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Category Archives: Musings and Stories

Obi-Wan Kenobi and God’s Will

Dear God, this one is going to be a stretch, but stick with me on this. I just finished watching the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ and it got me to thinking about what you know that we don’t. What you can see that we can’t. In this case (and for those reading this who have not seen it, I’m not going to spoil anything because the one thing we know if we’ve seen the original A New Hope is that Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, Luke, and Leia all survive this movie), if Obi-Wan had the opportunity to kill Darth Vader, should he? Did Obi-Wan fail when he didn’t kill him at the end of Revenge of the Sith? Should we be disappointed that Darth Vader survives the sixth episode of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series?

It makes me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the role he played in the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. While killing Hitler at any time might have looked good at the time, what we have since learned is that one of thing that helped the Allied Powers ultimately win World War II was Hitler’s erroneous influence on the German strategy. His ego became foolishness. If he had been killed, perhaps a more competent person would have emerged as his successor. They were trying to execute a coup d’etat to keep Germany from completely losing the war. Who knows what would have happened had they succeeded. Perhaps the war would have been prolonged. Maybe President Truman would have ultimately decided to drop the atomic bomb on Berlin as well as the two he dropped on Japan. One interesting point is that Hitler mistook his own survival as fate having spared him:

”I regard this as a confirmation of the task imposed upon me by Providence”—and that “nothing is going to happen to me… [T]he great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and…everything can be brought to a good end.”

In the fictional galaxy (far, far away) of Star Wars, ultimately, in Return of the Jedi, it is Darth Vader who kills the Emperor (I’m ignoring the movies after Return of the Jedi). If Obi-Wan kills him at the end of Revenge of the Sith or is able to somehow do it at the end of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, would that remove the Rebellion’s path into the throne room? Would it take away the opportunity Luke would have to get that close to the Emperor and ultimately have Darth Vader kill him? It’s hard to imagine how it would happen otherwise. So is Obi-Wan’s failure to kill Vader really failure or fate? (Again, I know this is fictitious and the original story was created by George Lucas.)

So why am I praying about this? Because I come to realize more and more every day how little I know and understand. I don’t know why this thing or that thing happens. I don’t know why Hitler survives an assassination attempt and Bonhoeffer dies instead (just three weeks before Hitler took his own life, as it turned out). I don’t know why you made Saul king of Israel (1 Samuel 9) before you made David the king. Naomi didn’t know why her husband and two sons died in Moab (Ruth 1). I don’t know why a friend just recently found out she was pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby and then, after coming to a place of peace with the pregnancy, lost the baby. I don’t know why some relationships in my life are not what I want them to be. I don’t know why my country seems to be spinning in a downward spiral, drowning in its own hubris. I don’t know.

Father, what I do know is that all of these burdens–all of these stresses, worries, concerns, fears–are to be laid at your feet. You keep me on a need-to-know basis and I rarely need to know. My job is to worship you, trust you, repent to you, take up my cross, and follow you. If I do those things and try to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides me in my actions, thoughts, and words, then I will find myself taking my eyes off of the cares of the world and sinking further into your presence even while I’m here on earth. So thank you for using this secular form of entertainment (Obi-Wan Kenobi) as a reminder that I don’t have to understand what is going on to be at peace. In fact, now that I think about it, isn’t that the sin Adam and Eve first committed? Weren’t they trying to know what you know? Help me to keep from repeating that sin any further.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Worship

Dear God, as I sat this morning and thought about what direction I want to go as I spend some time with you, the word “worship” came to mind. I just want to worship you. I want to worship you in song. I want to worship you in my thoughts and words. I want to love you this morning and show you the love I have for you.

“The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come

Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve

Though I’m weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart, yeah

I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship
‘Cause it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
‘Cause it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus, yeah
All about You

I’ll bring You more than a song
I’ll bring You more than a song, more than a song
I’ll bring You more than a song
I’ll bring You more than a song (than a song)

You’re looking into my heart
You’re looking into my heart
You’re looking into my heart
Into my heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
I’ll bring You more than a song, yeah, yeah
I’ll bring You more than a song
I’ll bring You more than a song

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Matthew James Redman

This song captures my heart this morning. Some lines that stand out to me:

“Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart.”

