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Category Archives: Musings and Stories

“A Fine Christian Gentleman” by John H. Willome

“A Fine Christian Gentleman”

A Eulogy for John G. Willome, Jr. by his son (my father), John H. Willome

Mom used to say that her main desire in life was that her three sons grow up to be fine Christian gentlemen—like their dad. We heard that a lot, didn’t we, Tom and Mike? She seemed to say this when I had accomplished something that I was really impressed with. I often bristled when I heard her make this remark because I thought that whatever I had accomplished, in terms of my definition of success—position, power, money or prestige—was being discounted. Mom just held a longer view.

Both of my parents are gone now, and we are here celebrating Dad’s life. As I think about him, these are some attributes of my dad’s character that readily come to mind.

He was a devoted husband and loved our mother dearly. He knew how to treat a lady. He opened Mom’s door and always treated her with respect. Raising three sons wasn’t always easy, and he backed her up in dealing with us, always making sure that they had a unified front. He wouldn’t put up with our talking back to her for a minute. He shared in household chores with Mom—washing dishes, taking out the trash—and expected us to do the same.

He had a high respect for others and was always considerate. He didn’t gossip or talk about people behind their backs.

He smiled easily and had a hilarious laugh.

He was a humble man and totally unpretentious. With Dad, I never had to wonder about an ulterior motive. He was always up front.

He could keep a confidence. His clients trusted him with knowledge of their financial affairs: a trust he earned and treasured.

He had a deep and abiding faith in his Lord, Jesus Christ, and did everything he could to nurture the faith of his family.

He was absolutely dependable. You could take him at his word. I never knew him to tell even a white lie or not fulfill a commitment he made.

He taught us by his example that it was our responsibility to give back—to our church and our community—of our time and money.

He considered raising his sons and instilling character and values in us as one of his greatest responsibilities. He encouraged our involvement in church activities, scouting, music, sports, and the arts. He came alongside us to help us develop and take advantage of opportunities, even when he didn’t understand a particular interest we had. He sacrificed to make sure that all three of us had a college education—a benefit that he didn’t have—to prepare us for professional careers. He blessed us, affirmed us, and let us know how proud he was as we each pursued our individual uniqueness. He loved our wives and cherished the time he spent with his grandchildren.

I’ve learned that the real measure of a man is to watch how he suffers. Dad suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for over seven years. After Mom passed away, he gave up his freedom and moved to Texas. He did this to ease the burden on us. He never whimpered or complained about the pain and indignity that beset him as this insidious disease raged his mind and body. The one thing the disease count’ touch was his unshakeable character. At the end of his life, living in a place that sometimes seemed like a “coo-coo’s nest,” he never gave up his dignity. As I watched him suffer, I saw in him the incarnation of Jesus. My dad suffered like a gentleman.

As I reflect on my Dad’s life, I realize that Mom was right. Dad was a fine Christian gentleman, and saying that is the highest tribute that I could ever pay him.

He is my hero and I love him deeply.

Dear God, my dad ran across the text of his eulogy for his father recently and emailed it to me yesterday. I read it this morning, and it brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather wasn’t perfect. No one is. And he would have been the first to tell you he wasn’t perfect. He knew he needed Jesus’s blood and your forgiveness. But all of that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a fine Christian gentleman.

Of all of the people in history, if I could have a few hours over dinner with anyone it would be my grandfather. I’d talk to him about all sorts of things I want to know. I want to know more about him growing up and his mother dying when he was a late teen. I’d like to know about his dad remarrying and having another set of children about the age of his own children. About his dad’s alcoholism and his response to that. About his marriage. About raising his boys. About how he responded to them as adults. What it looked like from thousands of miles away when my own parents had marital problems. How he sees it all now from a heavenly perspective. How he sees my life: my successes and my failures. My struggles with my children and different familial relationships. I would love to get some counsel from him. He would have a different perspective on everyone I know than I do. From his wife (my grandmother) to my parents, to my aunts and uncles, to my siblings and cousins.

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 22 and just married. Frankly, even if it had happened three years later I probably still would have missed the window. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve longed for a conversation with him. My dad described him well, but there is something he left out. He was a man of few words. He was quiet. But I think we secretly have a lot in common. He apparently liked sports like I do, but he had to be a little more quiet about it because my grandmother didn’t give him as much latitude in that area as my wife does. I still remember going to a Spurs basketball game with him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had moved to Texas. The other team was shooting free throws and he actually heckled the free throw shooter! I was shocked. “Boooooo!” he yelled. It was awesome. I don’t think I had ever been more impressed with him.

