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.

What’s in a Name?

A couple of months ago I was working my way through the book of Ruth. It’s an interesting book. It is strategically placed after the book of Judges. It takes the gloom and despair of the end of Judges, and points to a solution to all the ugliness that Israel is facing.

It is a book of names. Names tell stories. They can tell an audience something about the person. The book of Ruth is full of names. The names themselves tell a story. This time I was drawn to Naomi. I went into the books remembering her story. This was a woman so discouraged by the way her story was turning out that she demanded her name be changed. “Call me Mara.” The name alone tells a story. This woman is bitter. Everything she cares about has been taken. She believes her story is coming to an end. The only details left are just more death, more depression, and more bitterness. The reader almost begins to wonder if the end we experienced in Judges is only destined to continue on a downward spiral.

If you have read the book of Ruth you will likely already remember everything up to this point. There was a detail I could not remember that pushed me to look at things from a different lens. Naomi requests to be call Mara in verse 20 of the first chapter. Two verses later she is referenced again by the narrator. He does not call her Mara. He still calls her Naomi.

That moment hit me. As I read through the book I realized that she is never again referenced as Mara. She is never referenced for the bitterness she experienced. It’s almost as if God was unwilling to acknowledge her change. This is His story, and He wasn’t finished yet. It may seem hard now, but God’s not done. It may seem like there is a wasteland, but it does not go on forever.

I have never tried to change my name. I have never demanded that I be called bitter, hate, anger, fear, depression, loneliness, or anxiety. There have been moments where I feel my story is defined by those words. We may not change our names, but we often do the same thing Naomi tried to do in those moments. We try and redefine our life. We try and determine our identity off of one part of our story rather than waiting to see what the next act brings.

I try and live my life differently. The world is bound to bring up opportunities to be bring us down. It can determined to convince us that we cannot focus on the beauty it brings. The ugly moments can so easily crowd out anything that is good and worthy of this world. I know this is a reality my kids will face to. This is how I want to live my life, and this is how I wish to raise them. I want them to understand that there is a key element to the moments we most desire to change our names. There is often a new act coming up where God reminds us why we have the name we do. Naomi called herself Mara for the bitterness she experienced. By the end God reminded her why her name was always meant to be Naomi. It was always meant to be what is lovely.

Teach Them Everything

I have been thinking back on the Great Commission lately. It is one of those passages where you hear it so often that everything just sort of bleeds together. Every now and then there is something that peaks your interest. A word that was always there, but you never really bothered to recognize before. Jesus tells his followers to go make disciples. He also tells them to teach these new believers. We are called to teach all that Jesus commanded. Everything. Leave nothing out. That little word “all” seems to get lost in the shuffle for me, and I genuinely believe this is a common occurrence for most people.

We see it most clearly in the love vs, truth debate. Jesus tells us to love sinners. Some focus so heavily on this aspect that they only use their own definition of love. Love in these situations apparently means we should never risk offending, changing, and preaching to the person.

Then you have the truth side to the argument. Some can fall so far on this side of the spectrum that they become like Paul writes about love. If we preach but have no love we are a clanging symbol. It is just noise. Noise without soul. Noise without purpose. It is just words without any effect on the person.

Christ says to follow all of it. It is this strange balance that Christ always represented in his ministry. A clear example is of the adulterous woman. To the Biblical scholars in the room, please hang in there with me despite the questions of whether or not this story was written in the original text. Too often we use that argument to try and take away the love focused crowds favorite passage when there is clearly no real reason to. All that needs to be done is point out that they stop the story short. We fail to see the big picture.

We have all heard the story. There is a woman caught in adultery. The men gathered around tell Jesus it is time to stone her. Jesus gives the famous line. “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” Everyone except Jesus leaves. He is left standing there in front of this woman. What a powerful message of love and tolerance some will say. What beauty to not condemn the woman in her vulnerability. Jesus then says these words after pointing out to the woman that her executioners are gone “Go and sin no more.” Truth. Jesus spoke truth in those moments.

This begs the question, why tell her to stop sinning? Jesus also taught about judgment. We see this tenderness, patience, and mercy in his ministry, but he acknowledges that there will come a point where judgment takes place. Take hold of the mercy provided to you now, and use it to follow me. Deny yourself. Deny your sin. Deny everything that is holding you back from being what I have created you to be, and follow me completely.

The problem with the accusers in the story is not that they acknowledged the woman was sinful. The problem was that they were prepared to cast out the sentencing on their own terms. Jesus says wait. Show love. Show compassion. Use this as an opportunity to change her life. She doesn’t have to live in adultery anymore. Yes, judgment will come. The tie is limited, but I pick and choose the time.

Here is the neat thing about love the way Jesus teaches it. It calls out to people to change their lives. It demands action. That is why it is so hard for some people to take. They know when they are experiencing genuine love from God’s people that it shows what is missing in their own life. Love taught by Christ will inherently demand there is truth spoken as well. It will require pointing out that there is sin out there. There are people who are rebelling against God, but it is not for the purpose to call out judgment. The purpose is to avoid receiving that judgment.

We rob ourselves and others of only teaching specific elements of what Christ taught. It is all well and good to love someone for who they are, but imagine how much more impactful you can be if you love them in a way that points them to the opportunity for change. God tends to use passionate people. He uses people who have been broken by their own sin. He uses people who are damaged. He uses people who have a past. This is because those passionate for themselves can be equally as passionate for him when they change. The broken can relate to the broken. Those with a past can be a testimony to God’s grace.

We teach them everything. All of it. We don’t leave any of it out. This isn’t a choose your own adventure. It is a packaged deal. It is all or nothing.