“You’re looking into my heart.”

“King of endless worth. No on could express how much you deserve”

My wife and I were talking this morning about a friend who does not live in an ideal situation in terms of housing and roommates. However, something fortuitous happened with that friend yesterday that likely would not have happened if she lived alone. Could it be you are making her struggle count?

We have another friend who received a significant diagnosis for their child two days ago, but we just found out yesterday. As we pray for them, what will you do to make their pain and struggle count? How will you heal? How will you show your glory.

I have no less that six friends who are going through some sort of marital problems right now. From unhappiness in the same home, to separation, to divorce. It’s hard to watch from the outside looking in. How will you use me to help those situations? How can I keep from getting in your way and making things worse?

Then there is the world. From wars and war crimes, to national politics, to the economy, to hunger, etc. There is so much happening. How should I engage with it? What are you doing in me through these things that is refining me into who you think I need to be?

And of course, there are my own personal issues. You know my concerns, pain, and fear. I bring it all to you, turn my clinched fists to the ground, open up to let the things to which I hold so tightly fall, and then turn my palms up to accept what you want to give me to meet my needs.

Father, I am humbled before you. I am unworthy. You are good. I am not. You are my God. I worship you. Help me to be what you need me to be today for those around me. My wife. My children. Their significant others. My friends. My coworkers. The clients where I work. I give it all to you. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required. I bring you my whole life. I bring you my pride and my ego. Do what you need to do to break me, mold me, fill me, and use me. And comfort everyone who has crossed my mind while I typed this, as well as those I have forgotten.

I pray all of this because of the power and redemption you give me through your son Jesus,

Amen

 

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Final Words at a Funeral

We seem to give them back to you, dear God, who gave them to us. Yet, as you did not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. What you give, you do not take away. For what is yours is ours always, if we are yours. And life is eternal and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, O God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves nearer to our beloved who are with you. And while your Son has prepared a place for us, prepare us for that happy place, that, where they are and you are, we too may be; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Read at the funeral of John “Jack” Burton Kendrick (1942-2022)

Dear God, I’ve been to a lot of funerals, but there have only been a few instances when something really touched me. In this case, I was at the funeral of a friend today and the priest read this blessing at the end. Thankfully, it was printed in the program so I could capture it here.

The prayer is very poetic. It’s the classic poetry thing of using just a few words to communicate so much. I want to capture some of those phrases here and think/pray about them. Holy Spirit, be with me and counsel me while I do this.

“…you did not lose them in giving…”

This is just one phrase on that whole first part, and the entirety of the second and third sentences are important, but they seem to be built on this idea that life and death are not a zero-sum game. In fact, life is win/win. We gain our loved one. Even if we lose them, they 1.) remain in our hearts and the impact of their life always influences us and 2.) we will have them forever when we return to you. You didn’t lose them when they were on earth. You gave them to earth. And they are never really gone.

“…and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight…”

Yes. Our sight is so, so limited. Even now, I wonder how much I should be positioning my prayers in my heart. To the Father? To the Son? To the Holy Spirit? I guess it makes most sense to pray to the Holy Spirit because he is the counselor with me–the comforter–but Jesus spoke with the Father and he invited us to speak to the Father. But I digress. When it comes to death, we simply don’t understand. I don’t understand My sight cannot see beyond the horizon, but the horizon is established only by my ability to rise above and see clearly through the help of the Holy Spirit.

“And while your Son has prepared a place for us, prepare us for that happy place…”

There’s an Amy Grant song called “In a Little While.” The chorus includes the phrase, “We’re just here to learn to love Him.” To love you. To love you is what it’s about.

