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Category Archives: Musings and Stories

Disney Princess Theology

Dear God, I was listening to a podcast tonight and they discussed this quote from Erna Kim Hackett. It’s from a blog post she wrote in August 2017. Yeah, I guess I’m guilty of this for sure. I especially like the analogy she made of our country seeing ourselves as Israel when it is likely we have more Egypt in us that we think.

But I’m not going to cast stones at my fellow Americans right now. I want to look at myself first and see how I might have missed this simple truth in all of these prayer journals I’ve done with you. When I did David and Goliath, did I ever consider that I am Goliath in the story? That any part of me is Goliath? How about the New Testament Saul before he became Paul? The Pharisees? Am I a Pharisee? Is there any part of me that is the men Sodom? But have I ever looked in my heart to see if I’m Judas?

I can say that when I did the parents of the Bible series, I found myself sympathizing with Hagar and Peninnah in ways I hadn’t before. But that wasn’t me identifying with them as much as me maybe cutting them a break. But am I willing to ask myself if there is a part of me that is Pharaoh when he is stubborn and refuses to let the Israelites go because it will cost him and his dominant class too much? If I had been born to slave owners 200 years ago, would I have been willing to part with a good portion of my inherited wealth and free my slaves? What do I not do now because I am afraid it will impact my income?

Oh, Father, these questions are almost too painful to consider. I know there is so much sin in my life of which I am not aware. Thank you for loving me anyway. Thank you for not expecting me to get all of this figured out and resolved before I am able to come and commune with you. Thank you that there is grace for me to be who I am, but also a Holy Spirit to guide me into who you are calling me to be. Even on a night like this, I am humbled, repentant, but also at peace before you. Teach me to be better.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 2 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

48:15
Andy Stanley: So, Stuart, I want to wrap up with maybe the hardest question or the biggest question. One of the mysteries of our faith is the providence of God. Who’s in charge? The sovereignty of God. You know, what role do we have? And you touched on this earlier. Did God cause this to happen? Do you just respond to what happened? Just life, random. How has this event changed your view of the sovereignty of God or God’s activity in the world? I mean, how…the whole issue of certainty. Talk a little bit about that.

Stuart Hall: Well, Kellee and I had already been wrestling with that a little bit. We did have a window of time as empty nesters where she would travel with me when I would go and speak different places. The more we’ve been around the country, the more we’ve talked to people, the more I started feeling really antsy about this reality: That–and this sounds really harsh, Andy–but I feel like we’ve made an idol out of certainty. Like we…And an idol isn’t an idol because it has a particular property to it. An idol is an idol because of the value you place on it. And so much of our existence revolves around security and certainty. And I think what has happened in our life as a result of this is this unveiling of the fact that you’ve got your value on the wrong things. The only thing you can trust–you know, the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t say your circumstances are. He doesn’t say your marriage will be. He doesn’t say your health will be. He doesn’t say your children will be. He doesn’t say your country will be. He doesn’t say the economy will be. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the question becomes then, why would I lean my life on anything but him? Do I think that God made this happen? It’s such an interesting tension because to believe in an all-knowing God is to believe that God knows everything. I don’t know if God made it happen. I do know he wants to make it matter. And because he wants to make it matter, I think that she and I feel this, almost like this burden, that we’ve got a join him in whatever it is he’s trying to do because of the story. Because of what it is that he has done in our life. And what we don’t want to do…it’s interesting when uncertainty happens I think we all have this propensity wherever there’s a contradiction we’ll set up an opposition to it. If something contradicts our certainty–like with COVID, for example–it’s a contradiction in our certainty so when go, “Well, it’s a conspiracy theory.” Or, “It’s a political agenda.”

Dear God, the idea of making an idol out of certainty really struck me.

I heard this interview a few days ago and intended to pray to you about these quotes this morning, but while I was getting cleaned up and starting my day about an hour ago I watched this “Reaction Video” on YouTube.

