Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pastoral Prayer - Satisfied in You

Father of All,
You have created us to be satisfied in You. You have placed eternity in our hearts. You have made us restless, and our only rest is found in Your presence. We were made to glorify You and enjoy You forever.

Teach our hearts to long for You. Call us to fix our hope on You. To recognize in our longings the truth that it is You who ultimately fulfill them. To recognize in our hurts that it is You alone who bring true healing. To recognize in the face of temptation that You alone can satisfy our restless souls.

Teach this truth also to the world through us. Help us to live in a way that shows the goodness of Your design for humanity. To be lenses through which Your love and care are shown to those desperate for it. To be the agents by which Your kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Most of all, Father, give Yourself to us. Let us experience Your presence in Your Spirit. Let us worship as we behold Your awesome power. Let us glory in the love You showed us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Father, do this for all of us, and do this in particular for those we carry in our hearts and minds this morning.
  • For those who wander, for those who are seeking satisfaction where they will only find more hurt – make Yourself known to them. Break through the haze of sin and show them the light of Your love and peace.
  • For those far away from us, while we ache for the distance – you are as near to them as You are to us. Let them find shelter in You, just as we do.
  • As we are especially mindful of veterans today, we pray you would be with those who serve their countries today in militaries and for others in roles of civil service. May they know the comfort of your presence, and may you grant them safety and faithfulness.
  • For those who are sick or dying, we pray that You would be a comfort. Bring healing to them, and even more, speak to them that hope that is found in You, a hope that no frailty, not even the grave, could take away.

We pray for these and others who our on our hearts, and we pray for ourselves. May we show forth Your glory by finding our satisfaction in You alone.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Three Ways to Read the Bible Better

One of the oddities of Christianity is its dedication to a specific, authoritative Word of God.

This has always been a unique feature of the Abrahamic religions. No other faith systems share their dedication to the text. It is perhaps a reason for their resilience – by having such divinely-authorized documents, while abuses of power are still often present, they are often restrained by the fact that others have access to the same source of revelation. I, as a pastor, cannot say “Thus says the Lord” without you being able to check me chapter and verse and say, “Actually, no He doesn't.”

It is even more striking in our modern age. As intellectual heirs of the Enlightenment and as people steeped in a culture of individualism and consumerism, we are prone to want to reconstruct our faith to say whatever seems convenient or agreeable. Yet we likewise, if we are Christians, keep bumping up against the text of Scripture. It is like an anchor pulling against the currents of our age (or any age), forcing us to either cut the rope completely or acknowledge that we are straying from our foundation.

We as Christians are meant to be people of the Book. Luke extols the Bereans for just this pursuit: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) Notice what is being praised – not the Bereans unthinking acceptance of Paul's teachings but their diligence in testing it against the Scriptures. We are called to this same diligence.

Given all of this, one of the tasks we have as Christians is to become better readers of God's Word. Such growth includes becoming knowledgeable about Scripture and its background, but it also involves developing habits that help us read it well. Below, I want to suggest three of those habits that I think are helpful as we grow in this calling. These are not the first steps on the journey, nor are they the destination. Much more could be said about reading Scripture well. However, these are three ways I feel like people often go wrong in how they interpret the Bible, so I want to suggest them as correctives to errors we otherwise easily make.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Generosity of Friends and Strangers

I grew up in the rural midwest, in a culture shaped by the bootstrap-pulling frontier work ethic, with grandparents who were mostly second-generation German immigrants. Everything about my heritage instilled in me values of independence and self-sufficiency. Some of that is good - it certainly helped my ancestors who moved into the rugged wilderness and worked it into fertile farmland. However, much of it is toxic as well. Independence very easily becomes a prideful lie, making us regard as noble things like emotional repression and a refusal to seek help for our problems.

One of the symptoms of this self-reliant birthright is a discomfort with receiving charity. In the culture I inherited, you always helped your neighbor and never took payment while never letting them help you and always insisting on paying if they did. On the surface, this looked virtuous. Underneath it was just another way to puff up the ego, albeit one colored by the quiet severity of the Great Plains. To be needed by others without needing them is to come as close as a human might to being like God.

Only as the Lord in His good providence has repeatedly cut our legs out from under us have I begun to recognize the wrongness of this attitude. It started years ago, with the birth of our daughter and the months we spent with her in the hospital. The gestures of love we experienced in that time, whether it was meals on our doorstep or gift cards in the mail or even just having to come to professors and say, "I can't get this done on time;" accepting each of them felt like a little death. While we were grateful, I was also in my heart irritated by these acts.

