Sweating Blood

Being in Holy Week has made me think more on Jesus moments in the garden during prayer. I could not even begin to work through the theological debates surrounding Jesus prayer in the garden, and that is not my goal in this post. In these moments we see a beautiful moment in Jesus where he is legitimately facing the weight of the burden he is beginning to carry.

The pressure is enormous. This is a powerful moment. This has been the moment on my mind this past week. It has not stuck out to me for its theological conundrums of Jesus asking for the cup to pass him. It is not even primarily from the fact that he willingly chooses to follow God’s will. It is the humanity to it all the has captivated me.

In this moment I am struck with the reality of it being ok to recognize that hardship exists. Scripture says Jesus was sweating great drops of blood. This is what the world would call weakness. Some would even say fearful. Can Jesus even be afraid? Is that really a thing? Those questions have been running through my head. What really is fear though? We treat it in a negative context because it is often something that controls our actions and behavior. This is an obvious problem, but should that deny us the right to acknowledge when things are difficult?

I have felt surrounded at times over the past few weeks to be encouraged to ignore how difficult things are. Don’t pay attention to the burning building because God is watching out for you. Here is the thing, it is true God is watching out for me. I have no reason to believe He will abandon me. However, it doesn’t change that I might be in a point in life where things are just difficult, maybe even unfair.

Jesus in the garden reminds us that it is ok to recognize when hardship is entering your life. Jesus felt the pain of what he was going to experience. He knew it would be unimaginable to anyone else. Yet he persevered. Anyone can walk into a burning building that they are forced to believe is not coming down. It is the one who runs into the inferno as the roof is collapsing that is showing true grit. Maybe you are reading this through a time of difficulty. Perhaps the world is telling you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and move along. Maybe the ones saying that are even the people causing you difficulty. I would suggest a different piece of advice. Go into the garden and be transparent. Sweat drops of blood. Call out this period of life for what it is. Name it as a hardship. Once you do that you can look up and give it over to God. I think that is what Jesus has been teaching me through this moment in His life throughout this week. I can only give something up to God when I willingly acknowledge how painful it really is.

Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Live with Faith

There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the topic of faith. We struggle with its meaning. We wrestle with its function. We debate how it looks. We argue over how it relates to salvation. I have been struggling through faith in a way. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Some people say they have a crisis of faith, and mean that they struggle with determining whether the very core of their beliefs are still true. This is not what I am referring to in myself.

I find it can be a struggle to live a life that has faith as the focus. In this context I am referring more towards living my life in a way that implements the Biblical truths of trusting in the Lord for anything that might arise. The only thing the temporary future guarantees for anyone is uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. There is no sense in ignoring that fact. People try to. For some reason it is easy for us to get into our head that faith means no acknowledgment of things in the world that are scary.

Fear is inevitable, but it is how we respond to that fear. Psalm 112 states that the righteous man does not fear bad news. His eyes are fixed on God. The Psalm does not guarantee bad news is absent in the life of the believer. In fact, it expects it to be guaranteed. It expects that life is going to be hard, but it also expects that someone who trust in the Lord will choose to focus on the creator who can deal with the struggles that arise rather than be paralyzed in facing the problem itself.

We often looking at a life of faith as having that one big moment that shows our great extent of faith. Once we bank a couple of those we don’t need to worry about the big faith moments anymore. It took a great deal of faith for me to move halfway across the country on my own to live in Kansas for ministry. It took even more faith for me to move back to Virginia with a family and no job. It felt like I had made my big faith moments. I shouldn’t need to have any others. That is not how a life of faith works though.

A life of faith is not comprised of the giant moments. It is comprised of every moment. It is filled with the moments of forgoing losing a temper out of fear when the unknown is crashing in. it is the resistance to feed off of anxiety when trouble shows its ugly head. It is knowing that everyone will answer for what they are responsible for, and only worrying about what God is holding you responsible for. It is about being able to look at some of the worst humanity may have to offer, but come home to kiss your wife and children knowing you are set to live a life that can provide a better world for them.

When Christ was at the garden before his crucifixion he did not ignore that what he faced was difficult. He didn’t even deny that it was scary. The fear was not the focus though. He looked past the fear and towards the Father. He chose to trust.

