Use a Word of Intimacy When Addressing Your Father

When our two boys were young they could change my day in an instant. They would come home from school and have a couple of hours or so with their mother. She’d have homemade cookies ready for them, they’d sit down and talk about the day, and then go off to play or do homework. (She really would have homemade cookies for them. But no, she did not wear June Cleaver pearls.)

 

I always felt like I was missing a little something by not being able to be home for the after-school routine. But that feeling faded away as soon as I walked in the door. “Daddy!” I’d hear. Sometimes in unison. “Let’s play!”

That’s all I needed. One word. “Daddy!” “Daddy, can you help?” “Of course I can!” “Daddy, can we ride bikes.” “Only if I get to come too.” “Daddy, why are you so funny?” “Looks aren’t everything.”

You used it as a child yourself. And, if you have children and are a father, you’ve heard it too. It’s the word children use for their father that they don’t use for anyone else: “Daddy.”

It’s the word Jesus used to teach us to pray. “Our Father…” This word is given to us in Greek, the word pater for the Greek speaking audiences for whom it was originally written. But most likely Jesus would have spoken in his native language of Aramaic and used the word “Abba.”

Statements in the Talmud and other Jewish documents tell us this is the word infants learn to say when they are weaned, like “dada” or “mama.” But by the time of Jesus “Abba” was a word even adults would use to refer to their father. It includes ideas of “simplicity and intimacy and security.”

It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus’ in the Gospels and each begin with “Father.” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.

So can you. John, the one closest to Jesus, writes: “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”

Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God? Then you are a child of God too. Have you received Jesus? Then you have been given the right to be a child of God.

Paul is very clear about this in his writings. “For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Notice what he says. First, if you are led by God’s Spirit you are his child. Simply put, a child  resembles their Father. Are you taking on his traits more and more? Do you follow the guidance he has given?

I see traits of my father in me. When we were young Dad instilled in us a desire to conserve electricity. He was like the “electricity Meter Man.” If you left your room and did not plan on coming right back, you turned out your light. If you went out the back door in the summer, you made sure you shut it well so the cool air would not escape. I’m sure he had some sort of secret timer on the refrigerator door that would alert him if my brother and I kept it open too long looking for a snack.

Guess who turns lights off in the house and watches the thermostat at our house? If the Father’s Spirit is leading you, you are his child.

Second, a child should not fear their father. Paul said we did not “receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” You have been adopted as one of his children. What a difference that makes! Because you are adopted, guess what you can call him? “Abba, Father!”

Simple words. Loving words. Words the Father wants to hear. Notice we do not have to approach prayer with high vocabulary. No, “Oh Great Avenger. Oh Master of the Universe. Oh Guardian of the Galaxy.” You wouldn’t hear my family addressing me with such pious words. Although when I obtained a Master’s degree I thought Karen might start addressing me as “Master.” (It didn’t happen).

No, we address the Father with the same tone we would our own good fathers. “Abba.” “Dad.”

He’s waiting right now to hear you utter that special word.

Question: What traits of the Father are showing up in your life?

 

How to Pray When You Don’t Know How

It sounded like an easy assignment. “You’ll start the day by finding a room in the building by yourself. Then pray for an hour.” “No problem,” I thought. “Sit quietly and pray? No sweat.”

Turns out I did sweat. I had gone with other college students to Miami, Florida to be part of a Spiritual Life Internship conducted by a church located in Little Havana. The church wisely did not run their air conditioning in typically unused parts of the building. A number of us unwisely chose typically unused parts of the church building for our personal prayer spots.

The rooms were warm. The air was heavy. So were my eyelids. My mind was wandering. My head was bobbing. When a bell rang to signal the time to regroup in the meeting area I realized that I had snoozed more than supplicated.

In a moment of honesty, I reported how my time went. To my relief I was not alone. It was a common experience for our group. Blame it on muggy Miami or chalk it up to our inexperience. We discovered what we were expected to discover: we needed to learn to pray.

Might you feel that need too? We pray… at times.  When we need help we pray. When we get bad news we pray. When the doctor calls us in we pray. We may offer a prayer when we come over a rise in the road and see the Rockies. We may remember to say thanks when something good comes our way: a promotion, a birth, a new love.

