Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority. Matthew 9:1-8
Dear God, that is an interesting sentence at the end in verse 8: And they praised God for giving humans such authority. My biggest takeaway is that they worshipped you (the Father). That was good. They still didn’t quite understand who Jesus was or what he was really doing, but at least in the moment they knew to turn their praise towards you.
I just don’t think there is any way I would have been a Jesus follower if I had been there at the time. I would have been a skeptic. I would have questioned. Jesus would have asked me why I had such evil thoughts in my heart. I’m sorry. I really am, but I know it’s true.
Father, I suppose if there’s any saving grace in my last paragraph it’s that I’m at least self-aware enough to know I’m flawed. I don’t necessarily see all of my flaws, but I know they are there—I even know I don’t see them all. So help me to see what I don’t see. Help me to love you better. Help me to be open to the new things you have to show me. For your glory alone, oh Lord.
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration. ) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” Acts 12:1-11
Dear God, I keep going back to the story of King Hezekiah laying the letter from the other king that told him to surrender to the Assyrians out before you and praying about what to do (2 Kings 19). The situation seemed impossible, but in 2 Kings 19:35 accomplished the impossible in a way no one could have ever seen coming. T
The same is true with this story about Peter. As everyone prayed for Peter, including Peter, they probably envisioned Herod’a heart turning and showing mercy or something like that. They never considered you would send an angel for a jail break.
Father, there are several seemingly immovable mountains in front of me right now. I know you can move them, but I simply cannot conceive how you might do it. But I lay it before you, like Hezekiah. Please come, move and work do it all for your glory and your plan.
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 2 Peter 3:8-10
Dear God, if Peter were here today would he still express these sentiments with the same words? Now that it’s been nearly 2,000 years since the Crucifixion, would he rethink his understanding of Jesus’s return? I mean, I’ll admit that I don’t understand anything about this. Now, I also don’t feel like I have to understand it to be completely devoted to you and worship you. Going back to my thing about you keeping me on a need-to-know basis and I don’t need to know. But what would Peter and Paul think about the fact that the second coming has apparently not happened yet?
I have to admit, when I read verse 10 I think about the fallout of nuclear war. Humans have now set up the possibility of the heavens passing away with a terrible noise and the very elements themselves disappearing in fire. We could do that ourselves. Is that possibly part of this prophecy? Will that happen? Is that part of Jesus returning?
Father, I’m literally not afraid of any of this (well, mostly not afraid). I’m am here to worship you. I repent of the sins of which I am aware and ask your mercy over the sins of which I’m not aware. I will work as into you today. Holy Spirit, walk with me today. Speak to me and give me ears to hear. Give me eyes to see. Give me compassion and love. Help me to love others and extend grace beyond my own capacity. Then, “when my body lies in the ruins of the lies that nearly ruined me will you pick up the pieces that were pure and true and breathe new life into them and set them free? When you blast this cosmos to kingdom come…when those jagged-edged mountains I live are gone…when the sky is crossed with the tears of a thousand falling suns as they crash into the sea, then can I be with you? Can I be with you?” (“Be With You” by Rich Mullins)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Matthew 16:24-26
Dear God, I’ve been seeing so much about politics lately that it’s the first thing that came to mind when I read this passage. There is so much fear inside of people that they are grasping to political power as their hope. They will support the person who says they will save them from the things they fear instead of supporting the person who represents their soul. They’ve made politics their idol.
It seems like idols have come up a lot for me lately. Is it because I’m noticing them and purging them from my life, or are you trying to reveal the idols to me that I cannot see?
Father, it’s going to be a long day. I have several important things on my plate. Help me. Help me to lean into you, boldly represent you and give you glory for what you do for me, and celebrate what you’re doing in my life (both the seen and unseen).
Dear God, this one is going to be a stretch, but stick with me on this. I just finished watching the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ and it got me to thinking about what you know that we don’t. What you can see that we can’t. In this case (and for those reading this who have not seen it, I’m not going to spoil anything because the one thing we know if we’ve seen the original A New Hope is that Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, Luke, and Leia all survive this movie), if Obi-Wan had the opportunity to kill Darth Vader, should he? Did Obi-Wan fail when he didn’t kill him at the end of Revenge of the Sith? Should we be disappointed that Darth Vader survives the sixth episode of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series?