Notice the title she chose for the piece was, “This one broke me.” She’s reacting to the song “Piece by Piece” from Kelly Clarkson. The video hit me on two levels. First, Clarkson’s song (which I happened to catch when she performed this life a couple of years ago) is so full of pain and determination that you can’t help but be touched by it. Second, the last words the “reactor” said in the video were, “The first person that ever broke my heart…the first man that ever broke my heart was my dad.” Wow. Heartbreaking.

As a dad who has had complicated relationships with my children, I wondered if they would use those words about me. I never left. I stuck it out through thick and thin. But did I inadvertently break their hearts?

Here are the lyrics to Clarkson’s song:

“Piece by Piece”

And all I remember is your back
Walking towards the airport, leaving us all in your past
I traveled fifteen hundred miles to see you
I begged you to want me, but you didn’t want to

But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground, where you abandoned things
Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me
Six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me
He loves me
Piece by piece, he restores my faith
That a man can be kind and the father could, stay

And all of your words fall flat
I made something of myself and now you wanna come back
But your love, it isn’t free, it has to be earned
Back then I didn’t have anything you needed so I was worthless

But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground, where you abandoned things
Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me
Six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me
‘Cause he loves me
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and a father could, stay
Piece by piece

Piece by piece I fell far from the tree
I will never leave her like you left me
And she will never have to wonder her worth
Because unlike you I’m going to put her first and you know
He’ll never walk away,
He’ll never break her heart
He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and the father should be great
Piece by piece
Piece by piece

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Gregory Kurstin / Kelly Clarkson

Where I want to weave this song and the interview with the Halls together is the idea of trying to be that person of certainty for someone else. She is determined that her husband is going to be that source of certainty for their little girl. She is determined that she will be a source of certainty for her little girl. But as you get older you realize that not only does certainty not come from the economy, work, marriage, children, etc. It doesn’t come from me either. I am not the same yesterday, today and forever. I can die at any moment. I can make unintentional mistakes. I can say something cruel in the heat of the moment.

But you. You are there. Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit, you are there. You love me. You are the same. It made me so sad a couple of months ago when I saw that Clarkson and her husband were divorcing. I thought of this song immediately. I didn’t read any of the stories, so I have zero idea of the details, but I know there have been tears. I know every person involved has been hurt and cried over this, and with those tears might come feelings of rejection. And I’ll assume that everyone is doing their best. But we are not capable of being the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Father, help my children to heal from whatever has hurt their hearts over the years. Help them to find their certainty in your love and to rest in that peace. Help me to do the same. It’s not up to my wife to be my certainty, and it’s not up to me to be hers. Yes, I will do my best, but I will fail. She will do her best, but she can’t be the same yesterday, today, and forever. No one can. But you are the foundation of the universe. You love me. You only ask for me to turn loose of these transient things of the world (including my own selfish desires) and be part of your kingdom. Help me to do that today.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 1 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

40:52
Stuart Hall: I read this week, and I think this parallels with what you’re saying–the writer posed this question: “Have you placed your trust in your theology or the God of your theology?” And that’s really easy for us to get confused. And the way that Kellee and our children have inspired me is exactly what you’re saying. The writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of God with confidence and he’ll give us grace and mercy. But those are not the outcomes we really desire. What we want to do is go, “Well, no, we want him to live and we want him to be completely healthy.” And the writer of Hebrews goes, “You can have confidence that he’s going to give you grace to go through whatever it is that you are going to go through, and he’s going to be merciful to you in that process.” And it does, it pushes against this–if we get really honest I think all of us, we tend to live…our faith ends up being a churched up version of the American dream with just enough Jesus to make it seem legitimate. And what’s happened to us is that that’s been knocked out from under us, and now you go, “Okay, are we going to…are we going to trust Jesus? Are we going to lean the full weight of our life on him? Or are we going to trust what we think about him or what we believe about him? And those are two different things.