Father, recently, I feel like I have unplugged my roots from your stream to some extent. I’m sorry for that. while my “leaves” and “branches” can hold on and look okay for a couple of days, pretty soon I start to see the decay. So I’m very sorry. I’m sorry for pulling my roots away from your nourishment. I’m sorry for allowing thorny or rocky soil to be the soil the Holy Spirit has to try to break through. I’m sorry for my selfishness. And with all of that said, help me to see. Help me to see you. Help me to rest in you. Help me to have access to your wisdom and spiritual nourishment. Help me to love richly.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Father-in-Law

Dear God, I was watching a marriage video by Gary Thomas with my wife last night as my wife and I prepared to lead discussion today for our couples group from church, and he was talking about this concept. He posted this column back in 2014 that goes along the same lines. It’s a great and powerful concept: If my wife is your daughter then, in some respects, that makes you my father-in-law. When I treat my wife in a certain way, I am also treating your daughter in that way as well. But unlike other fathers-in-law, you are omnipresent. You can see not only what goes on in our home behind closed doors, but you see what I do when I am alone. You see into my heart.

So what is my heart towards my wife? Am I guarding it? Am I living out the two greatest commandments in my own home as well as in public?

He also asked another question during the video last night: Am I a spouse-centered spouse or a God-centered spouse? If I am a spouse-centered spouse, that means I will gauge my treatment of my wife based off of how she is treating me. Was she nice to me this morning? If yes, then I might go out of my way a little more for her. Was she cold or focused on other things besides me? If yes, then I might return the attitude in-kind.

However, if I am a God-centered spouse, then I am seeing her through your eyes and her actions are not determining factors in how I treat her, or even think about her. In fact, if she is cold towards me maybe that’s the time you need me to express more concern for her. You need me to care for her and give her even more. It’s not about what she gives me. It’s about what you need for me to give her.

Father, I’m sorry I’ve failed you in so many ways when it comes to my marriage. As a father of two grown children in relationships with significant others, I certainly have my opinions about them. I can only imagine what you think of me. So thank you for entrusting your daughter’s life to me. Thank you for such an amazing woman. I know I take her for granted all of the time. I try not to, but I know I do. So help me to have insights into her and to be exactly that man you need me to be for her sake and so that she can continue to grow into exactly the woman you have for her to be. And in the process, make me the man you need me to be.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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The Serenity Prayer

Dear God, as my wife and I were praying together this morning, this is the prayer (from AA) that came to mind. I don’t know exactly how my prayers for you to act impact your ability, willingness, or decision to act or change course, but I do know that the more I know you–the more I pray to you–the more it changes me. I don’t know if this quote is truly from C.S. Lewis, but in the movie Shadowlands, his character tells a friend, “I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me.”

So Father, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. There is so much I want to change, but I am humbled by my inability to change any of it. That humility drives me to my knees. Sometimes I’m on my knees before you and sometimes I’m on my knees feeling sorry for myself. But if I try to put my energy into changing what I cannot affect then I am being a fool. So I need to serenity from you to let go. I need the serenity of you to forgive myself. I need the serenity from you to move on in other directions. Then there are times when action is required but it can be scary. I don’t want to get out of my comfort zone and challenge or confront. Speak to me when those times present themselves and give me the courage when I need it. Give me the wisdom I need to know the difference between your call to wait and your call to act.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Psalm 1:1-3

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with the mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 1:1-3

Dear God, I came across a translation of this well-know passage this morning in the Steven Purcell book Even Among These Rocks: A Spiritual Journey. But he didn’t have these words. He had a translation from somewhere between the 8th and 3rd centuries, B.C.

Certainly, verse 1 is the most different, but it does kind of fit. I guess the ultimate goal in being Christlike is that point where you are beyond greed (I’m not there yet), beyond hatred (I’m not there yet), an no longer nourish illusions (I’m not 100% sure what the translator means here, but I don’t think I’m there yet either). I also like the next part: “But they delight in the way of grace and keep their hearts open day and night.” Nope, not there yet either. I’m closer today than I was yesterday. I’m closer this year than I was last year. I’m closer now at 52 than I was at 42.

I was reading an article last night from Christianity Today about deconstructing faith. That’s become a hot button topic lately and I don’t want to do into it too deeply here, but there were a couple of quotes from the author, Kirsten Sanders, that stood out to me:

“Truth about God isn’t always easy, however. Faith that begins in earnest commitment sometimes must advance through a period of slow questioning, of confusion, of switchbacks and labored ascent.”

