Steps to Opening Your Door to Your Neighbors

One recent evening our doorbell rang at about 8:00 p.m. You’re probably thinking what I was thinking: “Who rings someone’s doorbell at 8:00 p.m.?” I was in the back room and thought maybe Karen had locked herself out of the house.

Our dog was jumping up and down at the front door so I grabbed her to put her somewhere else so I could answer the door because now I had to answer it. Our door has glass in the middle and on either side. I saw the salesman and he saw me. Stupid glass door!

Outside was a young man selling storm windows for homes. He asked if I’d want to schedule an estimate. I told him it didn’t matter what the estimate was because we would not have the money for the storm windows. He said we could finance it and I told him we like to stay out of debt.

He said if I gave him my phone number they could call and check in with us in a few months to see if we had changed our minds. I said if he’d give me his phone number I’d call him during the evening when he was relaxing at home. Not really. I just told him I saw the number on the flyer he handed me and we’d call if we decided we needed storm windows.

Then I said, “So, I noticed your accent while you were talking. Where are you from?” He replied, “From Egypt.” I said, “I know a guy who spent some time there when he was a young child. His parents had to hide out there for a while.” (OK. Maybe I just thought that. But it would have been a great line!) I asked, “How long have you been in America?”

“Three years,” he said. We talked a bit more and then he asked for a bottle of water, which we usually have, but didn’t that night. I shook his hand and wished him well.

When I went back inside Karen told me our neighborhood Facebook page was full of chatter about the guys going door to door. Already the police and Constable had been called. Some said they were upset with someone coming to their door at that hour of the evening, especially with recent stories of abductions home invasions circulating.

Honestly, I don’t like people coming to my door any time after I get home either, so I understood my neighbors. Sometimes we close the door on strangers due to fear. Sometimes we close the door on our neighbors due to our fears too.

Jesus taught us to overcome our fears and love our neighbors. As we watch him we learn. For example, he called Matthew to follow him and then Matthew threw a party with his friends and invited Jesus. See what can happen? Jesus did not have our fears but we discover a principle with his relationship with Matthew: overcoming our fear of connecting with one person might open the door to other friendships.

But fear of what others think about the people we spend time with might keep us from being good neighbors too. The Pharisees and scribes—the religious people of the day—complained to Jesus’ disciples that Jesus was eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners” at Matthew’s party.

Some people God places in our way may not get the approval of some church people. Don’t be concerned about their approval. The only approval Jesus looked for was the approval of the Father. Fear of what others might think can keep us from people Jesus would welcome.  So how do we overcome our fears? Here are some practical pointers that may help.

  • Pray and ask God to help you overcome any fear you may have and replace it with love. Fear of the other person is overcome by love for the other person.
  • Hang out where you can meet others. Jesus was in the marketplace, at the temple, in the village…places where he could see people and get to know them.
  • Give invitations. Jesus did. He said, “Follow me.” “Come and see.” He opened up his life to others. Learn to invite people to your house. You might just start with one neighbor. Like Matthew, they might open the door to others.
  • Accept invitations. Jesus did. To weddings. To houses. To parties. If you get invited, go!

Let’s face our fears of getting to know our neighbors. And let’s learn to be the ones who know how to throw the best parties in our community.

Question: What fear keeps you from getting to know those who live near you?

How to Find Time for Your Neighbor

It had us at hello. No, not some corny line from a movie. The iPhone. On June 29, 2007, the iPhone appeared on the scene and quickly made its way into our hands and spread faster than a California wild fire.

The iPhone basically changed everything. It improved our predictions of what you will find a group of people doing in public places: looking down at their mobile device. Within six years most Americans owned one. It has allowed us to find our way around towns or on trips. With it we can find places to eat and hotels to stay in.

But an advance in technology may have ushered in a decline in relational abilities. Sociologist Sherry Turkle uses the phrase “the alone together phenomenon” to describe what has happened.  Whereas in the beginning of the iPhone age people would huddle together and show each other what was on their phones, now they just look at their individual phones, sucked into whatever world they are seeing on their screen.