We pray … at times. But wouldn’t you like to pray more? More often? More powerfully? More selflessly? For all the reasons we don’t pray more often, more often it is simply because we’re not sure how.

We aren’t alone. The first followers of Jesus needed help too. Before you think you can’t pray like Peter or Andrew, James or John, think again. Luke records that on one occasion “one of his disciples said to him ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” What he doesn’t record is any of the other disciples piping up and saying, “Yeah, he needs help. We’ve got this one. You teach him while we grab some figs and dates.” You won’t find any of the other disciples opting out of the lessons.

That is because prayer is a learned language. Go to Italy and it helps if you know some Italian. In the same way there is a language found in God’s kingdom: prayer. The disciples had watched Jesus’ prayer life and wanted theirs to match what they had seen in his. They had seen him pray before meals and powerful acts and important decisions. They had learned prayer was so vital to him he would disappear to pray.

It seemed Jesus did nothing without prayer. His disciples took notice. So when they asked for training he did not embark on a five-part webinar on “How to Pray.” When the disciples asked him to teach them to pray he simply gave them a simple prayer.

You may know it as The Lord’s Prayer. It is a skeleton of sorts that over time can hold more muscle and heart and lungs.

Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

That’s how Jesus said to pray. If you are a prayer novice, you can master this prayer. If you are a prayer warrior, you should not venture too far from this prayer. Prayer is the only thing we find the disciples specifically asking Jesus to teach them. And this is the prayer he gave.

It’s been a long time since that assignment in Miami. I still struggle with prayer at times. But I’ve gotten better. When I get distracted now I use this prayer. When I get sleepy now this one can be uttered quickly.

When you don’t know how to pray this one will help. Your Father wants to talk with you.

Let him teach you how.

Question: What keeps you from prayer?

What to do When You Find Yourself Waiting

It’s the four-letter word we most dread to hear. Speak it in a group of high-powered deal makers about to sign on the dotted line and watch their jaws drop. Whisper it in a fast food lane and watch old ladies react in horror. Yell it out to your kids on Christmas morning as they are about to rip into the wrapped packages and see them turn and look at you with disgust.

It’s a cringe-worthy four-letter word and it may surprise you that Jesus uttered it. And since he did, I will too. Here it comes: “Wait.” Jesus told his disciples to wait. “While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise” (Acts 1:4).

We need training in waiting. Fortunately for us there is a place where we can go to hone this skill. You may have been there. I was recently. The appointment was at 9:45 a.m. I thought I might show up early and get lucky. So at 9:20 a.m. I tapped on the glass of the receptionist’s window and announced my presence. She greeted me and promptly announced, “Have a seat and wait here and the nurse will come get you when we’re ready.”

She slid the glass closed and I imagined her sending word to the doctor: “Mr. Brown is here early. Let’s reward him for helping us get ahead of schedule!” I imagined that while I waited in the waiting room.

I looked around while I waited. There was one young wife with her husband. She kept hacking while she waited. I was glad she was waiting with her hacking on the other side of the room.

There was one woman in her later years with her father who was in even later years than she. At one point he got up and shuffled to the door, opened it with great trouble, and then started to shuffle down the hallway. I was amused by this thinking, “Ha-ha…he’s a wise old man. He’s making a run…or shuffle…for it while he can. What if he gets lost?” Another patient was alarmed by this and told the daughter, “He’s heading down the hallway.” She got up and walked at a somewhat quicker gait than her father and eventually brought him back to his seat where he…waited.

At 9:45 a.m. the door opened, a nurse appeared, and called someone else’s name. At 10:20 a.m. she reappeared and called me back where she took me to a smaller room where I sat on the table and waited. I waited until 10:35 a.m. That’s the time the nurse practitioner finally saw me. Not that I was watching the clock while I waited.

We don’t like to wait, do we? Raise your hand if, like me, you get in the “10 items or less” checkout line and, when it doesn’t move, start counting the number of items in the carts in front of you. You find 11 and want to report the person. Why? Because they’re making you wait one item longer than you should have to.