Only in retrospect did I realize what bothered me was that each of them was a little chip or crack in the statue of myself I had erected in my mind. I was conditioned to think I needed to be a superman, to be one of those pioneers striding across the prairie as the earth quaked beneath my feet. Every undeserved kindness was a reminder that I was all too human and all too frail.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Pastoral Prayer - The Great Judge

Lord God,
You are the great judge of all the earth. You judge mightily, and no man can stay your hand, no matter how powerful or rich or knowledgeable the might seem in this age. You judge truly, seeing through all deceit and pretense and double talk. You judge justly, Your decrees perfectly righteous and beautiful and true.

Father, bring that justice. We know that it will never be fully realized until You return, but by Your common grace and by the moving of Your Word we pray that You would grow it in our world. In the midst of a world of terroristic threats, a world of bitter rhetoric, a world of power abused and the poor crushed, we pray that Your justice would come. Give to those that rule wisdom and fairness, to those that serve them integrity and safety, to those that would do harm discipline and repentance, and to those that have been wounded by them healing and hope.

Father, give us these same hearts that rejoice in Your righteous decrees. Teach us to never replace the love You call us to with hollow external religion. Let us not come in assemblies and offerings which are to you a noisy emptiness. Instead, let Your justice roll down through us like water. Let Your righteousness stream out of us and into the world. You have shown us what is good – to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before You. May our lives be a testimony of Your work in us that, when we stand before Your throne, the fruit of Your Spirit might show forth as evidence of Your glory.

As You give us such hearts, also teach us, in the face of Your judgment, to long for Your mercy. In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. None of us are only the victims of sin – all of us at times are also the perpetrators. All of us deserve condemnation. Show to us the ways we wrong others and give us hearts that are quick to confess and to hide themselves in Jesus Christ. In Him, Your justice and Your kindness meet. May He be our shelter and our plea as we stand before You on that day when You return to judge all that is evil in this world, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him now as we walk in it. It is in His great and good name we pray.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Creation (Poem)

In the timeless void before it,
God muttered to Himself
And it was.

He stood before the inky black,
His breath stirring the waters.
He unbuttoned his shirtsleeve,
Plunged his arm in elbow deep,
And dragged out the light.
God squinted at it there in his palm,
Tongue between his teeth in thought,
And then he pasted it to the darkness
With the dawn and dusk.
There was a considered nod
And God said,
“Yeah, that looks pretty good.”

The next day God bent down,
Cupped together the waters,
And left in their place the sky.
Another night came and went
To find Him stooped,
Perpendicular palm dividing the seas,
And, with a wrist-flick, continents emerged.
All pretty good,
Although kind of empty too.

God spat on the sky and made the stars.
He whipped up the sun and moon too,
Because, hey, it's nice to be able to mark the time.
Also every fish and mammal and arachnid,
All hundred-odd species of pine trees,
And the ancestor of the bird that relieved itself on my windshield this morning.
“That looks pretty good,”
God judged His handiwork,
Although something still wasn't quite right.

So God took some dirt
Puffed on it
And made humanity
He said,
“Walk with me,
Make love,
Work the earth.
Be my portrait
Hung in the studio of the world.”

Behold, it was very good,
So God laid back to rest.
“After all, what more could anyone want?”
He asked,
Watching Adam and Eve exchange doe-eyed looks in the garden,
Knowing already the irony of the question.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Grace-Covered, Deeply Serious Task of Christian Parenting

It is a little after 6. I stayed up too late last night watching television. I am jolted awake by my daughter loudly speaking in my ear. "Daddy, it's time for devotions."

This is where the rubber of Christian ideals meet the road of obedience.

One of our primary tasks as Christian parents is to be the spiritual leaders of our children. We are, in a real sense, their first church. We are the main source of their discipleship. While proverbs are not guarantees, they do speak to the normal way things work in God's design, and one of them says: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

A failure of much modern Christian parenting literature is that it tends to focus much more on what it means to raise well-behaved human beings than to raise Christ-followers. I have read many books about discipline and boundary-setting and being supportive - all good things, mind you. However, the central focus of Scripture is on discipleship. "Teach [God's words] to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 11:19) We are to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Pastoral Prayer - Father of Blessings

Father of Blessings,
You have promised us blessings untold. We have tasted of them - the blessings of Your support and presence and care, of strength to persevere and new life and forgiveness and hope in an imperishable inheritance. You have promised these things, and You have worked them for us in Jesus Christ. We give you thanks for all that You have done, and we confess how often we take these blessings for granted.

However, You also promise us that there are deeper blessings hidden in Jesus, and we pray that You would pour forth these as well. Too often we content ourselves only with the shallow beginnings of faith rather than its fruitful fullness. Give us hearts that long for deeper things. Make us hunger for the full measure of life You have promised.