Interestingly enough, all of our time saving devices that have entered our homes and workplaces since the iPhone have not saved us time. They have only led us to pack more things into our already busy lives. Ours days are full. Our weekends are full. We live at a pace that leaves us little time to be available for our neighbors who live the closest in proximity to us.

Martha did not have an iPhone, but she had the similar issues. Martha and her sister Mary invited Jesus to their home for a meal (Luke 10). Mary sits at the feet of Jesus while Martha takes care of the house and meal. Martha is “distracted by her many tasks.”

Put yourself in her apron. She’s busy taking care of and serving Jesus. She’s busy. She needs another set of hands to help. And she looks over and Mary is just sitting there at the feet of Jesus. So she does what most of us mature adults would do: she complains to Jesus.

Here’s what he said to her. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha get reprimanded for serving while Mary get praised for sitting. In the Hebrew culture to sit at someone’s feet indicates a relationship between a disciple and a teacher.  In that culture, however, women were not students. They were supposed to be in the kitchen being a good hostess. Mary bucked the societal norms to be with Jesus.

We will have to do the same to be with Jesus too. Sometimes being with Jesus means being alone and quiet so we can hear his voice. We need times like that.

But sometimes being with Jesus has to do with being with people like our neighbors. There are many things we can do. But there is one thing that is necessary. Even if it means going against the busy lives we think everyone else is living to be where Jesus has called us to be.

If iPhones have not helped us do this, what will? As Dallas Willard once said, “We have to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.” Three things will help:

  • First, make the main thing the main thing. Jesus told Martha there were “many things” and “one thing.” The “one thing,” or the “main thing,” is being with Jesus. Make him first in your schedule.
  • Second, eliminate time wasters. If you need some help try these: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games. My guess is no one will say these are vital to their lives. They’re not evil. They just don’t add much. We need to chip away the excess in our lives so the true beauty can be seen. Jesus saw beauty in God and people. When we eliminate time wasters we free ourselves for both of them.
  • And finally, be interruptible. Jesus was. He had as much to accomplish as any of us. But he had time for interruptions: children, blind beggars, Centurions and a Samaritan woman to name a few. We may need to control some interruptions to a degree, but what if we can eliminate hurry to the point that when a neighbor has time to chat we see that as a divine appointment instead of a disruptive moment.

Face time—not the kind on your iPhone—with your neighbors is proven to bring you happiness.

Question: How can you “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from your life today?

 

How Tasks Can Transform Your Life

My first real job was at a movie theater. Not bad for a teenager who loves movies. I had worked a couple of other smaller jobs but this was the first one I deemed “real.” It was a one screen movie theater, one of the last of its kind in San Angelo, Texas.

Back in my teenage years things were harder for those of us working a concession stand at a movie theater than for those working a movie theater today. For starters, we did not have cash registers with pictures of the items on them. Now you can just look at the picture of popcorn and coke, hit the buttons, and the machine will tell you how much the person should pay you. And in the off chance that someone still hands the cashier cash today the machine will also take care of the calculations and tell you exactly how much the customer should get in return.

Not in my day. We had to know what each item cost, input the number ourselves, quickly figure tax in our head and add that, take their money and figure out how much they should get in return. It was a rough way to make minimum wage. Did I say how much tougher we had it back in the day?

You’d think that before my first day of work there would have been a training class. But guess what the manager did? He handed me a uniform and said, “Get to work.” So I did. My first shift was a Friday night. It was twenty minutes of chaos at the concession stand until the movie began and the customer line dwindled.

There’s no telling how many mistakes I made. When the movie ended everyone filed out and we closed up shop. The manager found me and asked, “How did it go for you?” I said, “You tell me. I felt like I was hanging on for dear life!”

