Tag Archives: God

3 Things I’m Learning About Cultivating Peace

How do you find peace?

peaceful-sunset-1920x1080-1207058This is a question everyone asks at one time or another. I’ve been on a personal journey to answer it since last year’s Lenten season. The 40 days of fasting and repentance opened my eyes to the fact that in almost any given moment I was unsatisfied. Not unhappy, just unsatisfied. Restless, like I wast perpetually missing something. And I unknowingly tried so many ways to settle my restlessness, but always to no avail. When my mind wandered I would check out on social media, or grab some junk food, or go buy something, or reorganize the books on my bookshelf. Anything to avoid being fully present in the moment as it existed.

When I came home from the office I would often bring my restlessness with me, mostly because I felt like I had accomplished so little at work and needed to get something done. So at work my mind was restless, then at home my mind was restless because I spent the day in restlessness at work!

During Lent last year I gave up meat, which forced me to be very intentional about what I ate. I couldn’t just “grab something” whenever an urge hit. I began to notice that by forcing myself to think about what I was eating, my mind was much more focused on what needed to get done. Since food was no longer an escape, somehow that helped my mind be satisfied with the moment. And when I was able to be satisfied, the other vices began losing their appeal, and eventually I was rarely looking for an escape.

Robert Pirsig refers to three levels of understanding in our search for peace: Physical, Mental, and Value. THIS IS THE FIRST THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our physical behavior (like giving up meat for 40 days) influences our Mental state, which then creates a “Value Quietness” in which “one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, and that seems the hardest of all.”*

Once I realized this, I was forced to ask: “But what was I escaping from?” And that’s where the real journey begins. We fall into the trap of thinking we have no peace because our environment is not peaceful. And, to be sure, we ought to intentionally work toward a peaceful environment. We are a loud, busy, multi-tasking people who rarely stop for the sake of being present. Environment does play a part, but it’s only a small part. But simply removing the thing causing distress doesn’t get at the heart of the problem itself; namely the question Why does that stress me out?

med1I have a friend who is a foster/adoptive dad with a large family. He once told me that shoes on the stairs causes him great distress. As he kept talking he began to acknowledge that the location of the shoes wasn’t the problem, but rather the disrespect he felt as a father by his kids not putting things where they belong.

And that’s where his journey toward peace must begin.

THIS IS THE SECOND THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our environment is not necessarily bad, and can sometimes solve the problem. But more often than not, what is really needed is not a change of environment, but a change of Self, because there’s only so much control we have over our environment. Unfortunately, changing the environment is always easier than changing our Self. As Martin Luther once wrote: “The Self dies hard.

BEGIN TO CHANGE YOUR SELF WITH THREE QUESTIONS

THIS IS THE THIRD THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing your Self is never complete; it requires time and maintenance. It also requires intentionality and a recognition of restlessness when it occurs. For example, I was at my 12-year-old son’s basketball game recently. It was a close game and came down to the final shot. My son’s team got the ball off a missed free throw and immediately called time out. They had 7 seconds to move down the court and get a shot off. I try not to be that obnoxious parent at my kids’ sporting events, but sometimes I get outside of myself and a little too wrapped up in the game. That was the case on this particular night. I just wanted them to win so bad!

So, during the time out, while all the players were off the court, I actually paused and asked myself three questions:

Will I be at peace if they win?

Will I be at peace if they lose?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

This, for me, has become the central focus. I want the same peace if my son’s team loses as I would have if they won, and I want to intentionally work to maintain it. The work of maintaining peace starts with recognizing how little control we have at any given moment.

As a spectator – not a coach, nor a ref, nor a player – I had no control over any aspect of that game. If my peace were contingent upon my environment, then I would have been fighting a losing battle because it was completely out of my hands. And that’s the case for most of life; life is imposed on us more than we impose ourselves upon it. Loosening our grip in moments like a 12-year-old boy’s basketball game reminds us of this fact, and leads us toward a cultivated sense of peace.

Whether it’s a basketball game, a work situation, family life, marriage, church, school, community, neighbors, weekend getaways…we are always given the opportunity to ask:

Will I be at peace if A happens?