Dear God, before I get into this quote from Andy Stanley’s interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall, I want to just say that I’m sorry I’ve ha trouble stilling my mind lately. It almost feels like my brain and thought processes have become addicted to stimulation of thought, and not necessarily news. Maybe it’s just having a TV program, a podcast, or even music running. Whatever it is, I feel unsettled right now. I’m kind of wound up, and my brain doesn’t want to let go of being wound up. If it starts to hit a quiet moment than I look for something to wind it up again. I think that, today at least, I am going to concentrate on allowing for more silence. I’ll see if I can “detox” a little.

Now, back to the interview. Do I have faith in my theology or the God of my theology? Have I made an idol of my faith? By coincidence, Fred Smith’s weekly blog dealt with a similar concept this morning. He talked about how you worked with the Israelites in Numbers 21 when you sent the serpents after they grumbled a lot and then you had Moses craft a staff with a serpent at the top and if people looked upon it they were saved from death from the serpent bites. He said that 800 years later, worshiping the serpent staff became part of the Israelite culture. They took a symbol of you and ascribed your power to it. They made it an idol.

He then said that we still do the same thing today: ancient relics of the early church, crosses, and even the Bible itself. Of course, there are the other obvious things like Stuart Hall mentions in this interview. We put our faith in things that change instead of Jesus/you/Holy Spirit, which never changes. The economy. Our health. Our church. Our education. Our intellect. My bank account. A politician. I put my faith in all of these things at one time or another as I get distracted from you and what you are calling me to do.

Father, right now there is a particular fork in my road at work, and I need your wisdom and provision to carry us through both the short-term and the long-term. I need to be still before you. I need to rest in you. I need to listen for your voice and give you all of my worship and praise.

I pray all of this in Jesus’s name,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 3 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

54:53
Andy Stanley: If you were sitting over a coffee table with our audience–either single men and women, married men and women, seniors, high school students, college students, and you had your, you know, your elevator pitch…the final moment–what do you say?

Stuart Hall: I would probably say that I think we have the wrong job description for love. As humans we are always trying to avoid pain. As parents we are always trying to protect our children from pain. As friends we are always trying to fix each other’s pain. And no wonder we always feel like failures because life is, it’s the human drama. It’s pleasure and pain. And the question I would have you wrestle with is just simply this: What are you going to trust in when that pain happens? When your certainty is made uncertain? Are you going to lean your life on your own understanding? Your own ability to reason? Your own ability to wrap this up and put a bow on it? Or will you trust your life to the only one that doesn’t change, that doesn’t move, and can actually heal you of your pain, can heal you in your hurt? The last thing I would say is that your love for Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be true. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true. So I implore you–if you’re not a Jesus person, you don’t follow him–would you consider what you’re leaning your life up against? And if you are a Jesus person, you are…you do follow in the way of Jesus, how much are you trusting him? Are you trusting what you know about him, or are you really trusting him? That’s my prayer for people, that they will lean their life, the full weight of their existence on him.

Dear God, I was having lunch with a friend yesterday, and he said something I think is very true: Struggle is underrated. Struggle and pain are an important part of our human development–all of the way until death. If there is no struggle we will atrophy and die.

My wife has had a couple of specific stressors in her life lately, and she was talking about them with a friend. The friend asked if she had considered taking any antidepressants to help alleviate the stress, and my wife hadn’t considered it because she wasn’t trying to avoid the pain of the situation. She does things to care for herself through this time like prayer time in a chapel with you on a daily basis, exercise, and nourishing herself with a variety of Godly and intellectually stimulating things, but she isn’t trying to mask why is going on. And that’s not to say that there is not a time and place for antidepressants, but I do believe they are overused in our society. As part of that same conversation when she told me about what her friend said, my wife told me that 1 out of 6 Americans are on some sort of antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. That means 17% of our country, including children, feel the need to mask their stress. I don’t know what that number should ideally be, but for what is supposedly the greatest country in the world, that seems like a high number.