He said, “You did OK. Got any questions?” I did. I asked him why he didn’t start with the questions and some training. He said, “You wouldn’t have known what to ask. This way, you get a feel for what you need to know so I can help you learn.”

I don’t know where my boss learned his training approach but he may as well have learned it from Jesus. The first thing Jesus does to make disciples is get them involved in the task of ministry.

The first thing we tend to do to make disciples is we encourage people to attend a Bible study, give them a book to read, or maybe even a workbook so they can read a passage of scripture and fill in some blanks and gain some information.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what Jesus did. And that may be exactly why many people do not see transformation in their lives. It may be why many don’t wake up every day wanting to learn from Jesus as if their lives depended on it.

Information from scripture is important. But information alone does not necessarily lead to transformation. Jesus is interested in transformation. He nicknames Simon “Peter” which means “rock.” This is the Peter who argued with Jesus. The Peter who denied Jesus. But it’s also the Peter who eventually leads the early church and gives his life by being crucified upside down on a cross because of his faith in Jesus.

How did that transformation happen? Jesus puts his disciples in ministry situations and ministry creates a desire to learn from Jesus. Imagine this: those first disciples’ first experience was watching Jesus cast out an unclean spirit that was screaming at them and tearing a man apart. Think they might have had some questions after that? Think they may have moved a little closer to Jesus when they saw his authority and power?

They certainly did. And you will too. If your understanding of learning from Jesus is merely taking notes or filling in workbooks but you haven’t seen much transformation in your life, maybe it’s time to start where Jesus did. Find a ministry. Team up with others. Be a part of the story of Jesus. It’s an adventure.

And here’s a spoiler for you: the ending has to do with the transformation of your life.

Question: Name a time when being active in ministry moved you to learn from Jesus.

What to Do in the Aftermath of a Storm

Harvey has been a storm of all storms. We sheltered in our homes waiting it out. Some used boats to get down streets designed for cars. Others listened to anxious people needing comfort. My hunch is everyone has prayed.

I did. At first I prayed for our house. Last year, in the Tax Day Flood, we had a few inches of water make our lives miserable for a few weeks. A few inches were nothing compared to what others have experienced then and now. But I prayed. And I prayed for people in Houston. For the devastation. For the months ahead as people rebuild their lives again.

What do you do in a storm? While you’re thinking about how you deal with a storm, consider a storm recorded in Matthew 14. The disciples were sent by Jesus onto the Sea of Galilee. A storm came up and they found themselves “some distance from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them.” They found themselves in “the middle of the sea.”

Maybe that’s where you find yourself today. Not in the middle of the storm. For now, this one has passed. But in the middle of the aftermath of the storm what do you do?

  • In the middle of questions. “Why did this happen again?”
  • In the middle of guilt. “Some lost everything. I only lost some sleep.”
  • In the middle of financial worries. “I’ve lost work. I get paid by the hour. Rent is due.”
  • In the middle of helplessness. “There’s so much that needs to be done. What can I do?”

You’ve felt the winds. You feel far away from answers and fighting hard questions. We encounter hurricanes even when it’s not hurricane season. They’re even stronger when a real one hits.

That’s where the disciples were. They’ve been in the storm eight to nine hours before Jesus came somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. It’s pitch black other than lightning strikes. They’re fighting heavy winds and a wall of water. They’ve been in the storm for 8-9 hours before Jesus comes. It’s long enough for them to get weary. Discouraged. And it would be a safe bet to say someone asked, “Where is Jesus?”

From the middle of the storm in the middle of the sea came an answer. They heard the voice but couldn’t see him clearly. They thought he was a ghost. But what they heard was what they needed. “Courage! I am. Fear not.”

That translation may sound strange, but it is literal. We need to hear it this way. “I am.” Because when you do you remember “I am” at the burning bush. Moses asked for God’s name and he gave it. “I am.” Present tense. God is a present tense God. He is not different than he was yesterday. He will not be different tomorrow. He is active in the present. And that means when you are in a storm, that is where he is. He may be hard to see but he walks into the storms of our lives—whatever hurricane you may be facing—and says, “I am.” He says that right in the middle of the storm.

