Don’t Worry, Be Happy


There are plenty of reasons to worry today. Actually, there are plenty of good reasons to worry every day.

We worry about our families. We worry about our marriages. We worry about having enough money to pay the bills. We worry about our jobs. We worry about it raining enough to grow our crops. We worry about it raining too much and flooding our homes. We worry about terrorism. We worry about the economy. We worry about having enough money for retirement. We worry about what the government will do with the power that it has. We about the future of the nation if the Democrat gets elected. We worry about the fate of the nation if the Republican gets elected.

None of these worries is new. So, why should we expect that God’s answer to these worries would be any different today than in the past?

To a crowd of people worrying about the future, Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)

If Jesus could tell his disciples with a straight face not to worry about the things necessary to sustain life, how much less should we worry about who will be president, or what that president may do? Worry has disastrous consequences, no matter what that worry may be. When I worry, my trust in God is sidelined as that worry takes center stage. I am tempted to believe that if only I can alleviate that worry, then all will be right with the world. All will be right with myself. But peace isn’t found that way.

Peace is found in trusting God in the face of these many worries. Peace is found in putting God and His kingdom ahead of our worries. After reminding the crowd how, in the face of their many worries, God had continued to provide for them, Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Jesus (Matthew 6:34)

Or, as Bobby McFerrin put it, “In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.”

Why let worry steal the joy that Jesus won for you?


Finding Peace with My Vote


The above cartoon pretty well sums up my feelings about this election. And if the polls are any indication, those feelings are mirrored by many people in this country. There are no good options, at least between the two major party candidates.

My feelings of angst are heightened this election because of my faith. I want to be able to vote with a clear conscience. But how do you do that, especially considering the two major party candidates that have been selected? One candidate supports the murder of children for the sake of convenience. The other claims to have no need of God’s forgiveness and speaks flippantly about “taking out the families of terrorists,” among other things.

I could vote for a third party candidate, but then people say that vote is really just a vote for Candidate A or Candidate B. What’s a Christian to do? After months of batting this question around in my head, here is what I’ve settled on for the moment.

Much of my angst stemmed from putting too much stock in this election to begin with. I had bought the lie that this election really matters. That it is the most important election ever. That the fate of the country hangs on who gets elected on November 8th. I had unconsciously bought the lie that we are electing a savior. And because I had bought all of that, I had lost sight of some very important truths.

Truth #1 – Every election, we are voting for fellow sinners not saviors. Politicians, like the rest of us, are sinners. None of them are saviors. Some are merely better at hiding their true selves from public view than others. What makes this election special is that both candidates are really bad at hiding their true selves. There is one savior sent from God. And Jesus, God’s savior, boldly proclaimed that His kingdom (and, by virtue of my adoption into His family through baptism, my kingdom) is not of this world.

Truth #2 – This election doesn’t really matter. It just doesn’t. Fear of the results of the election seem to be driving much of the talk about the candidates. Fear of the loss of freedoms. Fear of the loss of legislated morality. Fear about appointments to the Supreme Court. Fear of persecution. Fear of the unknown and unknowable future. Jesus, however, reminded His disciples who were fearful of a difficult future, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) No politician has the power to undo what Jesus has done. Your place in God’s kingdom is secure. Don’t worry about the difficulties that may come in the kingdoms of this world.

Truth #3 – As followers of Jesus we aren’t called to build nations, but spread the Gospel and do good for our neighbors. We are not called to infiltrate the countries we find ourselves in and “take them over for God.” Nowhere in the New Testament will you find the call to fix up Rome into a “Christian nation,” whatever that means. We are called to honor and submit to those governing authorities that God has put in place. (Romans 13:1-3) Even those we consider to be evil, we are called to honor. And disobedience is permitted only if they command us to disobey God.

We have the privilege and duty, living in this country, of selecting our governing authorities. That is a weighty responsibility. This means that I can vote with a clear conscience for the candidate that I think will do the best job ensuring justice in this nation. I can vote for the candidate that I believe will do the most good for the poor and distressed. I’m not called to vote for the candidate who does the best job at appearing moral. At the end of the day I can let Rome be Rome, and busy myself with what Jesus has left for me to do: preach the good news of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, and help those in need around me.

There is one more thing I’ll keep in mind as election day approaches.

“I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.” Psalm 146:2-5

Have no fear. Be at peace. Unless Jesus comes again before that day, on November 9th nothing important will have changed. The sun will still rise. The stars will still shine. And nothing can dampen the love of God for you that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


To Know God in Six Days


Who is God? What’s He like? Is He kind and loving, or angry and wrathful? Is He aloof and distant or intimately involved in our lives?

