March 26, 2013

     No week of the Christian year comes with the weight of this one.  Far from the anticipation of Advent, this one comes with near dread.  Each day of the week comes with heightened intensity as the cross looms larger and larger.  What started off at Ash Wednesday as a small figure on a far horizon, now towers over us as we start up the steep hill of Calvary.  However, without this week coming back to us each year, how easy it would be for us to forget the unfathomable love of God and price Jesus was willing to pay for us to find life abundant and eternal.  This is the week we exchange our decorative cross for our crucifix. Without this week, there is no Easter, and without immersing ourselves once again in the story and in the liturgical events of this week, Easter comes with too little appreciation.  I return each year to the following passages:

Monday-  Mark 11:12-19   The Cursing of the Fig Tree and the Cleansing of the Temple
Tuesday-  Mark 11:20-13:37  The Day of Challenge and Teaching
Wednesday-  Mark 14:1-11  The Anointing at Bethany
Thursday-  Mark 14:12-72  The Last Supper, The Garden, The Betrayal, The Arrest
Friday-  Mark 15:1-47  The Suffering and Death of Jesus

     This week calls us back from our preoccupation with life to contemplate the source of our life.  It calls us back from our false sense of self-sufficiency to knowing with Paul, "my life is not my own, it has been bought with a price".  May this Holy Week bring us all back to Jesus the crucified that we might fully adore and serve Jesus the risen Christ.

October 22, 2012


 Value 10- Week 4                                          Prayer

 Word:                         “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”          I Samuel 3:10

                                    “Be still and know that I am God.”                      Psalm 46:10

 Reflection:  Learning to Listen
     I love Lily Tomlin’s line, “Why is it when we talk to God we call it prayer, but when God talks to us we call it schizophrenia?”  Certainly when we hear the word “prayer” we instinctively think about our talking to God as opposed to listening.  But, if the primary purpose of prayer is to be in relationship with God, to know and be known, to love and be loved, then surely we can’t be the only one doing the talking.  Jesus said in John’s gospel, “my sheep know my voice”, but we have to learn to recognize God’s voice.  I think that begins with learning to be quiet long enough to hear.  Learning to pray without words (meditative or contemplative prayer) is a critical but often neglected aspect of our prayer life.  As Elijah discovered in the wilderness, God wasn’t in the “earthquake, wind, or fire”, but in the “still small voice” or as sometimes translated, “the sound of sheer silence”.  But not only do we have to discipline ourselves to be still and to quiet our mind and body, we have to invite God to speak.  I love the simple prayer Eli taught Samuel to pray when he was just a boy and did not yet recognize the voice of God, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  That is a good place to begin in learning to listen to God in our prayer life.

    Dallas Willard has a great book entitled, “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God”.  In it, Willard says that there are three factors in recognizing the voice of God.  The first is the quality of God’s voice.  Willard says that God’s voice has a certain weight or authority it has.  When we hear from God in the depth of our heart it leaves an impact or impression that inspires us to obedience.  E. Stanley Jones said that “God does not argue with us or try to convince us” our subconscious does that (in Freudian terms, the battle between the id and ego).  Secondly, God’s voice has a certain “spirit”.  It has a sweetness or peacefulness that brings calm to our own souls (even while occasionally disturbing us).  As James put it, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17).  Finally, Willard says, there is a content that marks the voice of God.  In other words, God’s speaking will always be consistent with God’s truth (principles in the word) and God’s nature.  Willard warns that there are many rivals to the “still small voice”.  It takes a consistent and committed prayer life to learn to listen.  We may listen through praying or meditating on the word of God or reflecting in and on the creation (creator), but above all we are simply learning how to be “with” God.  The rewards of this kind of prayer cannot be underestimated.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

Practice:  Focus your prayer life this week on listening instead of talking.  Resist the urge to pour out your laundry list of request and instead find a place like Samuel to “lie down in the temple” and offer his simple prayer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.