I wasn’t thrilled when I first learned that my knowledge of God would always be incomplete. I felt, for a time, unmoored. Like many seminary students, I had been praying for years to a God who I had pictured as being just like me, only larger, through difficult days of uncertainty and loneliness. I loved that God and know that he loves me. Rather than only feeling closer to the God I loved, I learned that there was a clear limit to what I could know. I would need to learn to love God in the dark.

I think there is an inherent discomfort for all humans in just how small and insignificant we are. There is a limit to our abilities–a limit that you do not have. You are omnipotent, and we are not. You are omniscient, and we are not. I think the key to being at peace and sinking into a life beyond greed, hatred, and illusions is getting to a point of complete surrender that we are simply not you and there is a part where we need to accept our ignorance and sink into your grace.

Father, help me get better today at getting beyond greed, replacing hatred with grace and mercy, and rejecting illusions. I confess that I will not get all of the way there today. I’m sorry for that. But help me to at least move along in my journey.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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“I want! I want!”

Dear God, I was going through the Lenten book Even Among These Rocks: A Spiritual Journey by Steven Purcell this morning and I came across this picture. It so lines up with the spirit I am getting from the masses in our country right now. Conservative or liberal, rich or poor, young or old, these words seem to be ruling the day: “I want! I want!” And the ladder to the moon seems to emphasize the idea that we will not be denied. Of the image, Purcell wrote: “William Blake’s simple etching illustrates the point that sin is neve the solitary escapade of desire that we imagine it to be, but more fundamentally the rejection of our relational identity. The ladder depicts an apparently innocuous ascent. Where the ladder will lead is perhaps immaterial. What is at stake are the relationships which are affected by his act. What we see in Blakes etching is how movements away from our neighbor and toward our own desires in the spirit of ‘I want, I want,’ neglect the communal image of God impressed on our being.”

I was listening to a podcast this morning that was taking a thoughtful view of trans girls/women competing with girls and women in athletics. While I don’t want to get into the specifics here, there does seem to be a theme in the story of someone deciding they want something for themselves at any cost forgetting, neglecting, or intentionally ignoring “the communal image [you] impressed on our being.” Where is loving your neighbor as yourself?

Of course, this is just one example. There are those, both conservative and liberal, who want ultimate political power so they can control their enemies. There are some who want more and more materially regardless of what it costs others. There are others who want to experience all of the carnal gratifications the human existence has to offer.

In his temptations in the desert, Jesus resisted all of the temptations to impress Satan and break relationship with you. He loved you with all of his heart, mind, and strength. As he left the desert, he loved his neighbor as himself. And he taught us to do the same. Help me to do the same today. Help me to love you. Help me to love others. Be glorified through me for your glory’s sake.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Lent

Dear God, I grew up Baptist and I’m not sure I had even heard of Lent until I met my formerly-Episcopalian wife. I knew about Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, but I had no knowledge of its relationship to Ash Wednesday, or even that Ash Wednesday existed. So here I am this year. I learn a little more each year. You reveal a little more to me each year. I gave up something for Lent and started observing it five days ago. But I guess it really wasn’t until church this morning, after we did the Gospel reading of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, that I really started to think about what this year’s Lent means to me. It was more about discipline and ritual. Now, I want to think through how it can be worship, sacrifice, empathy, and appreciation.

The thing I chose to give up, in a lot of ways, is a staple in my life. I’ll confess now that I considered a couple of different things that I ultimately deemed too difficult to pass up for the next six and a half weeks. Maybe that’s weak. Maybe I should have given one of them up. But the thing I chose is certainly changing my habits. It’s causing me to make conscious decisions. Maybe that’s the point. It’s as much about the sacrifice coming to mind, and then that sacrifice reminding me to worship, empathize, appreciate, and pray. But I think that has been missing the last few days.

So what do I want to pray about when this sacrifice comes to mind? What do I want brought to mind? Obviously, there are broken family relationships that are always on my heart. I spent a lot of time in church this morning praying for a couple facing some difficult, if not grave, health challenges. I learned that one of our priests is leaving to go home to Nigeria at the end of the month. I definitely need to pray for him. Then there is Ukraine and Russia. I confess that I care about that, but maybe not enough. We’ve sent money to an agency that is helping. I’ve prayed. I’ve watched news. But, well, I don’t know that the knowledge of it has disrupted my life very much. At least I know better than to complain about high gasoline prices. THAT is nothing compared with the fear, sorrow, and tragedy millions of people are experiencing right now.