What you believe about God and how you answer these questions is surprisingly dependent on what you believe about creation.

So, before you try to answer those questions answer this one first:  How did the world we see around us come into existence?

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
– Psalm 19:1-4

The Bible paints a very different picture of who God is than the answer given by our culture.

Our culture currently teaches that the earth is billions of years old and that every living thing you see today is the result of a blind process of evolution that also took billions of years. Some well-meaning people want to take that answer and fit it into God’s story. The basic premise behind this melding of accounts is creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive. You can have the best of both worlds. You can believe that the Earth is billions of years old and that life as we know it has been shaped by evolution, but also that God has been the one behind the scenes over the course of those billion years directing it. So there you have it…problem solved.

This is the position of some churches and many people today. It’s a neat and tidy solution. It allows you to maintain your belief in God without having to directly confront what many say is common knowledge about how the world came into being. It’s the perfect solution, except that it doesn’t work.

You only have to read the first three chapters of Genesis to see why it doesn’t work. Creation is where we first come to know God. You could say we come to know God in these six days. Who He is, who we are, why there is so much suffering in the world, and what God intends to do about it all. When you take what the Bible clearly says about God creating the world and us in six days and stretch that out over millions of years, the answers to those basic questions change. Remember those basic questions are: Who is God? Who are we? Why is there so much suffering and what is God going to do about it? You come to know a different god than the one the Bible talks about.

In six days we come to know that God created this world perfectly. At the end of each day God looked at his creation and saw that it was good. In six days we come to know that God created this world with an order in mind. He separated sky from land, water from earth. He created plants, and the sun and the moon and the stars. He created the birds and the fish and the animals and finally he created us. Man and woman. Sometime after day seven, that man and woman, Adam and Eve, were tempted by the serpent to eat from the tree they had been commanded not to eat from. They ate, and incurred a curse from God on themselves and all creation. This curse didn’t come out of nowhere. God had warned Adam and Eve that death would be the result if they disobeyed his command not to eat fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But in the midst of pronouncing his curse, God also let slip a promise. A promise that one of Adam and Eve’s children would crush the serpent’s head. This promised child would defeat the death and destruction that they had brought on themselves and God’s creation. And so already at the dawn of creation we see a promise pointing us forward to Jesus.

In eight days, we find that God creates perfectly and with an order in mind, that he created us in a special way, that we are the cause of all the suffering we see around us, and that God, in his son Jesus, is still working today to bring an end to that suffering. That’s the Biblical picture God gives of himself and us.

When you stretch creation out over millions of years the picture of God you get is quite different. Now you are left with a God who did not create with perfection in mind. Now you have a God who created in fits and starts. Who hit apparent dead ends, allowing some species to die off so that more advanced ones could take their place. Eventually one of those species rose up to become modern humans. In this account, death is just a natural part of the world. There was never any garden in Eden. There was no forbidden fruit. No serpent. No fall. No Adam and Eve. Those become mere stories written to teach a moral about the need to obey God.

But the biggest problem is that there is no longer any need for Jesus, because the world is operating today as it always has. There is no need for a savior. No good reason to follow Jesus at all. Sure, he might have been an inspiring teacher, but he spoke as if Adam and Eve had been real people. He spoke as if the creation account actually happened the way Genesis relates that it did. At best, that makes Jesus uneducated, and at worst, a fraud. That’s what you get when you try to reconcile creation and evolution.

The fix doesn’t really fix anything. So which do you believe? And how do you come to a decision? Evolution or creation in six days?

This may sound incredible, but believing either proposition takes faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God.” (Hebrews 11:3) Evolution is so enticing because it claims to have hard facts, science on its side. But that’s the problem. No human was alive to observe the beginning. Science is built on the premise of observation. As God once said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)

Knowing that God created this world in six days is the foundation of everything that God has done and continues to do. Without that, you cannot know God. Adam and Jesus are the two most important people in the biblical narrative. Adam was the man who took the blame of sin and died. Jesus, both man and God, died to take that blame away.

Sure, Kings Had Castles…But Did They Have Wi-Fi?


“We live better than kings. Grab a crown.” Castles are majestic, they’re powerful, and they’re well-fortified against revolutionary uprisings. Nothing screams power and wealth and status like a castle with soaring turrets. But even the poorest among us live better than kings.

“We live better than kings. 