 Value 10- Week 3                                          Prayer

 Word:             “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they think they will be heard because of their many words . . . Pray then in this way . . .” 
Matthew 6:7-9

                      “Lord teach us how to pray . . .”     Luke 11:1

 Reflection:  How to Pray
     One of the most surprising conversations between Jesus and the disciples took place when they had been watching Jesus pray and went on to ask him to teach them how to pray.  What is surprising is that these were good faithful Jewish men whom we would assume had been praying all their lives.  Something about Jesus’ prayer life made them realize that there are many ways to pray.  Richard Foster’s book, “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home” has twenty-one chapters, each on a different method of praying.  The book of Psalms is really a collection of different kinds of prayers.  We might just assume that everyone naturally knows how to pray, but forget that for many of us we were taught early on how to pray.  At bedtime our parents might have taught us this prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray my Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray my Lord my soul to take”, or at mealtime, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. By his hands, we are fed, thank you God for daily bread.”, or at school or church we learned, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name . . . .”  Hopefully through those taught prayers we eventually learned to find our own words for prayer, but how we prayed was taught to most of us.  There are prayer acronyms like ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and the “five finger prayer”.  I love one teacher’s simple description of prayer, “HELP!!!!!!!!!!” (reminds me of Paul saying when we don’t know how to pray the Holy Spirit will pray for us in groans not words).  Jesus gave a couple of pieces of advice about praying like the story of the unjust judge and the widow in which he said we should pray and not give up.  He warned about not praying like the religious professionals who prayed on the street corner to be heard (pray instead in secret) or with many words (or big words).  He was more impressed with the simple prayer of the tax collector who prayed, “Have mercy on me a sinner”.  While there are many ways to pray, with words, without words, through the Word, without ceasing, with persistence, asking and letting go, by faith, with honest doubt, praise, thanksgiving, confessions, intercession, supplication, with authority, with humility, etc, etc, etc, the most important thing is that we pray.  The first chapter of Foster’s book is about “simple prayer” in which we simply talk to God who is always listening.  We open our heart to God in honesty (one of the beautiful things about the Psalms who spill every emotion out to God in prayer), because everyone wants to know that we are heard, that there is someone who knows me so well that I don’t have to pretend or hide anything of myself.  Prayer itself is an act of faith even when we feel our faith is small and fragile and in it we find the greatest security, the unconditional love of our “Heavenly Father” who knows our needs before we ask and longs that we ask anyway.

 ractice:  Try some different ways of praying this week than your normal practice.  Read a book on prayer for directions like Foster’s book to glean new ideas.  But, above all, just talk to God in a running conversation throughout your day.


 Value 10- Week 2                                          Prayer

 Word:             “Be still and know that I am God.”     Psalm 46:10

                        “You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly.”     James 4:2b-3

Reflection:  Obstacles to Prayer

     If you asked most Christians, “Is prayer important?” the answer would be “yes, of course”.  If you asked the same people, “How’s your prayer life?” the answer would be, “not as good as it should be”.  For most of us, when it comes to prayer, there is a gap between what we say is important and what we do about it.  There are all kinds of reasons why this is so and I want to explore a few of the obvious obstacles to a meaningful and effective prayer life.

     No statement about prayer has ever spoken so profoundly to me as Richard Foster’s observations, “To learn to pray we must learn to waste some time on God.”  Nothing inhibits meaningful prayer more than the busyness of our lives.  We live in a world in which we are driven by production.  Time is a scarce resource and to be successful we learn to make the most of every minute.  How often when we try to pray does our mind begin to race to all the things that are waiting to be done, and we begin to feel like we simply have too much to do to just sit with God.  Bill Hybels wrote a book on prayer entitled, “To Busy Not to Pray”.  Prayer is a countercultural act in which we resist the urge to do and accomplish and in the process learn to trust God with what we are not doing.  While we can “pray without ceasing” while we are on the go, there is no substitute for stopping to let God “search our hearts” and to listen for the “still small voice of God” revealing His heart to us.  One of the truths God has been impressing on me is simply, “God rarely speaks to the back of our heads”.

     I think it is true that the fervency of our prayer life is directly proportional to the depth of our need or height of our troubles.  As a result, prosperity can become an obstacle to our prayer life.  Because we so easily allow our prayers to turn into a laundry list of my needs and the needs of others, the better our life is the less we pray.  God warned the Israelites coming out of the trials of the wilderness in the exodus that when they got into the land and had everything they needed they would be in danger of forgetting about God.  How easy it is to forget to pray when our bodies are healthy, kids are prospering, marriage is good, and finances are sound.  It is important to remember that thanksgiving is a key driver a successful prayer life.