 

“Wait” is a four-letter word. Just utter it to someone in a hurry and record the response you get. We are a people who are used to being on the move. To us, waiting is equated with waste. One estimate suggests that some people spend a year or two of their lives waiting in line.  We have to be doing something so we just look at our mobile devices. We read. We text. We email. We work while we wait.

But God prefers that he work while we wait. He has trained his people in the art of waiting throughout Scripture. Abraham had to wait for Isaac. The Israelites had to wait forty years before entering the Promised Land. Joseph had to wait for his dream to be fulfilled. Mary had to wait to give birth to Christ.

And the disciples had to wait in Jerusalem. But while they waited and while God worked there was something to do. Waiting in the Bible has to do with paying attention to God, watching to see what he is doing, and when his people are given a green light they move.

To wait is to pray. Gathering to wait and pray are the two primary activities of a faithful church.  Reread that sentence and answer this question: if we looked at most churches today in our fast-paced society, would we say that these two activities were the primary activities of the modern day church?

Possibly not. The reason is that, as one modern day theologian penned in song, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  Waiting is the hardest part because there are things that need to be done in the world and we think we need to get about the task of doing them.

Could it be that to wait is contrary to our nature because it confronts our desire for control? When we wait we feel as if we have no control. Which is exactly where Jesus wants us. Peter was probably champing at the bit to start witnessing. Andrew was ready to invite someone else into this movement. James was ready to lead the church in Jerusalem. But just because Jesus had instructed them for forty days was not enough to carry out this mission.

They needed the power to do so. And power comes through waiting. “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Have you been asked to wait on something today? A job? A healing? A spouse? Has Jesus asked you to wait before doing something? Before a move? Before accepting a job? Before marrying that person?

Not everything God has in store for you will happen quickly. Some things require that we wait. It may be a week. It may be, as in the case of the Israelites, forty years. It may be, in the case of the disciples, forty days. But while you wait, God is working. And he wants you to be ready. He wants you to have renewed strength. He wants you to soar like eagles. He wants you to run the task ahead and not be weary.

All you need to do is wait and pray. Funny, isn’t it? Both are powerful. And they are both four-letter words.

Question: How can learning to wait increase your spiritual power?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Failures are not Final

As rejection letters go this one wasn’t too bad. I had an idea for a book, had written most of it, and decided to send a proposal to a publisher that was fairly new on the scene.

I imagined them reading the first few lines and shouting, “This is it! Our next bestseller!” Their offices would shut down and celebrate before a contract was even signed. Within two weeks I received a response. “Thanks so much for your proposal. Your topic is certainly a worthy one, and we’re honored you thought of us as a publisher. Unfortunately, we don’t believe this book is the right fit for us at this time. Our niche is in practical church leadership, and we don’t typically publish inspirational works.”

Someone taught me to look for the good things so I did. “Worthy topic.” “O.K.,” I thought. “I’m on the right track.” They were “honored” I thought of them. “Great. I made them feel good about themselves. That’s honorable of me.”

Nothing in there about bad writing. They could have said, “We read your sample chapter and honestly…we don’t really understand what it was we were reading.” It was just not a match for the kind of publishing they do. It wasn’t bad. But it was still a rejection.

It did not matter that Karen kept reminding me I had only sent the proposal to one publisher. It did not matter that she recounted the stories I’ve shared of writers who were turned down numerous times before they found their publisher.

It didn’t matter. I spent exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes feeling like a failure.

Maybe you have too. You lost a job. You lost a marriage. Never finished school. Watched your business go under. Planned to improve yourself one year but didn’t change a thing. You described yourself as a failure and thus prescribed your role for life. You’ve lived with the consequences ever since and decided to return to something safe. Instead of pursuing something else and risk failure you retreated to the familiar.

If you can relate to what I’m saying, you can relate to Peter. He’s been fishing all night and hasn’t caught a thing.  After the events of the cross he retreated to what was most familiar to him. Something safe. He went fishing.

After a long night he has nothing to show. It’s not the first time he’s failed either. It’s not the first time shame has been taunting him: “Maybe you’re not really cut out for this business.” “You don’t have what it takes.” “You let yourself down and you’ve let others down.” No one else has to say these things. The tapes are playing in his own mind.

