Monday Prayer

I came across this song yesterday when I was putting together my Sunday “Sabbath” post. I’ve been experiencing something of a dark night of the soul, and while the song didn’t fit with yesterday’s readings, it resonated deeply with me, so I thought I’d share it. You can listen to the song here (YouTube). The lyrics are below:

“Even If”
MercyMe

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

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#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hello from the other side (of the street)

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Mark 1:40-45 Msg:

40 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

41-45 Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people.” But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.

A local business owner hereabouts had this habit of replying, “Fine thanks and you?” whenever you said “Hello”. The how-are-you-I’m-good-and-you-I’m-fine social ritual we employ was so ingrained she was a step ahead of the actual conversation! The French have gone even further – they’ve boiled it down to its very basics, using “Ça va?” as both question and answer.

In a sense today’s reading in Mark reminds me of this exchange. We often ask each other how we are without any real expectation of honesty. Here this man told Jesus, “If you want, you could heal me.” But how many people who didn’t care enough to see him healed, how many people who thought he deserved his illness lurk behind his statement? Perhaps that’s why Jesus was so emotional – he saw this man’s history. He saw all the “I’m-fine-thanks-and-you’s?” this man had heard in his life as people scurried past, too preoccupied or self-righteous or apathetic to see the world of pain unsaid.

Unlike them, Jesus wanted this leprous man to be well. “I do choose,” he tells him. To me that sums up the character of Jesus: patient, loving, fierce, he always chose to tarry a while with people, to break bread with them, to speak with them, to listen, to heal, to touch. Jesus doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would hurry past a conversation with a curt “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”

It seems to me that our entire life consists of a single choice: between a short “Ça va? Ça va!”, or the much messier pause that Jesus employed, whether it was by wells or at dinner tables or in the temple or by the sea shore. This man who realised how short his ministry would be never acted like it. And him, the Son of God! Are our human schedules really comparable? Or was he onto something we’ve come to lose as we cross streets to avoid conversations?


Dearest Father, Brother, Friend, this week help me to choose as you did – to choose people, to see them as you see them, to realise that your grace for me is really grace for them, too. Amen. 


Have a good week,

L

Hope is a ticking clock

vintage-german-clock

What with Trump’s inauguration yesterday and the uncertainty it inspires globally, I’ve taken a great deal of comfort from this letter, found on Letters of Note, from E.B. White to a Mr Nadeau (emphasis mine):

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,
[Signed, ‘E. B. White’]

Hope is, I think, a ticking clock. It doesn’t so much tell us the time as what the time may be if we persevere. It doesn’t count down the seconds to the next hour so much as remind us that we must be strong no matter what comes. Practically we may gain little from checking it, but spiritually and emotionally we can’t get along without glancing in its direction a few times a day.

But like all clocks, this clock has to be wound up again and again. It doesn’t run on batteries but on living intentionally, moment by moment, in the reassurance of God’s character and of good people and good things, of grace, mercy, and love. It remains our duty, however, to wind it up – this is where we play our part. We wind it up by prayer, Scripture, loving our neighbour. We wind it by “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

At this moment in history, though it’s difficult, let’s feel convicted of hope. Let us tend diligently to our ticking clock, rising, as E.B. White wrote, to wind it as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Have a good weekend,

Lee

#CoffeeTimePrayer “Burdens” mini-series: Works

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Last week we looked at a second burden we bear instead of fruit: apathy. We saw that apathy is a result of doubt about God and his goodness and that it’s nourished by our own fears of having to care, of having to “do” something about all the pain we see in the world while we ourselves feel utterly powerless to change anything. But we realised that these cares aren’t something we’re meant to carry alone – Jesus bears the load for us.

