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Emails to God – Confronting Heresy (John 1:14-18)

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Dear God, why am I afraid to answer the door to a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon? Why am I nervous about defending my theology to them when theirs is so obviously flawed? I talk about wanting to be a better evangelist, but I won’t even speak out when a heretic comes to my door. What’s up with that?

I was driving to my house the other day when I thought I spotted some Jehovah’s Witnesses about a block from my house. My first set of thoughts were, Get to the house, close the garage, close the blinds, and don’t answer the door. Pretend like I’m not home. But my next thoughts focused around the conversations I have had with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons in the past and the apologetics I have gotten into regarding defending Christianity against their heresy. Could I remember them? Should I meet the challenge at my door?

As it turned out, they never came, but I know that, if they had knocked on my door, I would not have opened it. I would have remained silent until they went away. Is that really the example I want to set for my children? Is that really what you are calling me to? Do you not want them to know the truth, and would you not want to use me to deliver it to them when given the chance?

Father, there are times when I feel so pathetic in this area. There are things about my personality that are great, and there are things that I cannot stand. This area falls into the latter. Please remind me of this moment. As I read this passage and the truth about who Jesus was, is, and is to come, help me to find my confidence and faith in it, and help me to be at peace in the knowledge that, at your core, you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one God, and I am your servant.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in John

 

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Emails to God – Counting myself as a shepherd (Luke 2:8-20)

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Dear God, this was the passage on which the pastor preached on Sunday. The story of the shepherds has touched me over the last few years. There are a few things I realize now that I didn’t realize before:

  1. It is possible that the shepherds either knew or knew of Joseph and Mary. Verse 6 says, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” While they were there. We always get this image of Mary and Joseph coming into town and Mary instantly going into labor. But that isn’t the case. And these are not people who could have afforded to stay in a motel every night. They were likely camping outside of town. They might have met the shepherds. They might have been familiar with the stable where she gave birth, and thought of it at the last minute as an option. In fact, I wonder just how many children were born in similar situations during those days.
  2. The shepherds “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” They didn’t just show up, meet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and then leave. They couldn’t contain their excitement over what was going on. They were pumped and they went out to “spread the word.”

The pastor made the point, which I think is a good one, that we are the shepherds in this story. The Holy Spirit has taught us about Jesus (through others and/or directly into our own souls), and we have embraced Him as our God. Now, what will we do? Will we just enjoy the view and leave, or will we “spread the word” concerning what we have learned about this Jesus, our God?

Father, I am not much of an evangelist. Part of it is apathy. Part of it is fear. Part of it is being shy. But I know that you have put people in my life over whom I have influence. They include  coworkers, volunteers, patients, friends, and family members. Help me to share your news with them. Help me to live out your power and grace in my life and to spread the word to them about what your power and grace can do for them. Help me to embrace the role of a shepherd so that others might be “amazed at what [I] said to them.”

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Luke

 

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Emails to God – ‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth

“O Holy Night”

Dear God, I was driving in my truck last week when the song “O Holy Night” came on the radio. I was singing along shamelessly loud (thank goodness I was alone in the car) when I came across the lyrics in the middle of the first verse. I have sung this song thousands of times in my life, but these words floored me: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” What unbelievably beautiful and communicative poetry that is.

I love the imagery because, apart from you, a soul has no clue what its worth is. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to wake up this morning and not know you. How would I feel? Where would my sense of hope and peace come from? Where would my sense of worth come from?

Father, thank you for the reminder of something that I tend to take for granted–that your presence in my life enables me to know my worth in the universe. I am not lost. I did not find my way. I was found by you. Now I pray that you help me, as a husband and a father, to help me foster an environment in my home where my wife and children will know their worth in you.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Hymns and Songs

 

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Emails to God – Free Will Submission (John 1:9-13)

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Dear God, the decision to submit our will to you is, for some, the easiest thing to do, and, for others, the most impossible thing to do. One of the themes that keeps coming up in my life over and over again is the sense of a respect for authority. I would like to think that it all has to do with parenting, but I don’t think that is necessarily true. I have known people whom I considered to be excellent parents who had troubled, rebellious children, and I have known people who I thought to be terrible parents who have excellent, accomplished, self-disciplined children. That said, however, I do think that parenting plays a large role. If I were to put percentages to it, I would say that 80% of it is parenting, and the other 20% is just the child/adult exercising their free will.

