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“The Dance” by Garth Brooks

“The Dance” by Garth Brooks

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance
Holding you, I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
If I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey, who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance
If our lives are better left to chance
Oh, our lives are better left to chance
Oh, our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance
Source: Musixmatch
Dear God, I was listening to this song yesterday and thinking about the introduction Garth Brooks gives it in the official music video. The first verse obviously sets the context as being about a romantic relationship, but he explains in that he also likes to think of it as being about living our lives in general and the choices we make to try to do the right things. Sometimes it ends in pain, but the pain or even tragedy is part of the journey and story as well.
Now, I know that not everyone even has the “dance” in their lives. The really joyous good times. I know that some have known nothing but pain their entire lives. But I can claim no such thing. I have had some remarkably wonderful times. There are times I still remember from childhood that were amazing. I’ve known my wife nearly my entire adult life, and we have done remarkable things together as well. When we got married, we had no idea some of the pain that awaited us. I could enumerate the pain we’ve experienced over the last 32 years of knowing each other, but you know it all better than I do. My life, comparatively, hasn’t been tragic my any stretch of the imagination. I’ve had pain to be sure. And there are some specific aspects of my current life that are extremely painful. Frankly, I’m not sure if they will ever be resolved. I’ve done what I can to resolve them, but their future is in the hands of others. So I’ve resigned myself to love them through letting them go and accept the pain as part of that love.
But coming back to this song, there is a lot of brilliance in it. I’m glad I didn’t know 20 or 30 years ago that I’d be exactly where I am now. There is so much wisdom in you keeping me on a need-to-know basis. It’s 8:32 in the morning as I type this right now. I don’t even know what 8:33 will bring. That’s okay. That’s good. If I will just stay in the moment and not worry about the next one then I can fully enjoy the good you are bringing me, absorb the pain, and commune with you.
On this vacation, the vision I keep having is from the 23rd Psalm. This two-week break is a luxury. You are leading me to green pastures and still waters. You are restoring my soul. There will be other times when I will experience the valley of the shadow of death. There will be times when I will be before my enemies. But right now, in this moment, you are restoring my soul. Thank you.
Father, I told you several months ago that I was having dinner with some old friends, and as we shared our lives with each other I thought of the metaphor of each of us having a representational bucket that contained the circumstances of our lives. All of the good and all of the bad. I came to the conclusion at that dinner that if I had the option to put my bucket in the middle of the table along with theirs and then we were each able to choose someone else’s bucket, I would, without a doubt, take my own. Everyone there would probably do the same. Why? As I sit here this morning, I think it is because, regardless of the pain in that bucket, it also contains all of those good and precious memories and moments of which I could not bear to let go. I have more than I deserve. I am grateful for the good and the bad. I embrace the life you’ve given me. Help me to, even in the hard times, worship you as the God who really loves me and can use my life in whatever way helps your kingdom to come to earth and your will to be done.
In Jesus’s name I pray,
Amen
 

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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

 

“Truth Be Told” by Matthew West

https://youtu.be/j4wYkS8Z3Io

“Truth Be Told” by Matthew West

Lie number one you’re supposed to have it all together
And when they ask how you’re doing
Just smile and tell them, “Never better”
Lie number 2 everybody’s life is perfect except yours
So keep your messes and your wounds
And your secrets safe with you behind closed doors
Truth be told
The truth is rarely told, now

I say I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine but I’m not
I’m broken
And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not
And you know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin you don’t already know
So let the truth be told

There’s a sign on the door, says, “Come as you are” but I doubt it
‘Cause if we lived like it was true, every Sunday morning pew would be crowded
But didn’t you say the church should look more like a hospital
A safe place for the sick, the sinner and the scarred and the prodigals
Like me
Well truth be told
The truth is rarely told
Oh am I the only one who says

I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine but I’m not
I’m broken
And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not
And you know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin you don’t already know
So let the truth be told

Can I really stand here unashamed
Knowin’ that you love for me won’t change?
Oh God if that’s really true
Then let the truth be told

I say I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine but I’m not
I’m broken
And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not
And you know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin you don’t already know
Yeah I know
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin you don’t already know
So let the truth be told

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Matthew West / Andrew Pruis

Dear God, I’m going to wait a bit before I post this one. I’m writing it on Friday morning, but I won’t post it until this evening. Why? Because I have a surprise for someone today. This month marks 40 years of sobriety for someone special to me. I bought him a 40-year chip to give him when I see him later today. Something tells me that this anniversary is more important to me than it is even to him. I don’t know, that might not be true, but I do know that it’s important to me.