Father, I don’t know that I have anything deep and meaningful to say except that I am grateful for this kind of legacy. I’m grateful for what was passed down to my dad, and what has been passed down to me. I don’t know to what extent I have passed this to my children. I really don’t. But I know I didn’t hold anything back from them. They got my absolute best effort, starting with worshipping you as best I knew how at any given moment. Like my grandfather, I am certainly not perfect. I need Jesus my savior. I need your grace. I need your love. I need you.

I pray all of this in Jesus’s name,

Amen

 
 

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MLK

Dear God, it’s the day we observe the birth and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, it is January 16. The actual day was yesterday, in 1929. Ninety-four years ago. Conceivably, he could still be alive today but for what happened 55 years ago this year on April 4.

I run a nonprofit that serves low-income people. I’ve sometimes been asked why our nonprofit observes MLK and not President’s Day. It’s a good question. I haven’t had a good answer for it, but I actually took some time to think about it this morning, and I think this picture exemplifies why I put honoring him on a different level than honoring presidents. He was willing to purposefully put himself in danger and jeopardy for the sake of others. While the men who have been president have often sacrificed to get the office, they were doing it as much for themselves as they were for the country. But my perception is that MLK was willing to use his political capital and spend it on others. He risked things that I don’t believe more than a few presidents risked. He could have stayed at home, written books, and make great speeches. Instead, he went to Birmingham, got arrested for trying to stand up for others and then, when eight white pastors wrote public statement while he was in jail, rebuking him and his followers, he wrote one of the most eloquent pieces of literature I’ve ever read (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).

So here I am. I have political capital in my small community. How do I use it? Do I make myself uncomfortable for others? Do I use it for them, or do I use it for me? I was asked to spend some of my capital this weekend for something that I didn’t think was a wise use of it (and it didn’t fit into this sort of category so I have no regrets). That was an easy no. But are there other things that your Holy Spirit puts on my heart that I decline? Do I really care about others, or do I just care so long as it’s not too inconvenient for me?

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, please guide me. Speak to me. Give me ears to hear. Give me eyes to see. I know MLK wasn’t perfect. I know he had weakness and sin in his life. I do too. I also know that he seemed to really love you. He seemed to not only be able to hear your Holy Spirit directing him, but also willing to respond and obey. I hate to pray this because I am afraid of what it would mean for me, but give me that ability and willingness too.

Amen

 
 

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Encouragements and Affirmations

Dear God, I was talking with a friend recently about a vision they had of a visitation by you. They actually saw you walk into a room. It was actually Jesus and his mother Mary. Jesus was watching my friend working on a project like a proud parent–just delighted in the performance regardless of how “good” it was–while Mary only had eyes for Jesus, her God and her son. It told the person to not miss the moment of your encouragement and affirmation for them. Too often we miss the moments when you show up to affirm what we are doing. I wanted to make sure my friend didn’t miss you, your love, and your affirmation.

Of course, I’ve talked about different times you found biblical characters and affirmed them. Hagar after she ran away and then Hagar after Abraham sent her away to die with Ishmael. Jacob and his angel visitation. Naomi, at least for a while, missed what you had given her in Ruth. Mary and the shepherds, Simeon and Anna after Jesus’s birth, not to mention the wise men and their affirmation. Peter and the Holy Spirit’s anointing at Pentecost.

You’ve given me affirmations too. Just little encouragements at just the right time. Little things to help me see that I am on the right track. I will always remember the email I received about 20 months ago that encouraged me and has sustained me through the last very difficult 19 months. I recently found myself right in the middle of your plan regarding something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t reluctantly taken a step of obedience in what I was feeling nudged by you to do.

You have also raised up friends, both old and new, to encourage me. We had dinner with another couple last night, and knowing them has been such an encouragement. We’ve met two other couples this week experiencing the same kind of pain my wife and I are experiencing as a couple. While it doesn’t lessen the pain, it gives all of us extra shoulders upon which to carry it.

Father, we are about to start 2023. I don’t know what it will hold. I don’t know what or if I will be typing to you 365 days from now. But I don’t need to know. I just want to love you, worship you, and learn how to love you better so I will be the best possibly worshipper of you when I arrive in heaven one day. So let your kingdom come and your will be done in this world, and use my life however you need to in accomplishing that. Give me this day my daily bread. Forgive me of my many sins, and show me how I need to forgive others–for their sake and for mine. Lead me away from temptations. Deliver me from the plans Satan has laid out for me. And you know my prayers and hopes for those I love. My family. My friends. My fellow citizens of this world. Move, Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. I pray all of this submitted to your authority over my life and this world.

Amen

 
 

It’s A Wonderful Life – Jesus Edition

Dear God, as I’ve seen a few “reaction videos” on YouTube recently with people watching It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed for the first time. It’s been fun to see it through their eyes. Each life touches so many others, but did a life ever touch more than Jesus’s life. His birth, life, death, and resurrection have touched billions and billions.