    The last obstacle to prayer is one that can develop over time and through heartache.  It has to do with our own expectations of God and the experience of unanswered prayers.  When we mistakenly think of prayer as our means to get something from God instead of getting to know God, we can end up disappointed and disillusioned with prayer and with God for that matter.  The key to overcoming all obstacles to prayer is remembering that the goal of prayer to know God and be known by God, to love God and be loved by God, for there is never a shortage of our need to be loved unconditionally and listened to compassionately.

Practice:  This week pay particular attention to what gets in the way of my prayer life and began to develop strategies for how to overcome these obstacles.



 Value 10- Week 1                                          Prayer

Word:             “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed . . . .”             Luke 9:28-29

                        “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”         Philippians 4:6-7

Reflection:  Why Pray?

     No spiritual practice is more commonly associated with religion than that of prayer.  The words pray, prayer, prayed, or praying are found more than five hundred times in the Bible.  Prayer is not only a regular part of worship services, but also meals and bedtimes, ball games and congressional sessions.  In fact, sometimes it seems that we pray or talk about prayer so much it seems a perfunctory practice, something we do out of habit or tradition.  I love Philip Yancey’s book, “Prayer”, but I especially love the subtitle, “Does it make any difference?”  These four devotionals will explore prayer as a critical practice for discipleship.  I have saved it for last because I would argue it is THE critical practice for discipleship.

     Jesus came to offer us a revelation of a heavenly Father, a personal God, who created us for and desires an intimate relationship with us.  Like any intimate personal relationship, communication between the participants is critical.  We have to get to know one another as we risk opening our hearts.  St. Augustine once said, “True, whole prayer is nothing but love.”  Jesus not only offered us a revelation of God, but also a model for how to live in an intimate relationship with God.  Over and over again we find Jesus not just teaching his followers the importance of prayer, but more importantly modeling for them the importance of prayer through his own prayer life.  It had such an impact on the first followers that they eventually asked him specifically not to teach them how to preach, teach, or heal, but rather to teach them how to pray like he did.  Phillip Yancey says, if for no other reason we ought to pray because Jesus did.  In other words, if Jesus needed prayer, how much more do we. 

     Discipleship is a process of being changed or transformed and in the process becoming more and more like Jesus.  What Jesus revealed was that a religion focused primarily on obeying God’s rules has little power to change us, but growing in an intimate relationship with God could not help but change us.  In that light, it seems that the purpose of prayer is not so much to change things (circumstances, outcomes, etc) as it is to change us.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, Luke tells us that “as Jesus prayed, his face changed” and as he left that mountain he “set his face on Jerusalem”.  Later in the garden, facing the end of that journey to Jerusalem and his own impending death, it was while praying that his heart was changed and fear overcome.  Paul reminded us that in the midst of life’s trials our worry is overcome as we pray.  So why pray?  Because prayer draws us close to God and in his presence there is “faith, hope, and love” and in the end they are all that matters.


Practice: Take an honest look at my prayer life this week asking if I pray, why I pray, what I am expecting and experiencing.  Then commit myself to a designated time to pray each day for the rest of this week.

September 24, 2012


Value 9- Week 4                                            Witness

Word:             “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”                        Acts 2:44-47

Reflection:  An Evangelistic Church
     The early church was at its heart an evangelistic church.  They understood their primary purpose was to bear witness to the love of God in Christ for the purpose of reaching new people, relating them to Christ, and incorporating them into the “Body of Christ”.  That desire was the motivation for all they did.  They ministered to those in need as a social witness, they had joyful worship, they publically praised God in everything they did, and they met in homes and invited people to their tables.  They conducted their lives and ministry in such a way that they were described as having “the goodwill of all the people”, and as a result new people were added daily.  The amazing thing is that they wanted to grow and designed everything they did to that end.  The same was true in the early days of the Methodist movement.  It was at its heart and evangelistic church whose primary purpose was to bring new people into a saving relationship with Jesus.

