#CoffeeTimePrayer: God’s freebie

 

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Oprah. My favourite episodes were the ones where she gave stuff away. Who doesn’t like freebies? As the years progressed and her show gained in popularity, the freebies escalated too. I remember in one show everyone got a car. The audience lost their minds.

Funnily, nothing brings out the worst in people like the prospect of a freebie. It either turns us into starry-eyed dreamers who show up for free toasters or microwaves and end up buying dubious timeshares, or we become staunch cynics with jaundiced eyes who don’t believe any good can come of anything. There’s no middle ground.

In Matthew 20:29-34 we read the story of Jesus healing two blind men. It’s outside of Jericho, and Jesus and a big crowd are coming past. The men had probably heard about Jesus – calling him, “Son of David,” presumes some knowledge of him – but whether they actually believed the rumours we can’t say. Still, a supposed healer and holy man coming through the neighbourhood? What did they have to lose?

Jesus turned aside to their calls and asked them, “What can I do for you?” I’m sure Jesus knew what they wanted. But did they? Would they ask Jesus for what they wanted or, faced with the prospect of a “freebie” healing, would they lose their heads like an Oprah audience or regard the opportunity as suspect at best?

Looking at the story’s conclusion – both men are healed and choose to follow Jesus – it’s easy to see that Jesus’ motives were pure. He didn’t confront the two blind men with an ultimatum before feeling compassion for them and curing their blindness. The “freebie” was a genuine, no-strings-attached miracle.

How do we approach Jesus when faced with the opportunity for “freebie” grace? Do we go mad with it, “squandering” it on ourselves with little to spare or care for anyone else, or do we decline it because we’re afraid there are Ts and Cs or hidden costs we don’t want to pay? Either is a waste of a wonderful miracle – a continual second chance with God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the miracle that is your grace! Help me to be generous with it, both with myself and the folks around me. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Little brown jobs

 

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In Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, he writes about what he calls “Little brown jobs.” It’s a term borrowed from bird watchers who sometimes, despite being experienced at their hobby, simply can’t identify a bird and dub them “little brown jobs”. Henry equates this to grace in the Christian walk: sometimes Christians, despite being experienced in their faith, struggle to identify grace when they see it. Henry’s advice is to resist interpreting certain inexplicable things as God’s grace merely to pacify our fears and to accept LBJs for what they are—LBJs.

I like this. Far from negating God’s grace in our lives, it points to the truth that we understand so little about grace—and that that’s okay! Grace, like God, is a mystery, and while it’s often beyond our understanding, it’s never beyond our experience.

Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Romans 11:33-36 MSG)

#CoffeeTimePrayer: How to be a stumbling block, according to Jesus

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After exegeting the depths of Matthew 18, I can confidently present to you how to be a stumbling block, according to Jesus.

1. Don’t see your own sin (Matt 18:6-9)

Curiously our own sins are never quite as bad as other people’s. Weird how that works, huh? I guess it’s just because we try harder, you know? We go to church, we do Bible stuff, we tithe, we try to be Good Christians. Are we perfect? Of course not! We’ve got some sin going on in our lives. But Jesus died for that, so we’re just taking it one day at a time in his righteousness! Hallelujah amen!

2. Don’t worry about other people (Matt 18:10-14)

God helps those who help themselves. We’re pretty sure the Bible says that. In Proverbs, maybe? Anyway, we can’t always be worrying about other people. They need to work out their own salvation. God forbid we become enablers or something. That would be anti-gospel!

3. Shame other people for their sin (Matt 18:15-17)

Hate the sin, love the sinner – gosh do we ever live by this rule! True Christian love is to help others break free from the sins in their lives, especially if they’re, you know, super obvious. We don’t want them to give the wrong impression about Christianity or, Lord forbid, our churches! We can’t have that! It might scare folks off if a bunch of sinners – we mean real sinners – showed up in church, and then the offerings would just plummet. How can we do the Lord’s work without offerings?

4. Don’t forgive people as you’ve been forgiven (Matt 18:21-35)

We’re all just human…but at some point the sanctification has to kick in, right? We can’t soft-soap people – tough Christian love, that’s the way. If sanctification doesn’t appear to be happening, something must be wrong. Maybe they’re not committed enough. Are they not at church every Sunday? Do they party, live together outside of marriage, cuss, refuse to volunteer for things, give less than their ten percent, make questionable choices? In that case, decisions have to be made…

It’s not that we’re being unreasonable. God loves them! He forgives them! But it’s such a kick in his teeth if they don’t at least try to live up to that forgiveness. We all try our best; why shouldn’t they?


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If you’ve ever been a stumbling block, raise your hand. Maybe your hand is in the air too! Let’s try to remember that the next time it starts to point fingers at people. Jesus would rather we chop it off than keep nursing its accusations.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me for being a schmuck. Help me to remember how merciful and forgiving you’ve been to me – and harangue me into being so to others. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Fertile ground

 

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Once when I was a young teen my friends and I were playing the 30 Seconds board game. At one point a person on the opposite team quickly had to explain something to their teammate; we stuck our fingers in our ears to stop us from overhearing. Unfortunately, our nefarious plan to eavesdrop failed when they asked us, “Can you hear us?” and yours truly shook her head “No”!

In Matthew 13:16-17, wedged between the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, Jesus told his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (NRSV). Because we have seen and heard Jesus through the Word and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we can’t shake our heads “No!” when we clearly hear his voice! We don’t have the excuse of thorny or rocky or weedy ground to explain our lack of faithful yield, because we “[hear] the word and understand it” (verse 23).

If like me you often find yourself shaking your head “No!” when Jesus talks to you, don’t be discouraged! In Proverbs 20:12 we read, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both” (NRSV). Rather than condemn ourselves for our lack of yield, we can ask the Spirit of God to restore our sight and to heal our hearing, to see him and to hear him so we can be fruitful ground for the Kingdom seed.

Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear you. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hope alights

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Winston Churchill called his depression a “black dog”. It was something that dogged his steps, leading him to avoid balconies or railway tracks for fear that he wouldn’t be able to resist suicide.

If depression is like a black dog, then hope alights like a bird. It flits from tree to tree and garden to garden. One of the joys of bird watching is how transient individual birds are even when they’re nesting in the area. To see them is to appreciate them, for the sight might be rare.

Hope is hard when we’re having “black dog” days. We can become so preoccupied with the creature pursuing us that we forget to keep our eyes open for hope. But hope is perched above us. Sometimes it’s hardly visible, but it’s always worth the trouble to look for it. Like God, it might just surprise us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:5 NIV

Lord God, help us to find the hope of you in our darkest days. Amen.