Tag Archives: CrossWalk

The Rhythm of Prayer

King Saul is a fascinating figure. He reigned as king over Israel for 42 years even though A) he was horrible at it, B) was corrupt, C) was full of pride, and D) was more than a little paranoid. He never asked to be king, or even considered the possibility. One day he went out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and when he came back he’d been anointed king of Israel. (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 9). His only credentials seem to be that he was a head taller than everybody and, apparently, easy on the eyes. But from the start it was clear his reign would not go well:

▪When he was inaugurated before the people, he hid from everyone “among the supplies.” (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 10:20-22).

▪He repeatedly disobeyed direct commands from God and the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 11-15).

▪After David killed Goliath, Saul did everything he could to kill David, a threat to his throne. (1 Samuel 18-31)

▪After driving out all the witches and fortune tellers from Israel, Saul went to a fortune teller at night so nobody would see him. (1 Samuel 28)

Eventually, when Saul’s sons were dead and all his men abandoned him in battle, he fell on his own sword and died so as not to be taken captive by an enemy army.

A shameful end to a shameful reign.

RED FLAGS

We see red flags from the beginning of the story of Saul. He was never going to be a successful king because his eyes, his heart, his mind, his spirit had no capacity for the spiritual realm. Saul lived in the physical world and governed like a person with no expectation that God might break through and do something miraculous. He trusted himself and what he could see, rather than God and the realm that is unseen.

You and I aren’t that different, are we? We lose sight of the unseen. We forget that we have limits while God is limitless.

Perhaps our biggest red flag that we’ve lost sight of God is the absence of prayer.

RHYTHM OF PRAYER

I’ve heard it said that the church’s dirty little secret is that we don’t pray. We do lots of good things, but we are mostly capable of doing them whether God is present or not. So our lives develop a rhythm of self-sufficiency. Church happens with or without God. Work happens with or without God. Families are raised with or without God. All this by we who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Eventually, without reminding ourselves of God’s ability and desire to break into the present realm, our world begins to look a certain way.

Prayer is an invitation into the realm where God lives and moves and has his being. Even the simplest prayer before a meal is an act of humility, acknowledging that God has, in fact, seen you, cared for you, and loved you. A lot of us give up praying because it feels like one more command us normal folks cannot keep. So most of us feel guilty for not praying and, in some cases, even fear God’s punishment.

But prayer is an invitation into “the ineffable,” the indescribable place where God’s supernatural power is the norm. Praying because we’re “commanded” to is fine, but eventually it becomes one more thing we’re capable of doing with or without God.

We also give up on prayer because we don’t always get what we ask for. But getting our requests is not the function of prayer. If it were, Jesus would have avoided the cross, Paul would have had his thorn taken from him, and psalmist after psalmist would have avoided the phrase, “How long, Lord!” Seriously, from what we read in scripture, you’re far more likely to not get what you want than you are to actually get it.

But that’s not what prayer is for.

Prayer is a rhythm. It’s a rhythm that keeps our minds, hearts, spirits, and souls centered in the unseen realm. Prayer reminds us that what we see is not all there is. When we create a rhythm of prayer for ourselves, we begin to see that ineffable realm more clearly. We’re not surprised when God shows up and does what God does. When we create a rhythm of prayer, the line between the natural and the supernatural fades. Prayer is the key to God’s world.

A SMALL RHYTHM

If you’ve lost (or never created) your rhythm for prayer, will you start this week? Make it simple; you don’t need to carve out five hours a day or get up at 3:00 in the morning or buy a prayer shawl or even keep a journal. Start small. Make a decision now to speak briefly to God once each day – at a meal, in the car, tucking in the kids. It’s like the bass line of a good song: subtle, simple, the foundation to something beautiful. As you feel your connection with the Other Realm intensify, expand your rhythm a little at a time, all the while opening your eyes to the realm of God.

Don’t do it because the Bible says to; do it because God invites you to see the world as he sees it. Don’t do it because you feel guilty; do it because you want to feel the presence of God. Don’t do it because you want to be a better Christian; do it because you want to experience a life that can only happen because God made it so.

Advertisements

A Church of Christ Preacher’s Take on Lent

1. What is Lent?

Lent began as a season of preparation for baptism. In some traditions it started as a 40-hour fast, and in others it has always been a 40-day fast. The number 40 is representative of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for his ministry. Historically, the 40-day Lenten period started 40 days before Easter, and on Easter Sunday participants were baptized. 

Lent is an opportunity to become more like the resurrected Jesus in anticipation of Easter Sunday. By resurrection, we are transformed into the image of Christ and invited to participate in his mission – to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, and set the oppressed free. During Lent, we fast from those things that are selfish, and participate in those things that are sacrificial and bring about justice. Many use this time to quit drinking sodas or cut back on chocolate, but the deeper sense of Lent invites us to rid our lives of those things that prevent justice and/or our awareness of people in need.

In addition to fasting, many choose to add something to their lives that put them more in tune with the Kingdom. For instance, some spend time each day in scripture. Others find places to volunteer. And still others find specific ways to bring about justice in the communities in which they live.

2. Can I eat meat?

Over the years many elements have been added to the 40 days of fasting. Some participants avoid certain foods like red meat, and that’s why you’ll see lots of ads for fish sandwiches during Lent or crawfish boils in places like New Orleans and Houston. In fact, it is quite common for people to eat a vegetarian – or even vegan – diet during Lent. Food is an important part of the Lenten journey because in preparing ourselves for the resurrected Jesus, we need to redirect our hunger. Food is symbolic of that which we crave, that which we rely on for daily sustenance and life. By limiting the types and amounts of food we eat, we remind ourselves that our primary hunger ought to be for Jesus and the life of justice and redemption to which he calls us.

