Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Puritan Prayer: "God the All"

This past Sunday I had our congregation pray through a puritan prayer, "God the All." I wish I prayed prayers like this. Below is what I had us pray; not the full prayer, but most of it (although I confess I changed the Thee's and Thou's to You's).

There is no comfort in anything apart from enjoying You 
     and being engaged in Your service; 
You are all in all, and all enjoyments are what to me You make them, and no more. 
I am well pleased with Your will, whatever it is, or should be in all respects, 
And if You bid me decide for myself in any affair, I will choose to refer all to You,
     for You are infinitely wise and cannot do amiss, as I am in danger of doing. 
I rejoice to think that all things are at Your disposal, 
     and it delights me to leave them there. 
Then prayer turns wholly into praise, and all I can do is to adore and bless You. 
What shall I give You for all Your benefits? 
     I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
     I can of myself do nothing to glorify Your blessed name,
     but I can, through grace, cheerfully surrender soul and body to You.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hope in Pain

I'm reading through a 2-year Bible plan and today, I started the book of Lamentations, most likely written by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not the luckiest of prophets. He was the one chosen by God to pronounce God's impending judgement and discipline on His chosen people. Jeremiah was the one who fore-told, and then witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. In his weaker moments, Jeremiah even accused God of "deceiving him" (see chapter 20). And yet the word of God within Jeremiah was something he couldn't keep to himself even if he wanted to...("his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."). For these reasons and more, Jeremiah is known as the "weeping prophet."

All that to say, Jeremiah was not a happy camper when he wrote the great lament. He "told them so" and they didn't' repent, and so he gets to witness first hand what it's like to receive judgment from the hand of God. And yet, in the midst of all of that, Jeremiah writes these words;

Yet this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
    it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26)

It is easy to have hope in God in a time of blessing. But how much harder to hold onto hope when it seems all hope is gone? Here is Jeremiah sitting in the midst of his darkest moment, writing words of hope.

This got me thinking; how many of us have that kind of faith, that in the midst of our darkest trials, tests, moments, we can remember and cling to the grace of God? There are times when there is nothing we can do but wait and hope, trusting in the character of God to bring comfort, deliverance, or justice.

If you're in one of those times, do what Jeremiah did; call to mind the truths about who God is. There is none like Him, and His love is great.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grief and Joy

Do you grieve well?

A few days ago a day that I had been dreading for awhile finally arrived. A day that should have been filled with joy at the birth of my niece Aimee, was instead filled with pain as she went home to be with God after 1 1/2 hours with us on earth. Expected? Yes...we all knew this was the likely outcome. Easy? No. During this time, and my years as a pastor, I've observed a number of responses from people who are suffering this type of pain. In this post, I want to address one.

Somewhere, some of us seem to have this idea that if we are true followers of Christ and have enough faith, we will always be thankful, full of joy, optimistic at every turn, never question God, and never feel pain or sorrow. This type of response used to bother me, but more often now it causes me to feel sorry for the individual, because I think they miss out on a much needed time to grieve, question, feel pain, and grow stronger as a result.

"Jesus wept." (John 11:35).

John 11 presents us with an incredible picture of Jesus and how he loved. Jesus had a special relationship with Lazarus; "Lord, the one you love is sick..." (v. 3) and so it would seem to be no surprise that He would weep at his death. And yet, when you read a little closer, you see that Jesus knew from the beginning that Lazarus' death was only temporary.

v. 4: "This sickness will not end in death..."
v. 11: "I am going there to wake him up."
v. 23: "Your brother will rise again..."
v. 25: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."

And yet...

v. 33: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled."
v. 35: "Jesus wept."

Jesus is overcome by the emotion of the moment; the sight of so many suffering so much pain was enough to cause the Son of God to weep. Now let me ask you this; if Jesus, knowing He was going to perform a miracle was overcome with emotion and wept, how much more should you and I feel the freedom to grieve deeply?

The truth is there are many things that break God's heart...and I would guess that God, who identifies Himself as our Father, grieves for us when He sees His children suffering heart-ache. Isn't that what we see in this picture with Jesus? Jesus (God), is overcome by the pain that His children are suffering, and it causes Him to break down and weep Himself.

What's my point? I think I have a couple...
1) When you are overcome with emotion and feel like crying, cry.
2) When you see someone else grieving deeply, don't try to make them feel better...instead, try just sitting in silence and grieve with them. Buy them a cup of coffee, and ask them about their pain.

Friday, August 5, 2011

10 < 613 > 2

This post will be simple, ironically enough.

God gave 10 commandments. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the day turned those 10 commandments into 613 laws. Jesus came along and reduced 613 laws to 2 commandments.

Love God with everything you are...
Love your neighbor.

From 10 to 613 to 2.

How are you doing in life? Are you keeping it simple? It's a battle, I know but I need it...the simple life. The older I get, the more I see how overly-complicated we've made life. It doesn't have to be that way. You know what I think the number 1 reason is for our over-complicated lives? Trying to please others instead of trying to please God. Other people puts tons of expectations on us, and we waste so much time trying to meet their expectations.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Two commands. Love God, and Love People.

Tomorrow morning is a brand new day. When you wake up, first thing, pray this prayer;
"Dear Lord, please help me today to love you with all I have, and to love those I come into contact with today." Then focus on those two things...Love God, Love others.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Axioms, Adages and Proverbs (9): Living For ___?

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” (William James)

I have a long list of quotes or sayings; (axioms, adages and proverbs), things that motivate me and are rooted in truth. Here's another winner...(if you want to see others I've written about, click here). 

Recently I was reading through my facebook news feed and was overcome with how self-centered all of us are (including myself). It was shocking, really, to see that almost every post or comment was about A new vacation, new car, new house, new toy, new phone, new outfit, new friend, etc. If it wasn't that, it was some comment or gripe or complaint about something we didn't like here. Not issues of justice, really, but pet peeves. Now is this wrong? Of course not...facebook is not evil in itself, and I'm really not writing this to comment on facebook.

My point is this; all of us, without applying some sort of external pressure to force us to do otherwise, will naturally tend to be internally focused. We're born into this world as infants who think the world revolves around us, (and it does, really), and we seem to struggle to shake this worldview for the rest of our lives. We even carry this into our views of God and Jesus where the focus is on how much Jesus loves me.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

Want to live a life that matters? There's only one way...spend it for something that will outlast it. 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Eternity...this is something that will outlast our earthly lives. Heaven, or Hell, for all mankind...there are only two paths; one wide, one narrow...that is our destiny. Want to build treasures for ourselves, things that will outlast us? Then invest in eternity. What does that look like? Many ways...
- Give freely (time and money)
- Share your faith always (in words and deeds)
- Love deeply
- Confront injustice
- Help the poor and needy, the orphans and widows (because when you do, you are helping Jesus)

Leave fingerprints everywhere you go that point people to Christ.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

You and I are the light...God has set us on a hill to give light the world. How bright are you burning?