I was there 40 years ago when he brought his addiction to alcohol to you. He admitted his life had become unmanageable, he was powerless over alcohol and he need you to restore him to sanity. And while I’m grateful that he has bee free from the perils of alcohol and what it does to your mind and body over the last 40 years, I think the real gift it gave me was an 11-year-old boy seeing a man being willing to admit he was powerless. A man being willing to be vulnerable. A man who purposefully displayed his weakness that day and then the subsequent 40 years. He has been able to minister to countless people over the years because he admitted his weakness to himself, to you, and to the public.

This song is a more generic version of that idea. Of course, humility applies to more than addiction. I applies to every sin because all of us have committed every sin. By the standard Jesus set, we have all murdered, committed adultery, stolen, etc. But it’s the person who admits their failures to others who has a chance to be a blessing.

I was talking with a friend this morning who is a recovering alcoholic. He talked about a disappointing thing that work that made him want to justify having a drink. I think his last drink was about 15 months ago, but he knows he’s only one drink away from a real problem. He asked me to pray for him.

Then I have myself. I certainly have my insecurities. I have the things I covet. I was listening to a Christian podcast this week that talked about the young man who killed the women at the Asian spas. One of the topics was how Christian men carry around a lot of shame about their sexual desires. In this case, the young man claimed he was trying to rid himself and other men of the sexual temptation the Asian women are. Of course, that is sick and absolutely wrong. I can’t help but wonder if a church culture that was more open to discussing these things would have helped him a little more. As it is, his home church has now disowned him as someone who is not in good standing with them. Obviously, he will spend the rest of his life in jail (as he should), but isn’t this when he needs them the most?

Father, I want to start by thanking you for the earthly father you gave to me. Thank you for his example of humility. Thank you for his sobriety. Thank you for his failed humanness. If he was perfect then I would be miserable trying to live up to him. But he is flawed, just like me. Thank you that he can admit that. I hope my children see that I’m willing to admit my failings as well. Then I want to pray for my friend from this morning. Guide him through this day, moment by moment. Help him to cling to you. And for your church, use messages like this song to convict us and bring us to repentance before you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

1 Peter 4:12-19

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

Dear God, we are so soft. I am so soft. Even as I type this right now, I’m sitting on the balcony of a nice condominium watching the waves of the ocean roll in. The sun is rising. The sound is constant and relentless. In fact, the sound is something I can simply do nothing about but just give into it and make it a part of my life. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

I’ve decided to start each day of this week of vacation listening to a sermon. I’ve been a little too much in my own head lately with scripture and I need to hear some pastoral teaching. I think it’s good to have a balance. I need that personal time in scripture so that the Holy Spirit can speak to me directly, but I also need to have someone else speak your words to me.

This morning, I decided to give a pastor I know of from Nebraska a try. I found this message on suffering from September 27, and it as good. He set the context for Peter’s words in this passage. Christians were being brutally persecuted and murdered at this point. He indicated that Peter was only two years away from being crucified upside down when he wrote these words. Suffering for this audience was at a 10. It just didn’t get any worse than their experience. So what’s my problem?

I was in Walmart two days ago talking with a woman I know and she and I were talking about the current restrictions with the pandemic (which, at this point, are pretty limited–I think we are just down to wearing masks and limited capacity at some places and public gatherings). Our temptation was to complain and I finally said, “We are so soft.” I’ve said this several times over the last seven months, but the “Greatest Generation” didn’t become that way because of the Roaring 20s. They became that way because of how they responded to the 30s and the 40s. Well, this isn’t nearly as bad as that was, but we can use this to make us stronger. You can use this to make us stronger, more sensitive to our neighbors in need, and more dependent upon you. You can use this to renew our churches and our prayer lives.

