Kids

christiana-rivers-217056

Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

I never, ever get tired of reading or hearing the story of when people wanted to bring their kids to Jesus and the disciples tried to stop them (Mark 10:13-16). I can just hear the disciples saying, “Get those kids out of here.” And then Jesus says, “Don’t you dare send those kids away. Let them come to me. That’s what this is all about!”

This account resonates on a number of levels. First of all, I think that deep down, we just all want to be kids. We want to be free of all the responsibilities of being adults, to just play and imagine and color. And that’s OK. You get a much better handle on Jesus when you are a kid. You’re not trying to prove yourself or justify yourself. You just look at him with wonder and know that he’s not like any grown up you’ve ever met before. He wants you to hang around, not just go off and play (and be quiet).

I also believe we want to feel his embrace. After Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to let the children come to him, he took them in his arms and blessed them. With all the uncertainty, violence, politics, prejudice, hatred, jealousy and evil in our world, we just want someone to hold us. We long for someone who can make us feel safe. Who better than Jesus, who loves without boundaries, who provides a refuge from everything that threatens, whose arms can reach and embrace anyone, no matter the distance?

Don’t ever grow up so much that you no longer yearn for the feel of his arms around you. Always embrace your inner child, for that is one of the places where you will best get to know your Savior!

 

 

You want to pray? Pray like Jesus.

naassom-azevedo-181804

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

How many times have you heard those words lately? These are the words shared by many in response to the mass shooting at First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX. We read them tweeted by the president and we repeated by countless others. Many express such sentiment in the aftermath of tragedy.

But what does that mean?

What does that mean coming from the lips of those who rarely attend and have little connection with the church? What does that mean coming from the mouth of someone who may or may not pray all that often? What does that mean when it echoes across social media, TV journalism and political rhetoric?

What does it mean to you?

When a disaster flattens a community, when a tragedy occurs, when numerous lives are taken, how do you pray? What do you say? What words do you use?

I’ll bet you’re intention to pray far exceeds your actual prayers. I know that sounds harsh. But reflect on that statement for a moment. Am I wrong?

What do you say to God when bullets fly, bombs explode, blood is shed and communities are devastated?

Do you ask God to help people feel better? Do you pray for the pastors who will be conducting funerals for all those who died? Do you pray that God would spare people from future tragedy? Do you ask what you should do to help?

What do you say?

It’s a tough question. Prayer is tough, because it deals with tough issues. Prayer is hard, because it rips open our hearts and releases our emotions in the presence of the one who created us. Prayer pleads for mercy, cries out for help, lashes out in anger, and gets in the face of the God who is infinitely more powerful than us.

If your prayers aren’t filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear, then why bother? Why bother simply saying what you think God wants to hear, rather than what’s going on in your heart? Why try to talk God out of a blessing or convince him your are right (and he’s wrong)? Are you afraid you’ll hurt his feelings? Or that he’ll shut you up — for good?

I believe he wants you to let it out. Release your wrath. Scream in terror. Demand that he listen and respond. Read the psalms. What? Yes, read the psalms. They do all this and more. They get in God’s face and challenge him to do something!

And you know what? He does. He comes and experiences it all. Then Jesus went away to pray. Do you think his prayers were calm, cool and collected? In the face of all he would go through? I doubt it. Go back to the gospels and read about Jesus’ prayers from the cross — filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear.

You tell me you’ll pray? Let me hear you pray like Jesus.

 

Nativities are alive and well

nativity collageAs I wandered through a Ten Thousand Villages store in Harrisonburg, VA, I was struck by the number of nativities for sale, crafted by artisans from all over the world. Some were made of rocks, others had been formed from clay, and yet others crocheted. Some were tiny, no bigger than a golf ball. Others hang from mobiles. Some were designed to be Christmas tree ornaments. Others were meant to be handled and played with.

I was struck by the reality that in what is called a post-modern, post-Christian world, where we are told nones, atheists and the de-churched comprise a larger and larger portion of our nation, nativities are still in demand. There is still plenty of room among snowmen and Santas for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds with sheep, and wise men with gifts. I was fascinated and delighted to see that this form of the sacred has not been pushed out of view by the secular.