So what would the world be like today if Jesus had never been born? What would it be like if Judaism was limited to your select and the rest of us were just left to wander without knowing you? Frankly, there is zero chance I could even come close to guessing the answer to this question, but I can say that any time my head starts to entertain the possibilities it gets overwhelming and tragic. Emptiness is the word that comes to mind. Just flat out emptiness. What would my life be about? Why would I be taking up air and natural resources? American life would only be about the pursuit of happiness, at any cost.

Not only did Jesus give us this relationship with you, but he taught us so much while he was here. What would we have done over the last 2,000 years without that teaching? Love our enemies. Turn the other cheek. Lust = Adultery. Hate = Murder. He who is without sin cast the first stone. For God so loved the world… These were all things found nowhere else before the Gospels.

To be sure, people have use Jesus as an excuse for hate and oppression as well. They’ve used him as an excuse for war and genocide. There’s the phrase “lies, [darn] lies and statistics.” The same is true for Jesus’s teachings. I can pretty much manipulate them to say anything I want and confirm my own biases and agendas. It takes humble introspection to really evaluate and apply what Jesus taught in an authentic way and sometimes I fail at that.

Father, it is truly a wonderful life because you came into this world as Jesus. You left us your Holy Spirit after he ascended. You are the God who is near. You are the God who sees. You are the God who cares. You are the God who knows. You are the God who loves. You are amazing God. I simply don’t know what to say but thank you. Thank you, God, for what you’ve done and exactly how you’ve done it. I trust you that you are doing everything the way it needs to be done for your best for us even if I don’t understand it in the moment.

I pray all of this in your name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

 
 

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“Rick Warren on the Year We Had” — Relevant Magazine

“Rick Warren on the Year we Had” Relevant Magazine

Dear God, it’s been almost two years since I started this prayer to you (January 2021). It’s been sitting here looking at me every time I see the “drafts” for my blog. When I first read this interview with Rick Warren I was struck by how much of you and your Holy Spirit there seemed to be in the article. Now, this morning as I sit and get ready to start this Saturday I felt compelled to revisit this interview and see what you might have to say to me through it two years later.

First, I guess it’s important to flash back to December 2020 (when the interview was published–so it was probably conducted in November) and try to remember where we were as a society. Some of the topics addressed in the interview were:

  • COVID restrictions and their impact on the church and society
  • George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement
  • High unemployment and a faltering stock market
  • For some there was isolation, educating children at home, etc.
  • We had been through shortages at the grocery store, but that was kind of over
  • The phrases “supply chain struggles,” “PPE,” “abundance of caution,” and others entered our vernacular
  • We were in the midst of determining who would be the next President of the United States after the November election

The first question they asked Pastor Warren was, “Why do you think COVID has been such a contentious issue for the Church in the U.S.?” The first part of his response kind of says it all: “COVID revealed a fundamental weakness in the Church. Most churches only have one purpose: worship. And if you take worship away, you’ve got nothing. They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.” He then went on to describe how his church responded.

I like his overall analysis. If you consider that the vast majority of Christians ONLY experience you on Sunday mornings then it makes sense that they didn’t want to give that up. For those who don’t spend regular time in contemplative prayer and scripture, missing their one touch point with you during the week was a big deal. In fact, now that I think about it, I might modify Pastor Warren’s answer to say, “COVID revealed a fundamental weakness in Christians. Most Christians only touch God on Sunday morning in worship. And if you take that away, they’ve got nothing. They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.” It reminds me of the parable of the sower and the four types of soil. Most Christians are supposed to be battling the thorns of the pursuit of wealth and cares of this world. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do right now by sitting down and praying to you.

The thing presented to Pastor Warren was, “But a lot of churches are nervous about the religious freedom aspect. They don’t want to wear masks. They don’t want to meet outdoors. They’re worried about religious discrimination.” Pastor Warren’s answer was pretty simple, and I agree: “They might have a discrimination case if theaters weren’t closed, football games weren’t closed, concerts weren’t [canceled]. But they are. We’re not being discriminated against. This is a safety issue. Regal Cinemas closed down 650 theaters. Disney laid off 28,000 people. We’re not being discriminated against.”

I think American Christians has no idea what discrimination looks like. I happen to be a tall, white male. I am so “majority” I am practically a minority. But I have a lot of friends and coworkers who are minorities and they tell me about how they are treated differently at the grocery store, at school, etc. I think about Christians being offended at some of the racial injustice issues and wonder if for a day we had to walk around with a “C” on our shirts identifying us as Christians and if we experienced the different treatment how much more would we be protesting. There were many Christians angry at the protests of police over racial injustice, but when the justice department and FBI treated one person in a way they deemed unfair they were ready to “defund” it. We simply have no idea what it looks like to be persecuted. In fact, we probably accidentally persecute others a lot more than we realize, and that includes me. I am not innocent, I’m sure.

