Where Are You God?

On Sunday we are tackling one of the most difficult texts in the Bible actually. It’s a familiar one so sometimes we don’t push back against it very much. But when you start to think about it – it raises tons of questions.

The text is this, where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And that’s the question we want to really pursue. Why? Why? Why would the Father abandon his only Son? Why would the Father who is demonstrated and revealed by Jesus to be full of grace and forgiveness – abandon his Son when he needed him the most?

And don’t just give the easy answer of – “well he did this for our sin. “

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, one of my Jr. High’s pointed out, “sometimes the problems’ with the easy answers.” I had just told him that exact answer, and in clarity he raised a new tension for me with this verse.

He said this:

“Well Andrew, when I forgive my sister I don’t have to kill my cat, or abandon my dog. Why does God kill his son, and abandon him. Why doesn’t he just forgive?”

And that gets to the heart of the tension with this text – why God? Why are you doing this? What is going on? WHY?

And we’re in good company raising our voices, shouting, and screaming “why would you do this God”?  Because Jesus does the same thing.

So we are going to try to walk through some of this, examine it, and hope to find some answers. It will be tough, as Martin Luther the great reformer said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?”

Well on Sunday we are going to give it a shot.

No Such Thing as Individual Prayer

1427656_44384918Andrew Root writes something that is both simple, and beautiful:
Prayer is a relationship because prayer cannot be done alone.
And that is true. When you are praying it is never done alone. It is done with others, in the power of the Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to God the Father. Prayer is a relationship, because it is based in relationships and changes relationships. So the next time you are praying, remember you aren’t doing it alone. And remember most of all prayer is a relationship, and it’s a relationship worth investing in.

The Fallacy of “Prayer Techniques”

1427667_31525848Eugene Peterson writes something brilliant. Okay most of what he writes is brilliant but especially this:

“In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

What Peterson is reacting against is our technique-driven mentality. That if we just get the technique right, the outcome will be right. That all we need to master is the mechanics for us to muster up the right result.

And this is fine in some things, but this doesn’t work in relationships. Relationships aren’t a means to an end. Relationships aren’t about efficiency and effectiveness; relationships are about intimacy. And this matters in prayer.

There is nothing wrong with trying to grow in prayer, and devoting yourself to it. But if all you focus on is the “right techniques, tips, and tricks” your prayer life won’t grow but will become stagnant. Because techniques do not develop a relationship, time does. Tips don’t make a covenant, commitment does. Tricks don’t increase intimacy, interaction does. 

So while there is nothing wrong with techniques, tips, and tricks in some things – it doesn’t relate well to prayer. Because prayer is fundamentally about a relationship. It is a conversation, it is an intimacy, and it is an interaction with God. And Eugene Peterson is right when we come to prayer first from a standpoint of technique, we’ve already missed the point. And I would say we end up missing God. Prayer isn’t a technique but a personal relationship that needs to be invested in, cherished, and grown in. Techniques can help, sure, but they are not a substitute for time and growth.

So my challenge to all of us, myself included, is this: rather than focusing on the techniques, and methods of prayer ~ focus on Jesus and the relationship. Because I think Peterson is right “In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

The Joy of a Ziggle

What is a ziggle you may ask? Only the most amazing toy ever. Hudson has one of these at daycare, and just loves it. So I found it online, got it shipped, and Hudson had one of the best days of his life. Here is a video of him on it:

 

He loves the speed, he loves “ziggling”, and scootering around. He loves spinning faster and faster. He just has such a sense of joy with it.

Here is what struck me with Hudson. Do I get that amount of joy out of anything? I mean Hudson gets pure joy out of the ziggle? Is there anything that gives me that much joy in life?

I don’t ask that question in a downer way or depressing way. I would say I’m a pretty happy, and optimistic person. I ask that question out of a “depth or capacity” concern.

What I mean by that is this: have I through the process of living lost some of my ability to deeply feel joy?

Has my ability to fully experience joy been lessened by living life? Have I lost some capacity for joy, life, and love? Because Jesus is clear – he has come to give life abundant, full life, and joyous life (John 10:10). But have I lost some of that?

And if I’m honest, in some ways the answer to those questions are…yes. In some ways I don’t seem to enter into life as fully as Hudson.  I’m not as prepared as he is to shout with joy.  I’m not maybe as ready to experience joy as deep as he does. And for me this isn’t a guilty thing. This is just a real thing that I hope to change.

And here is how I’m going to change it in three steps.

  1. I’m going to pray and ask God for more joy. I don’t think I’ve ever really done this. But it seems like a good place to start. If you read the Psalms (like 51:8, 12) the writers are often asking for joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so it’s something that we can be given more of.  Just like we can pray and ask for more patience and self-control. So why not ask for more joy? Seems like a good thing to get to me!
  2. I’m going to spend more time with my boys. I think if you find a source of joy, stick with it. And Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to the childlike. So I’m going to learn from them how to enter the moment.
  3. Last but not least, I’m going to try to have more margin in my life. I’ve noticed the busier I am, the less joyful I feel. So I’m going to try to change this and really enter into the moment.