That’s the first thing you can do now as you live in the aftermath of the storm. Listen for the “I am.” It was only after Peter heard the words “I am” that he was able to take a step out onto the water. You next step will be taken when you take your eyes off the storm and put them on Jesus too. As you do that you take care of yourself. You need to take care of yourself by practicing silence and solitude. Get some rest.

Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. The best thing you can do for others who were impacted by the storm is to listen. We love best when we listen most. Some people will just need to talk. They may just need you to sit with them silently.

Listen to others and then learn what the real needs are. As the weeks go by the needs will change. Winter coats are not needed…maybe not ever…in Houston. But gift cards, dehumidifiers, fans may be. Physical help will be needed for a long time. Take time to learn before you act and your actions will have more impact.

Hurricanes can teach us much. They teach us we will be better off not holding onto stuff too tightly but holding onto each other instead. And when what you are seeing all around you makes you fearful, look to Jesus instead. He is the “I am.”

 

 

 

When Prayers Become Political

Maybe your mother taught you some basic life lessons like:

“Don’t chew with your mouth open.”

“If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say anything.”

“Instead of saying someone is ‘a few bricks short of a load,’ just say ‘Bless their heart.’”

And the big one: “Don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table or family gatherings.”

Those two topics can set off fireworks worthy of the 4th of July around a dinner table. Your Mom was not the first to say it. The advice to “Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours” has been cited in print since at least 1840.

So why bring them up: religion and politics? You have them both in the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus’ disciples would pray “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” any earthly nation would get nervous.

Herod certainly did. When he heard that a king had been born in Bethlehem he immediately ordered that all baby boys under two in and around Bethlehem be massacred. When crowds were following Jesus the religious leaders and Roman leaders in Jerusalem got nervous. Jesus had not been killed as an infant. They would crucify him now.

Why the reaction? Their kingdom was threatened. People were pledging their allegiance to the “kingdom of heaven.” They would follow their King rather than any earthly ruler. They were living to bring the politics of heaven to bear on the earth in which we live.

Those who pray this prayer are pledging their loyalties to God’s kingdom over any other kingdom. His kingdom. His power. His glory. These are not the same as the world’s.

Satan attempted to get Jesus to take the path of the world. Using power for self: “Turn these stones to bread” Gaining some glory through your actions: “Throw yourself off the temple. Securing your own kingdom at any cost: “Worship me and all the kingdoms of the world are yours.”

Jesus refused each of these. Jesus’ kingdom is a contrast. It has no geographical boundaries but resides within the human heart. His power is used not for his own good—he did not turn stones to bread—but for others, as when he multiplied the loaves and fish.

And his glory is altogether peculiar. In John’s Gospel Jesus’ glory is his cross. Glory in God’s kingdom has to do with death, burial and resurrection. Glory in God’s kingdom says the power of the cross is stronger than the power of the sword. His kingdom is not forced on anyone. His power is used for the benefit of his people. His glory is found in self-sacrifice for others.

When we pray this prayer we are pledging our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven. It does not matter what country we live in; we are first citizens of heaven. Regardless of the rules our country might set in place to tell us how to live, we get our way of life from Jesus and his teaching about the kingdom. Whenever the two conflict—and they will in many places—we are to follow the kingdom of heaven.

We are also pledging that we will be about kingdom business. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” The word “citizenship” was a word the Romans gave a special colony they had conquered where their purpose was now to secure their homeland for the conquering country. They would spread that country’s way of doing things, its culture, and its politics.

When you pray this prayer you are entering the realm of religion and politics. The kingdoms and countries of this world are not the same as God’s kingdom. And the personal kingdoms that you and I erect for ourselves need to be given up for God’s kingdom. Praying this prayer will equip us to see these kingdoms in conflict and seek first the kingdom of God.

As Jesus’ followers, we have only one citizenship. We have no difficulty knowing where we pledge our allegiance.