Speaking of political unrest, the next question was, “We’re in an unprecedented era of political division; what’s that been like for you? Obviously many Christians are and have always been concerned about pro-life issues.” After commenting on people only caring about Black people if they are in the womb and not after they are born, he dove more to the point: “Christians today lack biblical discernment. They’re making decisions based on political values rather than biblical values. This is a real problem. The whole election, regardless who you voted for, revealed that most Christians don’t have a biblical worldview. They don’t vote from a biblical worldview. They vote from a political worldview. Their identity comes primarily from politics. It’s partisan.”

This reminds me of something I heard a couple of months ago when someone said that the church has made negotiable things (healthcare, environment, COVID response, etc.) non-negotiable, and we have made the non-negotiable (the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, etc.) negotiable. We’ve told our politicians to not negotiate on things that should be negotiable, and we have loosed them to do it through whatever means necessary (things that should be non-negotiable).

They asked him about hosting McCain and Obama for a Civil Forum at the church in 2008. “Do you think we’ll ever be able to get back to that level of civil, political discourse?” He replied, “It’s only going to happen when there’s a revival in our hearts…People don’t come back to God in good times. Go read Judges. Go read the whole history of when things are bad, then we come back to God. Every other time in history that America has had a disaster, we have banded together. If it’s a fire, if it’s a flood, if it’s a terrorist attack.”

Yeah, I had hoped COVID might draw us together, but I don’t think social media will allow that to happen anymore. I can’t help but wonder what 9/11 would have been like if Twitter, Facebook, etc. had been a large part of the equation. I honestly don’t know what it would take to draw us together now outside of a really, really huge disaster. But honestly, that’s not where my hope is. He mentions that the historical time when the church grew fastest was in its first 300 years–when it experienced the most persecution. Maybe all of us, including me, need to be broken all the way down to really know you. But I will add this quote from Pastor Warren, which is really good: “Christians, our job is to run into the pain. [speaking of first- and third-century plagues and people fleeing the cities] Christians moved into the city, moved into the urban areas to care for the sick and dying. In those pandemics, and in showing our hospitality, we invented this thing called the hospital. The Church invented the hospital during a pandemic. Government didn’t invent the hospital. Business didn’t invent the hospital. The Church invented the hospital, showing hospitality to people who were dying and caring for the sick.” Amen. I hope I could live up to that legacy.

The final question was about racial injustice: “The Church has struggled intensely with this year’s reckoning of racial injustice in America. Looking at our response, it hasn’t been pretty. How can Christians improve our response?” His response was long but really good and enlightening to me:

Of our 20 Saddleback campuses, most of those pastors aren’t white guys. They’re Hispanic, Asian, Black. They are Middle Eastern. But when I saw this happening, and the brutalization and racism coming back to the forefront, I thought, “OK, it’s not enough to simply be a multicultural church. We’ve been a multicultural church for 20 years. We have to be an anti-racist church.”

We have to be a pro-reconciliation, pro-justice church. I invited my Black staff to spend time with me. We did a Zoom call and I said, “Guys, I need you to just level with me. I don’t want to hear about when you experienced prejudice and rejection as a kid. I want to hear about how you’ve heard and felt it at Saddleback.”

It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting. It was brutal. It was painful. It was beautiful. It was healing. We all cried together. We did seven staff meetings, over two hours each. They shared their stories, and then I let the staff respond. There was weeping, and there was repentance.

I had a call with all the Black members of Saddleback. People said, “Rick, I love my church, I love you. But many times, I just feel like my church doesn’t understand. I’m the only Black woman in a small group of white women. Not one person has asked me: ‘How do you feel about these shootings?’ I have a son who’s about Ahmaud Aubrey’s age and it scares me.”

I’ve been pulled over like everybody else has. It always raises your fear level. But I’ve never been afraid somebody was going to throw me on the ground. I’ve never been afraid that somebody’s going to pull a gun on me me driving while white.

Our daughter used to date a man who was not White. We liked him and were supportive of the relationship, but we warned her that she needed to be prepared to experience racism in a way she never had before, both for herself and if they had children one day. I have a relative who has White children from his first marriage, but now his second marriage is to a lovely Black woman and they have two children together. I am sure he has experienced this issue in a whole new way. We as a majority can be so blind. I would have told you that there were no racial tensions in my high school which was probably about 60% White and 40% Hispanic with almost no “Other.” From my perspective, everyone got along great. But it’s interesting now to go to the reunions 35 years later and see that almost all of the attendees are White. Was there something I missed in the experience my Hispanic classmates had in school? Is there a reason they don’t want to come?

