What Christians Should Do About The Man In The White House

Nero was a liar and a murderer. And, in his time, he also happened to be perhaps the most powerful man in the world. That’s a dangerous combination that often leads to suffering. In this case, it was Christians who suffered.

Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians for it. As a result, many followers of Christ paid the punishment for a crime they did not commit.

In light of all of that, Paul gave a strange command to the church in Ephesus.

Pray for Nero.

How often we forget to do that these days. It’s easy to criticize our leaders, especially when we do so in front of a crowd of people who agree with us. It’s much harder to pray for our leaders. All you need in order to criticize the president is a platform and some degree of anger. To pray for him requires humility and submission to God’s will.

And a little consistency.

Many conservatives talk about respecting the president. So tell a crowded church to pray for President Trump and you’ll likely get a lot of Amens and maybe even a few salutes in return. But many of the folks who today are telling us to respect the president are the same ones who not even a year ago were passing around memes comparing the Obamas to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

It’s no better on the left. The folks who today are praising professional athletes for condemning the president and refusing to visit the White House with their championship teams are the same ones who accused other athletes of being bigoted for doing the same thing a year or two ago.

Why is this?

It’s because we would rather identify with our earthly rulers than commune with our real Ruler. Depending on whether we like him or not, we tend to view the president as an all-powerful benevolent dictator worthy of our worship or all-powerful tyrant who leaves us no other option but obsessive and paralyzing fear.

I like Paul’s option much better.

Pray.

In both the bullying of the Obama administration and the chaos of the Trump administration, I’ve heard a lot of believers asking what we’re supposed to do.

The answer couldn’t be more clear.

We need to pray so, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2, ESV).

Paul goes on to say that, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3, ESV).

This is not to say that we should never question the president or any other government ruler. There are times when condemnation is necessary. But there is never a time when prayer is not needed.

Some churches are known for worshiping the man in the White House, as if he were God.

Other churches are known for fearing the man in the White House, as if he were the AntiChrist.

The church that pleases God will be known for praying for the man in the White House, as if they’ve known all along Who’s really in charge.

image credit

A Simple Beauty

There is a lot of beauty to be found in simple things. Sometimes it takes a kid to help us to look through all of the clutter and see that beauty in a fresh way.

I became a Christian when I was very young. The church I grew up in put a lot of emphasis on the sinner’s prayer, the walking of aisles and the raising of hands. As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not my faith was legitimate. Did I say the prayer right? Was I thinking the right thing when I walked down and stood in front of the church? What if I left something out?

The other night, standing under the cold dark sky in my driveway, it was like I was having a conversation with my younger self. Like me, my son became a Christian at a young age. Unlike me, he doesn’t know much about altar calls and raising hands and repeating public prayers after revival preachers. But he still has his doubts.

He was worried that maybe he got his prayer wrong all of those years ago when he asked God to forgive him for his sins. Like his father did before him, he feared that a misplaced prepositional phrase in a prayer could mean the difference between heaven and hell. To comfort him, I walked him through the Bible. I went to some of the same Bible passages people carried me through when I was younger. We talked about salvation being more about the cry of the sinner’s heart than the repeating of a sinner’s prayer. We talked about things like belief and Lordship and resurrection.

I asked him if he understood what I was saying. Before I had kids, I never did that. I never understood why people would end their sentences with phrases like, “You know what I mean?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” Now that I’m a dad, I do it all the time. I guess that I just want to be sure.

He told me that he understood. But his face told a different story. It was the canvas for an uncommon mixture of comfort and confusion.

“I get it but it all just seems so simple,” he said in a prophetic tone you can only hear from a child.

That’s when I knew that he really got it.

My son is a worker. A hard worker. A few months ago, he set a really high goal for reading books in one of his classes. About midway through the semester, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. So he got to work. My son read more words in the last few weeks of 2016 than I did in twelve years of grade school.

He met his goal.

I think that’s why the simplicity of the gospel had my son confused the other night in our driveway. When you meet a reading goal, you get to sit back and delight in the work that you did. You can say, “I did that.”

Not so with the gospel. Before Christ, we were all “children of wrath” fighting against God (Ephesians 2:3). We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead rebels don’t usually have a lot to bring to the table. Just their faith.