If you agree the proper response is “Amen,” or a simple “yes.”

Question: What personal kingdom are you building that you need to give up for God’s?

 

What to do When Evil Hits Your World

As children we sang “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…” It’s a children’s rhyme that might have its origins in earlier times when attacks caused the bridge to be in need of repair.

On the night of June 3, 2017, it seemed as if the Bridge was falling down. Eight people were killed and dozens injured as three men wielded knives in an attack which began on London Bridge and then moved to Borough Market in the heart of London.

Police quickly responded and shot and killed the three men. The attack lasted all of eight minutes.

Eight minutes is not long. But eight minutes is all we need to agree that evil exists in our world. Jesus acknowledged evil when he taught us to pray, “… deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus knew something about the battle with evil and the evil one. Immediately after his baptism Jesus was led to the wilderness for a time of testing by the devil. The “devil” is also called the “tempter” because that is what he does.

He tempted Jesus three times in an attempt to divert him from God’s purposes. Jesus refused each one by quoting scripture: “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Do not test the Lord your God.” “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

For all we don’t know about the “tempter” here’s what we do know. Whenever Satan and his demons make an appearance in scripture it is always in a story about God’s power over them and of their “defeat and destruction.”

We see this in Jesus’ ministry as he heals the sick and casts demons out of those who are oppressed. We see it most clearly at the cross where Satan unleashed all his ammunition and lost the fight when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

We also know that though defeated, the evil one still has some ammunition. Paul reminded us to “… put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.”

Does Paul sound frightened? No. Does he sound aware? Yes. The devil has “schemes.” The Greek word is “methodeia” from which we get our word “methods.” The adversary has a plan. So Paul wants us to have a plan too. “Put on the full armor” he says. “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

To withstand evil arm yourself with prayer. Need to know the methods of the evil One? Pray. Want to stay alert to his schemes? Pray. Know some people who are under attack? Pray. Arm yourself with prayer.

And arm yourself with God’s word. Jesus did. He looked Satan square in the eyes and brandished his greatest weapon: the truth of scripture. And scripture won the battle.

It’s important to understand that the Greek word for “devil” is “diabolos.” It comes from a root verb that means “to split.” That’s who the devil is: a splitter or divider.

Do you see friends divided? They’ve fallen victim to the schemes of the devil.

Do you see a family divided? Then you’ve seen the work of the devil.

Do you see a country divided? Don’t blame Republicans or Democrats. Go deeper than that to the root cause of the division: the devil.

Satan is a splitter and a divider. If you have felt his attacks, don’t give up. Some days can be dark and difficult. Some days it may look like London Bridge is Falling Down. But remember that Jesus is still on his throne. He has defeated Satan.

And arm yourself with this promise of Scripture: “… the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Question: Where do you find evil on the attack in your world?

When You Find Yourself in a Test, Learn From It

There is a dangerous foe on the prowl looking for the person they can ensnare with their temptations. The foe? The Office Feeder.

Never heard of this fiend? Maybe not. But you’ve probably run across this person somewhere in your experience. The Office Feeder is that person who, even though they know you are on a diet, brings tempting treats to the office. They lay them out—not in the break room out of view—but in the open working area with a presentation hard to resist. They coerce you to take one croissant, one donut, just one piece of cake.  What kind of evil person does such a thing? They know your weakness and set you up for a fail.

In life there are people or circumstances that come our way that tempt us to fail. What’s worse is that some think God is like the Office Feeder. That idea can come from a wrong understanding of the prayer, “And do not bring us into temptation.”

What a strange line Jesus would give us to pray, especially when you consider this passage from the book of James: “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.” James is adamant: God does not tempt. So why pray that he not “bring us into temptation”?

It helps to know that within that same verse the same Greek word is translated in two ways: “trial” and “tempt/“temptation.” God does not “tempt” but he does at times “test.” How the word is used has a lot to do with the motivation behind what is happening.

