Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25, 2012 It's easier to complain and ridicule, but...

I Timothy 2: 1-3 I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.

Seems to me that it's pretty clear here - Paul is exhorting Timothy, and us, to pray for those in authority over us. When he said kings here, he was speaking about people who were not believers nor supportive of The Way or Christians. So what does that look like today?

We are to see what those in authority need (and this may take some serious, open-minded research) and ask God to supply that need. We are to thank God for the leadership He has raised up, or allowed to be in place. We are to be faithful in praying for them, praying when they don't or can't; that's the ministry of making intercession for them.

Honestly, I struggle, and have been struggling, when I see Christians post all kinds of negative things about the leadership in this country. I wonder how much different our leadership might be if we prayed as much as we criticized. It feels sometimes to me like it is much easier to call names than to obey God and pray. We all know sin is pleasurable for a season; I think our problem is naming our unloving and disobedient, disrespectful behavior as sin.

Certainly there is no perfect leader, and our president is a human trying to use his influence to create the kind of world he wants his daughters to inherit. And yes, he may hold positions we wish he did not, but I think, in the long run, praying for him would accomplish more that lampooning and criticizing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24, 2012 Dare you? Be blessed by someone outside of your faith tradition?

Part 1. I was talking recently with someone who lives a miserable life - that is to say, nearly every minute of every conversation with her is about how her life is miserable and filled with suffering. She would call herself a believer, yet there is little joy or willingness to see blessing in her life.

Part 2. When I was in grad school, at a secular university, my prof had trouble relating to my work - written from a Christian worldview. More than once a professor brought up the name of the writer Flannery O'Connor, a devout Catholic writer who died in her thirties as a way to understand my work. Both of us loved God, and our work in varying ways was influenced by that relationship.

Recently I saw a book entitled The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, and I had to have it. I'm not sure why God is bringing the prayer practices of some Catholic writers into my life except that maybe I'm ready for them. Maybe my appetite for intimacy with the Father is part of it, and some of these practices satisfy that appetite. I do have to say that I believe God does give us discernment, so as I follow some of the guidelines for morning and evening prayer in this book, there are also things I disregard.

So maybe I will deal with that up front. Each day there is a section where there is a prayer to a saint. I believe I have the amazing privilege of communicating directly to God. I do not believe that saints have any power to answer my prayers -at least I cannot find anything is Scripture that would make me think praying to saints is a profitable endeavor. That said, I am not willing to "throw the baby out with the bath water" or disregard other things in this book that might be profitable for me....and I say for me because you may not find them helpful.

I love it that every prayer time is couched in much Scripture reading and meditation first. I appreciate that I am reminded to slowdown and be silent after reading. I appreciate that each day I get to read some of O'Connor's thoughts as she considers spiritual things. I appreciate that I am guided in prayer by biblical prayers and songs. I appreciate that I am given biblical language in which to frame my own requests. And I love the idea that there are countless other Christians engaging in communication with God when I am.

Part 3. Back to the title of the book and my friend. The title of the book - The Province of Joy...the implication is that Prayer is the province of joy. How can we not rejoice when we can engage in fellowship through prayer with our Savior? And if we do not find that experience of prayer joy-producing, whose fault is it? Perhaps ours for running in and out of the presence of God like spoiled children, whining when we do not immediately.

I fear we allow everyone but God to determine the meaning and source of joy, when true joy is a product of our relationship with God - check out the fruit of the Spirit. So if God is the source of real joy, then I want to, I need to, hang out with Him a lot more.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23, 2012 Who are you listening to?

Romans 8:15-16 NIV You should not be like cowering fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into His family - calling "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how busy we all are, (like I was the week before my first grandchild's wedding) and how very hard it is to be either silent or in silence. Personally, when I am trying to get into that quiet place, the first thing that happens is the list, you know, the list of all the things you have to do - even if you have not made a list. Then, you start hearing things, floors squeaking, birds singing, or people. Even the whir of an air conditioner can be a distraction. Your ears are beleaguered by all manner of odd sounds and what you might have considered quiet becomes a raucous place.

Funny, how it is so much easier to listen to, and hear, anything other than the voice of we end up making all of our decisions based on the counsel of everyone else.

I have long loved the verse 26 in John 14, But the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you.

