Archive for July, 2009

Get Real

I thought I would do one more post on prayer today.  I am working through all the elements found in this passage for the sermon on Sunday.  One of the things that I think we can understand from Jesus’ words is that authentic prayer is just that – authentic.  It must be real, it must be from your true self.

All of us carry baggage – we are complex beings with many layers that make up who we are.  But when we strip away all the external layers and get at the heart of who we really are, that person that really only God knows, we have reached the true self, we have reached the point of being able to pray unhindered.

I encourage you today to get real with God – be yourself.  God already knows you anyway!

Have a great weekend and as always, thanks for reading.

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Cry Out To God

Since we are talking about prayer this week, I feel led to speak to an area of the Christian walk that we don’t want to talk about much.  But if there is anyone reading today going through trying times (I would be shocked if there aren’t) this is for you.  If you aren’t going through tough times right now, that is a blessing.  But I would guess that all of us have at times and will again in the future.

When we go through trying times, God does not leave us.  Friends are placed around us to help – to listen.  Strength comes to us in ways that don’t make sense.  But what I feel I need to say today is this:  there are times that are so rough that we realize talking to a friend does not help, talking to a pastor doesn’t help.  Making ourselves busy to get our mind off of it doesn’t work either.

What then?

There are times in our lives, in our Christian walk, when there is no one or nothing to turn to.  No place we can go to get away from it.  No apparent relief to be found anywhere or in anyone.

It is in those times we must turn to God.  My own experience teaches me that even though the times can be painful, God never leaves me.  I can’t explain the sense of peace that comes when we rest in God and let go of our fear or anger or anxiety – I can just say that it is real.

So today, if you are in the midst of tough times, turn to God.  Cry out to God and let yourself rest in the arms that will never let you go.

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Yesterday, my post discussed that we should spend time alone with God.  I would like to keep that theme going today.  I want to begin with a question, “Is it possible to be alone with God even in the midst of a crowd?”

One of my most meaningful experiences I have ever had in sensing God’s presence in the midst of a crowd came a few years ago in a busy lobby of a hotel in Chicago.  I was waiting on my next meeting to begin and so I sat down to read.  I was reading Thomas Merton’s little book, Thoughts in Solitude.  The following is from my journal entry that day, July 26, 2006:

I took out my little book and began to read – normally I’m ready to check off another chapter but this time I read about 6 lines and stopped – going back to read them again.  I then stopped and shut the book and just praised God in all the hustle and bustle and noise – all of which would be insurmountable distractions at any other time.

What I read that made me stop was this:  “When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively no distractions.  My whole life becomes a prayer.”

As I pondered these thoughts – I was swallowed up in the noise around me.  I heard nothing at all and everything all at once!  I praised and thanked God for the joy of life – as I saw people sharing a drink I praised God for the joy of friendships and relationships . . . The general praise was for the gift of life – a gift we take – I take – for granted, and certainly do not normally see it in a crowded, busy, downtown hotel lobby.  But this day was different.  This day I did!  Thank you God!

The point of all this is sensitivity and focus.  God is all around us – God is with us no matter where we go or what we do.  We just have to look for God.  We should most definitely have a place we meet with God regularly.  But in the in between times we must learn to make a space inside ourselves to meet with God as well.

Have you ever had experiences of God’s overwhelming presence in the midst of odd circumstances?  Let me hear from you.

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Time Alone With God

We talked about prayer in our worship service this past Sunday and we will continue on that topic this coming Sunday.  If you read the book of Mark, you are struck with the sense that Jesus spent time in solitude (look here for an example).  He felt the need to get away and focus on communication with God.

Now if Jesus felt the need to spend time alone with God, how can we think that we could possibly live the way we know we should live if we don’t do the same?  Time alone with God in prayer and scripture reading are the foundation for living and growing in our relationship with God.

So where do you go to be alone with God?  What do you do when you are in that place?

I would love to hear your response – who knows, it might make it into the sermon this week.

Thanks for reading!

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Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of days with the family in southern California on vacation.  I had been there for several days at a conference and the family joined me there for some R and R.

We spent a day and a half on the beach at Huntington.  We picked a great time to be there for a number of reasons.  The US Open of Surfing was going on at the same time so there were people everywhere – but honestly that added to the experience.  But the main reason it was a great time to be there was that we were blessed with abnormally high waves (some 10 to 12 feet).  It was an awesome sight!

The problem the waves created was that we were not allowed to go out into the surf past waste height.  Once we got out into the surf with our boogy boards, it did not take long to understand the reason.  While the waves were incredible, the rip current (the current underneath the waves going back out to sea) was just as strong.

We had a blast riding the waves into shore, but then the work began as we fought the current and tried to make our way back out to the break to catch the next wave.

As I reflect on that experience, it dawns on me that a life lesson can be found in it.  We had to fight the current to get to where we needed to be.  Sometimes, not always, we have to go against the current to get to where God wants us.

It is easier to just go with the flow, but over time we realize that we have been carried to places we never intended to go.  We suddenly look up and realize we have lost all bearings – nothing looks the same.  Our surroundings have changed but we had not noticed because we were enjoying the rush.

I challenge you today to enjoy the ride, but hold your ground even when the current wants to take you somewhere else.  God has a plan for you – focus on that fact even if it means going against the current.