One of the challenges I faced as a parent was trying to figure out when to mitigate the pain my children were experiencing and when to let them walk through it–albeit with my love and support. And there were times when I tried to not intervene when others would intervene and short-circuit any good that might have come from the struggle. It was a frustrating process, and I don’t think it’s a concept that is taught enough in parenting books.

And then there’s my own life. How do I face struggle and pain? Do I lean on you, or do I try to avoid it? Do I live in denial or do I live in faith (although there is a thin line between living in denial and living in faith). And to be sure, the struggles in my life are pretty mild when compared with other stories I know, but there are still times when I’d rather just curl up in my bed and not face the realities in front of me.

Lately, and I’ve told you this a lot in these journals recently, there have been times when I’ve let the COVID-19 news, the daily deaths, the depletion of healthcare resources, etc. get to me. I recently rediscovered a playlist I made of 15 songs I listened to in 2005 when I was unemployed for six months. They are a mixture of worship songs (“Forever” by Chris Tomlin) and songs about seeking you for comfort. The lead-off song is a guy who can’t get out of bed from the weight of his stress (“Staring at a Bird” by The Waiting). Another song has the line, “Sometimes he calms the storm, but other times he calms his child” (“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Scott Krippayne). A couple are songs about repentance like dc Talk’s cover of Charlie Peacock’s “In the Light.” I pulled this playlist out this week and listened to it quite a bit.

Father, I guess I’ll finish with this. If the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23) then I want to lean into you/Jesus/Holy Spirit as much as possible to face the trials before me and to help others face their trials as well. I want to do it with transparency and vulnerability. And I want to be a person of action. I don’t want to just sit here and think thoughts that are useless unless they are activated. I want to be a person who sees a need, hears your voice about how you would have me respond, and then be your presence in that situation. Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can (and your blessing, wisdom, and power in that work), and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

40:52
Stuart Hall: I read this week, and I think this parallels with what you’re saying–the writer posed this question: “Have you placed your trust in your theology or the God of your theology?” And that’s really easy for us to get confused. And the way that Kellee and our children have inspired me is exactly what you’re saying. The writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of God with confidence and he’ll give us grace and mercy. But those are not the outcomes we really desire. What we want to do is go, “Well, no, we want him to live and we want him to be completely healthy.” And the writer of Hebrews goes, “You can have confidence that he’s going to give you grace to go through whatever it is that you are going to go through, and he’s going to be merciful to you in that process.” And it does, it pushes against this–if we get really honest I think all of us, we tend to live…our faith ends up being a churched up version of the American dream with just enough Jesus to make it seem legitimate. And what’s happened to us is that that’s been knocked out from under us, and now you go, “Okay, are we going to…are we going to trust Jesus? Are we going to lean the full weight of our life on him? Or are we going to trust what we think about him or what we believe about him? And those are two different things.

48:15
Andy Stanley: So, Stuart, I want to wrap up with maybe the hardest question or the biggest question. One of the mysteries of our faith is the providence of God. Who’s in charge? The sovereignty of God. You know, what role do we have? And you touched on this earlier. Did God cause this to happen? Do you just respond to what happened? Just life, random. How has this event changed your view of the sovereignty of God or God’s activity in the world? I mean, how…the whole issue of certainty. Talk a little bit about that.