I have realized as craziness swarms around me that I have had the ugly attitude of wondering why I face more uncomfortableness now. Didn’t I just have another big faith moment? That is not how faith works. Faith is a constant. It is looking at the world in its bitter greed and hostility, but yet knowing that your mission remains firm. A new kingdom is coming. We may not see it in all of its glory, but at times we can catch glimpses of it. We catch glimpses in people banding together to provide and encourage those who are struggling. We see it in a church who cares for someone in need. We see it in the love of a family. We catch those glimpses as a reminder that the faith is not in vain. The race will not be lost.

I have no idea what even the next few days will bring, but a life of faith does not require me to. The struggles will be there, but it does not demand a loss of temper. It does not require to be driven by fear. It does not force me to stop enjoying the sweetness of life. Instead, it will forever remain an opportunity to turn to God and follow the example of my savior as I say, “Not my will, but yours.”

Abusing Prayer

I can often forget the weight of prayer. It is a aspect of the Christian life taken for granted. It is a tool incorrectly use by many. “Oh I will be praying for your situation.” This is a statement we can often run the risk of using to make sure an individual believes we were listening to their plight with sympathy. We might be lucky if we just pass off a brief one sentence prayer about the situation to check off the list.

“I gave this decision a lot of prayer before reaching my conclusion.” A statement often made to lessen the blow of an unfavorable decision, or something to defend a decision against criticism. I prayed about it therefore this is God ordained. How can you argue with God?

Prayer is a two way street. We can forget that. Psalms is filled with songs and prayers of individuals crying out to God. We can easily forget that God is often responding in those prayers. There are moments where a psalmist cries out to God that he feels distant. He is lost and feels alone. He changes his attitude and proclaims his trust in the Lord. What happened in that moment? Why the sudden change? Maybe the psalmist is reciting a prayer he had at one point. A prayer where God responded. Maybe he was reminded that it may feel in the moment that God is distant, but he is still faithful. The story isn’t over yet.

We let the word “prayer” do our dirty work. It is a way to protect us against any unpleasantness. We diminish the power involved in the process. Stop and think for a moment. We can come to God through prayer based off the intercessory work of Christ. Christ is our mediator, and has managed to create the only religion that is based on relationship. Yet we often use prayer as a name dropping moment. It becomes no different than an angry customer who mentions he had lunch with some executive of the company last week. It is resorted to either a bullying tactic, or a way to end a conversation we are done having.

I have been haunted lately by a question I have asked myself. If I stopped praying, would it make a difference? Is my prayer life so limited and based more off of talking about the act rather than performing it that the impact would really even change if I stopped?

I had a common phrase when being a student in a classroom. There was always someone who needed to talk about how intelligent they were. How smart they were in a subject. I would often respond by saying that if you need to spend time telling me how smart you are, then you probably are not all that smart. If I need to tell people how much I am praying, then I am probably not praying very well, or at least not even doing much praying at all.

People won’t know how much you are praying because you tell them. They will know when your soul is a deep well of grace and mercy filled with compassion that only comes from an intimate relationship with the Savior. They will know when those around you who are hurting receive comfort after they have expressed their burdens to you for you to take to the throne room of the King. They will know how much you listen through your prayer by the wisdom you express when life comes barreling down with a difficult circumstance. They will know how passionately you pray when you face the fears of the world that demand you to move, and your response is one of a child with access to his father as you boldly proclaim, “Here I stand.”

Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Pregnancy

What does it mean to be pro-life? This would seem simple enough. The description ideally would be self-explanatory from the name itself. I have found that this term has been dragged through the mud and become rather devoid of any real substance in a lot of circles today. Some define pro-life in the negative. It is the view that fights against abortion. Most define it solely on the unborn child. It is limited to one specific category. What many people define as pro-life is really only called pro-pregnancy.

Let me say from the start that I do not agree with abortion. I believe life begins at conception. I believe God is involved in the process of creating each individual just as he was in the process of creating Adam and Eve. I also recognize that many times due to sin entering the world that this joyous occasion can become a hardship. Physical and mental disabilities, the abuse of a husband, rape, etc. all complicate matters. I also believe in grace. I believe that women who have aborted a child are still capable of receiving grace and mercy from God. They can still receive healing. They still deserve love, counseling, and care.