Father, first, thank you. Thank you for how you’ve provided for my wife and me and for the work I do. This has really been an amazing year, and I can testify to your provision and kindness. Help me to remain faithful to you in it and not take your kindness for granted. You are an amazing God. Thank you also for this vacation. My wife and I are very tired, but we are tired for different reasons. But we need this. We need you. So thank you for this week. Help us to get what we need. Second, I pledge to you that I will do my absolute best to follow you, worship you, and give myself and any accolades that I receive to you. I will decrease so that you can increase. I will accept my lot in life. Please use it all. Use me, my suffering (if that’s what I want to call it)–better said, use any pain that comes my way to mold me into the man you need me to be and bring you glory. And bring revival to your church through all of this, and that starts with repentance. Revive us again!

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2020 in 1 Peter, Uncategorized

 

1 Corinthians 2:13-16

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:13-16

Dear God, I’m having a hard time identifying Christians I can trust. There are some national Christian leaders whom I perceive as speaking foolishness right now, and it makes me wonder if I am the fool and they are the ones in your Spirit. I know this is vague, but it has to do with political things, so I am just going to keep it vague. I don’t want this to be about politics, and I don’t even want it to be about them. I want to examine my own heart and see if I am expressing worldly foolishness.

I guess I keep going back to the Andy Stanley sermon “Not In It To Win It.” That message felt counterintuitive in the best ways. It talked about the church not seeking political power, but taking a step back so that it can more effectively serve. He talked about your plan being that Jesus needed to die and “lose” in order for your plan to succeed. It certainly didn’t look like winning to the world, but Jesus’s death and resurrection was the biggest victory ever.

I really don’t know what to think of my own life. Frankly, it seems pretty easy. Work is challenging and I have several problems to solve every day, but the foundations of what you have provided us here are strong. My home is the same. My wife and I face challenges every day, but our foundation is strong. And the strong foundation counts for a lot.

Okay, now, I’m just rambling. Father, give me eyes to see and ears to hear. Help me to see your direction for me. Help me to be at peace regardless of what I see around me because my hope/certainty is not in a political candidate, a government, an economy, my wife’s and my health, my children, my wife, my money, etc. My hope is in you. Help me to rejoice in you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

2 Timothy 1:13-14

Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:13-14

Dear God, this passage makes me think about a praise chorus:

Spirit of the Living God

Spirit of the living God
Fall afresh on me
Spirit of the living God
Fall afresh on me

Break me, melt me
Mold me, fill me
Spirit of the living God
Fall afresh on me

I still don’t think about the Holy Spirit enough. It’s probably because it wasn’t as engrained in my biblical teaching growing up as it should have been.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. Use this day to do all of those things.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

2 Corinthians 10:12-18

12 Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!

13 We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us, which includes our working with you. 14 We are not reaching beyond these boundaries when we claim authority over you, as if we had never visited you. For we were the first to travel all the way to Corinth with the Good News of Christ.

15 Nor do we boast and claim credit for the work someone else has done. Instead, we hope that your faith will grow so that the boundaries of our work among you will be extended. 16 Then we will be able to go and preach the Good News in other places far beyond you, where no one else is working. Then there will be no question of our boasting about work done in someone else’s territory. 17 As the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”[c]

18 When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.
2 Corinthians 10:12-18

Dear God, when I really sit and still myself before you, the limits of who I am–who I truly am–come crashing down upon me. I am a broken human who is so grateful to have a God that loves him. I am keenly aware that You are the potter and I am the clay. Yes, there are times when I want people to adore me. I want to be appreciated and admired. I want to be acknowledged, not for anything in particular, but for who I am. I would love to have a spider looking out for me like Wilbur did in Charlotte’s Web, promoting me and telling people that I am:

  • “Some [man]”
  • “Terrific”
  • “Radiant”
  • “Humble”

I have to say, my wife would be very proud of me for making a Charlotte’s Web reference. She loves that book. But the thing is, Wilbur was better than me because he wasn’t really trying to be anything. He was truly humble, and that humility radiated into radiance and terrific-ness.