Stuart Hall: Well, Kellee and I had already been wrestling with that a little bit. We did have a window of time as empty nesters where she would travel with me when I would go and speak different places. The more we’ve been around the country, the more we’ve talked to people, the more I started feeling really antsy about this reality: That–and this sounds really harsh, Andy–but I feel like we’ve made an idol out of certainty. Like we…And an idol isn’t an idol because it has a particular property to it. And idol is an idol because of the value you place on it. And so much of our existence revolves around security and certainty. And I think what has happened in our life as a result of this is this unveiling of the fact that you’ve got your value on the wrong things. The only thing you can trust–you know, the write of Hebrews says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t say your circumstances are. He doesn’t say your marriage will be. He doesn’t say your health will be. He doesn’t say your children will be. He doesn’t say your country will be. He doesn’t say the economy will be. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the question becomes then, why would I lean my life on anything but him? Do I think that God made this happen? It’s such an interesting tension because to believe in an all-knowing God is to believe that God knows everything. I don’t know if God made it happen. I do know he wants to make it matter. And because he wants to make it matter, I think that she and I feel this, almost like this burden, that we’ve got a join him in whatever it is he’s trying to do because of the story. Because of what it is that he has done in our life. And what we don’t want to do…it’s interesting when uncertainty happens I think we all have this propensity wherever there’s a contradiction we’ll set up an opposition to it. If something contradicts our certainty–like with COVID, for example–it’s a contradiction in our certainty so when go, “Well, it’s a conspiracy theory.” Or, “It’s a political agenda.”

54:53
Andy Stanley: If you were sitting over a coffee table with our audience–either single men and women, married men and women, seniors, high school students, college students, and you had your, you know, your elevator pitch…the final moment–what do you say?

Stuart Hall: I would probably say that I think we have the wrong job description for love. As humans we are always trying to avoid pain. As parents we are always trying to protect our children from pain. As friends we are always trying to fix each other’s pain. And no wonder we always feel like failures because life is, it’s the human drama. It’s pleasure and pain. And the question I would have you wrestle with is just simply this: What are you going to trust in when that pain happens? When your certainty is made uncertain? Are you going to lean your life on your own understanding? Your own ability to reason? Your own ability to wrap this up and put a bow on it? Or will you trust your life to the only one that doesn’t change, that doesn’t move, and can actually heal you of your pain, can heal you in your hurt? The last thing I would say is that your love for Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be true. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true. So I implore you–if you’re not a Jesus person, you don’t follow him–would you consider what you’re leaning your life up against? And if you are a Jesus person, you are…you do follow in the way of Jesus, how much are you trusting him? Are you trusting what you know about him, or are you really trusting him? That’s my prayer for people, that they will lean their life, the full weight of their existence on him.

Dear God, I should probably spend the next few days and separate out these three different sets of quotes from Stuart Hall.

I was riding my bike the other day and listening to this interview/podcast/sermon from North Point Community Church, and I’m so grateful for it. When I came across these three specific quotes, I looked at the phone and noted the time stamp so I could go back and find them. I loved them.

I guess, from a macro level, it was just so nice to hear from a couple that has been through trials, but their faith was solid throughout because their faith was in the right thing. They had the right perspective on you.

I haven’t always had that kind of faith. Sure, sometimes I have. Probably the high point of my faith was 25 years ago next month when my wife miscarried our first child, Sandra. I was 25 years old and kneeling beside her hospital bed and my prayer to you was that you knew my heat and you knew what I wanted, but I trusted you and I had faith in you. You were my God, and I put it all in your hands. Yeah, I look back on that and am grateful for the perspective that 25-year-old had.

But I haven’t always been that way since then. There were times when I was unemployed that I got really angry with you. There were times when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to with raising my children, and I was really disappointed in you. I could go on and on.

No, my life isn’t only failures. You have taught me through those times of lost faith. You used them to strengthen me. You used them to grow my faith. You made them count.

So now, father, before I spend the next couple of days thinking about these quotes individually, I want to say that I am grateful for the struggles. I am grateful for the humblings (is that a word?) you have given to me. There’s an old Amy Grant song called, “In a Little While.” Part of the chorus says, “We’re just here to learn to love Him.” I wish I didn’t need so much instruction, but I submit myself to the lessons you have for me. My utmost for your highest, oh, Lord!

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 

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What are my idols?