It makes me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the role he played in the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. While killing Hitler at any time might have looked good at the time, what we have since learned is that one of thing that helped the Allied Powers ultimately win World War II was Hitler’s erroneous influence on the German strategy. His ego became foolishness. If he had been killed, perhaps a more competent person would have emerged as his successor. They were trying to execute a coup d’etat to keep Germany from completely losing the war. Who knows what would have happened had they succeeded. Perhaps the war would have been prolonged. Maybe President Truman would have ultimately decided to drop the atomic bomb on Berlin as well as the two he dropped on Japan. One interesting point is that Hitler mistook his own survival as fate having spared him:
In the fictional galaxy (far, far away) of Star Wars, ultimately, in Return of the Jedi, it is Darth Vader who kills the Emperor (I’m ignoring the movies after Return of the Jedi). If Obi-Wan kills him at the end of Revenge of the Sith or is able to somehow do it at the end of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, would that remove the Rebellion’s path into the throne room? Would it take away the opportunity Luke would have to get that close to the Emperor and ultimately have Darth Vader kill him? It’s hard to imagine how it would happen otherwise. So is Obi-Wan’s failure to kill Vader really failure or fate? (Again, I know this is fictitious and the original story was created by George Lucas.)
So why am I praying about this? Because I come to realize more and more every day how little I know and understand. I don’t know why this thing or that thing happens. I don’t know why Hitler survives an assassination attempt and Bonhoeffer dies instead (just three weeks before Hitler took his own life, as it turned out). I don’t know why you made Saul king of Israel (1 Samuel 9) before you made David the king. Naomi didn’t know why her husband and two sons died in Moab (Ruth 1). I don’t know why a friend just recently found out she was pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby and then, after coming to a place of peace with the pregnancy, lost the baby. I don’t know why some relationships in my life are not what I want them to be. I don’t know why my country seems to be spinning in a downward spiral, drowning in its own hubris. I don’t know.
Father, what I do know is that all of these burdens–all of these stresses, worries, concerns, fears–are to be laid at your feet. You keep me on a need-to-know basis and I rarely need to know. My job is to worship you, trust you, repent to you, take up my cross, and follow you. If I do those things and try to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides me in my actions, thoughts, and words, then I will find myself taking my eyes off of the cares of the world and sinking further into your presence even while I’m here on earth. So thank you for using this secular form of entertainment (Obi-Wan Kenobi) as a reminder that I don’t have to understand what is going on to be at peace. In fact, now that I think about it, isn’t that the sin Adam and Eve first committed? Weren’t they trying to know what you know? Help me to keep from repeating that sin any further.
9 Soon afterward King Sennacherib received word that King Tirhakah of Ethiopia[c] was leading an army to fight against him. Before leaving to meet the attack, he sent messengers back to Hezekiah in Jerusalem with this message:
10 “This message is for King Hezekiah of Judah. Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria. 11 You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone. They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way! Why should you be any different? 12 Have the gods of other nations rescued them—such nations as Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel-assar? My predecessors destroyed them all! 13 What happened to the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad? What happened to the kings of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?”
14 After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the Lord: “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. 16 Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God.
17 “It is true, Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations. 18 And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. 19 Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”
2 Kings 19:9-19
Dear God, there is so much we fear. There is so much I fear. The odds seemed stacked against our society in many areas. Against me in certain areas. Yes, there are things I fear and don’t see any conventional way you can help me or change my circumstances. Discouraged. Hopeless. Sad. These are all things I have felt, even today. Yes, I believe you can move and do something in these situations, but do I really. I believe. Help my unbelief.
