Prayer and the Unknown

Standard

Prayer and the Unknown

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

John 14:15-21

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

We have covered most of the day to day types of prayers we make, from prayers for help, prayers for guidance, prayers for personal discernment, prayers of adoration and thanksgiving, and prayers of confession and comfort. That is not an exhaustive list. Indeed there is at least one more type of prayer that we pray on a regular basis that needs to be discussed: the unknown prayer.

Unknown prayer? What does that even mean?

Sometimes we have a need or something we need to communicate to God but we do not know how to say it. Maybe we struggle keeping a reverent and respectful demeanor with God and are fearful about bringing up the subject. Perhaps we really don’t even understand the situation enough ourselves to know what to ask or say. Whatever the problem, the Holy Spirit comes through for us. Paul writes:

Romans 8:26-27

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

When we are first getting to know Jesus, there are a lot of prayers we pray like this. There is so much we do not know. As we grow older and wiser, having spent time with God, these prayers do not become less important, they become more important. The longer I follow God, the more I see how much I don’t know. Some may take this as a kind of anti-affirmation of faith… feeding the notion that there is nothing that can truly be known about God, but that completely misses the point. We can indeed know God, just as we can know one another. There are just always going to be gaps I this lifetime. There will always be room for the mystery.

It is a mystery that is meant to be embraced.

1 Corinthians 13:12

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Where are you experiencing the mystery of God in your life?

What prayers is the Holy Spirit praying for you today?

Critics

Standard

Critics

John 8:48-59

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

There is nothing like a racial slur to get your blood boiling as you attempt to begin public leadership… but Satan really showed his hand when he could not hold back the religious attack about demon possession. That is the biggest problem with working for the devil. There is no patience, no thoughtfulness, only barrage after barrage of lies poured out like napalm in hopes of covering everything with the stick, stench, and burn, so that the truth becomes unrecognizable. It is not because the devil is stupid, at least I don’t think that is the case. It is because there is no other way. One single truth shines like a lightning bolt in the darkness, becoming instantly visible to all around. A field of truth growing makes those lies equally recognizable. The only way Satan can gain and maintain a foothold anywhere is by eliminating all truth, because any truth will eventually point back to God and to the devil’s downfall.

We live in this battlefield every bit as much as Jesus did. If you’ve not come across critics commissioned from evil incarnate you have not yet really started leading yet. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world. Our very existence testifies to the truth of God’s goodness, love, and redemption in the world because we are all frail, broken people who God works through and with from time to time. Everything good that comes from us will point back to God if you look far enough. Satan can lure us with lies that we created ourselves or are the source of our own strength and goodness, but those lies will not stand the test of time and eventually he will just have to eliminate us to keep his lies going. I think, if the devil really had his own way, he would destroy every single thing in creation, leaving himself last, empty, broken, and alone – the only one left to keep up the lie that God was somehow wrong or unjust. The only enemy he would have left would be himself. Sin truly carries the seed of its own destruction. Or so claim the some of the critics anyway1

So the first step in dealing with critics is to consider the source. That does not mean we should turn a deaf ear to anyone who is not a friend or claim allegiance to a friendly camp. Sometimes we can learn much from our enemies. But regardless of who they are or what they say, it is important to remember that everyone comes from somewhere, is shaped and informed by others, and have their own motivations in raising their concerns. Most of our heated conflict comes from trying to hide those origins and motivations.

Our politics, both church and state, about doctrinal issues get far more heated in times of economic crisis than in times of economic plenty. We go to war when we think those who do not share our values will take from our precious wealth. Likewise, we quit our internal squabbling when we have an external enemy to focus upon, to unite us against. Solutions are not found in either situation though. Indeed, scripture gives plenty of examples of these conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, between the Jewish people as a whole and the Romans, even between the disciples themselves.

In fact, you have to move through the gospels and make it into the book of Acts before you really start to see communal solutions. There, amidst strong divisions along ancient lines, the Holy Spirit poured out upon 3000 people who hailed form different cultures, spoke different languages, had different understandings of God, His law, and his teachings, and who would not normally associate with one another for fear they might “taint” each other with uncleanness. Within the following decade, that same Spirit would travel across the Near East and up into Europe, into places that had never heard of God before – in spite of a multitude of very active critics. Yes, it requires the Holy Spirit – but not everyone received the Holy Spirit, and not all at the same time. It takes several things for the Spirit to move a community forward.