I talked with a friend this week who has a grown son in his 40’s still living with her. She was expressing frustrations with the son’s behavior now, and how she wishes she had done things differently when he was a teenager. My advice to her was to go home, and do now what you wish you had done then because she is continuing to do the things now that she regrets doing then.

I mention all of this because of verses 11 and 12. Verse 11 talks about those who rejected Jesus, and verse 12 talks about those who received him. Those who rejected him were unwilling to yield to his authority, but those who accepted him willingly accepted the notion of being your child.

Father, for the 80% or so influence that you have given my wife and me over our children, please help us to parent them and nurture them in a way that they might be willing to fully submit themselves to you and be your child. Help them to find your peace. Help them to find your love. Raise up other voices in their lives that you will use to influence them. Draw them into yourself and give them a sense of your grace, love, acceptance, and power. Make it something for which they hunger.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in John

 

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Emails to God – Testifying to the Light? (John 1:6-8)

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Dear God, what does it mean to give witness to the light? I had someone yesterday ask me a good question: “What are your thoughts on the Great Commission and its meaning for your life?” Hmm. Once upon a time I would have said that I think it is important—that people need to understand the light that is in you, submit to it, and embrace it.

Now, however, I find myself a little more worn down by the gray areas in life. I can’t tell if I am just getting to know you better and understanding a deeper sense of what the Great Commission means, or if my zeal and fervor has been watered down and I have opted for an easier way out. I do know that spending money on foreign missionaries, or even local missionaries, for them to do this as their living seems more and more odd each year. I almost used the word absurd, but it doesn’t seem absurd—just odd. The young man I was visiting with yesterday who asked the question has a degree in computer science, but is choosing instead to be a part of a church that will have him raise his own support and meet with people on campus. I cannot imagine a day that my “work” included meeting with two or three people individually, leading a small group once or twice a week, and then organizing a mission trip every once in a while—all the while making about $48K per year (or about $23 per hour at a 40-hour per week job).

So, back to my initial question—what does it mean to give witness to the light? I suppose for me, right now, it means that I need to be a part of reflecting your presence to those around me. I don’t seem to be doing that much in the way of proselytizing, but I know that those who come into contact with me can see you in me. At least I hope they do.

Father, help me to simply know what to do as your servant minute-by-minute today. Help me to live fully aware of you and the light about which I am to testify. Help me to represent you well, and for others to give you glory through their interactions with me. Help me to decrease as you increase, and use me in whatever way you will regardless of what it means to me.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in John

 

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Emails to God – “The Darkness Has Not Overcome It” (John 1:1-5)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Dear God, sometimes I need to just reboot and go back to the beginning. In this case, it has been months since I have had a specific book of the Bible to work through, and I find it easier to discipline myself to spend time in scripture if I have a specific place to go. So I’ve decided to revisit John’s Gospel, and see what you might have for me. I still remember some of the things that came to my mind the first time I journaled through this book, so please help me to block that out as much as you would like to block that out so that I can look at all of this in a fresh way.

I suppose verse five is what strikes me today: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Sometimes, it really seems like the darkness has overcome your light, or at least is in the process of overcoming it. But I think the reason I think or perceive that is because I cannot see the forest for the trees. I tend to look at the world from my small perspective, but you look at it as being over centuries and millennia. You can see how you have continue to be light to darkness. You can see how your light has pushed back the darkness and given hope to those who are righteous. The world is so much bigger than my little life and the problems that I face in it. Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not (and will not) overcome it.

Father, help me to do my part in shining your light. Help me to shine it, first, in my home. Help me to shine it for my wife and my children. Help me to shine it at work. Help me to shine it for our staff, volunteers, and clients. Help me to shine it for our community. Live and love through me. And help me to shine it for the world. Use me however you will to give hope to others.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in John

 

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Emails to God – Prayer Requests (Colossians 1:9)

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

Dear God, this verse is appropriate for today because I have some friends who need special prayer. To protect their privacy, I will use initials, but you know who they are.