I think there is real good work–heart work–to do in all this. And, you know, I’ve said this enough in other places that I’ll mention here in this context that part of the work–the heart work–that God has had me doing as my own wife is very sick with brain cancer, that I’m 46 years old, she 46 years old, we’ve got three health and vibrant kids, she’s a marathon runner and a swimmer and it’s been very hard to see her decline. A lot of her disorientation around what’s happening, and it’s like there’s a lot of sad things to say about that. But even as she’s been very sick we’ve had a lot of things to be very joyful about. And the reason I mention that in this context is when we go through things that are periods of suffering, and I certainly have gone through that with my family over the last three years since she was first diagnosed with that, it was June of 2017, our idols began to take shape. You can see them more clearly. We have an idol of health and healthiness. And we have an idol of, you know, sort of relational vibrancy, of being a pair. You know, I’ve seen older–she’s a terminal patient, and so I sometimes will see an older couple who, they’re like talking about their grandkids and I flashforward to the life that I imagined I would live with my wife, and that’s a natural and normal thing for me as a married man to do. But also it’s its own kind of idol because the Lord wants us to, every day, to depend on him for our deepest identity, our, sort of, you know, we’re not promised anything. Our lives, as scripture says, are just a vapor. And so how is it that we as a Christian community today could use the things that God has given us, our stories, even our suffering, and then allow God to use that to tear down and move us past some of the deep idols that we have so that we can become–so that we can live the story that Jesus tells us in scripture. The full and abundant life. And that’s what actually just drives me in my work and my caring for my wife.

David Kinnaman on The Holy Post Podcast Episode #411 (1:04:30 mark)

Dear God, idols, idols, idols. How many do I have? Can I count that high? My relationships with my children. My wife. That’s just a start. Stable income. Helping the poor. Christian service. Working out. Weight loss. Gluttony.

I was listening to this podcast yesterday, and this man describing his vision of how his life should be turning out as being an idol in his life with which he has had to reckon really struck me. Been there. Still there. My own health. My wife’s health. See, I just keep coming up with more. My right to respite, travel, and fun. My goodness, when I examine my heart just a little I find idols everywhere.

I have a particularly challenging situation I’m facing at work right now. I want to absolutely do what is right and what you want done. I don’t want to make an idol out of friendships or the path that is easier for me. I also don’t want to be rash and cruel. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I want to be an example of your presence. I want the organization to be better for having gone through this. I want each individual to be better for having gone through this.

Father, I know my biggest failure in this area over the years is the idol I made of my relationship with my children. I’m slowly learning to turn loose of them and care more about what they need from me to and experience you rather than what I need from them to satisfy my ego or insecurities. But I know I have other idols too. Heck, I’ve listed just a few of them for you. Help me to know how to die to these idols and give all of my worship to you. Ooo, that seems like a dangerous prayer. Be gentle with me, please.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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What I would say…

Dear God, I have some relatives graduating and one getting engaged this year. When I was thinking about graduation presents for them, I thought of two things.

For the graduates, I thought of a daily devotion book called My Utmost for His Highest. You know I know this one well. In fact, it was my source for scripture when I first started doing these prayer journals to you 20 years ago. But my history with that book actually goes back closer to 40 years. My dad used it as a daily devotion when I was young, and he gave me a copy of it when I graduated from high school. The inscription reads:

8/27/88

John,

This book has really been meaningful to me as it constantly challenges me to turn loose of the distractions of life and to move into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus. I pray that you will likewise find it helpful in your personal walk with the Lord as you enter an exciting new phase in your life as a Baylor student.

Love,

Dad

I used it regularly my freshman year of college. The weakness in it for me is that its words were written pre World War I by a Brit, and the British language he used in the early 20th century was different than the language we use now. Thankfully, about 30 years ago, James Reimann re-edited it to update the language and it’s even clearer now.

The theology is this book is so solid, but I often found that just reading the daily verse, reading Mr. Chambers’s reflection on it, and then saying a prayer to you didn’t stick with me throughout the day. It wasn’t until I started to journal through the passages starting in April 2000 that your scripture and what you were saying to me through it began to seep into my soul.

So I found this version of the James Reimann edited edition that includes a column for at least writing down some personal reflections. IMG_3111

I ordered one for my niece and my nephew. I pray over these two books, that you will use them along with all of the other tools in your toolbox to draw their hearts into yours and lead them to lives submitted to you.

