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?

 

Is Your God “Small and Weak” or “Close and Powerful”?

Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father in heaven.” The phrase “in heaven” guards against us seeing God as our friend, our buddy, our sidekick. Some have allowed themselves to think too small about God.

The idea of the “heavens” in the first century was that area right around us and also all the way out into the expanse of the stars and moon and sun. The Father is close to us. But he is not small.

He is unlike our fathers. He is the one “in heaven.” There is no one like him. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me” God says through the prophet Isaiah.

We don’t need a small God, do we? We find soon enough that our earthly fathers aren’t as big as we thought they were when we were little. They can’t fix everything. They can’t be with us everywhere. They are limited.

My father stands 5’7” on a good day. As a preteen I remember hoping I’d be as tall as my dad. Around the seventh grade I started hoping I’d keep growing. Our fathers, as much as they may want to be everything for us, can fail us at times.

I did. Kris was in Cub Scouts and it was time for the pinewood derby. He had a willing father but not a woodworking father. We were given our kit that contained a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails. I didn’t have a large set of tools at the time so we borrowed what we needed and I helped guide the creation of the car.

I really did just help. When we got to the Derby it was evident other fathers did more than help. “Took over” would be more accurate. Our crudely crafted car could not stand up against the ones with modified wheels, axles, and blocks. One showed up all blue with the number 43 and I fully expected to see a miniature Richard Petty sitting behind the wheel. Kris needed a father that knew more about how the Derby really operated.

That’s why we need to remember “Our Father in heaven…” We teach preschoolers a song that says, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.” We put into simple words for a preschooler to sing what the scriptures proclaim:

“The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken.”

“Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite.”

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

He is not only powerful, he is good. That’s important to remember. Can you imagine someone with bad character being given all power? We’ve seen it in earthly rulers and we’ve seen what corrupt power can do. This Father in the heavens is a good, good father. The Psalmists proclaim: “You are good, Lord.” “The Lord is good and upright.” “You, Lord, are forgiving and good.”

It makes a difference when you know your father is good. During college I spent a summer in Miami, Florida in an internship program. One assignment was to work with some young boys in Little Havana.  Can you picture that?  Several 20-year-old, Caucasian, mostly Texan kids trying to teach some Cuban kids about God?!

We did the best we could.  One day we talked to them about God and how he was a good father.  Before long we could see they weren’t interested.  So I asked them, “why doesn’t this idea of God as father connect with you?”  One of the boys, Carlos, said, “we don’t ever see our fathers.  Some of us don’t even know our fathers.  They go out a lot, sometimes with other women.  They don’t care about our mothers. They don’t really care about us.”

That was this group’s experience. We had to help them get a new idea of God as a good, good Father. You might need that too. Listen to the repeated cadence in Scripture that God is good, kind, and a Father of steadfast love. The word “hesed” is used 246 times in the Old Testament when speaking of God. His love for you never fails. It never ends. He is kind. He is loving. He is a good, good Father.

Do you need a father like that? Jesus wants you to know his Father in the same way he knows him. Close enough that you can intimately call him “Abba.” Powerful enough that he can hold sustain the world.

If he can do that, he can certainly help you through your day. Why not go to him now and tell him about it?

Question: When do you most need a “close” but “powerful” Father?

 

 

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?