Grab a crown. Most of us are far healthier, far more comfortable and have far more opportunities and diversions available to us than 99 percent of all the monarchs, emperors, maharajahs and other potentates who’ve ever lived. We live longer, eat better and travel farther than the richest and most blessed people in virtually every other generation in every land in history.
– Eric Zorn

Stumbling upon this quote and title from a piece that Eric wrote in 2004, that thought struck me. “We live better than kings.” How true that is. And yet, I’m not sure how often we stop to think just how blessed we are. When you stop and take stock of your life for just a second, the absence of gratitude (whether to God or just in general) is pretty surprising; especially in comparison to those kings and queens of the past.

What have you got to be thankful for? Eric supplied an extensive list.

“Automobiles. Electricity. Flush toilets. Electronic-ignition gas stoves. Refrigerators. Microwave ovens. Hot-water heaters.

Central heating systems controlled by programmable thermostats. Alarm clocks that begin beeping softly and get gradually louder. Energy-saving bulb-shaped fluorescent lights that don’t burn out for years.

Cruise control. Digital photography. Answering machines. Velcro. Gore-Tex. CoolMax. No-iron dress shirts and no-stain khakis. Shoes that are broken in when you buy them. Clothes dryers that shut off using moisture sensors.

The availability of good coffee and warm, fast-food sub sandwiches. Post-it Notes. Spybot and Ad-Aware. Soap pumps. Carbon monoxide detectors.

Cordless drills, phones and weed whips. No-lick stamps. Bifocals without lines (and the snazzy term “progressive lenses” to describe them).

Affordable jet travel and cheap long-distance calling. Calculators so inexpensive you throw them away rather than replace the batteries. Lipitor. Faxes. Overnight mail.

PDAs, .pdf and PVRs. DVDs, CDs, MRIs and ATMs. DSL, GPS, Wi-Fi, MP3, USB-2 and, most astonishing of all, really, clean H2O at the turn of a tap.

Cell phones. Blogs. E-mail. Google.

Double-pane windows. Titanium golf clubs. Coaster Frisbees. Surgical lasers. Anesthesia. Penicillin. Strings of holiday lights that don’t go dark when one of the bulbs burns out.

Nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries. Electronic guitar tuners. Laminators. Label makers. Big-box bookstores. Cordless phones with “locator” buttons to find the lost handsets.

Modern playground equipment. Run-flat tires. Air conditioning. Keyless entry. Pay at the pump. Comb binding. Walkman stereos with ear-bud headphones and speed-control playback. Nyquil. Taquitos. TV.

Flat-panel monitors. In-line skates. Tevas. Direct deposit. Automatic bill pay. Audio books. Public libraries. Air bags. Super SloMo. Instant replay. Mulching mowers. And, especially, finally, suitcases on wheels.

At worst, you live in miraculous times.”

At worst, we live in miraculous times. We do indeed. And yet so often we never pause in gratitude. Some things never change.

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voice, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us.’

When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’

And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’
– Luke 17:11-19

***The castle in the image is Neuschwanstein Castle. It is one of the most picturesque castles in the world, nestled in the mountains of Germany. It was even the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

“Those” People


This past week has been difficult. It has been another week dominated by news of shootings, and riots, violence and strife. All happening right in our backyards. After watching the news for a week I’m not any closer to knowing where the blame should lie for these situations. And it’s tempting to assign blame.

Few people want to wait until the facts come out. What I have seen and heard this week on Facebook and twitter and on the news and in conversations are people who are more than willing to take sides and place blame instantaneously. I’ve seen that stereotypes and prejudice are alive and well. When you first heard of the latest shooting, to whom did you give the benefit of the doubt? Did you give it to the officer? Did you give it to suspect? Wherever you gave the benefit of the doubt, absent any real evidence, reveals where your sympathies lie. As people we like to pick sides and draw lines. It’s us against them. The police vs. the citizens. It’s the white vs. the blacks. One community vs. another.

And we are all guilty of doing this to one degree or another. Our guilt is betrayed in those initial reactions to these news stories. These stereotypes and prejudices run deep within us. And they always have. From the time we can walk and talk, we separate ourselves into groups. It happens in school where kids sort themselves based on their sport, or musical instrument, or love of computers, or hatred of conformity. It happens at work. It also happens on a regional and national level.

All of this is evidence of our sinful natures at work. Satan wants nothing more than to keep us divided. He wants to stir up hatred and distrust and fear of “those people” whoever they are. Because if he can get you to do that, you won’t be so worried about peace or forgiveness. Your concern that “those people” know God’s mercy and grace in Jesus will be a distant memory. This week the devil has been cheering as our communities have torn themselves apart in words and actions.