But that’s when Jesus appeared on the shore. Peter jumps in the water and meets him by a charcoal fire. The last time we saw the words “charcoal fire” Peter was warming himself while turning a cold shoulder to Jesus. At that charcoal fire Peter denied Jesus. At this one he will see his shame burn away and his new life appear when Jesus gives him an assignment. “Feed my sheep.”

Failure and the shame that accompanies it can cause us to quit. We go into hiding and don’t take another swing at the ball. We disappear into the bushes like Adam and Eve, afraid to make another move.

I did. For exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes I resolved to never write again. “How can God use me if I can’t get a publisher to take a chance?” I thought. I know. It sounds crazy, but you’ve said similar things, haven’t you? The Enemy will take anything we think we’ve failed at and use it to stifle us. He plants the thought in our minds that failure makes us unfit to be used by God.

Whatever your point of failure is, take it before Jesus. That weekend in Cancun when you were younger. That word you spoke to that friend that ended the friendship. Those thoughts you have that no one else knows.

If Peter can take his denial to Jesus, you can take your misdeeds to him too. Jesus does not call the holy. He makes holy the ones he calls. That’s what he does with Peter. He sets him apart for his service.

Peter’s task is to feed the sheep. The one who denied Jesus three times would now be the one who would lead the fledgling church in its infancy. The one who was afraid to die at the first charcoal fire found the courage to die by the second.

Jesus tells Peter how he will die. He tells him that when he grows old “…you will stretch out your hands…” This is a metaphor for crucifixion. He would face death on account of his faith because he faced his failure.

Early Church Fathers wrote about Peter’s history. Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) wrote “They say when the blessed Peter saw his wife led away to death, he rejoiced that her call had come and that she was returning home.” Then, sometime after witnessing his own wife’s martyrdom, he endured his own. Tertullian (A.D. 155-250) wrote that “Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord” and “In Rome Nero was the first to stain with blood the rising faith. Peter was girded about by another when he was made fast to the cross.”

Jesus has a way of using people who have failed. Abraham’s cowardice caused him to lie about his wife being his sister before God made him the father of many nations. Moses’ anger resulted in a dead Egyptian and a 40 year hiding in the wilderness before he led God’s people to the Promised land. David had Uriah killed so he could have Bathsheba before God used him as an example of a man after his own heart.

He used Peter, denials and all, to lead his own bride, the church.

And he has something for you to do too. It may not be leading the church the way Peter did, but it does include loving the church the way Jesus did. Your failures are not final.

Publishers can send nice rejection letters. But Jesus won’t. You’re a part of his story.

And there’s more writing to be done.

Question: What failure is keeping you from moving forward?

 

 

Live First and Speak When Necessary

Picture the following scene on the movie screen of your mind. The camera pans across a field, moves up the side of a mountain, and settles on a leader with a small band of hand-picked, trained and tested followers surrounding him.

The leader gives them their final assignment and the details of their mission.  They are something like a Special Ops troop being deployed into enemy territory. They are being asked to leave their places of comfort and do hard work for the mission.

Their orders come not on a tape that will self-destruct but in person, straight from the lips of the commander himself.  “As you are going, make disciples of all people groups.”

“All people groups?” you wonder. You take a mental note of those in the scene. None have traveled outside their own people—the Jewish people—and avoid Gentiles like the plague. They have no degrees. If anything they are underqualified. You don’t think this sounds anything like a Special Ops scene. You mumble “this mission is going to be a disaster.”

The reason being that what we see on the outside is different than what Jesus sees on the inside. We see Peter. He’s hard-headed and fish-focused. He popped off when he should have kept quiet. He kept quiet when he should have confessed. We see a failure. Jesus sees his leader.

We see James and John. Hot-blooded. Ready to wipe out unbelieving cities with one stream of fire from heaven. We see reactionaries. Jesus sees revolutionaries who will replace their calling of fire down from heaven with calling heaven’s love down to earth.

If we look closely enough we see ourselves. Common. Afraid of venturing out into a world on a mission of change. Fearful of the change it will bring to our own worlds. That’s what we see on the outside. Jesus sees his Special Ops troops.