And, just in case we might begin to think that our faith is somehow a product of our own doing, Paul reminds us otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

The Christian life is not simple. Temptation can be very difficult. It’s hard to love enemies. It’s hard to fight against sin. Like Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

But thanks to things like grace and love and the cross, it’s not hard to come to God. That’s because he’s the one who does all of the work. And he does that work on behalf of the small sons of a preacher as well as seasoned drug addicts. He pours out the riches of his grace, mercy and love, “on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

It really is that simple.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful things.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)

image credit

A Prayer For The American Church

Heavenly Father,

We are so prone to wander. In many cases, we have replaced worshiping You with apologizing for You and making You more consumer friendly. We have remained silent while those around us have suffered. Like the German churches that sang their hymns louder so that they wouldn’t hear the screams of Jewish prisoners from the passing trains, we have neglected the hurting. Our nation deserves Your wrath, not Your blessings. Father, send us revival instead. And send it through Your church.

Father, forgive us for idolizing our political leaders. We throw our coats on the ground before them and wave our palm branches at them every four years only to suffer the pain that comes shortly after the election when we realize that even the best leaders are not You. Not even close. Forgive us for living under the red or blue glow of a political party rather than shining the light of Christ like we’re supposed to.

Forgive our hypocrisy. We talk so much about caring for the unborn. And we should. Help us to do even more to defend the cause of the babies who are murdered in this country before they are even born. But we pat ourselves on the back, convinced that this is enough. We talk a big game about respecting life but when we hear about a kid in Chicago who just lost his, we turn it into a political talking point. Lord, help us to care just as much for the 18-year-old kid on the other side of the tracks as we do for the child who has yet to be born.

Father, help us. Help the people who are tired of being labeled uneducated simply because they didn’t go to college to relate to the people who are tired of being called thugs just because they wear a hoodie. Help us to grieve with those who grieve. And if it’s Your will, give us the strength to do something to stop the grief. Even if it’s a grief we may not be able to fully relate to.

Father, help us to not settle for being divided into groups that aren’t supposed to get along. Help Your church to lead the way in breaking down the terrible walls that keep us apart. Lord, we do not want to abandon Your truth. Protect us from doing that. But Lord, help us to remember that it’s okay for us to abandon our cultural labels and the marching orders of those who turn a profit off of keeping us at odds with one another. Help us to remember that Your truth is not merely an American truth or a white truth. It is Your truth. And that is enough.

Help us to be committed to Your word. Forgive us for obeying the parts we’re okay with while ignoring the difficult parts. Father, Your word is truth. All of it. But help us not to be content with keeping Your truth to ourselves. Help it to impact the way that we work on our marriages, the way we raise our kids, the way we resist evil and the way we love the evildoer.

God, save us from fear. The Anxiety Industrial Complex rules the day. Business is booming in the fear industry. Everyone is worried and afraid. Help us not to be. Instead, help us to worship you, not just on a Sunday morning in a church building but on a Thursday morning on the way to work when we hear about yet another terror threat. Help us not to ultimately look to man for peace from anxiety. Give us a picture of the promise You gave us through Paul when You said that the peace of God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Help us to know the presence of Christ at the doors of our frightened minds and hearts.

Father, You are good. You have delivered us. Because of Your great grace, the work of Your Son and Your Holy Spirit, we are Your children. Help us to look for our identity no where else. And help our hearts to ache for those who are not Your children.

Lord, there will come a time when America will be no more. But Your kingdom cannot be shaken. It can be ridiculed. It can be mocked. It can be rejected. But it cannot be shaken. It is an eternal kingdom. Help us, your people, not to forget where our citizenship is.

Thank You for the mercy and patience You have shown to us.

Awaken us.

Expand Your kingdom as You see fit.

In Jesus Christ’s name,

Amen.

 

image credit

 

 

Broken Or Caught?

Photo on 7-23-15 at 2.31 PM

There is a difference between a broken man and a caught man. A caught man will try to cover-up his sins. A broken man will ask Jesus to do that for him.

A caught man will recognize his need to get out of trouble and he’ll do pretty much anything to get out of it. A broken man will realize that his sin has left him in a position where he has a need that only God can meet.

“Have mercy on me, O God.”

A caught man will rely on his qualifications. He’ll tell himself that he deserves grace, mercy and forgiveness. That’s another way of saying that he doesn’t understand grace, mercy and forgiveness. A broken man recognizes that he has no good to offer. He sees that there just isn’t enough good in him to make the bad go away. And so rather than lean on his own qualifications, he relies on God’s goodness.