3. When does the fast begin and end?

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends Easter Sunday. You may notice that’s more than 40 days. Some observe their fast every day from Ash Wednesday through Easter; others break their fast on Sunday’s. Ash Wednesday exists to give those who don’t observe a fast on Sunday’s a full 40 days of fasting (Fasting six days a week for six weeks only gives a person 36 days of fasting. Backing it up to Ash Wednesday allows the full 40 days). Whether you fast every day or break your fast on Sunday’s, it’s recommended to fast from Ash Wednesday all the way to Easter, even if you go over 40 days. By doing so, you join with millions of Jesus followers around the world simultaneously ridding their lives of selfishness and worldliness, replacing it with sacrifice, justice, and love. There is joy to be found in being part of a much larger whole rather than walking an individual journey alone.

4. What am I giving up?

Personally, I plan to give up my social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve chosen to fast from these because I often find myself craving acceptance and affirmation through the things I post. I can become so preoccupied with people’s comments (or lack thereof) that I become unproductive in things that really matter.

In addition to fasting from social media, I plan to read and study the book of Isaiah. Jesus seemed to find great insight in this prophet’s words, so in an attempt to understand the Kingdom as Jesus did, I will pour over Isaiah for the full 44 days of Lent. 

5. What are you giving up/adding to your life during Lent?

Let’s hear it. What will you give up in an effort to be a greater participant in the mission of Jesus? What will you do during the Lent season to join Jesus in the work he’s doing in the neighborhoods, cities, and world around you?

Sin Revisited

SIN

Yesterday I preached about sin. I was a little anxious because I know a sermon on sin is only slightly better than a sermon on the church budget. But it’s a necessary discussion and one the apostle John tackles unapologetically in his sermon called 1 John. 

We need to acknowledge sin as a very real, very powerful presence in our world. It’s hard to look at the state of our global society and say there is no sin. Look at the greed; look at the violence; look at the hate. Sin is real. John says in chapter 1 of his sermon that if we say we have no sin “we make God a liar.” 

The God of scripture is a God of redemption. Essentially every story – yes, even the violent ones – point toward redemption. And when Jesus arrives, God’s redemption manifests itself in human flesh. And after that human flesh lives his life teaching us to love and share and forgive, he’s nailed to a cross and humanity’s redemption is once and for all accomplished.

So if you tell God there’s no such thing as sin, you tell God his very essence is a lie. If you believe in the God of scripture (which opens up an entirely new conversation) then you believe in sin.

If you do not believe in the God of scripture, I encourage you to open a newspaper, turn on the news, read a blog about poverty or militant dictators or 3rd world suffering. Do this, then say with a straight face there is no sin.

JESUS

Image

Jesus showed us lots of things, and one of the most important is how to handle sinners. The apostle John also wrote a story about Jesus from his perspective. In 8:1-11 of his gospel, he tells a story about a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law drag her to Jesus, who is in the temple teaching a crowd of people. And before the entire crowd they announce that the woman has been caught sleeping with a man who is not her husband, and that the law of Moses demands she be stoned to death.

They turn to Jesus, “hoping to trap him.”

Jesus stoops down and draws in the dirt. He stands up and says, “All right, but the first stone must be thrown by the person who has no sin.” And he drew in the dirt again.

One by one the Pharisees and teachers of the law dropped their stones and walked away.

A few things:

1. The Pharisees are right. 

And Jesus acknowledges this. The law clearly says she must be stoned. To say otherwise is a misrepresentation of scripture. However, the Pharisees are operating in the realm of analysis, while Jesus operates in awareness. Rob Bell describes the difference in this blog post titled ‘how about a short sermon.’ Analysis asks “What?” while awareness asks “Who?” Analysis leads to certainty while awareness leads to exploration. Analysis breeds judgment while awareness invites grace. 

The Pharisees chose analysis; Jesus chose awareness.

2. The Pharisees chose the wrong battle

They often picked analytical fights with Jesus, and they always lost. In this story Jesus turns their analysis against them by permitting the stoning but only if it’s instigated by someone who is flawless. Of course, declaring oneself flawless is heresy. So the Pharisees found themselves trapped between upholding the Law or breaking it.

Jesus did this because his fight was on another battlefield. And that battlefield was in the heart of the humiliated woman lying in the middle of the crowd. Jesus saw someone hurting. Someone broken. Someone whose humanity had been robbed. And his fight was one of redemption and grace, not judgment and punishment.

3. We have a choice

You and I are often somewhere in that crowd. We are somewhere between the Pharisees holding their stones and Jesus drawing in the dirt. We are capable of showing grace, but not always willing. And, at least in the Christian world, we are far too often the stone holders ready to inflict punishment on wrongdoers. After all, scripture is clear.

But what happens when we find ourselves in the middle of the crowd? What happens when we become the woman. What happens when our sin is exposed and the people begin gathering their stones and we desperately scan the crowd for a messiah drawing in the dirt. 

What then? Are we okay with sin analysis or would we prefer grace awareness?

US

It’s time for the Church to stop condemning. 

It’s time we took our appropriate place in the center of the crowd with our sin exposed, waiting for the final word from Jesus. 

It’s time we start looking more like Jesus and less like Pharisees.

It’s time we stop analyzing sin and start exposing grace.

It’s time we join God in his pursuit of redeeming the world.