It may sound like a daunting task. And it is. But look closely at the directives. “As you are going…” It means “as you continue on your journey.”  Jesus wants us to reclaim territory where we are every day. That’s why your Wednesdays matter as much to Jesus as your Sundays.  The truck you drive is his truck.  The computer station you work at is his computer station. The dentist office you visit, the gym you work out at, the people you meet for dinner, are all people he cares about.  And because you are in those places due to your skills or where you live or your interests you are his Special Ops agent there.

What would happen if you saw yourself in this way?  I imagine we might have ongoing conversations with our Missions Director throughout the day: “What do you want me to do for that co-worker over there?” “How would you help my employer have a better day if you were me?” “Help me know what decision to make on this deal that’s fair to all.”

More than merely getting the job done, you want to accomplish your mission.  You start seeing the people around you as potential learners of the way of Jesus. Jesus says “as you are going.” Be present with people wherever you are.

The gathered church is more like a training camp. When we are serious about making disciples of other people groups we will need some help and instruction. That happens with the church gathered. Then we are deployed on mission between Sundays. Francis of Assisi had it right when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times. And, if necessary, use words.”

The best way to make disciples is to be a disciple. The life of a disciple will cause others to notice.  And once they are noticed, words will help. The life comes first. Words follow.

“As you go make disciples of all people groups.” The first disciples did then and they changed the world. If we do now, the story will not be a disaster. It will be epic.

Question: Where does your “going” take you weekly and who are the people you encounter as you go?

How to Make Peace with your Doubts

A Texas rancher bought 10 ranches and put them together to form one giant spread. His friend asked him the name of his new mega-ranch. He replied, “It’s called The Circle Q, Rambling Brook, Double Bar, Broken Circle, Crooked Creek, Golden Horseshoe, Lazy B, Bent Arrow, Sleepy T, Triple O Ranch.”

“Wow,” said his friend, “I bet you have a lot of cattle.”

“Not really,” explained the rancher. “Not many survive the branding.”

Neither did Thomas. The Bible calls him “Thomas Didymus” or “Thomas the Twin.” Some believe he may have looked like Jesus, thus the nickname. Regardless, you know him as “doubting Thomas.”

You know him by that name because he had missed a meeting with the other disciples where the resurrected Jesus appeared. When they found Thomas they shared their good news with him: “We have seen the Lord!”

Thomas’ reaction was less than enthusiastic. He said the line for which he has been remembered for ages: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Some see this as a doubt caused by weariness. Thomas has traveled a long road with Jesus. If he were to travel any further he wanted to make sure this really was his Jesus.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in seasons of doubt too. Your weariness that opened you up to doubts was from the world, from over-commitment, from your past or past sin. Life has not turned out the way you planned it to and the door opened for doubt.

Thomas could relate. But a week later Jesus showed up and gave him just what he had asked for: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Jesus does not chastise Thomas. He gives him what he needs. In fact, the original Greek hints that Jesus was being playful with him: “Bring your finger over here.”

Thomas needed peace and Jesus gave it to him. Peace in biblical terms is not when life is going as I have planned things. Peace is when life is going as God has planned things. And part of God’s plan is that doubt is part of the life of faith.

If you’re in a season of doubt, here’s what you need to know from Thomas’ story.

First, be honest with your doubts. Thomas was. He knew that the Jesus he followed would carry the marks of the crucifixion. So when Thomas stepped into a place of honesty about his doubts Jesus stepped into the room. Being honest with your doubts is a necessary part of faith.

Second, be with people who aren’t afraid of your doubts. Find a faith culture that allows for doubts and where leaders themselves are free to express their doubts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be with people who are not afraid of questions? They let you ask yours. They share stories of doubts they’ve had. When you’re in a period of uncertainty they carry you along until you regain your faith equilibrium. They don’t get anxious. They just love you the way Jesus loved Thomas.

Finally, a third lesson from Thomas is that a culture that allows questions can help you be aware of what God is doing with your doubts. Jesus allowed Thomas time to “doubt his doubts” a bit. Jesus knew what he was doing with Thomas. He was allowing him time to think through what it was he believed. And then, when the time was right, he appeared to him. After that moment what Thomas believed was his own belief. Not his parents’ belief. Not his friends’ belief. It was his: “My Lord and my God!”