“According to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”

A caught man plays the blame game. As he sees it, his sin isn’t really his sin. It’s his father’s fault for not sticking around. It’s his mother’s fault for being too overbearing. It’s society’s fault for not being fair enough. So his sin isn’t really his sin since he had no other choice but to sin. To put it bluntly, he may be the one who got caught but he’s nothing more than the victim. The blame belongs to someone else. Anyone else but him. The broken man takes ownership for his sin. He takes the blame. He says with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

“Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin!” 

Every man has a sin problem. It’s one thing that we all have in common. But the question is this. What will we do with that problem? Will we act like we have been caught or will we be broken. True joy and freedom is found in the brokenness, never in the cover-up because it’s only in our brokenness that we really begin to know the love of Christ.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2 (ESV)

You Don’t Really Want Prayer Back In Public Schools

4207220675_c571732f37_o

I grew up thinking that every problem in the country, at least the educational problems, would be solved if the government would just allowing prayer in our schools again. Now that I’ve got a few more gray hairs, I’ve come to realize that I’m not really for “putting prayer back in public schools.”

To be clear, I haven’t gone off the deep end, traded in my Bible for the writings of Gandhi and replaced the preaching time in my church with yoga. I’m firmly committed to Christ, his word and his people.

It’s my faith in how good of a job the government would do at leading and teaching legitimate prayer that is lacking.

At some point long ago, we started believing that in order for our prayers to really work, they need to be said by the principal every morning on the intercom right after reminding everyone that prom fees are due by next week. Before we get what we ask for, let’s take a moment to consider what would happen if prayer were allowed back in public schools.

There are a lot of Christlike teachers, teacher’s aides and principals working in public schools all across this country. But can you be certain that one of them will always be leading your fourth grader in that day’s prayer? Of course not. There is the very real likelihood that your fourth grader will be led by his teacher in a prayer to Lothi the Tree God followed by an interpretive dance to Hillary the God of Womanhood. Are you sure that you want that kind of prayer in school?

A while back I heard a guy talking about the school that his kid goes to. Here’s a quick recap of what he said.

“Man, it’s a great school but they push Jesus too much.”

And here’s the funny part.

His kid goes to a Christian school.

Rule of thumb: if your kid goes to a school with Christian in the name, unless of course that school is Christian Laettner Elementary School, don’t be surprised if he comes home having been taught a Christian worldview. It’s what Christian schools do. Well, at least the good ones. But it doesn’t stop there. If your kid goes to a public school, that is one that is funded and operated by the government, don’t be surprised if she comes home having been taught a secular worldview. You know, how to put condoms on bananas and that sort of thing. No matter the educational setting, it is your job as the Christin parent to use the Bible to either affirm or deny what your children have been taught that day.

If you insist on sending your kid to a public school, teach him to pray. Teach him that prayer doesn’t always have to be out loud. Teach him that God hears the prayers of his people wherever they are. Teach him that some prayers are made without a sound.

But if you prefer to send your kid to a school where teachers and administrators pray to the Father by the help of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus, don’t hold your breath waiting for the government to give that to you. Find a good Christian school.

Putting prayer back in schools is one of those loaded political phrases like, “Hope and Change” or “Make America Great Again” that either has no meaning at all or more meanings than you would like to know. Don’t get me wrong on this. I believe that prayer in school is a good thing. I think that kids are better off starting out the day with their teacher or principal leading them in a legitimate Christian prayer. I think that coaches should be free to pray with their teams. But in a religiously diverse society such as ours, we must remember that in many institutions, prayer would mean nothing more than public statements of whatever faith, or lack thereof, rules the day at that school. At a school in rural Georgia, that could mean praying to God. In Madison, Wisconsin it will likely mean something completely different.

So before we start repeating the talking points about putting prayer back in school, perhaps we should start praying that genuine repentance and renewal would happen in our homes, churches and communities. Without that, your kid would be left with nothing more than diversity day if his school were to start throwing in public prayers every morning.

Prayer never was taken out of public schools. I went to a public school for seven years and prayed frequently. Especially during those moments when the teacher asked everyone to turn in their 12 page paper on the complexities of thermonuclear physics and all I had was a notecard reminding me that some really long paper about something that sounds really hard was due sometime in the distant future. As long as that happens, as long as a girl comes to school after having just watched her family fall apart, as long as classmates die and as long as terror looms, there will always be prayer in school.