Will I be at peace if happens?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

Peace is cultivated, not grasped. Nurtured, not achieved. Peace is maintained. And maintenance is more of an art form than a science. It involves routine and structure, but great perspective is also required. For me personally, I’ve found a few things to be helpful in my effort to maintain peace:

  1. Wake Up Early – Obviously this isn’t going to work for everybody, but waking up before our kids** is the first step toward starting the day in peace for me. I typically wake up around 5:00, then go to our living room and practice a series of yoga stretches and poses, followed by some silent meditation in the dark. I spend about 5-10 minutes being as aware of my surroundings as possible. Some call this mindfulness. The discovery of mindfulness has been an extraordinary gift to me in my search for peace. Usually, though, at that time of morning the only thing to be mindful of is our snoring dog on the couch beside me. But these few moments of waking up peacefully set the tone for my whole day.
  2. Guided Prayer – I’ve been meeting with a spiritual director for the better part of a year now. He’s a retired Catholic priest named Father Bob. We meet most Wednesday’s at the Little Rock diocese where he and a few other retired priests now live. Each week he asks about my prayer time from the week before, then gives me some thoughts and scriptures to guide my prayer for the coming week. I’ve also begun using a prayer book. I’ve settled on The Book of Common Prayer. It provides a daily prayer structure that begins with ancient scriptures and liturgical readings. That way by the time I get around to praying for myself, my prayer is shaped by scripture and by spiritual mothers and fathers so that my personal prayer finds context in the great tradition of our faith.
  3. Deep Prayer Getaways – Here in Little Rock we are blessed with the Arkansas House of Prayer, a beautiful sanctuary on a hillside west of town. It’s on the grounds of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, which is also a beautiful sight. I try to spend a couple of hours on Tuesday’s at AHOP in what I’ve begun calling “Deep Prayer.” That is, a time of deep and focused interaction with Jesus, guided by scripture and liturgies and my own imagination (imagination in prayer is something I hope to write on soon). I also recently attended my first 3-day silent guided prayer retreat at St. Scholastica monastery in Fort Smith, AR. The sisters at St. Scholastica provided wonderful direction, and I was silent for three days, spending at least four hours per day in focused prayer, and the rest in companionship with Jesus. If you ever have a chance to participate in a guided silent retreat, I highly encourage you to take it.

Yesterday I started working on a space in the woods behind our house for an outdoor contemplative prayer space where I plan to spend my mornings once spring arrives. The hill on which our house sits backs up to the Arkansas river and provides incredible views of the sunrise each morning. So when everything thaws and life starts to bloom, I plan to cultivate peace in the nature of our own backyard.

We plan to move out of our current house in the next 18-24 months, and the thought occurred to me as I was lugging rocks through the trees that in only a few months I won’t have access to that space. But that’s the beauty of cultivating peace; you begin to realize that it’s not about a particular place or a particular space or even a particular time – peace is cultivated where you are, when you are, with what you have. In my case, I currently have access to a beautiful plot of woods behind our house. Perhaps our next house will be in a more urban area with only a small patch of grass out back. But peace is not contingent upon my environment, so an entirely new journey toward peace will open up as I will learn to experience it in a new place.

May that be your experience; may you see life as a perpetual journey toward the peace that Jesus offers, that you might be in a constant state of satisfaction regardless of your circumstances or environment. And may you find joy not only in the peace itself, but also in the cultivating work that you pour into it. May your yoga practices and quiet meditations and guided prayers be filled with a divine sense of work, and from that work may a beautiful harvest of peace rise up within you.

 

*Robert Pirsig; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values; William Morrow Modern Classics, p. 302

**Did I mention that my wife and I have eight kids? At the time of this writing they are ages 12, 9, 7, 7, 5, 4, 3, and 2. So yeah, don’t tell me you can’t do these things.

 

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.

Two Days with Rob Bell

I did it.

I saw it promoted for a couple years, and I always thought “Two Days with Rob Bell” sounded a little pretentious. But then he changed the name from “Two Days with Rob Bell” to “Craft Lab.”

I was sold!

I booked my seat/flight/hotel/car and spent two days last week in beautiful Laguna Beach, CA with Rob Bell and around 50 or 60 people from all over North America. I met some incredible people doing seriously mind-blowing things, made more foster-adoptive connections, tried (and hated) surfing, and, of course, met Rob Bell.

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Initially there was a lot of what my wife calls “peacocking” – people strutting their stuff, trying to distance themselves from the rest of us lower-tier humans. But then Rob (or Robbie-Rob as I decided to call him) entered the room. An awe-full hush settled over us star-struck drones and without even saying a word, he’d begun.

Eventually, peacocking gave way to beautiful honesty and transparency. And by the end I declared it to be two of the most important days of my entire ministry.