So those are some of the things I’ve been learning from Hudson, and I think it’s worth thinking about. Oh and there is one more step to finding joy…seeing if anyone makes an adult sized ziggle 🙂

A Prayer from the Boss

Springsteen_The_Rising

Some of you know I really like Bruce Springsteen. I’ve quoted a few songs a few times. But today I was listening to a song of his that just reminded me so much of what part of the essence of following Jesus is about. I don’t think that’s what he was singing about, but that doesn’t matter to me much. What he sang taught me about Jesus anyway. He sings this:

  • May your strength give us strength
  • May your faith give us faith
  • May your hope give us hope
  • May your love bring us love / May your love bring us love

(Into the Fire, Bruce Springsteen)

That’s a pretty good prayer if I’ve ever heard one. And it’s one I’m praying today.

Morning Prayer for Times of Transition and Change

1427667_31525848This was my prayer this morning:

God there is much before me, and much unknown. But you are also before me, help me to find you, and find your way.

Today is my first day without my friend and co-pastor Dave here at the church. He’s been called up north to continue his really wonderful relational ministry there. That leaves a large hole, or many different holes here to fill.

So as I was praying this morning and looking forward I realized that there is a lot of unknowns before not only me but also the church right now. What if we don’t find the right person? What if I make mistakes as I lead? What if in the transition I unintentionally hurt someone or miss something? There are a lot of “what if’s” whenever things change.

But as I prayed I realized something – even though a lot is unknown, there are a lot of potential pitfalls, and mistakes will surely be made (we are all human after all). One thing is sure. God is also before us. God is also leading us. God is also with us.

So even amidst change, transition, and uncertainty – I don’t believe we need to be fearful. Instead I think our call is simply to remain faithful. Faithful to God, and faithful to one another.

Because I really believe one thing is certain ~ God is before us. And if we look for him we will find him, and find his way for us.

So whatever today you might be facing, whatever uncertainty wonderings, or difficult futures I think the point is the same for you. God is before you, search and find him, follow him and he will get you through. The way may not be clear now, but the calling is: finding God and following God.

So may you do that this morning, and maybe even pray my morning prayer with me:

God there is much before me, and much unknown. But you are also before me, help me to find you, and find your way.

Amen.

How Honest are you with God?

1382059_15481225I was reading the Psalms and something struck me – the raw honesty of the prayers to God.

It’s really quite shocking actually. In some places the Psalmist asks God to approve and see how deep his hate goes towards his enemies. In other places it talks with vivid openness about the doubt, and difficulty the Psalmist has in belief in God.

In essence, the Psalmists are absolutely and radically open to God.

I wonder if we are missing some of this in our culture and in our day and age?

I wonder if we play around the edges of prayer, with false piety not really telling God what we are feeling. Do we say, “God we’re frustrated”, rather than downright furious? Do we say, “God your will be done”, when we don’t want God’s will but change in our situation. Do we say, “God bless them”, when deep down like the Psalmist we feel deep hate towards someone?

I’m not condoning hate, anger, or anything like that. What I am condoning, recommending, and even encouraging is that we become absolutely honest with God. If you are struggling and doubting God, say it and call him out on his actions. If you don’t want to forgive, follow God, or do what he says – express it and get it out. If the Psalms teach us anything, they teach us we can be honest with God. We don’t need to hide behind false piety, we can be honest with our God.

The irony is that it’s only through being radically honest, that we embrace the reality of where we are at, and simultaneously the possibility of transformation. God will not get rid of our hate if we keep denying it’s there. God cannot change our doubt if we refuse to acknowledge it.

So this week be honest to God. Bring to him the good, the bad, and the ugly and see what he might do with it. Offer it to him, and be like the Psalmist radically open with God. Because when we are radically open and honest, this is the start of radical transformation.

Finding God in a Dark Bathroom

601631_10152708652060643_280127811_nHudson had to go pee last Sunday. So we ran quickly at church to the bathroom. The lights were off because we were closing up and leaving, so he said “Dad I scared”. I of course turned on the lights, but I thought while using a urinal would be a good time to have a little talk.

So I told him we don’t need to be scared with mom and dad around. Then I told him that even better than that, you always have God with you. He loves you, and is with you even if things are dark, so we don’t need to be scared.

I thought I had done a great job explaining things, but little did I know Hudson would do an even better job. He said to me, “Oh yes daddy, God, I know him. We have him at our house, I do devotions with him” and he ran out of the bathroom.

Nothing as a dad, or a pastor makes me happier than little moments like that. In case though you are picturing me and Hudson sitting down and reading the Bible together having deep prayer moments, that’s not what it’s often like. It’s often like what every interaction with busy boys is like: loud, sometimes difficult, and sometimes frustrating. Hudson is often jumping around, getting out of the covers, singing, making car noises, playing with a car he snuck into bed, and most often not looking at our devotional book. But we press through and do it every night in spite of the ups and downs.

And as Hudson ran out of that bathroom saying, “I know God, we do devotions” I realized something. That the very rhythm and action of trying to lead him into a deeper relationship with God is in fact leading him into a deeper relationship. The point isn’t perfection, it’s perseverance. We might not get it right every night, but the very act of trying is leaving an impact.