I guess I want to include my work as part of all of this as well. And the role I play in our community. You have not only given me responsibilities over our organization but also influence with others. But I guess the big one is more worship. More worship of you. More time with you. More prayer. More repenting. More pleading for others.

Father, I will end this prayer with a prayer that take me where I need to start: I confess to Almighty God, and to the people reading this prayer, that I have greatly sinned. In my thoughts and in my words. In what I have done, and what I have failed to do. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I asked blessed Mary, all the angels and the saints, and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord, our God. I am sorry, Father. Thank you for your mercy.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Ukraine

Dear God, I’m sorry I haven’t prayed about this more (or at all). I’ve thought about it. I’ve worried about it a little. But I haven’t educated myself on it, followed it, or allowed it to touch my heart. But I read this morning that Russia started invading Ukraine, and my first thoughts were of the people living there who are terrified right now. From their military to government officials, to just people like me wondering if they will be able to protect their families, provide for their families, and sustain life. Will those that worship you still be able to do that with freedom? There is so much, and their pain has not touched me until now. In fact, the magnitude of this situation is still not really touching me.

I saw that commodities prices were jumping and it made me wonder if Americans’ biggest complaint in this invasion is that we are having to pay more for gasoline. Our priorities can be so out of whack–and I’m including myself in that statement.

Father, my government is not my idol. The economy is not my idol. While those two statements are mostly true, I confess to you right now that they are not entirely true. I do put some of my faith in my bank account, our military’s ability to protect me, and my job to provide for me. I am sorry for that. Please move in Ukraine and Russia. Give leaders everywhere, including Putin and Biden…well, let me just ask that you would guide this whole situation to work out for your glory. Make this pain count. Protect your children. Use this to draw all of us closer to you. I know that many in western countries will use this as an excuse to become more partisan. I don’t know if even you can stop that from happening, but my prayer is that, ultimately, this will all work out so that you will will be done and your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

Wintering

Book Club Announcement: Wintering by Katherine May

Dear God, I was reading the introduction to this book club for a book called Wintering, and some of the words really resonated with me. I think this one paragraph sums it up:

In Wintering, May opens the door to winter, settles in, then watches it pass. She lets it teach her, and us, how to winter. May uses the word “wintering” as a metaphor, applying the meteorological season to a season of life. It’s not necessarily the hardest season, not the one that pushes us beyond our limits, although that can usher in a wintering. It’s the one in which we lie “fallow.” No more to do. Wait for spring.

That’s really quite something. I’ve never thought of lying fallow as an appropriate response to a season of life. All seasons are to be addressed, aren’t they? They are to be approached with deliberate intention and action. Even if there is nothing that can be done about one thing, I need to make sure I am being constructive in another area. Vacations might be for lying fallow, but the rest of life should be worked.

So what might be happening to me in a season of life where I lie fallow? What does that look like? I mean, I know I still need to do my job and provide for myself. I can’t just let myself go into a depressed state of wallowing. I know enough about myself to realize I would ultimately just lie in self pity and make matters only worse. So I cannot totally shut down. But should there be intentional seasons of restoring my soul? A chance for my body and life to rest from producing lots of fruit so that it might gather its strength for a productive spring? This is interesting. I might just have to join this book club and read this book.

Father, speak to me. Holy Spirit, speak to me. Jesus, speak to me. It’s interesting that there is this one part in my life that seems to be completely dormant and there is absolutely nothing I can do to revive it. I’ve had to let it lie and pray that you are helping it to regenerate in the silence. Are there other areas of my life that perhaps need this as well? There is a writing project I was really interested in a year ago, and I made some exciting progress on it, but now it has gone dormant. Should I let it stay that way for a time? How will I know when spring is here and it is time to pick it up again? Or was it only important for a time and not what I thought it would be for me? I don’t know. Holy Spirit, be my counselor. Guide me. Give me ears to hear.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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