Being pro-life requires admitting the hardships of raising a child. Teen pregnancy isn’t going away. This is not to say we shouldn’t still teach abstinence in a healthy context. Obviously we should, but we need to realize it will not eliminate the problem. Therefore, a solution needs to be developed for when teen pregnancy happens. There is an all too common story that happens for young unwed mothers. A girl gets pregnant and bravely decides to keep the baby. Make no mistake, this is an act of bravery. Doing what it is right and honoring by God is brave. It will require sacrifice. We are willing to say following God in all other areas will require sacrifice. Choosing life is no different.

The young woman chooses life and proceeds with the help of her parents to raise her child, finish school, and work to provide for the child. Given the difficulties she isn’t able to attend church regularly. When she does she is at best met with distant stares. Some might tell her they thought she pursued a life of drugs after having the child since she stopped attending church. That is not a pro-life view. That is a pro-pregnancy view. It is also an incredibly destructive view.

I once knew a church that had a young girl who got pregnant due to rape. It was a horrendous situation for the girl. A situation where our culture would not have scorned her for an abortion. The church adopted a pro-life view. They loved on this woman. They help meet her needs. They helped with the financial strife. They provided support for the entire family. They did what a church is supposed to do. They saw a woman who bravely took on the responsibility of caring for a child, and didn’t leave her in the dust.

Let’s go back to that first scenario of the young woman working to provide for her child. What if people recognized the difficulty of raising the child? What if rather than giving remarks of judgment there was instead an act to help meet her needs. Need a break for an evening? Let me watch your kid for you. Can’t come to church because of work? Let me sacrifice time out of my week that works for you so I can come over and have a Bible study with you to give you a little bit of Christian community.

You see, pro-life is not merely the care for the unborn child. It is the caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the mother as well. It is striving to help raise the child in world where they will know God’s love. Pro-life extends before and after the unborn child.

Here is the simple truth, and it might be painful to hear. I know it was painful for me to realize at one point. If you agree with abortion you cannot call yourself pro-life. If you do nothing to care for the physical and spiritual needs of a child and their parents you also cannot call yourself pro-life. It’s time for us to recognize the hardship that comes with choosing life, and do all we can to help lift that burden as a community. It’s true that society’s answer to this problem through abortion is not the right solution, but we need to provide the Scriptural alternative. Anything less is just pro-pregnancy, and that’s not even a shadow of pro-life.

Focused Prayer

My oldest child is almost four years old. He is a fairly stereotypical child in his personality. He is full of energy, and keeps me running constantly. Lately he has been trying to learn how to maintain eye contact when asking for something. The other day he was asking for a game. Like any parent I wanted to ensure he was asking politely and clearly. We had to repeat the process multiple times because every time he got the first word of the question out he would instinctively move his eyes to the game instead of looking at me. “Look at me.” He would jerk his head up, and begin the whole process over and over again.

My son was so focused on keeping his eye on the object of his request rather than the person he was requesting it from. It may seem like a simple or trivial thing, but it was important to me that he maintained eye contact with me specifically to make the request. It was incredibly difficult for him, but he finally did it.

At the end of the ordeal I was hit with a realization like a ton of bricks. I do this in my prayer life all the time. I find myself focusing on the object of my prayers rather than on the one I am bringing my pleas to. It’s a real problem. People always talk about how prayer often becomes a wish list. People groan about how prayer is a chore. Countless people have written countless books on the secrets to a revolutionary prayer life.

Prayer is a worship filled act designed to focus on the creator rather than creation. It seems to me like the beginning to a healthy prayer life can at least be summarized in this statement. If I have left a period of prayer without seeing Christ then I have done something wrong. When I focus on the object of what I am praying for I am robbing myself of an opportunity to be filled up by merely experiencing the presence of God as he listens to me.

I shake my head at myself when I think of all the times I have come to God in prayer intently focused on the prayer itself all the while my father is simply saying “Would you please look at me?” I could stop there, but I don’t think that’s enough. Why is it so important to look at God in prayer? If all we did was go into prayer and look at the object of our prayer we would at best walk away with what we asked.

