Level Playing Fields

There are things we “get” and things we don’t “get”. For some folks, taking a test in school was a dreaded, ominous event. For others of us, tests were a challenge to embrace or a chance to “show off” because it was easy. There are those to whom a piece of machinery just makes sense. The gears, levers, bearings, and circuitry make sense in their minds, while being fearsome and frightful to others. Good at math, good for you. Better at sales, a blessing on you. Excellent at details, enjoy the minutia.

A walk before God is different than that. The surrender of self before the throne of God is the same for all of us, 100% of whoever and whatever we are. It isn’t “natural” to anyone. We have a level playing field here.

Now I’m not trying to imply that such a walk is impossible to any of us, for it isn’t. It isn’t about perfection, it is yielding to be perfected. It isn’t about dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s.

Following Jesus is about a transformational relationship that moves us from self-focus to self-surrender. It is about being so overwhelmed by his sacrifice that no offering seems too great, no obedience too demanding. Keeping one’s eyes on Jesus, letting his life be our focal point, results in a life that stuns others.

But this relationship is not an intellectual exercise, reserved for the exceptionally book smart who “figure God out.” It isn’t the specialty of the more gentle, kind spirits among us. Nor are the aggressive, decisive, given advantage or disadvantage.

It is just about humbly loving a God who first loved you.

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When Faith Works

Taking faith seriously does imply that one lives differently than the bulk of the population. It does not imply a pseudo-piety or specialized language. It is not made manifest by one’s outward apparel, or by a sprinkling of religious terms in daily conversation. Taking faith seriously is observable in the manner of interaction that one has with others.

John instructs us that, No one can say that they love God while hating their brother. James reminds us that we cannot bless God on one hand, while cursing those made in the image of God on the other.

Those devoted to God are observable not so much in the manner in which they treat those who are closest to them, for loving those who love in return is easily accomplished. How one treats their enemy, or the disenfranchised or the vulnerable is the indication of one’s faith.

In the Old Covenant, Israel’s treatment of the alien among them was demanded by God. They were expected to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, that the poor and the indigent might have a way of garnering food. Treatment of strangers was a hallmark of their faith.

Keeping one’s self unspotted from the world (our moral integrity) is coupled with care for widows and orphans (those vulnerable to abuse) and is described as the essence of pure and undefiled religion. Being as good as the next guy and grudgingly paying taxes because a portion of it goes to welfare is not a fulfillment of this Scripture.

Those who seriously integrate faith in their daily walk are attentive to those who are struggling in life. They don’t avert their eyes to avoid others who have empty eyes and aching bellies. They don’t simply feel that tossing some culls from their closet in the Goodwill box “has them covered” in regards to caring for the vulnerable.

Serious faith looks for the opportunity to act, each day and every day.

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Moving Past Myself

Incline your ear to my prayer my God, and listen to my appeal this day. I pray for those who I easily love and those who make my loving them more difficult. I pray your blessing of compassion, mercy, and forbearance on those who struggle this hour. For many of us, as we struggle, we are fighting our own battles with evil. Oft times it arises from our own selfish desires that war against who we should be. Forgive us for seeking our own pleasure and well being over the needs and desire of the vulnerable around us. Help us, each of us, to see past the transient joys of the moment to the greater good of extending kindness, compassion, and mercy to those who in their hopelessness act out in anger. Forgive and transform us from petty judgments based on familiarity, background or ideology and move us into your Spirit of holiness.
Father, we all have those to whom we look for leadership, some political, others religious, others still familial. Help us appreciate their righteous strengths, be cautious of their incipient weaknesses, and tolerant of their innocent mistakes. Make us people who clearly see a morality based not upon our own selfish needs, but on the greater good as expressed by your nature. Bring about the goals of your kingdom in our lives, and forgive us when we exalt more adamantly the kingdoms and orientations of this world. Transform us my God, for the power for change comes from our yielding to your Spirit.
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Seeking to Share Him

Hear me O Lord and listen to my prayer. I approach You on behalf of those who do not know You, asking for Your patience as they come to know You. Bless them with opportunity through Your people, to come to know You. Soften their hearts and strengthen our resolve to represent You completely to them. Give us a willingness to share the blessings we have found in You.