Today we’re discussing our last burden for this mini-series: works. And it’s a tough one. Like we saw last week, the world is in pain. We’re God’s hands and feet; his foot soldiers. If there was ever a time to be living out our faith by being much needed salt and light, this is it. But at the same time, I think we’ve never been more in danger from a works mentality than we are at the moment. Think about the following questions and answer them “Yes” or “no”:

  • “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17) James said it, I believe it, that settles it!
  • I often worry that I’m taking grace “cheap” by not doing enough for God or for others.
  • Jesus detested “lukewarm believers” (Revelation 3:16).
  • I judge a person or church’s faith by how visible they are in a community or congregation.
  • I feel “burned out”, faith-wise, and wish I could take a break.

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, “works” may be a burden you’re bearing.

What does this burden look like?

Did you notice, most of the above questions aren’t technically “wrong”? James did say faith without works is dead; we do tend to take grace cheap by using it as an excuse (or at least, I do); Jesus did speak out against lukewarm churches; how self-centred a person or a church is can be a good indication of their faith. That’s why I ask the last question last: because while these things aren’t wrong, doing them for the wrong reasons certainly is, and it inevitably leaves us feeling burned out.

I’m working through Exodus and I’ve reached the exciting bit where all the laws are listed. One thing you can’t accuse the Israelites of is not covering the particulars! Small details and possible deviations are all accounted for. The formula is very straightforward: if x and y happens (and if z was involved), do a and b. But if c occurred, b isn’t necessary. And so on. The pattern repeats: law equalled works, and works equalled faith and right standing with God.

We read something like this and think how mighty lucky we are! We’re no longer under the law. And then we burn with guilt when we miss a Sunday service or don’t volunteer for something in our church or community! While we may no longer have to pay restitution for our ox with its goring ways (Exodus 21:28), we “pay” our spiritual way in all sorts of interesting ways, heeding the many “unwritten” laws that pop up in religious settings, whether at our homes or in our churches. Certain actions – being “busy for God” – pays off our “debts” within those systems, while inaction ticks away like interest on a huge loan, to be deducted off our salvation come your pastor’s wrath or eternity, whichever happens first! You see, “works” as a burden is rooted in pride and nourished by sturdy doses of self-righteousness.

Inevitably when we mix our salvation in with our Christian duty, things get muddled pretty fast. That’s because the two aren’t meant to be mixed. They’re distinct from each other. Salvation is a gift; it’s grace doing a fireman’s lift on our lives. Christian works as James defined it is and can be a result of that salvation. But works don’t earn salvation; that defies the point of grace.

This is a lesson Jesus’ apostles learned in Acts 11:1-18 (v 1-9 below):

1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8 But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Here we have a head-on collision between law (and works) and grace. Peter visited with Gentiles – a no-no for Jews, something prohibited by the law, and “the circumcised believers criticized him, saying ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” (v 2-3). The apostles back in Jerusalem were worried about appearances. This was a critical time in their movement; persecution had already started. To their mind, and despite everything they had seen and Jesus had taught, the law and works still played a defining role in faith.

While the Gentile believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and then the baptism of water with Peter’s visit, I think what the Jews back in Jerusalem received upon Peter’s return and explanation was far greater: the knowledge that salvation no longer had a basis in works. How could it? Cornelius, while a generous and devout man, had no law-based security to fall back on. He was a Gentile and by extent an outsider. He was, in terms of Peter’s vision, “profane.” In the eyes of the law not even his alms could save him! So we see it was necessary for these Gentiles to be saved by faith so the Jews could begin to be fully saved from the law and law mentality.

In this scenario, we modern-day believers have become the Jews of old. Our “laws” look different – they even look good and sensible – but the effect is the same: they separate us from God rather than bringing us closer to him, because they convince us that God is distant in the first place! But works do not earn us more grace or approval from God. He’s always at one hundred percent faithful. It’s only in realising this that we can live out our own faith and bear fruit for him.

#CoffeeTimePrayer “Burdens” mini-series: Apathy

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Last week we began to look at burdens we bear instead of bearing fruit. The first burden we looked at was the burden of defensiveness: a burden that grows from a root of insecurity and is nourished by self-sufficiency and a desire to “prove” God to yourself and others. We discovered that Jesus’ biggest temptation in Matthew 4 was to “defend” God – and what a chip on your shoulder this “defensiveness” can be.