God focused prayer provides so much more. It provides nourishment. It gives us a richness in our relationship with him. It instills a connection that carries through the day. If we look at God in prayer we may not be surprised to find that our original purpose to coming to Him ends up feeling insignificant next to the power, majesty, and holiness of a God who cares for us. This is a God who works all things for good. He is the creator who is reaching out to his creation in order for them to experience His prescence.

My Hill or His Mountain?

“And he said to all ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” (Luke 9:23-24)

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Jesus disciples during the days leading up to the crucifixion, and the reaction of fear and terror that surrounded them. I’ve also been thinking a great deal on my personal commitment to Christ in every aspect. On top of all that I have begun to wonder how so many groups on various opposing sides can seem so willing to use the teachings of Christ that defend their view, but can also seem so blind to opposing opinions on other topics where Jesus also has a great deal to say. In other words, why do I and everyone else seem to cherry pick what we want out of Scripture?

I should preface that I write all of this about myself first and foremost. Some of the things I say may make people upset. It’s not my intention. I know it might bother some people. It bothered me as well. The truth can do that though. The truth can be uncomfortable.

Deny everything you are. That is the overall message here. We often look at this in the negative. Deny worldly pleasure, deny your sinful ways, and deny the things that would make you a “bad person.” This is definitely a primary view of what Jesus is saying. He is talking about dying to the old self. However, where things get complicated is the parts of our old self that still seem to be very good. There are parts of our old self that genuinely seem to mean well, and yet can still miss the big picture.

Everyone has that hill they are willing to die on. Many of these are good hills. Equality amongst sexes/races, the fight against poverty, love and tolerance towards opposing views, the safety of unborn children, freedom of religion, and a host of many others. Some might even have two or three hills they are willing to die on. Many of these hills can be supported through Scripture. We can have proclaiming Christians all standing on these different hills, and some willing to fight each other to protect their individual hill. This is how we get people so worked up over injustice through racism, and yet defend a woman’s right to abort her unborn child. This is why we can get people so willing to fight for the life of that unborn child, but hesitate to do anything for a young child living in incredibly poor circumstances. There are plenty of examples beyond this.

This problem does not encompass every single person of course. However, it has easily been true of me at times, and my guess is there are others who would be surprised to find it describes themselves as well. We mean well. The hills we are fighting on are a good hill to be a part of. They become a part of our identity. I am a Christian that fights for “fill in the blank.”

Jesus gives us a description. “You are my follower.” That’s it. I often say while defending my hill that I am a follower of Christ in those moments, but when I look around me I realize that I am not fighting on Christ’s hill. I am fighting on my own hill. My own little kingdom is what I am defending. Christ tells us to forget our own little hills. Instead we are called to come fight on His mountain. This mountain happens to include a lot of these hills we are fighting on. The problem is it also might include some hills that we are fighting against in favor of our own hill.

It is tempting to read verses like this while thinking of those other hills. It is easy to think Jesus is talking about those other people who have missed the things I fight for. When I do that I have missed the point. In this moment while reading these verses the only person Christ is speaking to is me. WHen I read these verses he is not calling those that come to my mind to deny themselves. He is calling me out. He is telling me to pick up my cross. He is telling me to die deny myself. He is telling me to die so that I can live.

He doesn’t want part of me. He wants everything. He doesn’t want my voice to speak out against one form of instance. He wants me to speak out against all injustice. He doesn’t want my hands to perform my work. He wants my hands to perform His work. He doesn’t want my feet to take my message. He wants my feet to take His Gospel.

When I fight on my own hill I fail to see the big picture. I fail to see the other problems in the world that Christ still cares about. I fail to be a follow of Christ. I fail to deny my own agenda in favor of His work. It doesn’t include everyone. Many do deny themselves to follow Him, but it does describe some. It described Peter in the past. A man so willing to speak out and die on his own hill only to run away while forgetting Jesus teaching when it seemed everything was lost. It has certainly described me at times. I’m going to hop off my hill. It’s time to go climb a mountain.