The thought just occurred to me that I wonder if we do not treat God the way struggling teenagers might treat their parents, as out-of-touch and with little too offer; in other words, too easy to blow off. At least that is the way I think God must feel sometimes. He wants us to come to Him in delight, secure in His love and wisdom, with a "Daddy, tell me what to do," uttered in a ready-to-listen and pay attention posture.

Instead, we rush into his presence with our demands, our Deareavenlyfather all running together and our inJesusname closure like poisonous words we want to get by fast, so we can get onto more interesting things.

He's a person, one who loves us and who just wants to sit quietly with us, the way lovers do, content just to be in each other's arms. I wonder what we miss in our hurry to chase after all the other distractions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16, 2012 The Seductive Power of Position

I Chronicles 17:16 King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?

Prov. 19:11 People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs.

David finally got it - he recognized his own weakness, his own poverty of soul apart from God. But unfortunately he learned it the hard way - by his own failure. As King, he used his power to manipulate the Army, his intention to kill the husband of the woman he had lusted after and seduced. His actions had consequences and caused him great pain.

We should all learn from what happened to David, his misuse of power cost him the lives, ultimately, of some of his children. Yet we fail to learn, personally, and corporately. We seldom talk about the seduction of power. You don't have to be a king to have power, you only have to have people who look to you for influence, for care, for some kind of security, and seduction lays in wait with the attentive glances of those who look to you.

Recently the news media have been full of the story of men who exercised power over children and then other men - to keep them quiet. Ultimately many men in power, seduced by that power and the concept that they have a reputation as powerful and "good," were responsible for the horrible and life changing abuse of a number of vulnerable children.

We might think that would never happen to us - we would never cover abuse, nor would we abuse, but is that true? How far are we from using our power in any way to make the point that we have power? Angry, we hurt people with our words and actions, and look away, rather than back with the humility necessary to make it right. Indignant, and perhaps in self-defense and our own guilt, we point out the sins and short-comings of others.

The abuse of power is so seductive that perhaps it is one of the most pervasive and secret sins of the believer. The pastor, the deacon, the Sunday School teacher who uses his or her power to get his or her way; the parent, the sibling, the teacher, the administrator who finds it easier to look at a situation only from the perspective of his or her own gain...abusers of power.

Oh God, help me and those in my world at BBC to catch ourselves when the seduction of power comes calling. May you find us instead people with good sense who in deed and word, love all of those around us looking to find you in us.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13, 2012 I'm bored!!

II Timothy 1:5-6 For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands.

and 3: 16-17: All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

In the book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor, she says :"One characteristic of post modernism is distrust of old institutions that have let people down. As I was thinking this through, the phrase "I'm bored" came to mind. Kids in the old institution of church have grown bored with and distrustful of church because of a couple of things, I think.

One, we entertain them until they are in high school, and then we expect them to jump into the version of church we have for old people, the one where you mostly sit and watch. Sooner or later, you get tired of just listening to an endless stream of words. Now I must say this is not true of all churches, but I do think it is true of too many.

Then, they are bored because we fail to help them make the link between Bible stories and theology with real of course they are bored. They have heard all the stories and too much dry theology.  Church and the Bible are boring because we have sucked the life out of them. We preach at them, but fail to let them ask questions, without embarrassing them because they do have a question. Theology should be living, a guide for practice - a manual for life. Again, I know that all churches are not like this, but too many are.

I wonder if we don't need to stop blaming things on postmodernism and start listening with discerning ears to see what truth there might be. God did not mean for His followers to sit in rows and listen and then go do their thing. I think He meant for them to listen and then figure out, by talking about what they have heard, what being a Christ-follower looks like today - in this culture. There's nothing like interaction to keep you from being bored.

If you only lecture, it is tough for your listeners to make the transition to application. God did not mean for us to do the Christian life alone. We are to do it in the context of a loving and interested community - interested enough to allow for discussion, for failures, for growth, but most interested in loving others like God loved us first.

Just thinking!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012 It was just a mistake!!

I Cor. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

Sin: harmartia - offence or trespass, with the implication that one has missed the mark and thus the of eternal life, of God's blessing.