If the Office Feeder is putting food out in an attempt to get you to fail in your dieting, then that is temptation. However, if the Office Feeder is putting food in front of you in an attempt to help you succeed and do what is best for you, then that is a test.

When God tests you he wants you to succeed. For example, the scriptures tell us God led the Israelites in the Wilderness to “test” them “so that they might learn.” Testing, then, is a way to learn. In that case it was to learn to trust God and to learn that “man does not live by bread alone.” God was preparing his people for kingdom service and usefulness.

He wants us to do the things he would do so that we can share in his life. We often want to know if God can be trusted. But don’t forget that what God wants to know is whether or not we can be trusted.

Tests are important. And God does give them to us to equip us to be his children who are up for the task of being his representatives in this world. A better translation of the prayer might be “lead us not into a time of testing.”

You may be thinking, “I understand why we would not pray that God would not lead us into temptation, since he does not tempt. But if tests are good for us and grow us then why would we pray that God would not bring us into a time of testing?”

That’s a good question. It helps to understand that the Lord’s Prayer is not just about getting God to do things for us but about God getting us prepared to be the means through which he does things. Kingdom things.

It could be that this prayer has to do with us pledging to be the kind of people God can trust, the kind that do not need to be tested anymore. When we have become the kind of people God trusts he will have no need to test us any longer.

Where might he be testing you now?

  • He’s given you 24 hours in a day, seven days a week. How are you using it for his kingdom?
  • He’s given you money. How are you stewarding it? Are you putting any of it to use in his kingdom?
  • He’s given you speech. Are you “honoring his name” through your talk?

When you do find yourself in a test that is from God, he wants to see if you will do the kingdom thing— “your kingdom come your will be done” thing—or whether you will do your own thing.

The more trustworthy you become the less testing you may find yourself in. Let this prayer help you become a trustworthy follower of Jesus.

Then you can handle anything the Office Feeder puts in front of you.

Question: How have tests made you into a person God can use?

 

 

Dealing With Your Dirty Laundry

Did you know that when you wash a load of whites you need to make sure the load only has whites? (Why are you laughing already?) I was a young husband and father of two toddlers. Karen was out with the boys and I thought I’d surprise her by getting a load of laundry done before she came home.

I set the temperature to hot. I thought “I’ll get these things whiter than they’ve ever been.” I picked up the pile of clothes in one strong swoop, stuffed it in the machine, and closed the lid before anything could pop back out.

When the cycle was finished I grabbed the load in one strong swoop, pushed it into the dryer, closed the lid before anything could pop back out, and turned it on. I thought “If women could only learn to wash and dry like this they’d save so much time.”

When I returned to fold the dry laundry I had another thought. “She’s going to kill me.” For some reason all the whites I pulled out in one strong swoop were pink. I started pulling them out one by one to fold them. As I reached the center of the pile I found it. My orange Denver Bronco shirt. Apparently it had enlisted the whites to Bronco-mania. The best I could tell orange and white make a pinkish color.

In the pile of laundry was Karen’s new white blouse she was proud of.  Just then I heard the door open upstairs.

Karen: “We’re home! Where are you?”

Me: “In the basement.”

Karen: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Folding the laundry.”

Karen: “You’re folding the laundry? What a great husband you are!”

Me: “You might want to hold onto that thought real hard.”

Karen, now joining me in the laundry room: “Why is everything pink?”

Me: “I’m a great husband, remember?”

Karen: I can’t repeat what she said.

Not really. She was disappointed but she forgave me. And then we went shopping to replace all the whites. You know how much it costs to replace a load of whites?

There is a lot life can teach you about forgiveness. We need it. And we need to give it. Jesus teaches us to pray this line: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

The order is important. Before we can even think about talking to our Father about what is owed us we must first remember what we owed. Jesus reminds us of our own need of forgiveness. The truth is we are all in debt to God. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

We are first reminded of our need for forgiveness because we can forget that the forgiveness we have received is forgiveness we are to give. And we need to forgive others. The Bible says we pay a price when we harbor the debts owed us. “You who tear yourself in anger.” “For anger kills a fool.” Does your experience validate these verses? All torn up inside because of the debts owed you? Feel like you’re dying because you can’t let it go? It’s a prison and you are the prisoner.