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Rob Bell has a gift. Not just preaching, not just writing, but he has a gift of getting to the heart of what a person is truly saying in a matter of seconds. He’s a relentlessly hard worker and a genuine inspiration. He spent the first morning asking people about projects they’re working on. Within a few moments, he opened door after door after door to each person’s insight and what the project is actually about. It sounds a bit arrogant to say he sat and told people how to make their books-films-sermons better, but that’s exactly what he did and it was amazing. He read excerpts from his new book set to release in August called Yes, You. He shared some personal stories about ministry, about criticism, and about making the move from Michigan to L.A. to find a way to share his message on television. He explained his move this way:

Politics and religion are the two hot-button issues in America. Politics is everywhere on television, but where do you turn for religion? Where’s the religious equivalent to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?

He starts filming his show in a couple weeks, and it airs in October on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

He gave us priceless advice on the craft of presenting our thoughts like:

Be tight and ruthless

No B-minus stuff

Be able to tell the gist in 30-seconds

Structure breeds spontaneity

Use the particular to explain the universal

These have already had a profound impact on my preaching, and I’ve only been back one week!

Yes, Rob Bell has a gift.

It’s interesting to me that he receives so much criticism. I get it, I mean he says some things that are knowingly on the edge, if not over it. I don’t agree with 100% of what he says or writes or teaches, but I’m drawn to him because of the way in which he speaks and writes and teaches. He approaches God as I think God should be approached: with wonder and awe, fully aware of the mystery. His teaching style models that of ancient rabbis in that he asks far more questions than he has answers for. Questions unlock the door to mystery. Questions tell us more about who we are than any answer might. Questions are the way we move forward through time and space. Answers are the end of a trail, questions are its head. I think many people struggle with Rob Bell not because of his answers, but because of his questions. He doesn’t seem afraid to ask “the big ones,” nor is he afraid to arrive at an answer different from the one we’ve all be conditioned to regurgitate. I find that beautiful and inviting. I see in that a genuine sense of wonder at who God is. I see the disciples doing the same thing with Jesus, especially in John’s gospel. It’s there that John repeats over and over that the disciples had no idea what was going on, and it took them until well after Jesus’ ascension to begin to understand what his life meant.

Asking questions to which you’re unsure of the answers is the way of the disciples, and it was the way of the rabbis, and it’s a beautiful way forward for any and all who are tired of regurgitating the same old answers we learned as children. We will never fully grasp the enormity of God. We will spend our entire lives searching without fully knowing even a fraction of God’s Being, and that reality sets us free to explore and wander and ask and doubt and struggle and resurrect our faith time after time after time. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? Resurrection? Death to one way of being and new life to another. We experience resurrection on large and small scales every day, and in resurrection we find the powerful love of God drawing us deeper into himself.

If you ever get a chance to spend two days with Rob Bell, I suggest you take it. You may not agree with everything he says, but you’ll find yourself sucked into the mystery of God and discovering a new side of the Kingdom you’ve never before explored.

4 Reasons Why Comparing Kills

I’ve been a minister for about 12 years in some form or another. And, like many men and women in my profession, I often find myself playing the Comparison Game. The first time I read The Irresistible Revolution I felt guilty for weeks that I don’t sew my own clothes.

I wish I preached like that guy.

I wish I connected with people like that lady.

I wish i had the creative vision like that church.

I wish I was wise like that group.

We all do this – it’s part of being an American human. We’re constantly told to compare ourselves, sometimes subtly and other times not. For instance, just count the number of fitness centers between your current location and wherever you’re going next. American capitalism  and culture are driven by our belief that we don’t measure up.

I am learning to avoid the Comparison Game, though, especially as a minister. The past year-and-a-half I’ve preached for a little church in Arkansas that has taught me much about obedience and the power of a few people to transform a city. I am still tempted to compare myself with what’s on the other side of the fence, but I thought I’d share a few of the destructive outcomes I’ve experienced when we compare ourselves to others.

1. WE’RE DRIVEN BY POPULARITY, NOT OBEDIENCE

One of my 5-year-olds, Judah, is notorious for watching how my wife and i treat his brothers. He’s always measuring, making sure he receives the same treatment as everybody else. It’s not uncommon for us to offer our boys rewards for going above and beyond. We might say, “Titus, if you will pick up everybody’s shoes you can have an extra ten minutes on the Wii.” Judah sees Titus playing Wii while everyone else marches to bed. When he asks why Titus gets extra time, my response is usually: “Is your name Titus or Judah? What did I ask Judah to do?”