The question we all have to wrestle with is this. Did Jesus come for just a select few or did he come for everyone? How do you know?

Well, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
– John 3:16-17

Even the greatest men and women of God struggle with stereotypes and prejudice. There is a great quote from 1 Samuel 16. “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God spoke these words to his prophet Samuel. Samuel was sent to anoint the next king of Israel, one of Jesse’s sons. Looking at all of the young men lined up Samuel immediately knew who the next king should be: Jesse’s eldest son Eliab, the tall good looking one.

But God set Samuel straight. “Don’t look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) God hadn’t chosen Eliab, the oldest and tallest. He had chosen David, the youngest and shortest.


When you look at others what do you see? Are you looking at outward appearances or are you looking deeper? Do you just see “those people?” The lost causes, the hopeless, the criminal, the godless? Or do you see others as God sees them? As people just as much in need of God’s grace and forgiveness as any of us?

It is so easy to draw lines between ourselves and others. It is easy to begin to think and speak and act as if people from another country, or town, or racial heritage, or political affiliation are simply “those people.” But thank God that Jesus taught his disciples that God sees differently. Because by Jesus’ grace and forgiveness we have the privilege of being called the children of God. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what God has done for us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God Isn’t On Your Side


Dear Christian, God isn’t on your side. Regardless of your gut reaction to that statement, please read on. There is no end to the mischief that has been done in the name of God. For example, we fight wars believing God is on our side. And perhaps that seems like a logical conclusion to make when we are fighting against foreign nations and the followers of other gods.

But what happens when those lined up against us, also happen to be our brothers and sisters in Christ? Take the American Civil War. Two sides, largely (though not exclusively) populated by followers of Jesus, killing each other. Both sides believing firmly that God was on their side.

During that war, Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not much of a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side.” Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight: “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants. How shocking would it be to hear a politician speak like that today?

We have a tendency as humans to draw up battle lines. To divide ourselves from others. To separate ourselves from those who look different, or speak different, or hold different beliefs. We identify as democrats, or republicans, or independents, or conservatives, or liberals. Even within Christendom we divide ourselves as Methodists, or Lutherans, or Roman Catholics, or Baptists, or non-denominational.

And it doesn’t matter what side of any issue we find ourselves on. We tend to proudly assert that God is on our side. In doing this, we are doing nothing less than attempting to use God to further our own causes.

In contrast to this, I’m reminded of the surprising encounter Joshua had with God on the hills overlooking Jericho. For context, remember that the battle for Jericho was to be the first of many battles that Israel would fight against the Canaanites as they entered the land that God had promised to them. On the eve of the battle, Joshua had gone off by himself a little way to survey the city.

“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went up to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my Lord say to his servant?’”  -Joshua 5:13-14

It’s hard to get around the oddness of this encounter. When Joshua sees the man standing before him with a drawn sword he asks the obvious question. ‘There is a battle about to be fought, so whose side are you on? Ours or theirs?’

But the man stops Joshua short. “No,” he says. In effect, God says, “Wrong question.” This battle wasn’t about the Israelites versus the Canaanites, with God on the side of the Israelites. This battle was about God furthering His agenda and working through the Israelites to accomplish it.

Azariah, a prophet many years later, expressed something similar to King Asa of Judah. After the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, he said, “The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” – 2 Chronicles 15:2

In Jesus, we are freed from the constant need to assert that we’ve got God on our side. We are freed from the need to constantly and continually separate ourselves out, one from another. We should all be less concerned with asserting that God is on our side, and more concerned with seriously reflecting upon whether or not we are on God’s.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
–  Matthew 11:29-30

The Parable of the Legos


  A father desired to give his four young children a gift. He called them all together and gave each child a small Lego set. To his first child he gave a Lego boat set. To the second he gave a Lego car set. To the third he gave a Lego plane set. And to the fourth he gave a Lego truck set. They all enthusiastically ripped open their boxes and set to work.

The first child dropped the set of directions for his boat and instead picked up the instructions for the car. He looked in vain for the pieces in his pile that would match those in the instructions for the car, but soon gave up in frustration having built nothing.

 The second child, in her pride, tossed aside her car instructions. She knew what cars looked like. She didn’t need the instructions. She set to work immediately, but after putting the wheels together, couldn’t think of how all the scattered pieces could fit together properly. She tried for a number of minutes then left the pieces on the floor in disgust.