Hezekiah’s prayer here and his response to the wisdom of the world is impressive. He hears the message from King Sennacherib, and it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, it doesn’t look like there is anything Judah can do to stop the onslaught. Yeah, the situation looks hopeless. But Hezekiah, even if he had some amount of unbelief, took what existed of his faith and laid it before you. I think this is the part of his prayer I liked the best: 17 “It is true, Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations. 18 And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands.” He claimed your superiority to idols. He named them as idols and you as God. He rejected the premise of Sennacherib’s argument that you were just like any idol from any other country.
Father, you are greater than the idols of my country. You are greater than our economy. You are greater than our military, our government, and our other systems that make us work such as education and healthcare. I don’t know what you plan to do with us or our country, but I know that the history of the earth is not focused on the United States of America, regardless of how much we (or I) might want that to be. We are not your chosen people. Again, we might want to be, but we are not. So when I see the stock market negative, unemployment high, food scarce, and/or my health or the health of those around me in danger from one virus or another, may I lay my fears out before you. May I lay the lies and the faulty arguments before you. May I burn them at the altar, take up my cross and follow you today.
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Dear God, I figured that, on Father’s Day, I would spend some time with you and my favorite father of the Bible. If you were to ask most Christians who their favorite father of the Bible is, it would probably be Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father. I mean, really, there isn’t much competition here. Frankly, it’s hard to think of another good one. You have to do some deep cuts and maybe consider Samson’s dad, Manoah. He was simple, but seemingly good. And it’s hard to find anything wrong with John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah, but we don’t get to see him in action as much. But Joseph…well, Joseph is worth of his own book, in my opinion.
This story is just one of several we get of Joseph being obedient to you. But perhaps my favorite story about him is the first time we see him in Matthew 1:18-19.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
Since this isn’t a story about him being a father, I didn’t start here, but it’s remarkable. In the midst of pain, hurt, and betrayal–in the midst of having his reputation destroyed–he “did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” Wow. That’s a special man.
But back to him as a father. This is a remarkable story because he believed the dream and didn’t wait until morning to act on it. I wonder if Mary protested. I wonder if Jesus fussed. I don’t know what kind of life he had built in Bethlehem at that point, but he threw it all away to keep this boy–God’s son–safe.
As I look at this picture by Tanja Butler, I notice that it is made completely of lines and shadows. Frankly, the lines make me think of straw (almost like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz). That makes me think of the manger in which Jesus was laid. The shadows give the impression that it’s dark and the white are the scant reflections of just enough light to give us the picture. Jesus is in Mary’s arms, sucking his thumb. Mary has her head against Joseph’s shoulder. Perhaps she’s resting. Perhaps he’s comforting her. Maybe both. I cannot tell if her eyes are open or not. The one line on her left eye makes me think they are closed. And Joseph is there. The design of his coat is almost a more modern look with lapels. Perhaps Butler is trying to make me think of his as a professional who has given up his business for this journey. Perhaps she is trying to communicate that the weather demands a coat. But Jesus appears to be barefoot, so maybe I’m wrong about all of that. The depiction of Joseph’s face actually makes him look a little like Abraham Lincoln to me. I wonder if that was intentional as well.
Looking at Bustard’s commentary on this piece, he says:
There is no violin-playing angel in this piece as in Caravaggio’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” or a gaggle of cherubic playmates as in “Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Instead in this piece there is only Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus–just a poor family, afraid and huddled in the dark. Butler says that the peasant figures buddled against the cold [maybe I was right about the coat] recall the frantic flight of my father’s family across the European continent during the last months of the world war.” Christmas carols such as “Away in a Manger” and “The Little Drummer Boy” tend to romanticize the Nativity and gloss over the fear, danger, and isolation that the poor family experienced during the early years in the life of Jesus.
Father, I don’t know what is coming for my children. I don’t know what plans Satan has. I don’t know what plans he has for me. But I know that I love you, I worship you, and I want to be everything you need me to be for them regardless of what it costs me. Oh, help me to be the man my children need me to be.
But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”
5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”
“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”
9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”
10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.