I believe we can learn something from this. While it’s rarely productive to ram Jesus down people’s throats with threats of eternal damnation, it’s not so hard to slip him into craft fairs, holiday displays, and winter festivals. This is probably why Jesus didn’t come on the clouds with power the first time around. He came as a baby, slipped into the world virtually unnoticed, and found a place in a hostile environment.

That’s the seed we plant and water at this time of the year. God handles the growth.

 

 

 

“I didn’t know that.”

At asuhyeon-choi-184102 recent regional pastor’s conference, the guest speaker, Mark Wood, made me aware of a segment of the population who identify as Christian, but know little if anything about the faith.

Mark shared a story of an airplane conversation with someone who identified as a Christian, but was surprised and even shocked by what Jesus had to say on a number of issues. Someone had witnessed to them, they said a prayer that asked Jesus to be their Savior, but that was it. They weren’t baptized, didn’t go to church, and were functionally biblically illiterate.

I’ll bet they aren’t alone. I’ll bet there are plenty of people attending church who know little of what God says in His Word. In fact, I’ll bet a good percentage of the church fits this profile.

I’m glad they’re saved. But there is so much more! Not only do we have something to look forward to in the next life, but we’ve been transformed to live new lives now. Lives of mercy, forgiveness, and truth.

Wouldn’t that be different than some of the usual suspicion, fear and lies that fill our news and conversation?

How’s your biblical literacy? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Scary stuff

A few months ago, a woman who somehow knew I was a pastor came up to me and asked if I had ever helped people who had spirits in their homes. Immediately I could feel the hair go up on the back of my neck as I replied, “Not really. Why?” She explained that they had built their home a few years ago, so no one else had ever lived there but their family. Still, she had eleven pages of notes recording all the strange phenomena she had observed in her house. Interesting, huh? Yes, but scary, too. While we can explain away a lot of things scientifically and medically, there are still things going on that defy explanation and suggest that spirits and demons may still be alive and well like they were when Jesus was on the earth.

In this week’s gospel lesson, which I’ll be preaching on, Jesus and his disciples come meet a man possessed by multiple demons (Luke 8:26-39). Pretty scary stuff. But then Jesus shows that he has complete command of unclean spirits. Even scarier, right? For some, yes!

Now, with that truth in our mind, how will we deal with the demons we encounter? We may not encounter anyone completely possessed by demons, but I’ll bet you’ve met people who in some way seemed to be under their influence. Addiction, abuse, self-destructive behavior and hateful words could all be the product of our depraved, fallen state. But perhaps someone or something drives those behaviors in some. If that’s true, then you better take good notes when Jesus exhibits complete and total authority over those someones or somethings. You better not go out there without your armor, either.

Just trying to be nice

As I began working on this Sunday’s sermon, I thought about some of the reactions to Jesus’ ministry, especially in John 8. Jesus didn’t try to draw attention to himself. He didn’t come telling people what to do. He was just trying to be nice. He just came to help. To heal, to teach, and to connect. In response, people jumped all over him. “Who do you think you are? You can’t do that!” And all he wanted to do was help. He came looking for those who had gotten lost and instead found people who wanted him to get lost.

Why would you do that? Why do we do that? Why do we turn people away who are just trying to be nice or helpful? If I could figure that out, I’d understand better why we sometimes jump all over God and chase him away.

Inside and out

I spent a few hours inside and outside of a hospital today. Inside I spent some time with a woman whose husband had a serious stroke and was in critical condition. Outside, I got to visit with one of their daughters who had escaped the ICU, but not the concerns about her father. Moments like these are amazing and powerful ministry moments. How do you face what looks like the end of a loved one’s life? What do you talk about? How do you make good decisions? There are no specific guidelines; every situation is different. Every person, every family approaches it a little differently. I always like to imagine Jesus sitting there with us, listening, caring, hoping that we’ll remember at least some of the things he told us about life and death. While we may feel so helpless in that situation, Jesus has a very good handle on life and death. I am very thankful for both his input and his presence.