The second book I ordered was the one that changed the course of my marriage and who I eventually became as a husband to my wife. This one is for the niece who got engaged. It’s called Sacred Marriage and it was written by Gary Thomas. IMG_3112

The subtitle of the book is “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That question alone gets your attention. Through reading this book and attending a workshop in person with my wife, you revealed to me how much I was depending upon my wife’s and children’s acceptance for my sense of worth instead of simply leaning into you. Ironically (or perhaps, providentially), I encountered this book right about the same time I started doing these prayer journals to you. I know we’ve talked about this a lot before, but I was a needy husband, and my neediness was oppressive to my wife. She could never fill up my “God hole” that I’d allowed to grow without you. I had made her an idol. I became codependent. It was all bad. But Gary helped me to see how you use my wife, my children, and everyone around me to shape me through the giving of myself, not the taking. That simple paradigm shift changed everything, and it helped me to become more disciplined in my pursuit of you as the source of my joy and peace.

So I have these young relatives who are starting new chapters in their lives. They have tremendous opportunities to radically affect the trajectory of their lives through the choices they make now. Who will they be in 10, 20, or 30 years? Well, as an uncle that they know just a little, I hope that what they know of me will give me the credibility to share these two critical tools you used on me and have them receive them as part of the tools you are using on them.

Father, I want to pray over my niece and my nephew right now. I pray for my niece, that she will experience the full measure of who you are. Help her to embrace you completely. Help her fiancé to completely embrace you as well. And as they work out their respective faiths with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), unite their hearts together completely. Give them mutual respect and help them to turn loose of their expectations of the other. Fill them with so much of your presence that they don’t need to look to the other for their worth. And for my nephew, he has had a rough and confusing few years, but now he’s about to start college. There is a lot of healing to do there. Guide him in into your heart. Hold him close. Raise up people around him whom you will use to strengthen and encourage him. Heal his broken relationships and bring glory to your name through his life.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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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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“Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I was reading Fred Smith’s weekly blog this morning and I thought I’d spend some time with it. He titled it, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.

It’s interesting to me that my perspective changes so much as I age. I knew so much when I was 16. When I was 25, I saw how much I didn’t know when I was 16. I was older and wiser by then. Then at 35 I got my first job as the top leader of an organization. I felt very ready for that moment. I was married with two children (who were 9 and 6 at the time). Life was good and I was doing it right. Yes, I was much smarter. Now, being 50 and looking back I can see how naive I was. I had a lot to learn. I was arrogant about what I thought I could control and what I couldn’t control. I can’t believe I was 35 when they hired me to do the job I am doing now. One day, when I’m 60, I’ll look back at 50 and see it as being young. The same of 75…85. You get the point.

Fred mentioned in his piece that he spent a lot of his time trying to influence people how to live their lives: “I even started a few projects inside. File I kept in my office labeled “Get Out Of Town” where I encouraged kids to leave and start life elsewhere. Experience a wider world! Escape the pull of gravity and tradition!” That concept kind of hits something I’ve been learning more and more lately. I don’t even know what I should be doing from one day to the next. I certainly don’t know what my children should be doing—much less people who aren’t even my children.

I suppose my big lesson in all of this is to simply be a conduit of pointing people to you and then letting you direct their path. I wouldn’t have know what was best for Ruth and Naomi. I wouldn’t have known what was best for Mary and Joseph. Like I said, I can’t even really tell you what is best for my wife and me. But I have faith that, even if I screw something up and get outside of your will, my pursuit of you will enable you to redeem whatever mistakes I make and still accomplish your plans either through or in spite of me.

Father, if life is like a mountain that must be climbed, I have a better perspective on it from this elevation that I did 10 years ago. I expect I’ll have a better view of it in 10 years than I do now. It’s not about me being right. It’s not about me being wrong. It’s just about me being yours today. Help me to be yours today and work around my foolishness.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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