Where to Go with Your Broken Heart

A mentor of mine once said, “I think it’s important to preach like there’s a broken heart on every pew. That’s always been a phrase that stuck with me. Not everybody is having a tough time, but you can bet your buck that there’s a good tenth of your church that’s going through a hard season. There really is a broken heart on every pew.

You never quite know who will be sitting in church on a Sunday morning. And you never know what is going on in their heart while they are sitting there. Maybe there is guilt from a poor decision. Shame over a broken promise. Sadness due to a ruptured relationship.

And they don’t quite know what they will receive. Some churches major in criticism when Jesus calls for his followers to show compassion. A person sitting in the pew might wonder which they will be handed.

David may have wondered the same. He’s on the run. It is no secret now that Saul wants him dead. He’s confused. Maybe angry. Feeling alone.  It wasn’t that long ago he was in the pastures enjoying an obscure life singing to sheep. Before he knew it he was singing for Saul. By the time he killed Goliath the entire nation was singing his praises. Paparazzi followed his every step. TMZ caught him for a sound bite whenever they could.

And now David has to find a place he can go where he can be safe. He runs without even packing his bags. But he can’t go to Bethlehem—that might endanger his family. He certainly can’t go into the land of the Philistines—they’d want revenge for their giants and foreskins. So David ran.

Where do you run when you find yourself in trouble? When your heart is broken? When you may ask, “Where is the Lord in my life?” Some run to drinking. Some run to the arms of someone new. Some run to another experience in another town.

And some even run to church. That’s where David ran. He went to Nob where he found a sanctuary and a priest. He is hungry and he needs a weapon so he does what you’d expect a person “after God’s own heart” would do. He lies.

Ahimelech the priest is forced to make a decision. His task is to keep the sanctuary holy. The only food available is the “bread of the Presence.” The law said it was only for the priests to eat. He could hold the letter of the law and refuse it to David and his men. He could keep things tidy and quiet. He could criticize David for lying.

Or he could out of love show compassion. And that’s what he did. He gave David the bread and the only weapon on hand: Goliath’s sword.

David’s life is not one to emulate at every point. This story does not give us grounds to lie our way through our life. But David’s life is a real life. He’s confused, maybe angry, and feeling like the walls are coming down all around him. He’s doing the best he can to get through his days.

You may be feeling the same way. And in your attempts to figure your way through the maze of your months you’ve said and done things you wish you hadn’t. If so, do what David did. Keep turning to God. That is the part of his story we are to mimic.

And find a sanctuary, a church. David needed bread for the day and a blade for the next. A church that is tasked with helping people connect to God will offer bread for the day—the Word of God—and a blade for the next—the spiritual armor to help you fight the real fight.

You never quite know who will be sitting next to you in church. Ahimelech was surprised to see David. And if, like David, your heart is broken and you’re looking for some bread and a sword, do what he did. Run to the church and find a priest. You’ll find what you need there. You might even surprise a person or two.

Question: Where do you run when your heart is broken?

What You See Sticks

In 1999, Scott Ginsberg attended a convention, the kind where they have everyone attending wear a name tag. The kind of name tags that as soon as you are heading out the door you rip off and toss in the trash.

Except Scott didn’t. He thought it might be fun to keep it on and see what happened. The responses the rest of the night led him to a crazy decision. He decided he would never take off his name tag.

It was a social experiment before you could find them all over YouTube. Cute girls started saying hello to him. People would come up to him, say “Hi Scott,” and give him hugs. One of his favorite stories is the time he was in line to get inside an Irish Pub. The big, brawny bouncer looked at his driver’s license, then his nametag, and said straight-faced: “Sorry, no Scotts allowed.”

Even if he took off the sticky-backed nametag, he’d still have on a nametag. He got it tattooed to his chest which landed him on a number of “worst tattoos” lists. It has also landed him in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as a world record holder.

Where others saw trash, Scott saw a trend. He’s turned his social experiment into a six-figure annual salary. What you see sticks.