No government can stop that.

image credit

 

A Prayer For Racial Peace

5794112439_eb4a46114f_b

Heavenly Father,

We are in a mess and we need your help. The blame can’t be cast on any one person, group, political stance or television show. None of us are smart enough to think our way out of this mess. None of us are strong enough to fight our way out of it. In fact, it seems as though sometimes the more we think and fight, the worse it gets.

Father, we need peace. Not the peace we hear about in songs. We don’t want anything to do with the token talks of peace we see on television and hear from some politicians. We need to be changed and that can only come from Your peace. I confess that change isn’t just something that other people need. It’s not just something that the guy down the street or the person on the news needs. I need to be changed too. Every day I, along with the rest of your Church, need your peace-producing change.

Father, I don’t expect the world to stop acting like the world. At least not until you return. I expect turmoil, corruption, violence, oppression and hate. It’s what the world does. But as the world does what it does, please protect your Church. I do not ask that you just protect us from the world but also that you protect us from acting like the world.

There seems to be some very powerful people who would love nothing more than a full-blown race war in this country. Protect us, both white and black, from being a part of that in our speech and social media presence. Protect us from trying to one up the other guy at all costs. Instead, help us to return truth where lies are spread and love where hate is prevailing. Equip us to show the world that in you, despite all of our differences, white and black Christians share a common hope and that in him, though unique, one race or person is not better than the other.

Shake us from our slumber. The world is on fire. The culture of death is growing. But Father, death was defeated when your Son, Jesus Christ, rose from the grave. We still live with the sting of death but it has no final say over us. Help us to live that out. Help us to promote your kingdom culture in the face of the culture of death we are living in.

Father, please help us to see people as you made them. Help us to take the time to get to know people who are different from us. Help us to establish friendships that go beyond what seems natural to us. Father, whether the other guy is a small baby that could fit in the palm of my hand or just someone from a different race, help us to see him for who he really is – a human being who You created in your image for Your glory. Help us to remember that life matters, not because it’s trendy to say so but because all human life comes from you and will one day return to you.

Father, help us to laugh. I do not ask for the laughter of foolish men who occupy themselves with nonsense while destruction awaits. Instead, give us the laughter of a people who find their joy in you even when things are far from perfect. Father, may the world look at us and not see a people who are immune from the world’s pain but a people who are immune from the world’s hopelessness.

Father, we all want our voice to be heard. We want the final say. We want our way. Please forgive us for this. In repentance, help us to seek your voice, to submit to your authority and to follow your way, even when it’s time for us to speak up about something. Help us to remember that, throughout history, things have gone so much better when you spoke through people instead of people trying to speak for you. Help us to put your authority over our own.

Father, the world is a mess. In a lot of ways, so is Your Church. But that’s nothing new. Father, no one creates beauty from messes like you. Clean us, Father. Clean us and use us.

In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ and for his glory,

Amen.

image credit

Prayer And The Wedding Vow Writer

2313927146_cc2ffae826_o

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

I look at those seven words in that exact order every week. My job is to find a passage from the Bible for each day and write a short paragraph or two to help the people I pastor to marinate on that week’s sermon.

Words have always come naturally to me. One time in college this guy who lived down the hall came up to me with a strange request. He had a look on his face like he wanted to buy some heroin. Whatever it was he was about to ask me for he wanted it quick and he didn’t want anyone to know about it.

It turns out that he didn’t want any heroin.

He wanted me to write a poem for him. Well, not for him. For his girlfriend. Allow me to explain.

He had a date that night and he wanted it to be extra romantic. His problem was that he didn’t really know how to be romantic. So he asked me to write a poem for his girlfriend.

And I did.

I don’t remember anything that I wrote but I’m sure that it had something to do with her eyes sparkling like stars and her beauty surpassing the north Georgia pine trees. You know, quality literature.

He loved it.

They broke up shortly after that date.

A few years later I was killing time with my friend for a few hours before his wedding. Out of nowhere, he started to panic. I thought that he was having second thoughts about getting married.

It turns out that the source of his panic was much worse.

You see, he and his future wife had agreed to write their own wedding vows. Like any bride to be, she wrote hers about six months before the wedding. He still hadn’t written his and it was less than six hours before the wedding.