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Seeking Only His Presence

When the birth of Jesus was announced by heavenly beings, his name was Emmanuel. This is undoubtedly my favorite name for Jesus because of the meaning of the name, God with us.

There was a time in my walk with God that I responded simply because I sought to escape the “fires of hell”. During that time, I understood God to be harsh, to be feared, and seeking to eliminate a certain segment from existing eternally.

Later, I began to think more of the “streets of gold, pearly gates, and heavenly choirs”, an existence where reaping the rewards of missing out on the fun stuff on earth finally “paid off”. Heaven, for me at that time, was the place I could wipe my brow and relax in relief that I finally made it. I thought of God as finally becoming reality in heaven, a place for his throne where I could walk by and know all is well.

While I am not saying that God does not punish the evildoer and reward the righteous, I think the focus of both earlier approaches is inadequate.

God, existing outside of time, is not worried about the future, there is only now. His desire is for us to know him, relate to him, and exist alongside him. As Jesus told the woman at the well, it isn’t about which mountain or location but about you. God wants you, now. His relationship with you is now. His care for you is now, while you struggle not after you survive.

Jesus, God with us, made it clear to his disciples before his ascension that he wasn’t leaving us alone. His Spirit would live with each of us, our bodies being his temple. His Spirit empowers our journey and constantly works to shape and strengthen us. We are not alone, for Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Presence is my goal. I want to walk along with God now. I want to recognize his presence now. I want to be his presence in the lives of those I am around now. I want them to be conscious of the aroma of Jesus any time I am there.

For me, I’ll take Emmanuel… he is all I want.

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Prayers for Broken Relationships

Like scraps of paper, torn and tossed to the wind, relationships fail all around me. Infuse hope in hopeless situations, grant patience to the impulsive, courage to the fearful, and understanding to the clueless. Heal the destruction that takes place in the lives of little ones who cannot understand. Bring solace to families who feel their worlds crumble as one walks away. Help me Father, to stand alongside, or kneel or crawl with those who’s hurt is beyond the description of words. Help me do so without condemnation, without judgment, without disdain, but with a heart of compassion. Open my eyes to the pain, make me a safe place to offer Your love and understanding. Bring healing to wounds that are beyond description, soften the scars, wipe away the tears, and when the time is right, let us see the hope of the morning. I ask today for the children, no matter the age, for the parents, for the broken, for the damaged, and for the fearful. Arise, and bring healing I plead.

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Another Prayer

Someone recently asked me to share an earlier prayer, so here it is.

Father, there are those who are difficult for me to pray for. They are different than I, holding others things as values that I cannot see, opinions I do not share, and they act in ways I cannot comprehend. They seem to be my enemies, it is far easier for me to condemn them than ask for a blessing on them from You. Help me soften my heart that I might see their needs and act as Jesus would toward them. Bless them with a knowledge of You, comfort their fears, and draw them to You that we might one day be family. Change me, my attitude, my biases, and my fears that I might reach out to them. Help me take their abuse and return a blessing instead. I pray You be with us both and draw us together toward You.

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A Late Night Prayer

Sometimes, in the night, I pray about the things that I can’t find solutions for. At times, there may be no resolution short of the “new heavens and new earth”. Still my spirit aches for the ravages of sin that plague our planet and all who reside here. Last night was such a night.

I will at times, in an attempt to slow my mind and allow God’s Spirit to flood my heart, I write out my prayers. I find the discipline helpful in ways I can’t describe. These were the thoughts of last night.