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, use all of this to remind me that 1.) the most important thing is to keep the soil of my heart tilled and my branch attached to your vine, and 2.) I still have so much to learn. Give me eyes to see. Give me ears to hear. Give me an open heart and no defensiveness.

I pray all of this by the name of the Triune God,

Amen

 
 

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“How Would Jesus Fight the Culture War?” Mike Erre

Dear God, I listened to this interview a week ago on The Holy Post podcast. I was driving while it played so there were some things I wanted to go back to and spend some time with. It was with Mike Erre, who is a pastor at Journey Church in Nashville and has a podcast called The Voxology. I’ve been wanting to sit down with it and take notes, so I thought I would use my extra “fall back” hour this morning to do just that. So as I turn on the podcast here in a second, Holy Spirit, please speak to me. Show me what is on your heart for me as you make me consider my role in your world. [Note: if you go to the podcast, the interview starts at the 50-minute mark].

Here are my notes on the interview:

Should Christians engage in the Culture War?

Cancel culture is something your side always does and my side never does.

Phil Vischer question to Mike: How do you define culture wars? Answer: I don’t define culture war but ask the question, “What is the role of the church in the world?” The answer to that question answers the first question. Is the role of the church to transform society or is it to be transformed into the image of Jesus? The answer to that first question is clearly the latter.

Paul said, “Who am I to judge those outside the church? I judge those inside.”

There are 59 statements Paul makes that says the role of the church is to be transformed in community rather than be the agent of change for everyone else.

Rule & subdue command in Genesis is actually serving words (not standing over) to bring out the earth’s potential in ways that honor God and serving all.

We are ambassadors of a sovereignty that is greater than ours. We are property managers, not owners.

Making disciples of the nations is different than making nations disciples. (This one really struck me the other day)

There is something marvelous and fulfilling about following Jesus, and it is the best way to be human. I would highly recommend it.

Jesus invited people to be Christian, it wasn’t through guilt, shame, coercion or manipulation. It was simply love, service, and invitation. Loving the sinner before the sinner repents. The other is in direct contradiction to the way of Jesus.

We’ve gotten in our heads that the agenda of Jesus is more important than manifesting Jesus’s Spirit. We cease acting Christian in order to accomplish Christian goals. The way Jesus acts is manifested in his crucifixion.

Vischer (somewhat sarcastically): No, it’s manifested through flipping over tables and getting mad at Pharisees. Erre: Notice that he’s cleaning his own house, not the house of the Romans. He only engaged superficially with Herod and Pilate.

When the church looks out at the word from a posture of fear, anger, and threat we’ve ceased seeing the world the way the New Testament invites us to. Even in Revelation, the army of God is an army of martyrs. Even in Revelation, Jesus conquers by the sacrifice of himself and the manifestation that he is King of kings and Lord of lords.

The role of the church is to be transformed into the image of Jesus, thereby providing a counterculture of life in a culture that manifests the worship of death.

Vischer: Was William Wilberforce culture warring? Erre: It’s possible to be politically engaged in a way that is “cruciform” and Christ-like.

The kingdom of God does not operate on the “conservative-progressive” spectrum that the discussions come out of. The kingdom of God calls the entire spectrum into question.

Vischer: What is your posture toward people who are propagating evil against their fellow image-bearers? Erre: They are to be called out. They are to be resisted. They are to be loved, served, prayed for, and blessed. But we are to provide a counter community to demonstrate Jesus’s way. Jesus created an alternative and didn’t just critique.

People don’t come to church to have their assumptions challenged by the Bible. They come to have their assumptions affirmed. Good teaching should show that the discipleship we receive from culture, media, friends, etc., isn’t as beautiful as what the Gospel offers as an alternative. Church needs to be a place where we are working to embody the alternative.

The culture war we should be fighting is the culture of the church. That’s what Jesus was fighting.

There is real evil and injustice in the world that is to be resisted. There are reasons to be politically involved. But the available postures for us to take are defined by the actions of Jesus himself. Vischer (sarcastically): But what if that’s not as effective as showing up at a school board meeting and yelling and flamethrowing and doesn’t save my child from “drag queen story hour” at the library? Erre: I just want to say, read the New Testament. The invitation is to be faithful, not effective. Nowhere is the church called to do great things for God, and nowhere are people called to do great things for God. God does great things for God. We are blessed if He invites us into those great things. Apostle Paul: “Make it your ambition to be at peace with everyone, live a quiet life, and work with your hands.” We ignore the direct teachings of Jesus in order to remind ourselves of our importance. Jesus invites us into ruthless self-examination and repentance. When you do that well there isn’t much room for trying to control someone else.

When I approach the New Testament, I don’t approach it with anyone else in mind but me. It’s about my repentance and transformation.