So guess who got to do the honors.

I can’t remember what I wrote but it may or may not have had something to do with her eyes sparkling like stars and her beauty surpassing the north Georgia pine trees.

They’re still married, almost fifteen years later. I’m batting .500 in the business of romance.

That’s sort of the mentality I had when I first started writing devotionals for my church. Just do it. Get it over with. Start again next week.

Then God convicted me. Nothing major happened. My office didn’t catch on fire. I didn’t hear a voice. I just knew that I was being arrogant. No matter how humble you think you are, if you’re not committing something to prayer, you are arrogant. Not praying about something is the equivalent of telling God that your talent is enough and that you’ll get back to him when you really need him.

So I started to pray before I wrote out the devotional each week. It’s essentially the same prayer every time. I pray for God to work through me to put the right passage of Scripture with the right day according to what brings him the most glory and what is best for the people that I pastor.

Last week someone was telling me how much they appreciated the devotionals that I write. They said that I seemed to always put just the right passage on the day that they needed it the most.

I got to explain to them how that has nothing to do with me.

It was just God working through me.

If you want to impress people with what you can do, just do what comes natural and rely on your particular set of skills. Every now and then, it might even work.

But if you want to show people the power of God, commit your work to him in prayer, even the tasks that come naturally, and get out of the way. You will be amazed.

Also, if you know anyone who needs to hire a wedding vow writer, I know a good one. His track record is just okay but he comes real cheap.

Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:18-20 (ESV)

image credit

How To Defeat The Demon That The United States Senate Cannot

4858519570_64afcdbaf7_o

We don’t know the name of the demon.

Sometimes the Bible shares that information with us. Like when Jesus asked a demon possessed man for his name and got the creepy response of, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

But this time, we don’t get a name. Another nameless demon. The lack of a name didn’t make this demon any less evil. Like all the others, he was bent on destruction. This time, it was a child who he had his sights set on.

The child was mute. And he had seizures. Horrific seizures. Is there any other kind? The demon would make the child foam at the mouth. He would grind his teeth. His body would lock up. On more than one occasion, the seizures would happen near fire or large bodies of water leaving the child on the verge of drowning or burning.

The child had a demon.

But the demon had no name.

Just an agenda to destroy a child.

Thankfully, the child had a father.

The father wasn’t known for his theology. He didn’t have all of the answers. But he thought that he had found a group of men who could help him.

He was wrong. In spite of their best efforts, these men could not save the boy. All seemed lost. It appeared as though the demon living inside of this boy would be a very much unwanted member of the family.

Dad.

Boy.

And the demon with no name.

There was one last hope for the boy. Jesus. Jesus asked to see him.

Jesus didn’t say a word to the demon at first. All it took was the presence of Jesus to send him, and of course, the boy, into another one of those terrible seizures. As the child rolled around on the ground, foaming at the mouth, Jesus finally said something to the demon without a name.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” Mark 9:25 (ESV).

The demon obeyed.

But no one was celebrating just yet. It appeared that the demon was able to get in one final death blow before leaving the boy. His small body was laying, lifeless, on the ground. Everyone assumed the worst.

Jesus grabbed the hand of the motionless boy.

The boy was alive.

He stood up, for the first time in years, free of the demon with no name.

We don’t know the name of that demon who was hell-bent on destroying this child. We just know that he didn’t enter the child again.

But that doesn’t mean that his kind went away.

We see him at work today, busy killing more children. Only this time, he has federal backing, the approval of the United States Senate and a nice respectable name to work with.

Planned Parenthood.

This demon has a name. But his end will still be the same.

After Jesus healed the child, his disciples came to him, confused.

“Why couldn’t we get the demon out of that boy?” They were no help when they tried. But at least they tried. Could you imagine what would happen if this distressed father had gone to the more progressive members of the United States Senate for help.

“We don’t understand the problem. Your boy only falls in the fire three percent of the time. And besides, think of all the other services this demon provides for your son.”

Jesus gave a direct answer for his inquisitive and confused disciples.

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

When the history of Planned Parenthood is written, the organization will be remembered for having two very valuable friends. The first is the bloodthirsty United States government and the second is the apathetic American people who are more disturbed by the thought of losing free condoms than they are at babies being murdered and sold.