The third child happily poured out her Legos and set to work on building her airplane. Since the set was small, and the pieces were few, she felt confident that she could build her airplane using only the picture on the box. She worked for over an hour. At times she felt she was nearly finished, only to discover a critical piece was missing. Finally she stopped. It was close enough. But there were still a scattering of pieces on the floor, whose purpose was a mystery. She began to play with her new toy but soon gave it up and wandered out of the room, leaving the airplane behind. Those mystery pieces left her feeling unsatisfied with her work.

The fourth child was as excited as all the others. He tore open his box, poured the pieces on the floor, carefully unfolded the instructions and diligently set to work. In no time at all, the truck was complete. It looked just like the picture on the box. He then picked up his new toy and in his joy ran off to find his siblings.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
    – Ephesians 2:8-10

In Jesus, we have been given a wonderful gift. A gift of grace, and mercy and love. That gift was freely given. Like the children in the parable of the Legos, that gift is given not as a reward for good behavior, or hard work, or even because we thought to ask for it. The Father simply desired to give his beloved children a gift and did so.

The first child is the one who receives this gift but doesn’t understand it. And because it is not understood, the joy of the gift is taken from him. The second child is the one who receives the gift, but in her pride believes that she can decide for herself what this gift will be. In the end she walks away from the gift in disgust, never knowing fully what she had been given. The third child is the one who receives the gift with joy, but having only the image and not the step-by-step instructions for the gift endures for a little while, but then abandons it because it didn’t bring the contentment she had imagined. The fourth child is the one who receives the gift and fully understands what he has received. He completes his Lego truck and in his joy, goes out and searches for his lost siblings that they might join him and return to the gift their Father gave them.

***I am indebted to my wife for the idea behind this story. The parable is based loosely on Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Matthew chapter 13.***

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”



Pennies in the Hand of God: How Prayer Works

penny in hand

One day my daughter Mackenzie and I were playing in her room and we started to play keep-away. We both saw a penny on the floor and at the same time grabbed for it. I got there first and I closed my finger tight around this most desirable object. Mackenzie proceeded to climb onto my lap as she tried to pry my fingers open. According to the international rules of keep-away, once she got one finger open, it couldn’t be closed again. She worked at it until finally she was able to snatch the penny from my hand. Then she jumped down and ran away giggling, only to return when I had grabbed another toy and closed my fist tightly around it. Just a fun, simple game.

But later that night I started thinking of that game again. I started thinking about the struggle my daughter went through to pry that penny from my hand, and the struggle that many people have with God when it comes to the things they want or need. Sometimes when we come to God in prayer, we come for the pennies in his hand.

“Lord, I really need a passing grade on this test tomorrow.” “Lord, I need a job.” “Heavenly Father, my mom is ill, please make her well.”

We reach for those things and then when God grants the request we push his hand away and run off to the next thing on our busy schedules. In this way we treat God like a servant. We call on Him when we have a need, and then ignore Him the rest of the time. We treat prayer like something that we do if we have time or a pressing need. But Jesus taught his disciples, and by extension us, to pray differently.

Here are three quotes on prayer by Martin Luther (the guy who lived in the 1500’s and led the Reformation, not the civil rights leader)

“As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”

“I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to get it all done.”

How different those quotes are from the way many of us approach prayer. Jesus taught that prayer was of supreme importance. This is where Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow comes in. I believe that in this parable Jesus is trying to strip away some of the baggage that we bring to prayer. And remember Jesus told this parable to drive home the point that the disciples should always pray and never give up.

Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
And then Jesus said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them and speedily.” – Luke 18:1-7

Unfortunately, I think many times we equate God with the unjust judge. We act as if in order for our prayers to be heard we have to pester Him, or figure out the right formula, or get enough other people to pester Him in order for our requests to be granted.

This is not what Jesus meant when he encouraged his disciples to always pray and not give up. Jesus set up this parable in such a way that God is the opposite of the unjust judge. He says in verse 7, “Will not God give justice to His elect, to his chosen, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them?” Yes, Jesus encourages us to always pray, but the way in which He does that is important. Jesus doesn’t appeal to the Law. He doesn’t say, “Pray always, so that God will be moved to grant your request by your faithfulness or persistence.” Jesus appeals to the Gospel. He says in effect, “Pray without ceasing, because God has chosen you and you are precious to Him.”

