Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Put the "To-Do List" Aside

"Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don't have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something 'productive.' So the act of praying means that you have to rely more on God."

-Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
Please see my previous post on this book here.

Does anyone else battle between task-orientation and God-orientation?

Like everyone else in this Westernized, fast-paced world, I have a long list of things to do. It's constantly in my head, and I worry about fitting it in.

Spending time in prayer and Bible study has to be more important. If I make the choice to put tasks above God, then I am not trusting the Lord. I am saying that I can do this life on my own.

And I can't do it on my own.

Put the to-do list aside, read scripture, and pray.
(Here's a helpful hint: when you start praying, tell God about your to-do list, and ask him to help you get things done today! Just see what happens!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fighting against a Fluffy Gospel

I am concerned for the American church.
I am concerned about what we are teaching, and what we are being taught.
I am concerned with how easily we accept and digest fluff.
We are consuming empty calories, friends.

This morning, we attended a Presbyterian church down the road from where we are staying this summer. The sermon preached was lacking, to say the least. To sum up, the basic gist of the Reverend’s message was as follows:

Don’t be a slave to the law. Christianity is not a list of “dos” and “don’ts.”
Rather, we must listen to the Spirit of God inside of us. He will guide us.
St. Augustine said, “Love God, and do what you will.”
Notice Augustine said, “Love God” first, and then do what you will.
So love God.

I’m pretty sure my eyes were visibly squinty and my head crocked to the side. He gave the congregation short, yummy bites of good things, but no meal.

Now let’s just say I’m an average congregant. I attend church on Sunday, which is where I receive most of my Biblical teaching for the week. What does this message say to me? How does it become incarnated in my life?

Christianity is not a list of laws.
That’s great! So what IS it? What’s this Christian life all about?
We must listen to the Spirit.
How do I know it’s the Spirit, or merely myself?
St. Augustine said, “Love God, and do what you will.”
What does that mean? Does that mean I can do whatever I want? That doesn’t sound right. What’s the context of this quote?
Love God.
Um. Ok. I think I love God. I FEEL like I love God. But what does love actually MEAN? How does true love for God manifest in my life?

I wonder how many people today were asking these questions. I sincerely hope they were, because they are legitimate questions to ask.

One of our teachers for New Staff Training, Jerry, told us a story about his encounter with a Starbucks barista. The barista asked Jerry what he was reading, and Jerry (a pastor) answered that he was preparing for his sermon next Sunday. The barista said something like, “Oh, the Bible. I can’t really get into an ancient book that tells me what I can and can’t do.” Jerry replied, “The Bible isn’t about what we can and can’t do. It’s God’s revelation to us about who He is.”

I’m there with the Reverend about how Christianity is MORE than “the law.” We’ve been taught that again and again. But if we are to live a life of freedom in the Spirit, we need to know what the Lord wants. We need to have a clear understanding of the revelation of the scriptures, and how we fit into the Biblical narrative. We need to spend time truly seeking the Lord with our whole hearts, asking God how we might be transformed to see his Kingdom on earth.

Yes!, the Christian life is a free life. But as we learn more about God through our study of the Bible, our prayer is that our desires will line up with those of Christ Jesus. And how do we know when we are in line with the Spirit? Our actions and desires must reflect the teaching of the Bible and our Lord.

And as we read the Bible, friends, I would caution us all against the habit of reading to “get something out” of scripture for ourselves. Let’s remember that the scripture is God’s story to the world, and we are currently a part of that story. As we read, let us keep in mind that our charge is to bring glimpses of the glorious restoration of ALL in His Kingdom to a fallen world. What has been started will be completed in the coming of Christ.

“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”

2 Corinthians 1:20-22, The Message

Monday, June 21, 2010

Even One Sparrow

The other day, I was out for my morning run when a pair of flapping black wings caught me off guard.

A medium-sized black sparrow furiously tossed about--urging my attention--and I noticed he was caught in twine. I ran back to the apartment to retrieve Elliott, feeling very helpless on my own. I thought for sure there was nothing we could really do, besides maybe call someone to help us. After a half hour, Elliott set the little guy free. He flew off into the sky.

That's the short, fact-based, mini-story. But there was a lesson for me to learn.

At first, it was tempting to ignore the bird's frantic movements. It would have been easy for me to forget about him and excuse myself. "I'm sure he'll find a way out somehow. After all, it's just a sparrow."

...just a sparrow...

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
And yet, not even one sparrow will fall to the ground without your heavenly Father knowing it.
But the very hairs on your head are numbered.
So do not fear; you are worth far more than many sparrows."
Matthew 10:29-31

I couldn't ignore the small sparrow because I knew he was my Father's creation. God loved that little sparrow, and He knew every single sparrow that flies through the air. I had to get help for this bird because it was my responsibility-- nevermind the fact that I simply take joy in the Lord's creation.

But beyond that, the Lord reminded me very vividly of the above passage. I had to love the sparrow because I knew that God was loving that sparrow. God knew that he had fallen, and I had to find help for him.

But, you see, my journey didn't end there. My mind flashed to another verse about birds. I think you might be familiar with it:

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
Matthew 6:26

The passage flashed through my mind as I attempted to comprehend the fact that even then, God knew where that tiny black bird had flown away to. And I thought about myself, about how I worry about our finances and support raising, and getting through each day. I found myself once again wrapped in fear and anxiety, and I prayed the simple prayer I pray every day--

Give us this day our daily bread.