In this passage, Paul seems to have had his fill of arrogance from others and accusations of arrogance. I really like the part where he says they are boasting by comparing themselves to themselves, “using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!”

Father, in this moment, I just want to worship you. I want to give you all of the glory and be content with sitting in your shadow. I want to be at peace with my life, regardless of the circumstances. I want to somehow transcend looking at the world through my own eyes, but seeing not only the visible world with your eyes, but also the powers and principalities that you see that I cannot. I’ll never do anything of that if I try to boast or bring glory to myself. It never works that way. It didn’t work that way for Wilbur and it won’t work that way for me. Help me to love. Help me to love you and love others beyond any love I receive from others in return.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2020 in 2 Corinthians, Uncategorized

 

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What’s My Response?

No verse.

Dear God, I’m very nonplussed as to how to respond to what is going on around me. Every impulse feels wrong. I even tried to spend some time singing some worship songs to you today, but even that felt hollow. Where are you in all of this?

I guess it might be good to start to define what “this” is. What is happening that I’m feeling like demands my response?

  • Yes, George Floyd was killed, but that’s a tragic symptom of a greater problem. So what is that problem?
    • It could be just pure racism. Yes, maybe that police officer and his four fellow officers wouldn’t have killed that man if he had been white or Hispanic. There is certainly statistical evidence to suggest that black men are killed more by police than are white men.
    • But is it more complicated than that. Is racism only part of the cocktail? Is there also trauma on the part of the officers? Fatigue? Psychological disorders brought on my stress? I’m sure that officer didn’t wake up that morning thinking he was going to kill a man–a black man–that day. But he snapped and he did.
    • I have not heard what Mr. Floyd did to get arrested in the first place. Funny, but that has all been lost in the reporting.
      • I just took a moment to look this up. Here is what I found on ABC News: George Floyd, 46, is arrested shortly after 8 p.m. after allegedly using a fake $20 bill at a local Cup Foods. He dies while in police custody.
    • So did Mr. Floyd consciously know he was passing a fake $20 bill, or had it been passed to him and he was just using it? Did he resist arrest? Did he mouth off? I don’t know. Regardless, I stand by my statement that I’m sure the officer involved didn’t wake up that morning expecting to get to kill a man–a black man–that day.
  • Protestors gather to call attention to the continued inequality in injustice that black people, particularly men, experience at the hands of law enforcement.
    • What I perceive to be a small fraction become violent, destructive and criminal.
    • Most just want things to change. I’m not sure they know how to affect change, but they want change. I saw Floyd Landis talking about how to clean up cycling and the doping that’s so pervasive in it. He said that he didn’t know how to do it. I feel the same way about healthcare in this country. I can describe the problems a lot better than I can develop any solutions.
  • Government officials have tried to respond.
    • President Trump has taken the authoritarian approach, in essence telling the mayors and governors around the country, “Control the protestors/rioters, or I’ll control them for you.” And I’m not even going to go into the controversy of how he handled the photo-op at the church.
    • Mayors have taken different approaches, as have governors.
    • Local law enforcement has had to figure out how to follow the orders of their leaders while still balancing that with their own conscience. Sometimes they’ve done great and sometimes they’ve failed. The news only seems to report the times they failed.
  • Everyone has taken a side and dug in.
    • Okay, maybe not everyone, but it sure feels that way. And this is where social media, the strategic outside influence of other nations trying to undermine our society, and the hypocrisy in all of us comes out. For the most part, the original issue of Mr. Floyd being needlessly murdered and what it says about the injustice to black people and other minorities is getting lost. Somehow, it has become about people either attacking or defending President Trump. And I think he puts himself out front to invite that kind of response.
    • I guess what frustrates me about this part is the hypocrisy. People don’t seem to realize that if President Trump had a “D” next to his name then all of a sudden, nearly across the board, his defenders would become his attackers, and his attackers would rally to defend him. In terms of the forceful clearing of protestors from the park so he could walk to the front of a church to take a picture with a Bible, if Nancy Pelosi or President Obama had done it, those defending struggling to defend President Trump would completely attack them, and those attacking would try to find a defense for them.