What Jesus did for Thomas he does for you. He gives you time to doubt and ask questions. If you’re honest, he’ll come to you.

And that kind of experience will give you peace.

Question: When you have faith doubts where do you go with them?

 

 

 

 

Let Go of the Hurt to Take Hold of Hope

The year was 1820.  Ten-year-old Phineas was up before the sun.  This was the day his father was taking him to the island.  His island.  On the day he was born, his grandfather presented Phineas with a deed to a portion of Connecticut land called Ivy Island.  This day he was to see it for the first time.

They climbed into the buggy with a hired-hand.  Phineas could barely sit still.  At the top of each hill he’d ask, “Are we there yet?  Can I see it from here?”  His father would encourage him to be patient and would tell him they were getting close.

Finally, his dad pointed and said, “There, there is Ivy Island.” What he saw caused his heart to sink.  Ivy Island was a snake-infested marshland. It was a joke.  A stunned Phineas stared as the father and the hired hand roared with laughter.

Phineas didn’t laugh.  He didn’t forget either.  That disappointment shaped his life. The little boy who was fooled made a career out of fooling people. You don’t recognize him as Phineas or a landowner.  You know him as a promoter.  He coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  He spent his life proving it.  You know him as P.T. Barnum.

You’ve known some disappointment too, haven’t you?  Struggles in marriage. Letdown by friends. Let loose from a job. Disillusioned with church. What do you do with your disappointments?

There’s a story about two men on the road to Emmaus. They were disappointed in a big way. They had hoped Jesus was the one who “would free Israel.” But the events of Jerusalem led them to believe he was dead.

The ironic twist in the story is that the Savior they thought was not present was walking right beside them. Jesus had come up to them on the road. They didn’t recognize him. No matter. He listened to their crushed hopes.

Then he told them a story. He told them the story of God and God’s hopes for them. When he was done, he acted as if he were going to walk on after they stopped but they invited him in for a meal. When he broke bread with them they recognized him. Their hope returned and they went back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive.

This account can help us today. Jesus cares about your heartaches. When life disappoints you—maybe even when God disappoints you—take a cue from the Emmaus walkers and do what they did.

Tell Jesus your hopes. They told him all that had happened in Jerusalem and how they were feeling about their crushed dreams. Jesus listened to their hopes then and he will listen to your hopes now.

Then listen to Jesus’ hopes for you. Jesus’ cure for the broken heart is the story of God.  What they heard was what we need to hear when we are disappointed. We need to hear that life is a series of chapters in God’s story and when we come to a chapter of disappointment the story is not over. There are more pages to be written.

Finally, share a meal with him. Did you notice it was in the “breaking of the bread” that their eyes were open? My guess is that when Jesus took the bread and broke it and handed it to the disciples, they saw his nail-scarred hands. When Jesus followers take the bread and cup, they remember a story. A story that is still being written through our lives.

Where is your disappointment today? Take a walk with Jesus. You might let go of the hurt and take hold of a new hope.

Question: Where can you use some hope today?

 

What to Do With Your Guilt

One anonymous person had his conscience weigh on himself enough to send this note and money to the U.S. Government: “Back in 1966 I worked for the Government and retired that year. My conscience hurts! Because I stole Government property: two metal panel office dividers with plastic upper portion. I ask your forgiveness and say I am extremely sorry for this rotten act. Enclosed $50 bill to cover cost. (This material was second hand.) May God and you forgive me.”

He’s not alone in his guilt.  The U.S. government began collecting and storing these letters in 1811 and have since seen literally tons of them.  Since that time $6,500,000 has been deposited in what is called the Conscience Fund.

One donor’s conscience was apparently not fully developed. He wrote: “Dear Internal Revenue Service, I have not been able to sleep at night because I cheated on last year’s income tax. Enclosed find a cashier’s check for $1,000. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the balance.”

The weight of guilt and fear of being found out is real.  The disciples felt it. Denying Jesus. Deserting Jesus. The fear they felt sent them into hiding like their ancestors Adam and Eve.