The burden we’re looking at this week is one I think a growing number of Christians are familiar with: the burden of apathy. In a world awash with pain, conflict and suffering, Christians seem to spend times in headlines for all the wrong reasons – for making worse, and not for healing. But this corporate apathy has its beginnings in individual apathy. Think about the following questions and answer them “Yes” or “No”:

  • It is not our job to fix the world; our family/church/community has enough problems of its own.
  • The fallen world deserves its judgment.
  • I feel overwhelmed by all the bad in the world.
  • I’m not much interested in worldly affairs.
  • I struggle to see God’s work in the world as it is today.

If you answered more questions “Yes” than you did “no”, you might be struggling with this burden.

What does this burden look like?

We’re exposed to an unprecedented amount of “bad” news. Just scroll through any major news corporation’s Twitter feed and you’re inundated with a blow-by-blow account of the world’s ills, all in bite-sized format: x people killed. Y people lost. Z money spent. Brangelina’s split! It’s pain, panoramic. The instantaneousness of information has the odd effect of both bringing us closer and numbing us down for all our exposure.

Pain isn’t just global in scale, though. Often it’s up close and personal because it’s up close and personal: your sibling is addicted to drugs. Your best friend’s been cheated on. Your marriage isn’t working out. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know your kids. There’s a serious illness in the family. And it’s not just you dealing with all this stuff – it’s everywhere! In setting up the church slides this week, I had to add two additional slides for all the additional prayer requests. Sick people, people in pain, people grieving.

The world – ours and the one around us and “out there” – seems to be demanding more and more of our care, but we’re fresh out. So we make our “care” smaller. We keep it close: close family and friends only. And when that gets too much, we shrink it down even more. Everyone for themselves! The burden of apathy sags down the branches of our tree – our tree that’s supposedly planted next to water (Jeremiah 17:7-8) – and we sag with it, down, down.

bb-3I don’t think this is surprising, really. You know what nourishes this, what makes it pop out gluttonous fruit? Fear. See, it hurts to care. It hurts to have so much bad weighing you down. It’s quite literally a downer and naturally we’re afraid to feel this way. But fear isn’t even the biggest issue here. No, the root of this burden is far thornier: the root of this burden is doubt.

To proclaim a gloriously good God in a world terminally messed up? To say “Yet you are holy” (Psalm 22:3) when your kid is dead, your wife is gone, your job sucks, you’re going nowhere? To say “In you I trust” (Psalm 25:2, 31:14) when explosions and earthquakes and wars tear and plunder?

I think we’d be mad not to have doubt. We’d have to be fanatical not to have questions, not to lament our lostness. I honestly don’t think we will ever be doubt-free.

But does that mean we’re stuck with this burden of apathy? Or does it mean that God expects us to live in pain over pain?

I don’t think so. While God absolutely expects us to care, it’s what we do with that care that turns our doubt into something life-giving; into faith.

In Matthew 11:25-28 Jesus reveals the following:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father … Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Let’s unpack this, and we’ll end with it:

  • All things – all pain, whether personal, local, national, or global – have been committed to Jesus Christ, and it’s this commitment he undertook that sent him to be born, that carried him to the cross and kept him there. It’s also what resurrected him from death.
  • When we take burdens upon ourselves, we are trying to mimic what Jesus has already done and accomplished on the cross. It’s unnecessary. We are to give our cares to Jesus. Not to “free us” from care – but to enable us to keep on caring!
  • In sharing this burden with Jesus, in taking up the “light” yoke of his peace, grace and love, apathy, its nourishment fear, and its root of doubt are transformed into the ability to walk in love and light (John 8:12). Spiritual fruit flourish under these conditions.

Still, the initiative in surrendering our burdens lies with us. When we see and experience pain and any number of ills, will we choose to shield ourselves with apathy because we’re afraid the world is right about God’s nature or existence – that such pain cannot exist in a universe where he is acknowledged Creator – or will we turn our faces not away from pain, but toward Christ so that we can look upon it together?

And looking, see?

And seeing, feel?

And feeling, do?