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Adapt and Keep Going

There is a funeral going on at our church today for a saint who passed away after 104 years of life on this earth!  What an amazing accomplishment.

I can’t even imagine the amount and types of change Bessie has encountered in her 104 years here on earth.  She has seen two world wars, and many others.  The change in transportation from horse drawn transportation to cars.  From the source of enternainment being the radio to the TV networks we have today.

All kinds of change.  It boggles my mind to even think about what she has experienced.  What I take away from that is that change is going to occur – we can’t control it.  All we can do is try and understand it and adapt to it and keep going.  Hopefully we can even learn to enjoy it.

I have been in a conference for a week hearing about all kinds of changes coming, many in the area of technology, that will affect the church.  My prayer is that each of our churches will adapt and keep going.  God called us to meet the people where they are and that means following Jesus’ example and going to them.   We must never forget to keep the main thing the main thing – the truth of the Gospel never changes but the way we minister to people and show them that Gospel does.  We will have to change some things or become obsolete and ineffective.  But that is life – change happens.

What will we do?

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Jesus the Rebel

Jesus was a rebel.  He challenged the systems of the day.  He came and turned traditional religion on it’s ear.  The Jewish faith had evolved into quite a system.  The attitude of the Jewish religion had become something like, “God has given us the truth, we have it, you need it and when you decide to come get it, you will know where to find it.”  Paul battled this mentality as well when he began taking the Gospel to the gentiles.  The Jewish Christians struggled with gentiles becoming Christians.  They expected the gentiles to first become Jews and then they could become Christians – “start doing things the way we do them and then we will let you into the club.”

Sound familiar?  Do we ever have the attitude that we have the corner on what God offers and if others want it, then they can come and become like us and we will then share it with them?

Jesus turned that mentality upside down.  He took the truth to the people where they were and he calls us to do the same.  That may mean that we have to go somewhere we would not normally go.  Or it may mean that we may have to offer things at church that may not fit our tastes so that others will be drawn in.  We have got to get past the idea that we have the corner on the Gospel and that all others should just become like us in order to have it.  Jesus took the truth to folks where they were and accepted them as they were – should we not do the same?

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It’s the Weekend

Have you ever noticed how everyone looks forward to the weekend?  Why is that?  Is it because the days are different somehow?

The obvious answer is that the weekend brings days away from work – days off – for most people.  Isn’t it interesting that God knew we needed days off.  Genesis is clear in that when God was creating the world, the seventh and final day of creation was set aside for rest.  The writer could have just as easily said, “and on the 6th day God created . . .”  and ended the story there.  But God knew that we needed to understand the importance of rest – of time away from our regular routine.  So much so that the 7th day was included in the story to help us understand that rest is just as much a part of creation as the creation of the earth, the animals, the plants and us.  In order to function fully as God intended for us to function – to fulfill our calling as human beings – we need rest.

So what are you going to do with those days off?  I challenge you this weekend, or the next time off that you have, to 1) spend some time doing something totally different.  2) Spend some time in prayer and  3) spend some time with your family.  God will honor it and you will be ready to go for the next week.

Have a great and restful weekend – and thanks for reading!

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The Weight of Doing Good

During my devotional time this morning, I listened as I often do to the Jesuit daily prayer podcast I have mentioned here before (Pray-As-You-Go).  The scripture reading was out of Matthew (read it here).  This is one of the most familiar passages of Jesus teaching to me – I know it backwards and forwards but today it touched me as never before.

Jesus was adamant for us to come to him.  He didn’t say in that passage, “hey, someday when you have time, stop by,” or “hey, just give me a passing glance every once in a while.”  He said, “Come to me, live with me, harness yourself to me.” My first response today was a sense of unworthiness.  I don’t deserve for Jesus to help me.  But the passage kept running through my mind, “come to me.”  I was struck with an overwhelming sense of God’s grace.  But the second response I had was one of liberation.

We are so caught up in doing good things that we get weighted down to the point that we don’t feel like doing anything.  At that point, we have to remember that Jesus offers rest.  He did not say that everything we carry would be removed, he just reminds us that he is right beside us, strapped into the same harness as us.  There is great comfort in that fact – there is rest in knowing we are walking with Jesus.  My prayer is that you find rest today.

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This morning I am thinking about living the transformed life.  When you stop and think about it, that is really what following Jesus is all about – striving to be more like him.

We have developed some concrete steps or tools to help us in our effort to become more like Jesus – scripture reading, prayer, worship, service, just to name a few.  These are all essential.  But lest we think this transformed life is something we attain, remember this:  God calls us to be faithful in what we know to do, but at the end of the day, the growth, the transformed life, comes from God – not our efforts.

I read a quote this morning that said, “We know that living a transformed life means living at God’s direction with grace-given capacity.  This is more than we can do on our own, and, in fact, living the transformed life does not mean trying harder.  It means trusting more and staying close to the only One who can make us more than we are.  As we learn to put our trust and faith in God, we become open and available to receive God’s forming and transforming power in our own lives.”  (Rueben P. Job)

Wow!  Do you find this a little liberating?  The drive that is within each of us tells us that if we want to see progress in whatever we are attempting, we have to try harder and push farther.  But we are reminded today that while our effort is an essential component to our spiritual transformation, it is not the essential element.  Trust in God.  Make yourself available to what God wants to do in and through you today and then watch God work a miracle.

Thanks for reading!

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