It’s no wonder then that when the women bumped into the angel at the tomb the first word they heard from him was, “Do not be afraid.”  That’s the typical saying from angels.  Angels weren’t the sweet little cherub faced beings you see on greeting cards.  Something about them struck fear in the people they encountered.  This one appeared after an earthquake and his presence made the women quake.

They were afraid.  He calmed them a bit with his news of Jesus’ resurrection and then gives them a task.  “Go, quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’”

Jesus gives his followers then and now a prescription for fear. They were afraid of the authorities. They were afraid of the future. They were afraid of their failures. They had not kept promises made.

You and I have done the same.  In my years of working with people, I’ve seen plenty: Failure to keep promises made to God. Failure to get along with others. Failure to live with integrity. Failure to control your tongue or turn the other cheek. Failure to finish what you started. Those are just my failures that have caused fear. And whatever yours are, the words of Jesus can help.

First, believe Jesus. When he says you do not have to be afraid, don’t be afraid. The disciple John understood that fear has to do with punishment so he wrote, “perfect love casts out fear.” He had known that perfect love. You can too. Believe Jesus.

Then see Jesus. “…there you will see me.” Fear frustrates our focus. It keeps our eyes on the issue and not on Jesus. Refocus. When you face fear, face Jesus.

You may be thinking, “So where will I see Jesus?” He tells us the answer: in Galilee. He tells the disciples then to go to Galilee, back to the place of their daily lives. He doesn’t send them back to a mountaintop but back into the middle of the mundane.

And that’s where he sends us too. When you see Jesus in your familiar moments you will see him in your fearful moments.

So don’t be afraid. Believe Jesus. See Jesus. And get on with the business of living.

Question: What fear(s) are you facing today?

 

 

 

Know Who It Is You’re Looking For

The other day I heard a great knock-knock joke. It goes like this: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Control freak. Now you say, ‘Control freak who?’”

You know someone who likes to be in control, don’t you? Like the husband who entered the kitchen to find his wife just beginning to fry two eggs. He says to her, “You can’t fry two eggs in the same pan, there’s not enough room!”

He looks in the pan and says, “Did you put butter in the pan? I told you to put butter in the pan when you cook the eggs!”

The wife starts to flip the eggs and the husband says “You can’t flip with that spatula, use the other one.”

Frustrated, the wife turns to the husband and says, “I’m 46 years old. Don’t you think I know how to fry an egg?” The husband says, “Well, yeah. I just wanted you to know how I feel when I’m driving.”

Know the feeling? There are some things we can control in life and there are some things outside our control. Sometimes we have to trust. Jesus did. There’s not much you can control when you’re nailed to a cross. So when death was about to overtake him he knew he had to relinquish control to his Father. “And Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’”

Jesus entrusted his dying moments to God. Three days later Mary entrusted her daily moments to God. Let me explain. Mary came looking for Jesus only to find the tomb empty. Even though Jesus had told his followers he would be raised on the third day, she wasn’t expecting an Easter celebration. When she looks into the empty tomb she only sees two angels. They don’t seem to bother her too much. (Maybe like me she lives with an angel every day.) What bothers her is that there is no body. She wants to know where it is so she can go get it.

You’ve got to like her spunk. Somehow she is going to find the body and carry it by herself and get it back to where she can anoint it. That’s when she hears these words: “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it that you’re seeking?” She thinks it’s the gardener. But it’s the risen Christ. And his first words to her include a question that is a question for a resurrection life. “Who is it that you’re seeking?”

Many look for a Jesus who isn’t there. A Jesus who died and was not raised from the dead. A Jesus who will conform to our ideas of what the Messiah should be. A Jesus who will give us our “fill of loaves,” one that is here to make our lives safe and secure.

Mary found that the dead body of Jesus was gone. In its place was the resurrected Christ. But when she heard him call her name she responded with these words: “‘Rabboni!’  ​— ​which means ‘Teacher.’” Mary sees the risen Jesus as the one who is worthy of “Teacher” status. One she can give her Monday through Saturday to, not just her first Easter Sunday.