    Today it is questionable in many of our churches whether or not we want to grow.  It’s not that we don’t want to grow in our own relationship to God, which in fact has become our primary purpose.  The church exists for us, the insiders, to meet our spiritual needs and to nurture our children in faith.  But, Do you know how many youth ministers I’ve seen run off because they started bringing in kids from the “neighborhood”; how many pastors are criticized for spending too much time with “new people”; how many people that complain when a church manages to start growing, “I don’t like it because I don’t know half the people here anymore.”  I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited who have no greeters out front to welcome and accompany people, no means and plan to find visitors when they leave, no intentional effort to keep a visitor from sitting alone, much less any intentional outreach to the community or planned design of worship styles to accommodate younger or unchurched adults.  Our services require insider knowledge to participate without embarrassment, and our preaching too often lacks an invitation to a relationship with Christ.  Our fellowship groups are effectively but not officially closed to outsiders, and our budgets are heavily weighted to serving those who are members instead of reaching those who aren’t.  In short, we’ve stopped being an evangelistic church, and as our faithful die off and our children grow up and find other more relevant places to worship we find ourselves in decline.  We’ve forgotten our purpose and lost our way and if we can’t return to a place where we value those on the outside of our churches more than we value ourselves we are doomed to die a slow death.  Jesus made it clear our purpose was to make disciples in all places and that disciples were those who were willing to deny themselves for a greater purpose.  The question we need to ask our communities is what is our church’s “witness”?  How do those on the outside see us?

Practice:  Take and honest look at my church’s ministry, worship style, budget, outreach program, hospitality ministry, and ask, “For whom do we exist”?  What is our primary purpose here?  How can we change it?


Value 9- Week 3                                            Witness

Word:             “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’.  Now Philip was from the city of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’  Nathaniel said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’  Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”                                                           John 1:43-46

Reflection:  Friendship Evangelism

      Witness is for the purpose of evangelism.   What we witness to is the good news of Jesus Christ in hopes of bringing others into a saving relationship with God through Christ.  The problem in our churches today is that the word evangelism conjures up images of “cold calling” (knocking on strangers doors asking if they died tonight do they know where they would end up-  to which an unchurched friend I cultivated a relationship with responded, “down at the funeral home, I’ve already made my arrangements”), passing out tracts (with really scary comic book images of grim reapers or demons), strange loud people on street corners with signs and bullhorns, or putting up signs in my yard that read, “Jesus is coming soon, are you ready?”  We still ask pastors in the ordination service Wesley’s historic question, “Will you visit house to house?”, but it is a very different day where you better have some thick skin if you want to do door to door sales.  While pure percentages say that if you knock on enough doors sooner or later somebody will buy what you are selling (the Mormon theory), I’m not sure that was the original Biblical model for evangelism. 

     In the New Testament, the first witnesses to Jesus didn’t go to street corners or strangers doors; they went to their friends and family to share what they had experienced. Peter went and told his brother Andrew and Philip went and found his friend Nathaniel.  And all they did was offer a simple invitation to come and see for themselves and make up their own mind.  The only reason they accepted the invitation to “come and see” was the relationship they had to the one who invited them.  Out of relationships trust is built and an openness to listen is developed.  Think about it this way; if I come out of the store and somebody put a flyer for new restaurant on my car window I’m not that likely to eat there.  But, if my friend says, “hey I went to that new restaurant and it was great, do you want to go with me tomorrow?”, then there is a good chance I’ll go to try it out. 

   One of the problems we have in the church is that all often our friends and family are already in the church.  What is missing is the intentional cultivation of relationships with new people with whom I might share my faith over time.  These days few of us know our neighbors next door much less three doors down, and haven’t made any effort to introduce ourselves or welcome a new family when we see the moving truck down the street.  These days, evangelism and witness is all about relationship building, a consistent witness over time by word and deed, and simple invitations to “come and see” for yourself.

Practice:  This week pay attention at work to who I see often but I’ve never tried to get to know and walk through my neighborhood and see how many homes there are near me whose occupants I’ve never met.  Pray over the faces and places and ask God to put on my heart who to try and meet and for the courage to do it.

« Previous Page