The shepherd boy David understood that. He showed up at a battlefront one day to bring his brothers some bread and cheese. But no battle was taking place. Instead, the Israelite army has been listening to the taunts of the six-foot nine-inch giant Goliath for forty days. “I defy the ranks of Israel today. Send me a man so we can fight each other!” For forty days the Israelite army did nothing. The Israelite army saw a giant. What they saw stuck and so they were stuck.

But David saw something else. He speaks up and says: “What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Pay attention to David’s words. He doesn’t see a giant. He sees an “uncircumcised Philistine.” He doesn’t see the Israelite army. He sees “the armies of the living God.”

It’s important what we see. We have our own giants today.

  • Something from our past resurfaces every year on the anniversary of the event and the giant of depression appears.
  • The giant of unexpected unemployment taunts you with words you don’t think you can defeat: “You’ll never dig yourself out of this hole, your bills are stacking up so high.”
  • Your marriage is shaky and the giant of divorce is challenging you.

You’ve seen your own giants, haven’t you? And when you did and when you do, do you see God?

David did. Nine times in the story he speaks of God. He mentions Goliath only two. Do you think that perhaps your giants would be slayed if your thoughts of God outnumbered your thoughts of your giants by a nine to two ratio?

If so, do what David did. He knelt. He had to in order to pick up the five stones from the wadi. He had developed a practice of kneeling in the quiet of his shepherding duties. There he became saturated with the stories of God.

  • How he delivered his people from the giant named Pharaoh.
  • How he gave them provision when they faced the giants of thirst and hunger in the Wilderness.
  • How ten spies saw real giants and retreated for fear.
  • How Joshua and Caleb saw God instead.

When you kneel, you see God. And what you see sticks. What you see will shape your life. And it may shape the lives of others too. Once David defeated his giants, the others followed and routed their enemy.

You can do the same. You have a spouse, a friend, your family, your children who need someone in their lives to help them face their own giants. They need someone who sees what maybe they don’t. Someone who sees God.

Kneel. Then run.

Then watch your giants run.

Question: What giant are you battling today?

When You Think You’re Forgotten, Think Again.

“The little brother.” That’s what I was known as growing up. My brother Scott was 13 months to the day older than me. We were about as close in age as you could be without being twins.

He’s always been older. Always been taller. Always been a year ahead of me in school and “firsts.” First to get out of diapers. (That’s my assumption.) First to lose a tooth. First to go to school. First to experience Jr. High. First to enter High School. First to get to drive. First to get a job. First to get married. First to have a child.

Being the little brother is not such a great thing. Older brothers seem to think the parents take it easier on the little brother so they can be hard on little brothers. And your parents don’t always cut you much slack. How many times did I hear mine say to my older brother: “Please go play with your little brother. That’s basically the reason we had him.” (OK. I don’t remember them saying that. But it’s a good joke.)

When we’d play in neighborhood pick-up games and would choose teams, being the smallest one there, I’d be one of the last chosen. Last one noticed. I was the “little brother.”

You know that feeling don’t you? You interviewed for a job and made it to the final three but they went with someone else. You were encouraged to try out for the chorus so you did but didn’t make the final cut. You knew a group was getting together on Friday night but they never called you.

You know the feeling. The feeling of being unwanted. We say we’re “left out of the loop” or “didn’t get the memo.” Here’s one you may not have used: “he’s tending the sheep.”

That’s where “the youngest” was when Samuel the prophet came to town. God sent him to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. He went to Jesse’s house and had him line up his sons. The oldest to the youngest. As he passed each one God passed on each one too.

Samuel is a bit perplexed because he is out of options. He asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse answers, “There is still the youngest but right now he’s tending the sheep.”

“… he’s tending the sheep, left out of the loop, didn’t get the memo.” That’s where he is because he’s “the youngest.” Not just the little brother. He’s the runt. The Hebrew word is haqqaton. It carries with it the suggestion of insignificance. His society did not esteem him. Even his own family sent him out to the pastures. Even his own father did not think of him when Samuel came calling. No one thought to bring “the youngest” to Bethlehem that day. No one thought much of him at all. Not his brothers. Not his father. Not even Samuel.