First of all, it takes humility, which looks like confession and repentance. We love baptism, but we often miss the point that baptism had little to do with getting wet, and a lot to do with getting right with God and others. The confessions that were made at baptisms in the gospel were public and specific. There was no salvation without telling the community what we had done wrong and making amends for those wrongs. The story of Zaccheus is an excellent example of this, and that understanding of confession before baptism is what makes the story of Jesus’ own baptism so powerful… and weird. If we cannot divulge our own weaknesses and failures, we implicitly claim superiority in any situation, which means that if a problem exists around us, it is our fault. People are going hungry? Not my fault, I give to the food pantry! Apparently not enough to solve the problem. People struggling with sexual identity? Not me, I know what is right! And is that “knowledge” making any difference? Broken hearts that lead to self-destructive behaviors know no sexual boundaries. It touches every age, race, religion, political persuasion, and trying to pin it all down on one particular demographic or another is a category mistake.

Because we are human we make mistakes, and these mistakes hurt those around us. When we get hurt, we get defensive and lash back out, with intent to harm because it seems normal to us that if we destroy those around us, no one can harm us, and the devil leads that charge. The one thought that does not occur in those moments is that we need each other, and that the miracle of healing, reconciliation, and grace can only occur between opposite sides of a conflict – between enemies.

If we can get to that place of real honest humility ourselves, then we can start moving towards the next step: Examining how the relationships between us create the situations we live in and the thoughts and feelings we hold. Those who claim that children are not born knowing hatred and bigotry, but learn it from those around them are at least partly right. But it is not their parents alone who are their sole teachers. You and I, every moment we are around children are teaching them one example or another, and if we do not teach them another way, but settle on being passive, and not teaching them anything at all – we reinforce any bad teaching they have. A person’s (of any age) opinion will not, and should not accept as a rational truth of “normal” reality, anything that they do not experience significantly more than another opinion. If we want to claim that there is no division between rich and poor, but a person only sees the rich and poor eating together in public 1 out of every 100 times, you would be a fool to believe they are peers. If, on the other hand, they see people of similar racial, socio-economic, religious, and political backgrounds sharing meals together in public 99 out of 100 times, it makes perfect sense to believe we live in a divided society, and that the normal thing to do is to find the group into which you fit best.

Jesus, made Himself our peer. He even made connections (through Abraham) to His critics, and they felt threatened by that connection. Having thrown their worst words at Him, they could not allow Him to exist if He was indeed connected to themselves. So they picked up their rocks. I think, it was mercy that kept Jesus from defending himself, the way He defended the woman caught in adultery, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” That truth, set inside a question of who is worthy to dispense justice, stopped that conflict cold. Jesus would defend us, but not Himself, but it made no difference. The first to choose the stone is always the first to admit defeat and inability to lead.

Jesus does not needs stones. Stones are the way of lies. Jesus leads by humbling Himself, stripping Himself down to vulnerability, and washing the lies from feet of his critics as He invites them to join Him in bringing healing, reconciliation, grace… truth to the world.


  1. “You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof of an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.”- Neil Gaiman, *Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

When the Truth speaks to you

Standard

Editorial Preview

When the Truth speaks to you

John 8:33–47 (NRSV)

They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”

“…and the Truth shall set you free.” He told them. But the Pharisees thought they were the ones with the corner on truth. How could this young teacher claim to have truth to share with them. Power, yes. New interpretations of the Law, perhaps. Truth? No.

And the audacity He had to call them slaves! They were the chosen people of God, born of the line of Abraham himself. They had no experience of slavery. That was something reserved for the baser Gentiles. Well, politically they might be slaves, but their spirits would never be tethered. Jesus pointed out to them that if they sinned, they were already spiritual slaves, and sacrifices would not free them because it was not misdeeds that condemned them in this instance, it was their belief in a lie. They followed a lie and in doing so shared and spread that lie out to everyone around them.