Hear me O God in the darkness of this night. Let my appeal for small children, innocent in their pain, come before you this hour. Bring to them the restorative rest that they need to approach the chaos of their worlds that hope might not be lost. Soften the harsh blows of this life, the aching loneliness of absent parents no matter the cause, the confusing sorrow of emotional desertion when selfish desires replace adult care and love, or the unfair ravages of disease that robs them of normal pleasures and joys. Raise up for them bastions of hope, grandparents, teachers, neighbors or others who help bring order to a confusing world. May these helpers show a genuine, unfailing love to wee ones who begin to expect sorrow as a way of life and abuse as a normal event each night.
Hear my cry my God, and bring an avenue of comfort to these little lives who face daily challenges. Let us not grow weary of their acting out, of their pain being expressed in misbehavior and their sorrow being masked by anger. Grant patience to those who seek to help.
Father, while I know that justice in not found in this world, extend mercy, kindness and comfort through those who offer hope. May our efforts never be superficial or hollow, may our care focus on the true issues, and may we find success so the pain diminishes in each life where hurt has become common.
I acknowledge, my God that the reasons for this sorrow in a broken world are beyond my understanding. I understand the complexities of life move beyond my capacity to fathom. Replace my desire to blame with a willingness to help. Open clear and wide doors for those who would bring kindness and understanding to these little ones who will awaken to more hurt this morning.

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It’s Frozen Blackberries for Me

As you perhaps know by now, yesterday afternoon and evening were unpleasant at my house. About 3p I could tell something was off and by 3:30p the flu had me cornered.

I contacted Terry and Tom to cover for me today right before things got bad, and I am grateful for their stepping into my responsibilities.

When one is sick, food is the last thing on their mind. About midnight I could tell I was perhaps a bit better and mentioned to Janet I was ready to test my stomach. “Eat whatever sounds good to you.” For Janet, that is code for, “Try some saltines and a bit of Seven-Up.”

I got up and collected some frozen blackberries I put up earlier this fall. Icey, sweet – they sounded just right as I slowly ate 5 of them.

Janet thought the idea ludicrous. She explained that was a wrong choice and I would soon be sick again.

Gladly her prophecy was inaccurate and those blackberries were the beginning of my road to recovery.

As I lay thinking this morning about that exchange, I noticed how easy it is for us, from our own experience, to assume our way would be right for everyone else. We trust our own experience and want others to benefit from it.

What draws us closer to God? Some experience that through a highly sophisticated study technique, learning the original languages of Scripture and reading in that manner. For others it is reading their personal Bible in conjunction with good devotional books or study guide. Others might prefer solitude and meditation to enrich their appreciation for what God has told us through Scripture.

I’ve known others who enrich their journey through the arts, with great paintings and architecture of ancient churches.

Frozen blackberries or saltines, it doesn’t matter. Your pursuit of God will be personal as well.

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Choosing to Involve Rather Than Exclude

Janet and I attended a bluegrass festival in Wichita Friday and part of Saturday. We enjoy the music, enjoy the groups that come in from around the country, and find it a time to connect with people that we only associate with because of the music genre.

Saturday afternoon, way off in Minneola, a real long way from Wichita, we met some other friends at a birthday party to play music, more country western in style. However, when we got there the music was more soft rock in nature, with a bit of new country. A new group of people, so a new emphasis of style. After supper a few of us stayed and played the music that is my preference.

I thought about why I went to all the effort to attend as we made the long drive home. Obviously there are other ways to spend a weekend; in fact, we usually do spend it other ways.

I make a conscious effort to fight a problem common to us all, ethnocentricity. That is a fancy word for “always hanging around people who are just like you”, seeing yourself and your peers as normal, while viewing others as “a bit off”.

Ethnocentristic beliefs cause us to be judgmental, intolerant, and selfish. We, if we indulge the tendency, become abrasive, rude, and overbearing. Acknowledging the peculiarities of our own culture, we minimize the damaging features while focusing on the peculiarities in an opposing group.

In a church culture it might exhibit itself in Jewish Christians clinging to their familiarity with a kosher lifestyle while condemning the difference in the Gentile community.

Contemporarily, a church might “overlook” socially acceptable sins like greed, harsh judgment, or cheating on taxes, while loudly condemning those who are outside the norm, struggling with same sex attraction, broken relationships, or other sins. Ethnocentricity gives more grace to their “own” and more judgment toward “others”.

We counter this like Jesus did, love everyone… eat with everyone… be in the lives of everyone.

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