This is one problem with comparison – we forget, or completely ignore, that God has given us a job to do. Your job might be to preach twenty-seven services every weekend to thousands of people, or your job might be to wash out the communion trays. Either way, your job is not their job, and their job is not yours. Your job is important because it’s been given to you by God. You can either do your job well, honoring our Father, or whine that you didn’t get somebody else’s.

I recently spoke to a group of inmates at Wrightsville prison south of Little Rock. After i was done, an inmate came over with a glass of water. He hugged me and said, “Thank you for being obedient.”

No one has ever said that to me after I preached, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Are you obedient to the call God has given you? Do you believe your job matters, or are you perpetually waiting for your big shot at something better?

2. WE REJECT PEOPLE WHO LOVE US FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD OF US

If you spend your days wishing you had a bigger reach, if you wish more people retweeted you or shared your blogs, or if you wish your podcast had more listeners than just your wife and your mom, perhaps you’re missing something crucial: the people who are actually listening.

One day when I was a youth minister, I showed up to an event i thought would be really, really big. Tons of kids signed up, and most of them were bringing lots of friends. But one by one I got texts saying why kids couldn’t come, and by the end we had maybe a dozen teenagers show up. I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes stewing about those who didn’t come until one young lady spoke up: “Sorry we’re not enough.” She said it sarcastically, and it certainly lightened the mood, but man did it sting.

Imagine going to a soccer field and watching somebody else’s kid play. You get out your phone and start recording their big shots. You cheer when they score and talk to all the parents about how good that kid is. All the while your own child is sitting beside you, wondering if you’ll ever notice them.

If you’re a teacher, pour yourself into the students you have. If you’re a mechanic, work on every car like it’s your own. If you’re starving artist bussing tables, make sure your tables are the cleanest in the restaurant. Be committed to the work before you, because if you’re not, well, just read number 3…

3. YOU’LL NEVER BE SATISFIED

Jesus told a parable once about a king who left his servants in charge of his money. When the king returned, some of the servants put the money to work, but one didn’t. He told those who put the money to work that because they were faithful with a little bit of money, he knew they could be trusted with a big piece of his kingdom. As for the servant who did nothing, he was thrown out and punished.

Here’s the point: if you are faithful with your “little” job, you’ll be faithful with your “big” job when it comes. But so long as you live like a person waiting on her ship to arrive, you’ll miss the work that matters now.

4. WHEN YOU GET IT, YOU’RE STILL YOU

Remember the original Blackberry? I wanted one so bad. I had a friend who used one for work and I was always jealous when he’d send me an email with “SENT FROM MY BLACKBERRY” arrogantly scrawled across the bottom. This was before the days of smart phones, so a handheld device that could get email and internet was mind-blowing.

Around 2007 I got a Blackberry. A small one, but still a Blackberry. I liked it and used it for everything I could, but it was never the wonderful gadget I’d dreamed about. This usually happens when we get what we think we want. But it’s not that we discover the product or the job or the family or the paycheck is unsatisfactory. It’s that we discover we’re still the same person.

Most of us compare ourselves to others believing that having what they have will make us be who they are. If you think landing that job will suddenly make you a respected authority in that field, you’re in for disappointment. If you think a bigger paycheck or nicer clothes or the latest gadget will open the door to really become the man or woman you dreamed you’d be, you’re going to find only your same old self with new clothes.

Collin Cowherd hosts a radio show on ESPN, and he once said, “Money makes you more of what you already are.”

Money, jobs, clothes, Twitter followers, blog subscribers, none of those things changes you. You’re still you no matter who is listening. So do your work faithfully and with integrity.

Quit comparing yourself to other people. Get to work doing the job right in front of your face. You may live your entire life in the shadows, never being famous, never hitting it big, never making the New York Times Bestseller List, never cracking that 200-follower ceiling on Twitter. But if you do your job faithfully, as though the world depends on it, the world will be better because you were in it.

Like a Fire in my Bones

Yesterday I led the Bible study time at River City Ministries, an organization serving the poor and homeless around Little Rock. I’m on a rotation with several other ministers and typically speak there once a month. I enjoy being with the people, and especially the staff at RCM. They have a clear love for the Lord and for all of his children – especially the poorest ones.