So what is my response to all of this? What is my personal, private response? And is there a place for me to have a public response? Are there actions I should be taking?

My personal response is to grieve for Mr. Floyd, his family, and everyone they represent. They have experienced injustice not only from their fellow citizens, but their government as well. It is undeniable when you look at the numbers. Black people especially suffer in our country like no other ethnic group, and the reasons for that are more than I can list here. My heart is heavy for them, Father. My heart is truly heavy for them. Please help.

My other personal response is on behalf of law enforcement. They have been tasked with an untenable job. I know I couldn’t do it, and I don’t know that I would respond like I would hope I would if I did try it. They have to walk into situations every day that I don’t want any part of. They have to see the worst part of our society multiple times every day. They risk their lives every time they do something as simple as pull someone over. And then they have to deal with the mentally ill because our society doesn’t have any other answer. My heart is heavy for them, Father. My heart is truly heavy for them. Please help.

I don’t know that there is anything I can do about leadership or campaigning for different political candidates so I’m not going to consider that, but you know what we need. You know who we need. Maybe what we need is to sink so low that we have nowhere to look but you. Oh, how bad will hitting bottom look like before we turn as a nation to you? My heart is heavy for our leadership situation, Father. My heart is truly heavy for all of our leaders. Please help.

Finally, for our society. We are losing this battle against divisiveness. Friends are becoming enemies and assuming the worst in each other. Lies are spread as truth, and our enemies, from Satan to foreign nations, encourage it all. They delight in all of this. They delight in us tearing each other apart, calling each other names. They don’t even care which side in particular wins a particular battle. It’s all about the war to them, and they can see it moving in their favor. United we stand and divided we fall. My heart is heavy over all of this, Father. My heart is truly heavy. Please help.

With all of that said, my personal response is to spend more time praying for all of this. As for my public response, I promise to not get out ahead of you. Please guide me in your love, Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’s name I pray because it is through him and his power that I have hope and a pathway to you,

Amen

 

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“A Lion’s Heart” by Fred Smith

 

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s wonderful blog post this morning and I thought I’d spend some time with you about it. With all due respect to Fred and his copyright on this material, I’d like to copy and paste parts of his blog that struck me and then talk with you about them. 

It wasn’t a simple disagreement but a showdown that resulted in both men, once fast friends, turning away from each other for the balance of their lives.

The opening sentence had me. Assuming this would be a Bible story, I knew the reference immediately. How sad to have a relationship defined this way 2,000 years later. And I’m certain Paul must have regretted this break between them after Barnabas was dead. How horrible. I’m sure both of them would look back and think that they took this moment much too seriously. And maybe Paul was right and Mark needed tough love. And maybe Barnabas was right and he needed mercy and instruction. Maybe they were both right and maybe they were both wrong. But Satan loves to divide us from each other. Hopefully, you were able to take this break and spread your gospel wider because of it. 

Speaking of Satan dividing us, while I was making my breakfast this morning, I felt different feelings of residual anger towards different people in my life. After a couple of minutes it was almost as if the Holy Spirit would whisper to me that Satan was attacking me and trying to cause divisions, so I would give mercy and move on. Then it would happen again with someone else. I would just be standing alone in the kitchen and start to feel anger towards someone for things done to me years ago. Pitiful. But it’s a good plan of attack on Satan’s part. bitterness feeds those selfish parts of our hearts and tears us apart from each other and you. Thank you for helping me to be aware of what was happening to me. I am sorry to you that I still apparently carry so much bitterness around with me. 

As a young man John Mark was surrounded by the apostles and leaders of the movement coming to his home. His mother, Mary, was wealthy and influential. With access to relationships and rare advantages a young man could not have had more exposure to courage, miracles, heroic figures and the first days of the greatest events in the history of the world.

Still, Mark was weak and afraid. He ran naked from Gethsemane. He quit Paul and Barnabas when conditions were difficult. He disappointed the ones who took a risk on him.