People try to help the church thrive and unify by creating common enemies and fears. Group cohesion needs a struggle. But that cohesion limits our effectiveness in the world. It’s a violation of anything Jesus-like.

There is no biblical case for this tweet from a Christian nationalist author: “Yes, we are Christian nationalists. Yes, we are taking over the Republican party and the country. Yes, we are indoctrinating the next generation to follow in our footsteps. All for the glory of God. We can’t be stopped. Enjoy the show.” Jesus would critique that way of seeing the world as something anti-Christ. There is nothing more blasphemous or damaging in our world than that kind of thinking.

Vischer: Our children are in danger. People are coming for our children. I need to defend my kids. When do I abandon the way of Jesus for the sake of others? Erre: I live by three principles [I really like this when I heard it the first time. It’s what made me want to listen to this again and take notes]. 1.) Unless it acts like Jesus, it’s not Christian. 2.) It’s more important to be faithful than effective. 3.) There is nothing so urgent that I have to get off of my cross to make sure it happens.

Evangelism used to be pitched this way: Souls are at stake. If you don’t tell them, no one is going to, and they are going to burn in hell. That justified all kinds of Christian behavior around manipulation, guilt, etc.

What the New Testament seems to advocate is this joyful, gracious nonconformity that is willing to be persecuted, but does not have a martyrs complex. That simply rests in the fact that God is good and that I’m under not pressure to bring about the righteous ends for everybody else other than for me. For example, if there were a law made that children with Down’s Syndrome must be aborted, then I would agitate against that, but my agitation would be constricted by the way of Christ. If I think I have to disobey the command of Jesus to love my enemies in order to accomplish what I think the agenda of Jesus is then I have missed the agenda of Jesus altogether.

Vischer: What is your definition of culture war? Erre: It is a way of seeing the role of the church in the world that sees the gospel as under threat and any power over is legitimatized to keep the gospel safe, and given it’s rightful place in culture.

Vischer: How do you define the way of Jesus? Erre: The self-giving enemy love that does not use (Phil 2) rights and privileges to be exploited for more, but rather uses rights and privileges to be poured out for the sake of others. That’s cruciformity.

Father, please make me more and more in your image today.

I pray this through Jesus’s name,

Amen

 
 

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The God Hole

[In the story “The Rocking-Horse Winner,”] author D.H. Lawrence describes a home where the young family is haunted by the unspoken phrase, “There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud.” The balance of the story is the sad account of how the young son, by rocking madly on his toy horse, discovers a way to predict the winners of horse races. Tragically, he eventually rocks himself to death because the voices never stop. There is never enough money.

Fred Smith, “The Overexamined Life”

Dear God, I read this piece from Fred Smith’s weekly blog this morning and pulled this paragraph from it. It made me think of a few things, so I thought I would pray about it.

The overall point of Smith’s blog post was about how he has noticed some people replacing the pursuit of money with a life of service, but even that seems like it’s never enough. People end up on the same treadmill the rocking-horse winner was on. Always trying to fill a hole in their lives. Always trying to fill what was described to me as a child as the “God hole.”

The God hole, as I understand it, is that shape in our heart that only you can fill. Anything else we try to put there will fall right through and never land. And I don’t fill that hole with you by simply believing in your, praying a prayer of repentance, and then moving on my way. No, I fill that hole with you by applying two of Jesus’s parables at the same time:

15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5

If I do not attaching the branch of my life to you and then give you the opportunity to prune me then I won’t produce fruit. It’s that simple. I attach my branch to your vine through prayer, scripture study and contemplation, worship, and Christian community–not necessarily in that order.

The next parable is as important:

18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Matthew 13:18-23

My biggest threat is verse 22: the seed that ell among the thorns. What am I doing to weed the soil of my life? What I am doing to give good soil to the Holy Spirit to work on my branch? Am I removing the “worries of this life and the lure of wealth?

I guess there’s one final thing that I think is the cherry on top of all of this. It’s what Paul says in Acts 20:24 when he is on his way to Jerusalem where he has a pretty good idea he will be arrested. People are warning him to not go and he replies, “I consider my life worth nothing to me. If only I finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. At the end of the day, if I died today and you had only used my 52 years to touch one person then that’s all that matters. I can let go of my own ambitions for my life. Peace is found through just submitting to you today, being obedient when I hear you speak and then praying your blessing on the work you have called me to do.