As I pulled into the parking lot yesterday, I was overcome with a supernatural reluctance. I did not want to teach. I did not want to see the people. I did not want to get out of my truck and go inside. I sat staring at my phone, wondering if I could somehow call in sick and still escape the parking lot before I was noticed.

But then I was noticed.

I heard a voice say “Thanks Curtis!” When I looked back, there was Curtis Zachary, the Kindest Human Being on the Planet and a member at our church. He was there dropping off some supplies on his lunch break, just one of his responsibilities as the Kindest Human Being on the Planet. Curtis’ kindness and obvious joy serving the people at RCM made me feel all kinds of guilty.

He came walking through the parking lot with a big grin and his hand out-reached.

“Hey, Cory!”

I probably left him wondering why I didn’t return his enthusiasm. Because any other time I would have been thrilled to see Curtis. I mean, who doesn’t want to see the Kindest Human Being on the Planet? But this time he blew my cover. This time he forced me inside.

That wasn’t even the worst part. After I saw Curtis, I met Edward.

Edward is an African-American man who, I’m guessing, is in his late-40’s or early 50’s. He wore a black track suit with a cap and looked at everyone over his thin reading glasses. His voice was like thunder, really happy thunder. Without looking at him you could tell he was smiling.

Edward saw me carrying my Bible and hurried over to meet me, floating on his Holy Cloud of Joy and Goodness.

“You must be the preacher man today!” He smiled.

“Yes sir,” I fake-smiled back.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “But if you didn’t come, I was ready to share the Word. Psalm 121, that’s what I was gonna teach today if you didn’t come.”

“I can leave,” I thought. I didn’t say it, but I was really close.

I found a seat on the far side of the room, between the guys who never want to talk to anybody. Edward, of course, followed me.

“I’m a former drug addict and convict. But now I know Jee-zus and I have a joy cain’t no devil provide! You knowaduhmean? Cain’t NO devil provide my joy!” This time he screamed “no” and people jumped.

“God’s word says to taste and see that he is good. Well I’ve tasted it, and it’s sweeter than honey!”

I wasn’t sure what to say. But it was obvious the right man wasn’t teaching.

I printed off several copies of my text for the day just in case people didn’t have a Bible. Edward caught a glimpse of the scriptures, snatched them out of my hand and was handing them out before I knew what had happened. He controlled the room, telling people to smile, telling people God loves them, he even told one guy to shut up.

Everyone did just what Edward said.

As I watched him float around on his Holy Cloud, I couldn’t help but think of a verse in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet who was terrorized, humiliated, and persecuted for speaking God’s word. And, as much as he lamented his duty, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. So in Jeremiah 20:7-9, he says:

O Lord, you misled me.

and I allowed myself to be misled.

You are stronger than I am,

and you overpowered me.

Now I am mocked every day;

everyone laughs at me.

When I speak, the words burst out.

“Violence and destruction!” I shout.

So these messages from the Lord

have made me a household joke.

But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord

or speak in his name,

his word burns in my heart like a fire.

It’s like a fire in my bones!

i am worn out trying to hold it in!

I can’t do it!

That’s Edward. The word of God is a fire in his bones, and he cannot hold it in. And there I sat, a professional preacher, wishing I could do anything but share God’s word with the poor. In case you’re wondering, it’s not a great feeling.

Edward’s energy fueled me through my lesson. When I got back to the office I looked up Edward’s passage he wanted to preach. Psalm 121 says:

I lift my eyes to the hills –

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you –

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm –

he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

I should have left.

Better yet, I should have stayed. I should have listened to Edward, the homeless recovering drug addict with God’s word burning like fire in his bones, tell me why God is his protection. I should have listened to Edward tell me how God doesn’t let his foot slip. How God is his shade. His protection. His help. Because of all the places I go for inspiration – books, videos, blogs, podcasts, other professional preachers – sometimes I just need to be with somebody who cannot, for the life of them, hold God’s word inside.

May God’s word be a fire in your bones. May you and I be worn out trying to hold it in.

Jesus Wants Nobodies

Sunday I talked about 1 John 2:15-17 which, in my opinion, is the most important passage in 1 John because it speaks to our humanity and the things that drive us. Here’s the passage:

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”


1. We either love our world or we love God. We cannot love both simultaneously.

2. We know we love our world when we define ourselves by it. When we define ourselves by our careers or relationship statuses or children or parents or significant others or style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how we order at Starbucks, we have loved the world and not God.