When we forgive others we are freed from the prison of our own making. We remember our forgiveness so we can forgive others. Not long after my deed that stained my washing experience, Karen accidently put a favorite sweater of mine in the dryer that I normally hung to dry so it would not shrink. (She says it was an accident. I have to believe her.)

What did I do? I yelled at her? I belittled her? Of course not. And you’d run me out of town if I had. She had forgiven me for presenting her with a pink blouse so I forgave her for presenting me with a toddler sized sweater.

Forgiveness may be the only gift intentionally designed to be re-gifted. Why don’t we do just that? Let’s ask God for the forgiveness we need each day. We’ll find ourselves more patient with the people in our lives and pass on forgiveness to them.

It’s the only way his children can behave. We need a clean start. Our debtors need one too. Might as well get used to it. In heaven everyone will be wearing white: “… the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes…”

Question: What do you need to be forgiven of? Who do you need to forgive?

 

 

 

 

When You Have a Need…Ask

It’s the only piazza in Rome without a single church. And yet congregants gather in this square every day except on Sunday mornings.  They gather to purchase their daily needs of fresh produce such as vegetables, cheese, spices, fish, meat and flowers. Other products are for sale too, many of which are touristy and not needed by anyone.

A trip to Campo de’ Fiori for modern day food shoppers is like a trip back in time. It is basically the only open air market you can find in the center of Rome. There you can see remnants of a rhythm long lost to our modern way of life. There was a day when people could not store up their food as we do. A daily trip to the market to buy what was needed for the day was routine.

This was true in first century Israel, especially when talking about bread. Bread was so basic a food that it became synonymous with life itself. “Eating bread” came to mean, “eating a meal.”  Bread was made daily in the home or people would buy it daily at the local market.  This was a daily task because it was not possible to keep food for more than a day in the hot climate.  The people of the first century were dependent on God to take care of their daily needs.

Not so much us. Our pantries and refrigerators are full enough to last days if not weeks. And so what makes sense to those first century listeners makes little to us when Jesus instructed us to pray “Give us today our daily bread.” “Why ask for that?” we wonder.

One answer is that there is something formative about asking for bread. Those of us who live in America feel little need to ask for bread. We have a loaf in our pantry and a couple in the freezer.  And if those run out, we can run out to the convenience store and stock up again. We can take care of a bread shortage on our own.

And that’s our problem with this phrase.  It is a request, and a request implies the need for help. We sense that we are self-sufficient.  We’re one step away from seeing ourselves as the providers of our own bread. By kneading the line “give us this day our daily bread” into our prayers, Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us. The request forms the one requesting.

Another answer is that we ask for daily bread because we need bread daily to live. In the wilderness God gave his people manna on a day to day basis. Physical needs are not to be ignored. It is perfectly fine to ask for needs. And God would want us to ask for specific needs. He is well aware of what we need and will give us what we need. We may not receive all we want. Our clothes might come from Marshalls instead of Macy’s. Our food from eating in instead of dining out. You might drive a ’99 Miata instead of a 2017 version. But he’ll give us what we need.

But there is another bread for which we should ask. When Karen and I first married I thought there were only a couple of options. At our house growing up it was either Mrs. Baird’s or Holsum. Then I married into a family of bread freaks. A whole world of bread opened up before my eyes. French. Sourdough. Bagels and Baguettes. Pita and Pumpernickel. I didn’t know what I had been missing.