There’s something you’re trying to control in your life today and it’s not working out. You’ve tried to control your spouse. Or your children. Or your co-worker. Whatever it is, you’ve found that there are some things you can’t control. There are some things you can’t fix. Your marriage. Your work. Your neighbor. Your debt. And you’ve come to the point you’re saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Then maybe today is the day you let Jesus become your Teacher and you give it to God. You are either looking for a Jesus you can control or a Jesus you give control to.  Resurrection life is life lived under God’s control. Someone who can come back from the dead is someone I want to tell me how to live life.

And if that’s what you want too you can begin by looking for the risen Christ, the Lord. Then say, “into your hands I entrust…my spirit…my life…my family…my finances…”

If you’ll trust him with your dying moments you’ll trust him with your daily moments.

Question: What Jesus are you looking for? 

 

Live Into the Freedom of the Battle Won

Sometimes the battle is won by one person giving his life so the others can live. John R. Fox made such a sacrifice.

Fox was a forward operator for the U.S. military in WWII.  In December of 1944 he found himself stationed in the Italian village of Sommocolonia. By Christmas day enemy soldiers had gradually infiltrated the town in civilian clothes.

A German attack from the outside had begun by 4:00 a.m. on December 26. The enemy soldiers who had infiltrated the town bolstered the attack from within and the two groups quickly overwhelmed the American soldiers. Greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town.

But Fox volunteered to stay behind with a few Italian soldiers as part of a small observer party. They would be “eyes and ears” in the town. He and the others would direct artillery fire from outside the town against the German troops with the hope that the American unit could make a safe retreat and regroup. Fox and his Italian party positioned themselves on the second floor of a building in a spot that allowed him to see the advancing enemy.

By 8:00 a.m. Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He began calling for defensive artillery fire in an effort to slow the enemy’s advance. It quickly became clear that the Germans were going to overrun the streets and outnumber his small group. And if they overran his group they would eventually get to the rest of the U.S. forces. So Fox held his position and radioed his requests.

When evil advances something has to be done to defeat it. And when a mission is designed to defeat it, that mission must be finished.

John writes of such a mission when he tells the story of Jesus on the cross. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” What was finished? A mission that began not in a small Italian town but a gun-free garden. It too had been infiltrated.

From the Garden the battle was on. God had said, “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” We see the war raging and evil spreading until we come to a covenant: “Through your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed.”

We see the battle in Egypt as God frees his people. We see it in Babylon when God brings his people home. And we see it as evil has spread through cosmos and creation when Jesus enters the scene.

He brings God’s kingdom against the “ruler of this world.” He heals the diseased and the demonized. He does battle against anger, lust, swearing oaths, temptation, lying, legalism, false teachings, spiritual blindness and persecution. The battle was against religious legalism and oppression. Against racial and social marginalization. Against sexism. Against cruelty and judgmentalism. All these things were seen as being inspired by the Enemy. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” And the final blow was found on the cross.

John Fox saw the enemy from his second story perch. They were starting to swarm the city. Evil was advancing. He knew his friends would not stand a chance unless he did something. So he radioed an order to adjust the artillery fire closer and closer to his position. He was warned that the final adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. Fox acknowledged the danger and insisted it be fired as it would be the only way to defeat the enemy.

Jesus ascended not into a second story house but onto a cross. He took the full force of the enemy’s assault on himself—the full force of the consequences of sin we have allowed to reign in this world—and experienced what we would have otherwise experienced.

Satan’s lies were exposed. His “certificate of debt” against us was nullified. Even his greatest weapon—the threat of death—was diffused when Jesus rose from the dead. When you see the ugliness of the cross you see the full force of evil in the world…and the beauty of love.

Next time you hear that voice telling you that you are not worthy or that you did something God could not forgive, remember these words: “It is finished.” Then say, “It is finished. My God forgives. You lied about him all along. You have no power over me.”

Soldiers lived that day because John Fox took the full force of the artillery so others could live. We live today because Jesus took on the full force of evil on the cross. The Enemy bombarded him with his best and most lethal weapon: death itself. And death did not win.

It is finished.

Question: Where do you feel attacked most often? How do you combat those attacks?