I heard him in the hallway telling someone he had made a mistake calling his wife a name and yelling at her in the presence of his children. It wasn't the time or place for me to rebuke him, but all the way down the hall I kept thinking, "It was not a mistake. It was a sin, an unloving and hurtful act committed on your wife, and by the way, teaching your children that it is OK to do, humiliate your wife - we do teach our children what is right by what we do."

In the book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor, the author discusses the language we use when talking about salvation related matters. In a discussion about decision-making, she talks about "moral and ethical decision-making," and has this to say, "I understood that there were immoral and unethical decisions I could make that would violate basic human values. When I substituted the word "sin," however, the stakes automatically went up. If I sinned, then the values in question were no longer human values but God's values."

I am so grateful that Christ died for my sin, that he paid my sin debt, but there is more going on here than getting a free(to me) ticket to heaven. It has to do with how I behave, how I show my appreciation for that gift. Christ suffered physical and emotional pain in my stead, the pain of separation from His Father and the weight of my sin, pain I cannot even comprehend but which caused him to sweat blood.

When I call sin, when we call sin a mistake, when we or I violate God's values, I fear we are dishonoring what He did on the cross, and we are lying to ourselves and others. Sin is a big deal!!! A mistake is a little thing that we can easily sweep under the rug, that causes us to feel little regret. Sin is much more.

It causes us to miss the blessing of God, to grieve Him, and the greatest sin, unbelief, causes us to lose eternal life.  My sin grieves God, just as the sins of any child grieves his or her parent. Today I am mindful of the gulf between the words mistake and sin, and I pray that I would be aware of my own vulnerability to rationalize away what I could so easily call a mistake.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012 Leadership and Followers

I can see I was looking at the June calendar when I posted yesterday - forgive me please....

I Cor. 11: 1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (NASB)

Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ Jesus. (KJV)

I've been working on the subject of leadership this summer in preparation for our RA training for the fall, and it is not easy to find just the right thing. There is a lot written about leadership from a professional or business perspective, but I am not sure that is what might correlate with what God calls us to do as leaders.

Just before bed, I always read for about 20 minutes, or more sometimes, but one of the books I have been working on is My Beautiful Idol by Peter Gall. It is autobiographical though it does not cover his entire life. Think Donald Miller with a little more depth maybe. Anyway as he relates his young adult life, he touches on a lot of important themes - like leadership, and in a way that spoke to I want to share a few lines from his book here.

"Leadership is best measured buy the communion it facilitates between the follower and the Father. The question is not how many people follow you, but how effectively they pass through you. Jesus is the way to the Father. Paul says, "Follow me as I follow Christ." Leadership is an usher's sweeping hand gestures, and the intention is to move a person beyond the leader. (Think a few seconds about this image.) Leadership faces forward to the Son and the Father. Real leadership is aware of who['s following."

He goes on to talk about static leadership in the church whose focus is on getting people across the finish line, or saved. His point is that maybe the finish line of salvation is only the beginning of the race. He goes on to say "Pastors could choose to run, could face forward and just go, trusting the spiritual gravity of leadership that is not about influence, but about facilitating communion between the follower and the Father."

Those words stopped me dead cold. I fear that too much of leadership is about influence - just general influence. We tell young leaders that they are role models, influencers, but I am not sure we always help them understand the responsibility that comes with being a leader - the responsibility to God. We make leadership in our culture be all about power whether we like it or not, I am pretty sure that is true.

I like what Gall says here so simply - it is about facilitating communion between the follower and the Father, no matter what we do or where we go.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 12, 2012 He loves you, really loves you!

John 16:27 For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God

I John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

I've been on vacation for a while and thinking a lot about God, the Person, the One who invented love and who has loved us with a perfect unconditional love before we knew Him.

Maybe I am beating a dead horse here, and everyone gets it, understands the God loving us thing, but it really doesn't seem that way. When you understand that God loves you, it seems to me that it has to change you...change all the things you like and do and think about. It seems like thinking about that idea, that God loves me, or you, would bring a smile to our faces, and would make us want to love Him back.

If we allowed ourselves time to feel God's love, to actually give ourselves over to soaking in the reality that the God Who breathed it all into existence chooses to be interested in us, to seek us out and to make us His own, then we would want to do something either to love Him back or to tell others about this miracle of love.

I don't think I will write anything more today. I will just think about God's love for me, and you, and let it fill me, so that what spills out of me is pleasing to Him.