Father, I give you all of this today. I don’t want anything for myself. I just want to rest in you and work by your direction, with your blessing, and for your glory so that your kingdom might come and your will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Good Morning, Holy Spirit

Dear God, I was meeting with local pastors last week, and one of them mentioned he has started trying to more intentionally acknowledging and engaging with the part of your essence that you sent to be with us after Jesus left, the Holy Spirit. How is it that this is the part of you that is with us now, filling your souls and hearts, and yet we seem to forget him? We talk to you. We talk to Jesus. We say that we are asking Jesus into our hearts. We say we are a dwelling place for Jesus. But is that scripturally accurate. Did the essence of you that is Jesus not return to you and send us the Holy Spirit? You know I’ve been thinking about this more as I pray. I’ve been including the Holy Spirit more in these prayers and I try to consciously shift my thinking towards this lesser-acknowledged part of the Trinity.

Holy Spirit, as you move through the earth today, I have some special requests. First, have free reign in me and work in my heart to make me the man you need me to be. Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Help me to repent where I am sinful. Help me to heal from my wounds and offer your healing to others.

Be with my wife today. Encourage her. Speak to her. Fill her. Love her. Use me in her life however you need to use me. Heal her wounds. Grant her the serenity to accept the things she cannot change, the courage to change the things she can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Give her whole relationships where they are broken.

For my friend separated from her husband, I pray that you would use this pain in their lives to draw each of them to you and build them up. Build them into your disciples. Reconcile them together. Use this. Use it as not only a healing opportunity in their own lives, but as an example to their children. They’ve recently hit a new low, but I pray that it might be a point of rebound for them. This is salvageable with humility, repentance, and hard work. Help them to do the hard work for your glory’s sake.

For my children. They are both finding their way through their lives. Holy Spirit, please be with them. Be with their significant others. Help them to feel your love. Help them to feel the freedom that comes with submission to you. Help them to know my wife and I love them. Use the path they are on for their good and your glory. Give them your presence, Holy Spirit, so they might exude your love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and self control.

For my friends who are mourning the loss of their spouses this week. For my friends and family who are ill–some gravely. For my friends who are living in scary situations. For my community that is hurting with anger and fear. Oh, Holy Spirit, move. Please move in all of these things. Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, please be God so that our community might be made whole under you. Give me wisdom in the special business meeting I have today. Help me to see each person in there with your eyes and to be more than an participant, but your ambassador.

I pray all of this through the right I have to be your child by the power of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection,

Amen

 
 

10 Observations by Adam Neder: #10. The Church was never intended to rule.

I was reading an article from the H.E.B. Foundation Magazine Echoes this morning, and I came across a description of a summer retreat led by Adam Neder. The retreat was titled “Faith in the Ruins.” A description of the retreat in the promotional material for it sums it up: “…as challenges multiply, as the church perfects the art of discrediting itself, as friends leave the faith, many Christians are feeling exhausted, disoriented, and discouraged. Some wonder how much longer they can stick with Christianity–or even if they want to.”

That’s where the 10 observations by Neder came in. I looked at them and thought I would do a series of prayer journals on the 10 observations the article mentioned Neder covered during the retreat.

#10. The Church was never intended to rule.

Dear God, this is an interesting one for me. I’m not sure to what extent I agree with it at first blush. I almost feel like I need to strip away my preconceived notions of government and political power and think about what you intended from the beginning.

I heard someone ask in the last year, “What is the form of government that the Bible endorses?” My first temptation is to say autocratic rule with a king because it is the most common. But when I think about 1 Samuel 8 and the Israelites angering you by asking for a king I have to reconsider. Before Abraham, there were just men and their families. Adam. Noah. Job. You didn’t have a nation. Even with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were just heads of families. Not much government there. It wasn’t until the Israelites came out of the Egyptian incubator in which you had them for several hundred years that they were a true nation in need of political structure to function. At the top of that structure you had Moses, but he wasn’t their king. There was nothing about him that was kingly. He was their judge. He was a leader, to be sure. But he was almost a high priest, judge, ruler combo. Then came Joshua who largely worked in the same manner. This pattern continued in a hit and miss, informal way up through Samuel. There was not a clear plan of succession from one judge to the next. Other than children working in the temple and as judges (I’m looking at you Eli and Samuel), I don’t really see a lineage passed down from generation to generation. It was a loose organization that didn’t seem too stable. But it pleased you a lot more than a kingdom of men did.

So where does that leave us now in the United States? It’s complicated. Belief in you was very predominant at the time so that, even though they wanted to have a non-religious government, you were so ubiquitous in people’s lives that belief in you couldn’t help but be woven into the fabric of the document. At the same time, there are those now who would say the document was divinely inspired–putting it, I suppose, on the same level as scripture. However, if it is divinely inspired then what do I do with the parts that are evil such as condoning slavery or the 3/5 Compromise? Why 17 amendments after the first 10 that were part of a compromise? No, it’s a good document and I believe you used it, flaws and all, to do your will through our country, but I don’t think I can consider it divinely inspired.