3. This is dangerous because what will we do when we lose our job or our relationship or our children or our parents or our significant others or our style or our music or our dialect or our nationality or our hair color or our body shape or our athletic ability or our alma mater or how we order at Starbucks? What do we do when those things vanish? What do we do when those things no longer adequately define us as individuals, as humans, as God’s children?

4. When Jesus came to redeem us, it wasn’t just to let us go to heaven, it was to bring heaven here. And in heaven all identity rooted in the world is destroyed. In heaven you are not your career or relationship status or a child or a parent or significant other or a style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how you order at Starbucks. 

In heaven, you are exactly who God made you to be. You are you. Just you. Every worldly way we identify ourselves was crucified with Jesus, and a brand new you came out of the tomb. 

5. This is one way to love God and not the world – to lose your identity. And this is what Jesus came to do. Jesus redeemed the woman caught in adultery

Zacchaeus the tax collector

the blind man

the man with leprosy

the woman who couldn’t stop bleeding

the man with a shriveled hand

the paralyzed guy whose friends lowered him from the roof

Their redemption was not just forgiveness, not just healing, but redemption came by Jesus declaring,

“YOU ARE NO LONGER WHAT THE WORLD THINKS OF YOU! YOU ARE NO LONGER THE SLUT, THE GREEDY JERK WHO STOLE EVERYBODY’S MONEY, THE BLIND GUY, THE UNCLEAN MAN, THE UNCLEAN WOMAN, THE GUY WITH THE WEIRD HAND, THE GUY WHO CAN’T WALK. YOU ARE NOW THE YOU THAT GOD MADE YOU TO BE!”

He even did this with people who, as John warned, took pride in their position and possessions. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were robbed of their control when Jesus knocked them off their self-made pedestals and robbed their pretentious identities. Pilate, the governor of the region, one of the most powerful men in Rome, was just a fella. Just a man. And Jesus treated him as such.

6. So who are you? Are you the sum of your external circumstances. Are you trying to prove yourself to the world by being good enough, cool enough, smart enough, parental enough, creative enough, different enough, rebellious enough, angry enough, nice enough, successful enough, rich enough, poor enough, well-dressed enough?

Stop. Let it go. Because if you do those things the love of God isn’t in you. Not because God is mad so he’s giving you the silent treatment. But because you are trying to get everything God offers through things that are not God. And it doesn’t work.

Stop. Let it go. Quit trying to prove yourself to people who don’t really matter anyway. Stop trying to prove that you’re a Somebody. Because Jesus invites us to be Nobodies. And Nobodies are what heaven is all about.

Prayer: Some Honest Questions

I am a pray-er. Like everyone else I need to do it more. Sometimes, though, prayer can feel like a waste of time.

What follows are some thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and doubts I’ve heard over the years regarding prayer. I find these to be important questions worth asking, worth wrestling with, and worth discussing.

So why pray?

Sometimes it feels like we say some words into the air and wait for something to happen. Or not happen. There’s not a formula or an incantation to summon God’s attention. No signal he’s listening. No light or WiFi bars showing a connection has taken place. For all we know our prayer fades somewhere between here and some layer of the stratosphere. And we only know he answers it because something happens. Or doesn’t happen. If something (or nothing) happens after we prayed for the opposite, we say “Well, it was God’s will.” And no matter what, God’s will is done. Not ours.

God gets his way whether we pray or not.

So why are we praying, exactly?

And he knows what we want before we ask. So why ask?

And he knows what’s best, even when we think we’ve got it figured out. So, not to be redundant here, but what is the point asking?

And, I’ve always been taught that sometimes God answers our prayers, and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he says “not now.” So when a prayer goes up it either:

A) Gets answered because it was God’s will anyway

B) Doesn’t get answered because it wasn’t God’s will, or

C) Gets put in the Inbox for later, at which point God’s will will occur.

One can see why prayer might feel like a complete waste of time.

I think this is why a lot of people give up on prayer – it sounds like a complete waste of time. And, if we’re honest about how we pray, there’s probably some truth to that.

Prayer is not just a time to unload on God. Prayer is not just a time to give God our to-do list. Prayer is not just about asking God to bless our project or our food or our day. In short, prayer is not just about us. At all. Yet a lot of the time we make it that way. As someone pointed out in a Bible class last week, we sometimes decide if prayers are “answered” or not answered based on whether we like the outcome. And in that case, prayer has become about me and what I want, not about God and his purposes.