  • For CS, he told me last night that he is going in for testing on a possible tumor in his ear. A tumor anywhere in the head would be in my top five of places I wouldn’t want a tumor—maybe even the top of the list. Please be with him today. Be with the ENT who is seeing him as well. Father, even now, please miraculously touch him and remove any danger from his body, if you are willing. I know you can do this father. I ask it on my friend’s behalf. Please, give him healing and a story to tell that will help him to glorify you and draw others into your presence.
  • I pray for GD and his wife, CD. Please be with them as they look for GD’s healing. Work in his body. Please touch it and move it into the next phase of recovery. This doesn’t seem life-threatening, but it is scary and hard. These people love you. Please strongly support them. Give CD strength as well. She has her own health issues, and she needs your strength to be able to care for her husband and support him through this. At the same time, raise up hands, arms and feet around them to do your work in their lives. Help them to see that it is you and recognize you as being the author of all things good in their lives.
  • I pray for BB and EB. They have to be so fatigued. Their health battles have been long and wearying. Please help them to feel your touch and hope. Help them to live with your power and joy. I don’t know that I could do it if I was them, but I have more faith in their ability to find you in the midst of these struggles than I do in my own. Please help and encourage them.
  • I lift up PO to you. He has going through an important procedure last week and I pray that you will help his body to adopt its new pieces and help him heal. Use this as a special opportunity to reveal yourself to him and those around him. Help him to feel your touch and your presence.

Father, in all of these cases and more, please do not let the pain and stress of these events go in vain. Please help each person whose name is flowing through my heart right now, including myself, to turn loose of the world and grasp on to you. Help us to pray without ceasing. Help us to submit our wills to you. Please forgive our sins. Forgive our selfishness and idiocy. Give us each the strength we need to do your will and give you glory in our families, in our work, in our churches and with our friends. Help us to decrease as you increase and make us your royal ambassadors.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Miscellaneous

 

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Emails to God – Supporting my Wife Going Catholic, Part 2

I am continuing my process of writing companion pieces to my wife’s blog posts about how she ended up joining the Catholic church (click here for her blog). I’m doing my best to line up my posts with her timeline, trying to give my perspective on a fairly monumental shift in our lives.

My previous post about this last Wednesday ended with me saying that our family was in a bit of a church crisis at the end of 2009. My wife, daughter, and I were attending one church while our then 13-year-old son was attending another that he liked better. What I didn’t say was that my wife’s mother was gravely ill. My wife hasn’t written much about this in her “Going Catholic” series, so I want to be careful to not violate her privacy in this area. What I will do is give you a description of my mother-in-law.

In short, the people who knew here saw her as a spiritual giant, a prayer warrior, and thoroughly Godly woman, and she was all of these things. When she passed in March 2010 I would conservatively estimate that there were over 700 people at her funeral. I think I’m safe to say that, without exception, the people there admired her greatly.

She had gone through her own spiritual journey. I’m a little fuzzy on some of the details, but growing up Episcopalian, I believe she would describe herself as having discovered God in a new way in college. It was when she joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) in the late 70’s that her discipling relationship with Jesus took off. She eventually became the teaching leader for her group, and started to have tremendous influence on countless women that would continue until her death, and probably beyond. She eventually left the Episcopal church, and by the time I met her she and my wife’s family attended a Bible church. My wife grew up Episcopalian as well, and the change to the Bible church came in late middle school. By the end of her life, however, my mother-in-law and father-in-law had returned to the Episcopal church.

Again, I don’t want to tell too much of my wife’s story and violate her privacy, but instead explain what I experienced during this process. After my mother-in-law’s death in march 2010 my wife found herself being uncomfortable in the church we attended. It wasn’t the church specifically. She felt like it was something within her. We tried different churches, but she never felt comfortable. For my part, being very frank, I have never enjoyed going to church so I was probably not the best-equipped person to lead us through this transition. There were some Sundays that, with no specific place to go, I would just choose to sleep in. This was difficult for the kids because, being middle schoolers and high schoolers by now, they were just like me at that age and didn’t want to go to church–especially a different one every week or two. It wasn’t exactly fair to them make them try a new place each Sunday, so we stopped making them go with us when we would visit a place.

