that the more I think about the caveat “if I let it be.” Too many parents do not sacrifice for their children the way they should. Perhaps the father shirks his responsibility and leaves the mother with all of it. The opposite can be true as well, although this can be less common.

And I’m not going to get into who the children become when they grow up, being damaged by their childhood (childhood trauma was mentioned a few times in the list). That’s a whole different topic. I’m talking about the parents now.

Back on topic, the more I thought about it the more I realized that a lot of key Bible characters were not fathers. We know that Jesus wasn’t a father. Saul/Paul wasn’t a father. I don’t know that we can be sure, but it appears that John the Baptist wasn’t a father. I don’t know about the others such as Peter (we know he was married), Timothy, John Mark, etc. But I think it can be concluded that it’s not a sin to not be a father (although there are some churches that hold birth control up as a sin, and I’m not going to get into that either–not the point of what I’m writing here).

So if it’s not a sin to not be a parent (the birth control debate not withstanding), how do I feel about these reasons? Am I willing to embrace them as legitimate? I have two children who are now in their 20s. Suffice it to say, things did not go as I hoped for them, but that doesn’t mean their lives haven’t played out so far exactly how you’ve needed them to play out for their sakes. I will say, as I think about them each possibly having children one day, I do worry about their ability to fight against the tides in society as they raise any grandchildren my wife and I might have. It was more complicated to raise them than it was for my parents to raise me. Technology made taking away privileges almost impossible because they had so many more ways to sneak around “grounding” than I could ever have imagined. Now you add the increasing toxicity of social media and the media to which they will be exposed without my ability to control it–it’s frightening. I was 26 when our son was born. If I were 25 now, I would seriously think twice about having children simply because of the current I have have to swim against.

At the same time, I heard someone say one time, if Christians stop having children then who is left to have children? The same is true for things like public schools. If Christians take their children out of public schools, who is left in public school?

I don’t know. I’m not getting as far with this topic and article as I had hoped. I guess I would say that I understand each individual’s reluctance to have children. I understand the fear. I understand the selfishness. I understand the philosophical question of whether the Earth can handle more children. I guess what I would counsel anyone wrestling with this question–or not wrestling–to keep an open mind as you go through life. Of course, if they are Christians, listen to your still small voice. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Be willing to have your life turned upside down and even made miserable. Maybe that’s what you have for us. Maybe that’s the road you need us to me or them to walk to turn us into the people you need us to be. Maybe our lives are not about us, but about you. But one thing I do hope–that each person who decides to not have children will refrain from giving parenting advice to those of us who have them. 🙂

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

James 4:1-12

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
James 4:1-12

Dear God, what would James have to say to today’s church? He was pretty upset in this passage. He emphatically called them adulterers. He told them they were living as a friend of the world. He told them they were fighting out of jealousy. He told them a lot of things.

For us, my judgment is that he would tell today’s church that it has lost its first love. The church today seems to put more faith in the power of political advantage than relying on you. I do it too. I want the strongest economy, the strongest military, etc. I am pro-life, so I want the government to take away abortion. I want all kinds of stuff, but I’d rather lean on the political power I can see and influence instead of leaning on you, who is beyond my influence.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s about what we can influence vs. what we cannot influence. We cannot influence you. We can only worship you and listen for your call. We can only wait on your timing instead of forcing our own. Maybe that’s why I’m so bad at worshipping you. Maybe that’s why I create my idols—because my idols are an extension of my own ability to control an outcome. You, on the other hand, insist that I trust you and let go of my control, my life, and my agenda.

Father, I like to think I am apart from the overall “church.” Their sins are not my sins. I want to believe I am right and they are wrong. But the log in my eye is too huge for me to see the speck in the church’s eye. I am sorry. Help me to worship you well and listen for your call. Do it all for your glory’s sake, and not mine.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2021 in James

 

James 3:13-18

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
James 3:13-18

Dear God, this is a great passage, and the whole thing is worth digging into, but I want to pause on a phrase towards the beginning: “the humility that comes from wisdom.” Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. I’ve seen very foolish older people. it doesn’t necessarily come from experience. No, I think there are two other ingredients that are part of the recipe: suffering through trials and responding to the suffering by truly submitting to you.

There’s a reason that 12-step programs include submitting to a higher power. It goes back to the stages of faith I read about in the Communicators Commentary on Job. I don’t have in front of me the author of these six levels of faith, but here they are:

1. Intuitive – projective faith: is associated with the 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: as an adolescent phase that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith 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 of you to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served

6. Universalizing faith: is the rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life. –Page 21

The wisest people I know reach the phase that Job eventually reached and the apostle Paul reached pretty quickly. The last phase when they submit their will to the idea that life is not about them. Freedom and peace are found in our decision to fully embrace your path for our lives regardless of what it means for our level of comfort. The widow who gave her to coins in front of Jesus likely lived an entire life of poverty, and you used her to teach us for thousands of years. John the Baptist lost his head, but you have used him. Jesus went through torture and lost his life for us. Paul went through prison and death, but he considered his life worth nothing to him. And James speaks of it here.

Father, these are easy words to say and difficult words to live. Help my life to be more of a reflection of these words, not for my sake but for your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2021 in James