So in my experience one reason people give up on prayer is because they rarely get their way. Prayers go up for a new job and a job never comes. Prayers go up for healing and it doesn’t happen. Prayers go up for restored relationships and the chasm remains. When prayer becomes about us – about getting our way – it becomes a huge waste of time in a hurry.

Please don’t hear me say praying for any of these things is bad or wrong. As our Father, I believe God wants to be needed. I believe God wants to hear from us. I believe God smiles when we run to him with a request.

An example: our house in Houston has been on the market for over a month now. We have been joined by some wonderfully Godly people in praying for it to sell. I can’t speak for everyone praying, but when we pray about our house we say, “God, we trust you.” This dampens our stress and relieves our concern. It puts me behind God, and God before me.

In my opinion, prayer is a daily reminder that God is all we need.

Look at the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:

“Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.”

I don’t think this is a prayer to be scrutinized, parsed, and squeezed for every possible hidden meaning. I think the spirit of the prayer is what’s important. And in this prayer I see three things:

1. Take action.

“For we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” In this prayer we ask God to do the things we cannot do for ourselves, but we also commit to doing our part. Don’t ask for forgiveness unless you are a forgiving person.

Don’t ask God to help the homeless if you drive past them when they’re standing on the corner.

Don’t ask God to win the game for you if you’re just going to stand on the sidelines.

In college several of us played paintball behind an off-campus dorm. None of us had money for actual guns, so we bought cheap slingshots and huge boxes of paintballs. None of us wore masks or protective eyewear of any kind. Our slingshots weren’t regulated for speed or velocity, and we played in some thick brush with barbwire fencing splitting the middle. Yet each time we played we would gather up and pray for God to keep us safe.

Don’t pray for safety if you’re going to be a reckless moron.

We all have a part to play.

2. Trust God for today

But what about the daily bread? Aren’t I capable of feeding myself?

Are you? Couldn’t God cut off our food supply if he wanted? Couldn’t God hit the brakes on the rotation of the earth or snuff out the sun or dry up the rain? Couldn’t God send disease or famine or floods or fires? We are a very advanced society and we have ways of producing food even if all the crops fail (but not for long – who knew corn was so important?). But what Jesus teaches us to do is rely on God for today. Trust his provision for now. Don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t fret over the future, trust him now. This minute. And then the next, and the next, and the next…

As the poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

“And you learn to build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.”

3. God is in control. He is all I need.

Calling God’s name “hallowed” and inviting his kingdom is serious business. It gives him all authority and all control. It means, as Jesus so bluntly stated, dying to ourselves and participating in the kingdom on earth. So when we pray we acknowledge God’s authority and control, and we recognize he is all we need.

If you’re a person who desires to pray more yet grows frustrated from a lack of clear response, let me suggest a different approach. A good way to begin a prayer life is to spend some time every day reminding yourself of this fact.

God is in control.

He is all I need.

It might happen tucked away in a corner with your head bowed and your eyes closed. It might happen in your car on the way to work. It might happen at the dinner table while you talk with your kids. It might happen at Starbucks or on the lake or at the doctor’s office.

God is in control.

He is all I need.

In the gospel stories of Jesus we read that he frequently went off alone to pray, but only a couple of his prayers are actually recorded. When he raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, he tells God he’s not actually praying to him but is simply talking for the benefit of those standing nearby. He’s going through the charade so “that they may believe that you sent me.”

God is in control.

In Luke 22 Jesus goes to a mountain to pray before he is crucified. He says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

He is all we need.

All of Jesus’ prayers recorded in the gospels are reminders that Jesus is surrendering completely to the authority and control of God. Jesus lived for the purpose of glorifying God.

God could give you everything you ask for. He could never say no. He could be your personal genie in a bottle. But that would never transform your life the way praying, believing, and living this prayer will. Acknowledging that God is in control and that he is all you need will humble your circumstances and bring about a peace no amount of “answered prayer” can deliver. Perhaps if you’re waiting on God to come through on your requests, he might be waiting on you to trust him. Completely.

I can’t imagine giving my boys everything they ask for. I can’t imagine what kind of men they would turn out to be: selfish, spoiled, believing the world revolves around them. Imagine if God gave us everything we wanted. What a terrible life.

If you’ve always wished you had a deeper, richer prayer life, find some ways to remind yourself that God is in control and he is all you need. You will never feel like you’re wasting another second in prayer.