By the end of 2010, we were trying a “family worship service” on Sundays with our son leading music on his guitar and having a short devotion/lesson. That part was going surprisingly well at the time. I had found a church that I liked that met in a bowling alley (obviously, it was an informal group), but Megan was still looking for something different. Then one Sunday (I think it was one where I had slept in), she came home and told me that she visited St. Mary’s Catholic Church that morning and really loved it. It was the first time I had heard her describe a church that way–really ever. I had never heard that kind of enthusiasm from her about any church in the 20 years I had known her. It kind of scared me because I was thinking that there wasn’t a way I could follow that path–not because it was Catholic in theology but because it was liturgical and formal in its structure. My response would have been the same if she had said Episcopalian. It made me nervous and resistant.

That is where our story ends today because that is where her blog ended. In summary, at the end of 2010, my wife’s family was dealing with the loss of her mother, I was visiting a nondenominational church that met in a bowling alley, my wife had visited St. Mary’s for the first time, and we were doing family worship with our children on Sundays. It was also during this time that I started to have a once-a-week Friday morning meeting with a man I met at the bowling alley church. This new friendship proved to be pivotal in how I would support my wife on her journey.

 

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Emails to God – Loving God with all of my Understanding (Mark 12:8-34)

28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

Dear God, I was in mass yesterday and these verses were the Gospel reading. I noticed something for the first time in verses 30 and 33. Part of the commandment as stated in the Old Testament and by Jesus is to say that we should love you with all of our mind. The scribe, however, changes that word to “understanding.” I looked it up in a couple of translations, and the change is consistent. Frankly, this change helps me a little, and it should help each of us receive your grace as we work out our faith with fear and trembling.

To say that I love you will all my heart, strength and UNDERSTANDING is big difference. The word understanding, for me, implies that there is grace for my limited mind. As long as I am giving you all that I have in the understanding department, then I am fulfilling what the commandment meant when it said to love you with all of my mind.

Father, help me to understand you better, and reveal to me where my understanding is flawed. I am sure that there are parts of my theology that have been corrupted by thousands of years of errant teaching that has been handed down from one generation to the next—mostly innocently, I’m sure. Help me to break beyond that and to feel your presence with me as I evaluate any given situation and submit myself before you and your throne.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous

 

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Emails to God – “NYC Sees No Homicide for Days after Sandy” (NBC News Staff)

Dear God, I saw this headline this morning when I turned on our computer: “NYC Sees No Homicides for Days after Sandy.” To put that in context, here is a quote from that article: “That’s unusual in the United States’ largest city: In the week of Oct. 15 to Oct. 21 this year, for example, there were five murders, according to the NYPD CompStat Unit. That same week in 2011 saw 13 murders.” It made me wonder what is behind that.

I think the obvious answer is that petty anger towards others gets lost when a tragedy comes along. You can see it in situations like the steps to the capitol after September 11, when members of Congress joined together to sing “God Bless America.” You can see it in families when long-standing feuds crumble when a terminal illness comes into play. I even see it in the little things. I recently had a conflict with one of my children, but then a minor crisis arose, and we were all of a sudden on the same team, pulling together to resolve the situation.

I reject the idea that you send us calamity, but I sometimes wonder if that’s one of the places where you are when calamity strikes. People ask, “Where is God in tragedy?” “Where was God in Katrina?” “Where was God when my parents were getting a divorce?” “Where was God when my father was dying?” I think the answer is that you were there doing what you are always trying to do—bring reconciliation between us and you and us and each other in the midst of the bad things that happen in life. I’ll admit, there are some atrocities that I cannot find you in, but that is a topic for another day.

Father, help me to rise above and put things into perspective. Right now, we are going through a conflict at work, and I would like to be able to put this kind of a light on it and ensure that we are responding to it in the right way. There are grudges and hurt feelings that we hold against other family members and friends, and I want to be able to move past those so that we can all be about focusing on you and what kind of a blessing you might have us be for those around us.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Miscellaneous

 

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