What was the lie? The lie was that God judges us and punishes us for our imperfections.

What is the truth that sets us free? Jesus taught that God loves us so much that He was willing to take those spiritual consequences of our sin upon Himself.

That should have been very good news… a good truth for the Pharisees to hear. Yet many were disturbed by this truth. Not only did they get off the hook, everyone else did too! If everyone gets out of jail free, there is no real benefit in being a Pharisee anymore, perhaps even being a Jew! The truth of God’s love threatened their very identity.

If that is hard to understand, think about Blockbuster Video. They were a major franchise for movie watching at home until Netflix took advantage of the increased availability of Wi-Fi in homes and started streaming movies to the viewers, thus eliminating the middle man of video rental stores. The Pharisees felt like Jesus brought in a truth that did not set them free. It put them out of business.

Maybe they were in the setting business. Jesus opened His life to investigation. “Which of you convicts me of sin?”, He asked. The lack of evidence turned their convicting back upon themselves. “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.

What truth gives you hope and excitement? Why?

What truth makes you unsettled? Why?

What truth do you need to share?

 

 

Where should I get my news?

Standard

“Everybody lies.” So says Dr. House, a Sherlock Holmes-ian character from the famous Medical mystery show “House”. Is it true? If everybody lies, who can we trust to give us accurate, current information about what is going on in the world? CNN? MSNBC? FOX? Twitter? Facebook? Who can we trust and who should we be reading and watching?

There is an old riddle about two identical guards standing in front of two identical doors. One guard always tells the truth and the other always lies. With only one question, you have to determine which door is the safe one to pass through. The key to this logic puzzle is to move away from an objective idea of truth (either something is true or it is false) and to move to a more subjective concept of truth (true from the perspective of one person or another).

Post-modern thinking made a strange jump when it came to subjective thinking. It took subjectivity to the logical conclusion that nothing is true and everything is true, depending upon any given perspective, and then somewhat violently commandeered the “authority of perspective”, becoming a dictator of truth for those deemed less intelligent. What does that mean? Let’s look at this from a race-relations perspective. Imagine someone parading around town with a giant banner that stated “________ people need to stand together!”  The blank could be filled in with several different words. Several words might give us a sense of a civil rights movement and fill us with a sense of positive social change and honor. A few words in that same blank might cause concern among us and alert the FBI or Homeland Security. Even if we state that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, we can quickly see that it is acceptable for some people to form political groups and not ok for others, and that this is something that we should all accept as “truth”.

Today “truth” is not an objective reality, it is a commodity that we fight over as much as land, oil, or trade. The dilemma we face is worse than the riddle of the twin guards. There is no guarantee that one guard always lies or that the other ever tells the truth, and with the rushed pace of life, we rarely have more than one or two questions to ask to help us determine the truth of the matter.

However, I believe the answer remains the same. like the riddle answer, which is to ask one guard what the other guard would say about one of the doors, we have to find a way to get behind the journalism, bring the objective into a subjective light, and bring the media into the story itself. Easier said than done, especially since one of the most important rules of journalism is to maintain that precious objectivity and to be sure the journalist does not become the story herself.

We need to ask FOX how they think MSNBC would spin the latest news. We need to ask CNN how they think NPR perceives the current polls.We need to expand our own understanding while asking others to expand their own understanding around us. Proverbs puts it like this:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

 

Compare notes. Find multiple sources. Pay attention to the other perspective. Identify your own bias and specific hold on “truth”. Don’t settle for the easy way out. Jesus taught:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

and Proverbs again teaches:

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

Finally, don’t give up. Keep seeking for the truth. Jesus promised:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Image result for truth wars

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Fifth Priority – Speaking Truth to Power

Standard

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.””

-‭‭Mark‬ ‭2:1-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There has been a lot of wind blowing this year. I can remember hearing just a few short months ago about the rally’s put on by Bernie Sanders supporters as well as those by Trump supporters. It seemed like everyone was talking all at once. As we reached and passed through the primaries though, I have noticed a little bit more vacuum out there in social media that formerly was filled with another dozen candidates who felt a legitimate claim to throw their hats into the three-ring circus that had become our presidential election. There is certainly plenty of commentary on both the Republican and Democrat nominees for president, as well as several third and fourth party candidates. But I can’t shake the feeling that the bulk of our nation is holding it’s breath.