Did Mark have too many advantages? Was he not tough enough because he had been raised in privilege? I was watching one of the episodes in the 10-part series about the Chicago Bulls called The Last Dance. There was a story about two Bulls players on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team who decided they had a score to settle with a player on the Croatia team because their general manager was negotiating to give him more money than one of their current key players. This player hadn’t done anything to them personally, but they decided to teach their GM a lesson by humiliating this kid. And in the first game they did, but one of the people they interviewed made a comment about the Croatian kid’s resilience. He said that the NBA players didn’t understand what a kid from Croatia had overcome in the 80s and early 90s. He was tougher than that and he came back in the second game, played well, and earned their respect. 

John Mark was going to have to suffer some setbacks if he was going to be ready to really serve with the new church. I’m sure this rift between Paul and Barnabas was used by you to help prepare him for future work.

It would be logical to predict he would fade away and self-destruct as a child of privilege who failed to launch.

But we would be wrong for after the decade had passed Paul says to Timothy, “Be sure to bring Mark with you because he will be so helpful to my ministry. Everyone else has deserted me.”

Mark spent over 10 years developing into someone who would be useful to those around him. He recorded Peter’s memories of Jesus and gave us a powerful gospel that we still read today. And he ministered to Paul at the end of his life. 

Ten years. It’s important for us to not be so impatient. It’s important for me to not be so impatient. I’ve said it many times before, but we tend to measure time in days, weeks, and months, and you measure it in years, decades and centuries. As a parent, as a son, as a husband, and a parishioner, and as a friend, it is important for me to give you (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the time you need to do your work in all of us, including me.

What happened? In those silent 10 years, Mark had attached himself to the sole person in his life – Simon Peter – who could relate completely to one who had deserted and failed his friends while betraying others. In Peter, he finds a father, a fellow sinner and a friend.

Peter doesn’t lead Mark and the rest of us through how powerful he is. Instead, he leads us and teaches us through his flaws and failures. In the same way, I can’t teach people through the stuff I do well. Oh sure, I can pass on some advice, but my real impact comes when I share my weaknesses and failings. In this case, I don’t think Mark would have benefitted as much from sitting at John’s feet for 10 years–or even Paul’s. No, I’m sure he learned resilience, repentance, and rebounding from regret through your grace from Peter.

What did Mark discover as he wrote the Gospel? He discovered himself and a Jesus that changed his life. Peter’s flaws were the same as his and Peter’s Christ became his. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School. He was the undomesticated Lion of Judah.”

I think Mark also learned some humility from Peter. I’ve always noticed that the stories we get where Peter is the most humiliated in front of Jesus are told to us in Mark. Peter doesn’t pull any punches when telling Mark his own story, and, in return, Mark communicates to us a unique version of Jesus. Lest I sound judgmental about the other gospels, I’ll say that we get the worst stories about John from his gospel as well. But in this case, it’s the example that Peter is setting for Mark that I think is important. 

Sent by Peter to Egypt as the first bishop of the Coptic church, Mark – the former coward, deserter and weakling – is horribly martyred by being dragged for two days behind a horse until his skin is torn off his body.

So that’s how it ends? A horrible death for someone who left us so much in Mark’s Gospel? A comfort to Paul in prison? Well, not exactly. There is also the legacy of transformation and courage. So much so that we get this:

Many years later it is said that the founders of the city of Venice in Italy, wanted a saint’s relics, so they stole his head and took it back to Venice. There it becomes the precious relic of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world – St. Mark’s. The deserter becomes the patron saint of Venice.

But here is what I love. Something he would have never believed and we could have not predicted when we first met him. The early church gave him the symbol of the winged lion, and it is the flag of Venice still today. It is a symbol of power, authority and strength. The Lion holds the scroll because he is the author of the earliest gospel and the inscription reads, “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” Peace and courage – not fear and running away. It is the same boy who fled and then became a lion – just like the Lion of Judah in his gospel.

Father, help me to see people for more than their failings. Help me to see them with your eyes. And help me to see myself for more than just my own failings. Help me to be patient and faithful as I strive to simply worship and serve you. 

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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