Dear God, this can be any act of duplicity, not just money. Decrying pornography, but secretly looking at it. Decrying single-parent homes, but secretly fathering several children out of wedlock. Coming out against abortion while paying for abortions for women you got pregnant. Admonishing people to not drink or do drugs while secretly indulging your own vices. As I sit here this morning, I want to be cognizant of my own sin in this area, and not just sit in judgment over these two duplicitous people.
The image by Micah Bloom is interesting. Sapphira is obviously the center of it. She is seen with simple dress, earrings, and no shoes. In fact, everyone pictured is barefoot. I’m not sure why Bloom chose to not put sandals or something on them. She had money in both hands–the right for Peter, the left presumably for herself. Peter has his hand out for the money in the right, but your angel of death is grabbing her left wrist and her death is exposing the money hidden in her left hand. Looking out the door, we presumably see the bare feet of Ananias, who is already dead. Someone is attending to his body.
Bustard quotes C.H. Spurgeon in his commentary on the left:
“The nearer we come to God the more truly shall we find that he is a jealous God who will not wink at sin. It was not Peter’s word, but the judgement of God, which slew Ananias. [Sapphira] had time for reflection, yet she stuck to the falsehood. It is a sad thing when husband and wife go hand in hand to hell, and most of all so when they make a profession of religion…The chaff was driven out, and kept out, but the true saints were all the more ready to join the church. Holy discipline does not diminish the church, it is the sure means of increasing it with the right people.”
Reading this made me think of an article I read about the “Road to Majority” conference happening in Nashville right now. This is billed as a conservative Christian political conference in Nashville, US Senator Rick Scott said, “It is time to rescue America. God favors those who are bold.” The mixing of my faith in you and the desire for political power makes me really uncomfortable. There is a difference between saying, “I want to have the majority of our country as Christians because that means more people are worshipping God,” and “I want the majority of the country to be Christians so we can impose our will on the rest of the country.” Jesus did not seem to care that Caesar and Rome were in charge of Israel, but he did care about what the Pharisees were teaching. He didn’t want to make Israel great again, but he did want to shed light on sin and invite repentance.
Father, it can be tempting to point fingers in all of this, but I have to start with myself. I am truly sorry for my sin. For my hypocrisy and duplicitousness. I acknowledge it before you. I do truly love you. I do truly want to do better. I do truly want to be the man you need me to be. Help me to bring you and your presence into the world with the highest integrity so that I might not cause anyone else to stumble and allow any cancers to grow in my own soul.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. Philippians 3:17-19
Dear God, Paul had “tears” in his eyes as he wrote this. It broke his heart to think about how false people would claim to be of Christ. Oh please, help me to not be one of those people.
There are a lot of people in Christendom whom I fear fit this description. They have turned to idols of political power and the idea that it will bring them safety, security, and the world they want. They think this person in or out of the White House, or this person vs that person on the Supreme Court or elected to Congress is the difference in them living the life they want to live. They lose sight of you, the true God in the process.
But as I point the finger at them, are there not three pointing back at me? Where is my faith? In what or whom do I trust? When I lift my eyes up to the mountains, from whom do I think my help comes? Is it you, the maker of heaven and earth?
To quote a song: Oh how I need you, Lord. You are my only hope. You’re my only prayer. So I will wait for you to come and rescue me. Come and lift me up.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:11-13
Dear God, our children will never know how much we love them. They don’t understand the depths of the pain and joy they can bring us. How much we can hurt for them when we they hurt. How much we worry about them. How much we root for them. How much we celebrate with them.
I guess we also will never know how much you love us. We don’t understand the depths of the pain and joy we can bring you. How much you can hurt for us when we hurt. How much you worry about us. How much you root for us. How much you celebrate us. And how much our rejection can hurt your.
Father, I’m thinking of some specific situations right now that need your attention. For privacy, I won’t enumerate them here, but you know who is on my heart. Mothers of young children who are possibly gravely ill. Children who are in danger. Broken relationships between parents and children. Holy Spirit, be everything you are to each person. Be a counselor, comforter, healer, etc. Be the Father’s presence with each of us. Help to make this pain count. For your glory, oh, Lord.