But Planned Parenthood will also be remembered for their three great enemies. Two of those enemies are natural. One is very much supernatural. In the natural, the sonogram and the hidden camera have worked beautifully together to prove that the practices of Planned Parenthood are anything but, “safe, legal and rare” and that an unborn child is obviously much, much more than a clump of cells.

There is another, more powerful enemy of the death industry in this country.

Prayer.

As Christians, we should keep fighting against abortion. We should watch and share the disturbing videos of Planned Parenthood workers treating babies like leftovers from one of their wine and salad meals. We should not give up holding our elected officials accountable, even when they have given up. Still, there are always those naysayers who say that it will never work. They tell us that Planned Parenthood can never be defeated. They were the first to tell us after Monday afternoon’s disappointing vote, “See, I told you so.”

I believe that Planned Parenthood can be defeated.

But it will take a much more powerful option than a Senator. Thankfully, Christians have one.

We have prayer.

It just might be that prayer is the only thing that will defeat this demon. If so, that’s okay. Because the One we pray to is infinitely more powerful than any demon Hell has to send our way. And make no mistake about it, the murder of babies is demonic. It is Satanism in its purest form. Just because someone wears a flag on his suit or says, “God bless America,” doesn’t mean that he can’t have a Legion or two pulling his strings behind the scenes.

But Jesus is greater than Legion.

Jesus is greater than that nameless demon who threw that little boy into the fire.

And Jesus is greater than that demon who is using the name of Planned Parenthood to legally throw more boys into more fires.

I can’t wait for the day when he commands this demon to leave our children alone.

image credit

The Worst Thing God Could Do To You

17121299693_046cbc458d_o

What is the worst thing that God could do to you?

Give you cancer?

Make you go through a bankruptcy?

Send you a letter from the IRS?

Here’s another question. Imagine how your life would look if God gave you everything you ever wanted.

You would be wildly popular. And fit. And rich.

And dead.

And maybe even in hell.

Hell, in case you are unaware, is one of only two places where popularity, fitness and wealth do not matter.

The worst thing that God could possibly ever do to you is to give you everything you’ve ever wanted. Take a moment to think about all of the bad things that have happened to you. Think about all of the bad things that have happened to family and friends that you would rather have had happen to you.

The endless nights in tiny ICU waiting rooms.

Speaking to the long line of well-meaning friends when you would really rather just be speaking to the person in the casket behind you.

The rejection.

The failure.

The heartache.

Think about all of those moments from your life. Now, think about where you would be without those moments. It’s not as pretty as you might think.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say something about your Fight Song or about whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

I’m not.

The message of the Bible is not whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

Instead, the Bible tells us that whatever tries to kill us reminds us of our weaknesses, not our strengths. And it tells us that sometimes what seems to make us stronger is what kills us (Proverbs 16:18). But it is in our weaknesses that we find a strength greater than we could ever possess.

The strength of Christ.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

And the strength of Christ is something that we will never know if we’re busy merely counting our blessings, pulling ourselves up by our boot straps or singing our Fight Song.

Christians are given a simple promise from God. It’s not a promise of a new Bentley on 26-inch rims with Slow-n-Low written on the top of the tinted windshield and a tag on the front bumper that reads #TrulyBlessed. His promise is much better than that.

His promise is his presence (Matthew 1:23; 28:20).

Sometimes it’s easy to recognize the presence of God. We can be reminded of it while we sit back and look at a beautiful sunset with our family at our side.

But, too often, we miss it. Our supposed strength tends to get in the way sometimes. Thankfully, the faithful presence of our good God is not confined to sunsets on the beach.

We can know his presence in the funeral home. We can know it in the ICU waiting room. We can know it in the actual ICU room.

If God always gave us everything that we ever wanted, we would all believe that terrible lie that we can make it on our own. God sometimes sends pain our way (2 Corinthians 12:7). But that pain is never an end in itself. And it is always grace. It is grace because it points us to a strength greater than our own and a Savior greater than our possessions.

 

The worst thing that God could ever do to you is to give you everything you ever wanted.

The best thing that God could ever do for you is to give you more of himself. To make you more aware of his loving, sovereign presence. To make you more like Jesus.

Jesus.

He is the beginning of our journey. He is the heart of our journey. And he is the objective of our journey.

Sometimes that journey will lead you through beautiful beaches.