We have had the intellectualism. We have had other things as well. Around almost every turn there has been someone attempting to “speak truth to power”. That charade has gotten pretty ridiculous. Mother Theresa, who just recently was canonized , may have been one of best examples of that kind of leadership in my lifetime, and I suspect that she was able to lead the way she did because she followed the example of Jesus.

What is that example? He kept his priorities straight doing these five things and keeping them in order.

  1. He prepared Himself.
  2. He recruited help.
  3. He started at the root of the problem.
  4. He cleaned up the consequences, leaving the place better than He found it.
  5. Then, He spoke truth to power.

This is more than having actions that back up your words. It is about your actions leading your words. This description of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry here in Mark really shows a leader who was going out to change the world with His own two hands and who would routinely stop to talk, primarilly to articulate what He was doing, in case people were confused or unaware. He did not seek out the leaders in order to correct them, because many of those leaders were not the ones facing the actual problems themselves. Jesus gained His authority and the title of “Good Shepherd” not by preaching and teaching to a group of failing shepherds, but by actually getting out and working with the sheep Himself.

In a culture where people found it easier to criticize one another rather than actually get up and do some good, Jesus ignored all the hot air and got to work. That was what gaave Him authority with the people. Yes, He was God in the flesh and probably had a look that pierced right into your very soul, but the truth still stands that when God came to earth in the flesh, He went to work making a difference and kept His priorities straight instead of playing around and serving Himself. He knew He only had a limited time here, and He intended to make the most of it.

There is very little about the example of Jesus that we cannot follow. All of these things that He did in the beginning of His ministry with us, the apostles and the people of the early church did as well. Perfectly? No, but they worked and served and gave their lives as an offering to God because they too understood that they were only here for a limited amount of time and they wanted to use whatever they could to please God and to make this world better.

We are no different today. We spend our time, energy, and resources desperately trying to get people to like us, be it in our buildings, our programs, or by just being a friendly group of people. The sad reality is, if we disappeared, most of our neighborhoods wouldn’t even notice. The missionaries in Africa, Asia, and South America – they would be missed immediately, because many of them are doing ministry and leading change just like Jesus did… but we in America are another story altogether. It is not about relevency. It is not even about effectiveness. We’ve just been trying to put the cart before the horse and grasp at authority before we prepare ourselves for what we are going to do once we have it, and long before we actually get out into the community and start doing something to make a difference. It leaves us barking up the wrong trees and spending our lives fighting symptoms and never getting to the sources of those problems. God didn’t design ministry that way and it doesn’t work. In the end, we simply become another set of reactionaries fighting to maintain their own hold on their way of life – like every other empire that came before us. We too, will become museum-like institutions, while the real ministry of Jesus, bringing hope and help to our world, showing them Jesus, and inviting them into the Body of Christ will carry on.

An Acrostic of Much Madness – Life XI

Standard

Melting under cold hands

my adieus don’t need enough sweet simplicity

in sublime

dives into vast introspective notions – enduring, still, true,

silent essences now singing establishments.

 

The options

all

drifting in space, churning each referent new in noted gazes:

each yearning eye.

 

My untouchable conscience holds

sway, even near sunset evenings

that hide every

stale tart and rude kiss, enlightening such talk

made and dealt, not even sanely spoke.

 

Truer

I see,

the hearts encumbered,

met all justice, ordered righteousness in their youth.

 

Infinity’s next

true hold is sound

and silence

above labored love

put right, enjoined, vacating all ills left squatting.

 

A single syllable entering numb throats

all needed despite

your own understanding

about reality embracing

sorrow and naught eagerly.

 

Demonstrating, each moment under requital,

your own unction reflected essence,

singing triumph, raised above in golden heights that wash away years

dead and nested, gently eating rivals of unkempt selves…

 

…and now deploring,

head and nose down, like each dog,

whipped in the heart

and

cast headfirst again into nowhere.