But going back to Neder’s observation, I think I’ll agree because the judge system was to lead others into worshipping you, but not mandate it. There’s a difference. I had a friend recently send me a news story about how self-professed Christians are shrinking as a percentage in American society. Down from 90% saying they believed in you in the 1990s to about 65% saying they believe in you now. The alarmist headline was that Christians will be the minority religion by 2045. I replied to the friend that if you count people who are actually discipling Christians, worshipping and building a regular relationship with you, and not just self-professed Christians then we are already the minority. I also asked how he thinks people reading it on Fox News will respond to the article. For those it will alarm, there are, I suppose two main responses: 1. The liberals are taking over and we need to get control of this and make people believe in God again or 2. We have been failing our society and we need to repent, pray about what we’ve done wrong and then move forward modeling ourselves after Jesus and his disciples. The first group would see the Church as being the intended ruler of society. The second sees the Church as needing to lead hurting people to you.

Father, I have to be better. I have to be better at leading people to you. Those close to me and those not. I am sorry. I am sorry I fail out of fear and apathy. I am sorry I fail because I simply don’t care sometimes. I don’t take the pain of others seriously enough. I don’t love like I should love. I don’t lead them to you like I should lead. I don’t worship you like I should worship. I don’t pray like I should pray. I am sorry. As I look at that news story, I definitely find myself in the second camp. Help me to live out what you are calling me to do and bless the work of my hands for the sake of your children and your glory.

I pray this through the power of everything Jesus is,

Amen

 

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10 Observations by Adam Neder: #9. Being a savvy consumer makes it harder to find a Church.

I was reading an article from the H.E.B. Foundation Magazine Echoes, and I came across a description of a summer retreat led by Adam Neder. The retreat was titled “Faith in the Ruins.” A description of the retreat in the promotional material for it sums it up: “…as challenges multiply, as the church perfects the art of discrediting itself, as friends leave the faith, many Christians are feeling exhausted, disoriented, and discouraged. Some wonder how much longer they can stick with Christianity–or even if they want to.”

That’s where the 10 observations by Neder came in. I looked at them and thought I would do a series of prayer journals on the 10 observations the article mentioned Neder covered during the retreat.

#9. Being a savvy consumer makes it harder to find a Church.

Dear God, I cannot tell if Neder is saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. Is he a proponent of being picky about your church or is he being critical? I’m not sure. So instead of basing what I say on what I think his opinion is, I want to just react to this statement on its own.

I’m going to take the position that this is a negative and we should not try to be a “savvy consumer” when it comes to church. In fact, I think one of the problems with the current church is that we see ourselves as the “consumer” or the “customer.” We think the pastor and staff are there to serve what we expect of them. In other words, I expect them to deliver the sermons, children’s programs, adult Sunday school, etc. that I like. But what if??? What if you intend for the church, in my life, to make me holy more than to make me happy? What if you designed it to be a place for me to offer myself as your living sacrifice? What if you have made it my job to love the pastor as I love myself? And the staff? What if my job on Sunday is to be concerned more with the people for whom you have me there than the people I think are there for me? Yes, there are times when I need to receive, but those times are far fewer than the times I need to give.

I heard a pastor yesterday tell a story about a disenchanted group of people in his church who sent their spokesperson to his office to confront him. There was a lot of judgment in their words to him. They had talked and gotten themselves into a frenzy and now they had taken it upon themselves to do what they perceived to be your bidding. The thing it seems they were missing was love. Compassion. Concern.

I was in a church about 12 years ago that went through a terrible split over a vocal minority who were not exhibiting your love. Well, it wasn’t as much of a split as the pastor, a gentle soul, got reassigned, sweet and good families found another place to worship because of the strife and fallout from the conflicts, and that group eventually ended up moving on anyway.

So back to selecting a church. What if I totally changed how I selected a church? What if I walked into a building and asked myself, “Does this place have needs that I can uniquely fill with what I bring to the body?” Instead of, “How do I like her or his preaching?” “Is the Sunday school good?” “Do they have a good enough youth group and/or children’s program?” “Are they serving the community enough?” What if I simply asked, “Can this place use me?” And not in a spirit of me coming in and “fixing” the church, but me coming alongside and loving others through my service. Maybe a church isn’t that hard to find when I have a different attitude towards my selection criteria.

Father, Holy Spirit, help me to be an encouragement to my friends who are pastors. Help me to be a servant at the church where you have planted me. Help me to be a source of love. Help me to be a channel of your grace. Use me. And help me to do it by exuding you–by exuding your Holy Spirit. By exuding love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, and self control (I might have missed one or two there, but you know what I mean). In short, love the world through my life, and let the flame of your love spread to others, starting with me.

I pray this through the gift of Jesus being my Lord,

Amen

 

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