But God did. The “youngest” is the one that God tells Samuel to anoint. “Then the Lord said, ‘Anoint him, for he is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him …”

I’m wondering how that last line affected you. Are you wondering what it would have felt like to be this youngest son, left out in the fields, being brought in as the forgotten one, and having Samuel the prophet take his horn of oil and pour it over your head? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have the oil begin to run down your cheeks? Can your heart grasp what it would be like to be chosen?

You are, you know. Those we refuse God will choose. And he chose you: “As you come to him, a living stone — rejected by people but chosen and honored by God…”

What does he see in you that others don’t? Here’s what he told Samuel: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” Others may see only the haqqaton. God sees the heart. He sees your heart and mine. It doesn’t matter if no one else does. It matters that God does.

And because he does, you are not forgotten after all.

You are chosen.

Question: When have you felt like the haqqaton?

How Story Can Transform Your Life

Most people love stories. But not all do. One time a number of years ago I had finished preaching when a lady came marching towards me. (It’s never good when a lady comes marching towards you right after a sermon.) The sermon was based in a gospel account, a story of Jesus. She said, “You tell too many stories.”

I said, “I take it you don’t like stories?”

“No,” she said. “You need to teach more Bible.”

“Do you think I should teach more like Jesus, then?” I cast the line and she took the bait.

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

Then I opened to Matthew 13:34: “…and Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and he did not tell them anything without a parable…”

Jesus loved to tell stories. In fact, stories are the primary way in which God’s word is given to us. When we come to the Bible we find many stories. They are all important and have something to teach us. But there are two primary stories. Eugene Peterson helps us see these two stories in his book Leap Over a Wall. One is in the Old Testament and one is in the New. The Old Testament story that takes up the most space is the story of David. David’s story is the primary story of the Old Testament. His story requires 66 chapters to be told. His name is mentioned over 600 times in the Old Testament and 60 times in the new. Even a novice reader of scripture would understand that there is something important about this person David.

Stories are powerful. Just think about the movies you love. Take Dunkirk for example. There’s no big setup. The opening scene shows a group of soldiers moving cautiously through a street. Leaflets are falling from the sky, dropped from German planes warning them to surrender or die. Before you have time to settle in with your popcorn and coke the soldiers are running for their lives.

And you are too. You’re not quite sure if you are going to survive or how. When the movie ends you have to check to see if you are still breathing. That’s the power of story. Story invites you into its life. Through it we learn what the world is and what it means to be a human in this world.

That’s why the David story takes up so much space in scripture. His story teaches us what it means to be human. And yet David is always dealing with God. In fact, in Acts 13:22 Paul is preaching a sermon and includes David with these words: “… he [God] raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’”

Look at David’s story and we find that he deals with danger and enemies. He has friends and lovers. He has children and wives. (Too many wives but that’s another part of his story.) He deals with pride and humiliation. He struggles with sickness and sexuality and fear. He’s not a very good parent. His son will have more wisdom to pass on than he. He’s an unfaithful husband.

“How did David ever wind up taking up so much biblical space?” you ask. David gets so much air time in Scripture because what is important about David is not whether he was a great military leader or a great moral character. What is important is that he deals with God. Listen to David’s story and we find someone who is human in every way and yet keeps connecting with God.

After you get to know David, you’ll think, “Now there’s a down to earth guy I can connect with.”  He’s not so different than you or me. We see him fighting, praying, loving, sinning, angry, devious, generous, and dancing…naked. It’s all very human. And it’s all connected to God.

Often we look to a set of rules or moral guidelines and try to squeeze our lives into them. We think that is what a real spiritual life is all about. But God gave us story because story is powerful. Unlike rules that try to shape us from the outside in, stories get inside us and shape us from the inside out.

God took a very flawed and human David and through him wrote a great story that ended up with Jesus. If he used David, he can use you.

And any story connected to Jesus is an epic one.

Question: What do you think it means to be human and spiritual?

 

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?