This is how prayer works. We don’t come before a distracted, distant God whose attention we need to grab, and whose fingers need to be pried open. We come before a close, loving Father, who has called us to be His children and desires to hear and answer our prayers.


Do Not Be Overcome By Evil, But Overcome Evil with Good

black and white

I’ll let the Apostle Paul speak for himself…

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in trouble, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
– Romans 12:9-21

The world is broken and hurting. We are reminded of that daily in more ways than we could ever number. And yet, God is not silent. God is not absent. God is not far off. God confronted evil head on in His son Jesus. As His followers here we have the privilege to stand as His witnesses. We witness the love of God for this broken world through Jesus’ death on the cross. We reflect that love as we live and respond to tragedy and brokenness and suffering as Jesus taught us. We love those who hate. We weep with those who weep. We rejoice with those who rejoice. And we pray that one day all of the false walls we build between one another would be torn down so that we can see each other as God sees us; not as lost causes, but as people of inestimable worth. Every person you meet is someone for whom Jesus died, that they might live anew through Him.

The Commandment We All Break

breaking commandments

Which of the Ten Commandments does everyone break most often? When I am teaching confirmation classes and the topic of the Ten Commandments comes up this is usually my first question. Invariably it invites plenty of discussion and some funny (and some seriously sad) responses. In case you need a refresher on the top ten here they are recorded in Exodus 20.

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
 “You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
“You shall not kill.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

 Typically for the sake of clarity we condense and number them. Different groups of Christians number them slightly differently. I won’t get the why and how of that now. It’s interesting but not important to the overall question. This is how I learned them.

  1. You shall have no other gods. (no idols)
  2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  4. Honor your father and mother.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

So back to that first question. Which commandment do we all break most often?

I’ve heard many people say it’s numbers 9 and 10; coveting. Living in an affluent North American context this is obviously a problem. Our whole economic system would collapse in about ten seconds if we all gave this one up. After all our economy is built on consumerism; buying things. Companies spend literally billions of dollars to make you want what is not and in some cases should not be yours. But coveting isn’t the most frequently broken commandment.

Few people ever say it’s numbers 5 or 6. The reasoning goes like this, “Sure some people do murder or commit adultery. But those are the outliers. Most people don’t have serious issues with these two.” That reasoning works unless you happen to consider what Jesus says about numbers 5 and 6 in Matthew 5. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you everyone who looks at a woman (or man) with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” OK. So, seen in that light numbers 5 and 6 are broken more often than we would think at first. But they still are nowhere near the commandment we break most often.

The commandment we all break is the first. “You shall have no other gods.” Martin Luther once said the fundamental problem in law-breaking is always idolatryIn other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the commandment against idolatry. (A Treatise on Good Works parts X, XI) Let that sink in a moment. In his explanation of the first commandment he wrote, “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” And so anything that you fear, love, or trust more than God has become an idol for you.

When a person steals and breaks the seventh commandment, they have already broken the first. Their desire to have what they stole grew out of a violation of the first commandment. They did not fear, love or trust in God above all else. And so to fill their desire they took what was not theirs. And you can go down the list like that with all the other commandments. Each violation can be traced back to a breaking of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Idols aren’t only or necessarily funny little statues made out of wood or metal that the unenlightened people of the past prayed to, but that we have outgrown. An idol can be anything. Anything you fear above all else. Anything you love above all else. Anything you trust above all else. The gods of today that vie for God’s place in your life are so ordinary and commonplace that many of us don’t even give them a second thought. The false gods of today don’t go by the name of Baal, or Molech, or Ashtoreth. They are our retirement funds and bank accounts, they are our homes and our families, and they are our countries and our smartphones. And we do our bowing and kneeling to them with our schedules, our credit cards, our imaginations and our work.

Yes, we all break the first commandment. And we break it often. The good news in all of this is that the Big Ten were never meant to be a checklist to get into heaven. God doesn’t attach a percentage to them and say, “If you keep them 90 percent of the time, or 60 percent, or 40 percent, then I’ll let you in.” No. They do detail how God wants us to live. But in trying to keep them we learn not only the depth of our sin, but also our utter incapability to keep them.

Once Jesus was asked by a young man seeking to justify himself, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus expertly opened the young man’s eyes to the idol that was standing between him and God. The thing he feared, loved and trusted above all else was his wealth. He walked away sad, unable and unwilling to give it up. The disciples, watching from the sidelines, and realizing their own failings, said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus responded, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16-30)

Yes we break the first commandment most often. We break it every day. How should we respond? By repenting and trusting in Jesus, the one who from the cross said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)