Sometimes it will lead you through the ICU.

But God’s promise is always true.

You are never alone. Jesus is with you and his power if perfect in you.

I have no idea why some people have to walk a path through hospital waiting rooms while others spend their nights enjoying moonlit beaches. I’ve been in both places. And if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change either one.

That’s because the beach and the waiting room have something in common.

Jesus is in both places.

But sometimes he’s easier to recognize in the waiting room.

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:1-2 (ESV)

image credit

Praying.

4492880296_1e046ac258_o

Praying.

Sometimes that word can be a source of great hope. Like when you post something online about a tragedy in your life and you come back 15 minutes later to see 30 comments with one simple word.

Praying.

Praying.

Praying.

It can make you feel good. But does it actually do any good? In a lot of cases, the answer is no. But that’s not because God doesn’t care or he doesn’t have the power to change something. It’s because sometimes the one true God who is in Sovereign control of the universe isn’t the one who is being prayed to.

Sometimes the god who exists only to meet our needs and to make us feel better about ourselves is being prayed to.

Dear friendly, nameless being,

Make my name great.

Do everything you can to promote my kingdom and to see that my will is done, both here and in eternity. My wish is your command.

Don’t just settle for giving me what I need today. Give me more than I need. Give me everything that I want. 

Forgive me for whatever generic, harmless sins that other people may have caused me to commit. And forgive those people if you want but I’m not going to. 

I can handle temptation on my own. I control my own destiny. Evil can’t touch me if I surround myself with enough positive and encouraging goodness. When it comes to evil, assuming that evil even exists, I’ve got this. Devote your energy to someone else because I’m good.

Sometimes it’s the fundamentalist god who only answers to lofty sounding religious lingo that is being prayed to.

Dearest father who dwelleth in the most high heavens,

I am praying this prayer now in hopes that people will see me making thou name sound great while at the same time adding a little popularity boost to mine.

May your kingdom advance against all of the other kingdoms of this world (except for my own) and may your will be done in my home as well as in Washington D.C. Who cares about the neighbors?

Givest thou me the daily portion that you see fit. I am your humble servant. Christian breath mints will suffice (not really but that’s what I want my prayer audience to think so feel free to give me a bunch of stuff). 

Forgive us for our many sins of which I will not be naming mine here in front of everyone in fear that such specificity might not make my name sound as great as I would like for it to. Also, forgive those who have failed to live up to my standards for them. Thank you that I am not like them.

Thank you that temptation isn’t a problem for me. I haven’t committed a serious sin in well over 20 years. But others haven’t gotten to where I am. Deliver them from evil.

And sometimes people are just praying to their buddy, homeboy or boyfriend.

Dear Invisible Peer,

Fix stuff, give me stuff and take bad stuff away. Also, help me to get married before the rapture happens.

Word.

There is another way. The Jesus way. He took the time to teach his disciples how to pray, not so that we would follow that prayer word for word every time we pray but so that we would have a clear picture of what prayer is really all about. Here’s a hint. It’s not as much about us as we’d like to think. Instead, it’s about a holy God who likes to hear from his people. Prayer isn’t a tool that spiritual people use in an attempt to get God to change his mind. Prayer is a discipline of spiritually broken people who want God to change their heart. Here’s what Jesus’ example looks like.

 

“Pray then like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.'”Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)

But Jesus didn’t leave us with just a guideline. He also gave us the Holy Spirit because, no matter how spiritual you are or how long you’ve been in church or how often you pray, you still really don’t know what you’re doing. Neither do I. But the Spirit is there to help.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

What a picture. Our best efforts at prayer, just like our best efforts at most anything else, fall short. But the Spirit takes those broken prayers to the Father with passion and in a language too deep for us to understand. Prayer is far more powerful than you think.

Praying.

It’s good to know that people care enough to do that for you.

It’s even better when you know that they are praying to their Father in heaven with the assistance of the Holy Spirit instead of to some fake deity just so they can sound more spiritual.

The good news doesn’t stop there.

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t stop working on your behalf when he rose from the grave. He is still approaching the Father on your behalf. Christian, you are being prayed for and it is someone far more important than your parents or pastor who is doing the praying.

You may feel alone. It may seem as though no one cares. Perhaps God seems distant. But if you asked Jesus what he is doing for you right now, he would give you a one word answer.

Praying.

image credit