And God answered back:
When have I ever not given you your daily bread?

I have to say, that nearly knocked the wind right out of me.

He was right.

I have never gone hungry.
I have never been in want.
Each and every day, he has more than provided for our needs.

And the motive behind this prayer I was praying daily-- while it was a good prayer to pray-- my motive was fear and not trust.

Later that day, our support-raising leader said something that God directed right towards me:
"If you fear God, you don't have to fear money."
Because I cannot serve two masters.

And right there - right then - I let it all go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Face of Fear

Whenever I start to fear,

I remember it is the Lord that brought me here.

"Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord.
Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts...
My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not."
Haggai 2:4-5

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our God in the Details

Sometimes God shows up in my life so personally and so viscerally that I just have to stop and take Him in.

I am astounded by His ways -- that with all that happens in the world, with all the people He is comforting and ministering to and providing miracles for -- that this same God still finds a way to work intimately into my life.

"What is man that you are mindful of him?
The son of man, that you care for him?"
Psalm 8:4

Today, the Lord met me in a seemingly mundane and ordinary way.
It started when I lost my cell phone.

I'm sure you're familiar with the story. You're sure you only put it one of maybe three places, and you already scoured the areas a mere seventy times. This was my morning. I wasn't unsettled about it--with God's teaching on prayer, I was steady and controlled, praying my way through it. And I knew it would eventually turn up. I lose many things, I pray, and they always pop up. It's been going on since I was a little kid. Some people might say that these prayers are silly prayers, but it's sort of this delightful, childlike connection I have with the Lord. I love it, because I always know He'll have the "item lost" show up.

It's also worthwhile to point out that this morning, I didn't set aside time to spend with God. I kept pushing it aside, waiting, saying I would "do it later," and kept plodding along with my day.

Funny that a cell phone brought me into communion with the Father.
I'm totally amused.

So anyways, I'd been praying all morning-- and had a few people call me multiple times (hurray gchat!), but typical-me had the phone on silent. Finally, I stilled myself completely, threw myself down on the bed, and just rested with God. I asked for an image.

And sure enough, clear as day, an image came into my mind. I knew exactly where my phone was. I didn't even get up to check; I just knew. And so I smiled, and stayed with the Holy Spirit for a few more minutes, reflecting on His glory, on His goodness, and on how He keeps himself involved in every little-tiny-miniscule aspect of our lives.

He loves us, friends.
He loves us so, so much.
And that is a beautiful lesson to learn today. Thank you, Jesus.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Come with Messiness and All

For those that don't know, I've begun reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller (thanks to my dear friend, Jess, for posting her thoughts on it and encouraging me to read it). There are an abundance of lessons I am learning through this simple-yet provocative-book.

This book is helping me understand what it means to truly approach God in prayer:

"The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy."
page 32

For much of my life, I have been so eager to understand prayer to the point where I "get" it--where I can "do" prayer "correctly."

I never learned how to do that.

Instead, I've learned to become quickly discouraged as my mind floated away from the topic at hand... as I reminded myself I was not praising God "enough" in my prayers... that I asked for too much and acknowledged him too little... that I didn't have the proper "prayer formula" down... that, perhaps, I would never be able to pray. Maybe I just couldn't do it.

"Come messy." The Christian Artist Retreat that Elliott and I co-planned (with about six other amazingly creative people) had the subtitle: "Meeting God in the Mess of Art." We wanted to remind ourselves and others that we are messy. We make a mess out of things, and sometimes that comes out in our art. Sometimes it comes out in our lives. It's okay. We can encounter the Creator in our mess. We are absolutely dependent on him if we ever want to find our way out from it. Sometimes the messiness is the most beautiful place to be because it means we're being totally honest about who and where we are. I understood this "messy theory" from an artist's perspective, but never from a praying perspective.

Artist Philip Barry

As Paul E. Miller points out, somewhere along the lines, we as Christians started to separate prayer from the rest of our beings. We stopped being honest and started trying to be Holy--instead of letting Jesus do the work for us. "Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer [...] God ... cheers when we come to him with our wobbly, unsteady prayers" (30-31).

I feel as though I'm being released from the pretense I imagined prayer to be-- and now I am free to offer wobbly prayers to God, to come messy to his presence, to be myself. Now I can put aside my intimidation of not being "Holy enough" to pray, and just be...and let him work on me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Be Not a Slave to Fear

"The mind of sinful man is death,
but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"
Romans 8:6, 15

Fear of the possibility that around the corner lies impending destruction absolutely grips my life. As I was experiencing a new sense of slowness while on vacation, I realized that my everyday consciousness is gripped by fear. My most consistent and constant prayer to the Lord is, "Please please please please help me help me help me help me," and that somehow gets me through the day.

I try to still myself--to remember that God literally holds this day within the palm of his hand. I remind myself of the lyrics from a Caedmon's Call song:

This day's been crazy but everything's happened on schedule.
From the rain and the cold to the drink that I spilled on my shirt.
'Cause you knew that you'd save me before I fell dead in the garden.
And you knew this day long before you made me out of dirt.

I long to be transformed through the Spirit to live a life of peace. I long to be wrapped in his breath, to lean not on myself but only on the Lord, to walk in full trust of him.

How do I get to this place?

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