I tell you this, because I don’t know if you’re at all like me, but sometimes faith is tough. Sometimes following Jesus isn’t easy, and sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes our nighttime routines are beautiful and wonderful. Sometimes they seem like an utter disaster. Sometimes I wonder if me reading our devotions to a jumping boy making car noises is having an impact – if it even matters. But what I realized on Sunday was that sometimes just sticking it out is succeeding. Sometimes the very act of us not giving up leaves a bigger impact than we might imagine.

So even if tonight goes rough, I’m not going to quit doing devotions, praying, and following Jesus with my little boy because it’s making a difference. Because on Sunday after months of up and down devotions, I’m so proud to share with you that Hudson told me that he knows God, he’s at our house, and we all do devotions together.

Teaching My Son to Pray…

A few nights ago I had a really special moment with my son Hudson. I always pray over him every night before he goes to bed. In fact after I pray he often says, “again daddy”. And of course I pray again. What could be better for a parent?

Well I found “better” a few nights ago. As I was leaving his room he called out and said, “Wait Daddy”. So I came back and said “What’s up buddy?” He looked up at me and said, “Daddy I want to pray”. I was so happy and excited so I said, “of course you can pray. Why don’t you pray right now.” He looked down though and was kinda sad and said, “But I not know how…

And so I got the amazing privilege to teach my son how to pray because he wants to know how to pray. I told him how we pray to Jesus who is our friend. I told him how Jesus cares about all we care about and how he prays about those things. I told him how when we pray we give thanks for things too. And so he gave his first nighttime prayer a shot. Here is what he prayed,

“Dear Jesus, I pray for mommy and daddy, and thank you…them. I pray to not pee the bed. Amen”

Pretty great first nighttime prayer right?

But here is the point for us. Why is Hudson asking to learn to pray? Because he sees me do it every day with him. Because this is an action that has been modeled for him. This is why Jesus says, wise is the person who hears my words, and puts them into practice. This is why our faith is not about believing just the right things, but living a certain way. Because our practices show our beliefs. And so I got the amazing privilege of teaching my son to pray, because prayer has been a part of his life now for a while.

So the point is this: that if we want to pass along our faith, we need to start to practice it consistently. Because our friends, family, and neighbors notice. They see when you pray, when you bless someone, when you forgive and reach out. And as you do these things consistently they too might be like Hudson, saying, “Will you teach me” And trust me, there is nothing more beautiful than being able to teach your son how to connect with God.

So this week make sure you practice what you believe. Make sure you act and live out your faith with those around you. Who knows, maybe God will use your example and model to influence and change others. Because that’s what happened with me and Hudson.

Oh…and by the way…Jesus answered both our prayers that night and our little boy didn’t pee the bed…

Prayer Thoughts, and Tips

Today I want to share a short post on prayer; a few things I’ve learned that have helped me grow closer with God. Here are a few suggestions in no particular order:

1)    Give God Space:  At one point in my life my relationship with God seemed to slide but I couldn’t discern why. It just seemed as if we weren’t close anymore. As I reflected, I realized that while I hadn’t done anything overt to distance myself from God, I didn’t give him any space in my life. I listened to my iPod in the shower. Listened to the radio in the car. Had music playing while working, and cleaned the house with the TV on. I was asking God to speak to me, but I realized I hadn’t given him any space to speak. My entire life was filled with noise, with stuff, with things happening. What I’ve started to realize is that for God to speak I have to leave space in my life and day for him. I need to give him my attention and that has changed our whole relationship.

2)    Pray in the Morning:   I really don’t believe there is one time in the day to pray, but I have found, for me, that prayer in the morning is crucial. Brother Andrew said, “If we do not actively seek God early in the morning, it will be very unlikely that we meet him later in the day.” I have simply found this to be true in my life. If I rush past God in the morning the chances of me slowing down in the day aren’t great. So even though I have a thousand other things I’d like to do in the morning, I know the most important thing is to connect with God.

3)    Pray all the Time, Not Just the Mornings: I know this sort of contradicts my last suggestion, but well…life is complex. Here is though what I noticed in my own life a few years ago. What I noticed was that I prayed to get it done, to get it over with, or to put in my time. I prayed in the morning so I could get on with the business at hand and forgot about God the rest of the day. It was as if being present for a moment in the morning was enough for the whole day. Now I know better. I need God all throughout the day. Now my morning prayer is often a prayer to help me discover where God is acting throughout the day. And this has made all the difference.

4)    Don’t Give Up:  Ready for a confession? Not every conversation I have with my wife is scintillating and life changing. But she has had a tremendous influence in my life and changed me in so many ways. I think something similar happens with God. Not every prayer time is amazing, deep, and energizing, but I know it does change me. The point is to not give up, and to keep in the rhythm of prayer. Prayer is often called a spiritual discipline and this is true. It does take some discipline. So now, when after I’ve prayed and I feel a little frustrated, I remind myself it’s not about how I feel but continually being in the relationship that brings about change. That’s true in my relationship with Krista and even more true in my relationship with God.

So I hope those help you. But what have you learned? What would you add?