And neither did the disciples. One day they left Jesus by a well in Samaria to find food in town. While they were gone he had a lively conversation with a woman at the well. When the disciples returned they urged Jesus to eat some of the food they brought back and he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” Like me not knowing about other bread the disciples didn’t know there was another kind of sustenance. They said to each other, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

There is the food that nourishes our bodies. And there is the food that nourishes our souls. Later Jesus would explain that he is the “manna” that has come down from heaven.” When we are nourished by him we find life, even eternal life. The people were focused on bread of heaven that comes in a loaf.  Jesus moved their focus to himself, bread of heaven that comes in his life.     

We live in an America full of overeaters who are underfed.  Ask for bread daily. Ask: you will be reminded that the Father cares about you. Ask for bread: both physical and spiritual. Ask daily: you can’t store up on manna. It comes daily.

You may not go to an open air market for your daily bread. But you can go to your Father. When you do he’ll give you all you need for today.

Question: What do you need for today?

 

How to Pray When Things Aren’t as They Should Be

If you’re a human being, you’ve asked the question. Maybe you’ve looked in the mirror at the end of the day and seen past your face into your soul.  You’ve wondered how you could have done or thought what you did that day.  You are starkly aware that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Maybe you’ve watched your friends or coworkers.  You’ve listened to their struggles and wonder why their lives have to be so hard.  For some, you wonder why they have to make it so hard.  But you know the answer.  Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Or maybe you just read the newspaper.  Whether it’s another concert bombing on the other side of the world or a shooting at another school, you’ve asked the question.  Deep inside you know.  Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

That’s why Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How do we pray “…your kingdom come?” We begin by praying that God’s kingdom come in our own lives.  We pray about our own desire to set up our own kingdoms that we rule instead of letting God rule.  We pray for our marriages, that God may rule there.  We pray for our children, that they learn to seek first the kingdom of God.

We pray about places where God’s kingdom is not.  Do you know any marriages where if God’s reign came, things would be better?  Then pray for marriages.  Do you know any people in your neighborhood whose lives would change for the better if God’s reign came to them?  Then pray for your neighbors. Once you begin to see with kingdom eyes and pray with a kingdom heart, you will have an endless prayer list of where God would want his kingdom to come.

Do you see hunger? Injustice? Slavery? These are places where his kingdom has not come fully. And once he starts to show you where things here are not as they are in heaven, pray that God bring heaven here. One way he will answer that prayer will be by moving you and me to act on this earth as people in whom his heavenly kingdom reigns.

The Christian monk Telemachus did. Telemachus had lived a life of service to God when he found himself finally making a visit to the great capitol city of Rome. He heard cheers and followed them to the Coliseum where he sat down to watch what was happening there. What he saw shocked him. Out on the floor of the Coliseum he saw gigantic gladiators torturing and slaughtering defenseless slaves by the score.

The crowd watched and cheered. But Telemachus did not. He stood up from his seat and cried out, “No! Stop!” The people around him were taken aback by his actions. One pulled him back down to his seat. The games on the floor of the Coliseum continued and so did Telemachus. He stood up again and shouted, “No! This is wrong!” This time the crowd ridiculed him, yelling at him to sit down.

But he did not sit. Instead, he made his way down the steps to the edge of the arena. He climbed over the wall and dropped down to the floor of the arena.

Then he ran and placed himself between a fallen slave and a gladiator who was about to finish him off. Telemachus looked up at the gladiator and said, “God says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ I say in the name of Jesus, stop what you are doing!”

He caught the gladiator off guard. For a moment he paused, amazed at this unusual action. And then, urged on by the crowd, he brought his mace down on Telemachus, ending his earthly life.

For a moment the Coliseum was silent. The crowd struggled to comprehend what they had just witnessed. Then, from the top of the stadium, someone stood up and walked out of the arena. From another section a family made their way out of the entryway. Next an entire section. Then the rest. Not long after the Emperor put an end to the games for good.

That is what God can do with one life willing to pray “Let your kingdom come” and act as if it had. If things aren’t as they should be—and they aren’t—this is the prayer that will bring heaven here.

Question: What areas do you see in your life where heaven needs to be brought to earth?