Grace

Prayer for the Church

As election day is upon us in the midst of a pandemic and turmoil among neighbors, I remain hopeful that Jesus is refining his church and calling us deeper into kingdom life with him. This is my prayer.

Lord we have come to a near end of the political drama of our age. A place so many of us have looked for meaning and purpose. As we move beyond it, bring us to repentance for the idolatry in each of our hearts. Give us a clearer vision of what it means to live loving our neighbors and our enemies for your glory and our good. Teach us to love as you have loved us.

Make the church passionate about life, from conception to natural death. That we would recognize your image in those we once thought less than us. That we would have a heart for the least and learn to sacrifice ourselves for them, that they might meet you.

Jesus grow your church, in depth of trust in you. In understanding of your preeminence and sovereignty over all things. Help us to trust that you really do hold all things together by the power of your word.

May this moment keep us spiritually poor in spirit. That we would never grow older than you, always knowing our need for you, your grace, and your power to live. Make us hungry for more of you and your righteousness. That we would ache for your glory to fill the globe as the waters do the sea.

Father bring renewal to the faithful remnant as we seek you, surrender ourselves, and determine to live only for you. Give us an awakened sense of living is Christ and dying is gain. You alone are our hope, security, and provision. May your name be glorified in us. Now, and forevermore, amen.

Discipleship, Grace

Being Direct

As the earth seems to crumble, and the structures we have built up to carry us through seem to teeter under the weight of a global pandemic, environmental disaster, and political upheaval, each of us is being stretched and made to bend in difficult ways.

I have spent a lot of breath on calling my friends, family, and church to be sure not to waste the pandemic but come through it in such a way that it is clear they have been with Jesus. That’s what we all want isn’t it? At least those of us who call Jesus savior! But more than mere exhortation away from waste of time and energy on things temporary, I also believe we each need spurs, those that can speak directly to us and tell us the truth when we are blinded by bias and a cherishing of self over all things.

To that end, this morning I had a direct conversation with a member of our church. Now, I don’t think I am known for sugar-coating things, and have always attempted to be forthcoming and direct. Today was no exception, although I am not sure he appreciated by directness.

As a pastor that will stand before Jesus and give an account of how I cared for his flock, I take the task seriously and I couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer. As I have watched this guy interact (or refuse to) over the last six months I have had an increasing unease about where he has been placing his hope and the things he was valuing.

So I told him. I let him know that I was concerned that he had been missing, intentionally, the biblical call to “love one another” in the church and the way he was putting his preference before the value of the body of believers was sinful. He has essentially been speaking with his actions that the church is not worth sacrificing for and participation was only worthwhile when his pet-opinions were highlighted over everyone else’s.

But there was more. I also told him that I was convinced he had zero positive influence with his neighbors because of the way he condescends to those holding differing political views. I told him I thought the candidate he supports is actually an anti-Christ and I gave Scripture to show it. That didn’t land as well as it should have but it is true.

What’s more, I told him that it was clear his wife and kids were merely floating along in the cultural river of fear, gossip, conspiracy, and intrigue because he refused to show them Jesus in meaningful ways. No husband or father likes to hear that he is failing to lead spiritually but sometimes we have to face the truth.

By this point in the conversation I am pretty sure he was more prepared to fight than break down in tears admitting his fault in repentance. Shoot, I was ready to fight. This guy has been pissing me off and I am pretty sure he has even been badmouthing me to others.

Rather than press further into his faults, I looked him the eyes as best I could and told him that he was exactly who Jesus decided to spend his life for. That even in all of these failed opportunities, in his political idolatry, in his obsession with gun rights and mask-wearing, Jesus took on the cross for him. All of those things could never cloud his Savior’s love for him and universe bending desire for his heart.

As best I could, I relayed to this guy that Jesus’ approval of him was not determined or diminished because he had focused on other things. That Christ’s work truly was finished and from that work now he could live with hope, joy, and purpose far better than all those temporary things. I told him that he was forgiven and made the righteousness of God by the God-man willingly becoming sin for him.

That seemed to be what he needed to hear. And at that moment we took a deep breath and prayed that Jesus would forgive us of the way we have let distractions get in the way this year (he is quick to forgive!), asking for strength to choose what is right and pure and glorifying to Christ, that he would be transformed all the more by the grace of Jesus for him.

I raised a hearty “amen” and mentioned how it was God’s loving kindness that brings us to repentance, and because that’s true we could be honest about our sin and selfishness. Jesus loves us still.

Then I got up from my chair and started on the list of tasks set for the day. You see, the member of our church was me. I needed some direct talk and a thick application of the gospel of grace. I won’t always get things right, but Jesus will keep me.

And friend, he will keep you too. You are probably getting a lot of things wrong right now and wasting energy on things that don’t matter. Know that Jesus loves you still. He frees you by his grace to cling to what is good. And he will carry you all the way home. Turn to him. Smile and get on with the day.

And if all else fails, just give me a call and I will be as direct with you as I can!

Book Review

Worth Reading: The Possibility of Prayer

John Starke’s latest offering, The Possibility of Prayer, is already in my shortlist for best book of the year for followers of Jesus. It comes at an appropriate time – there is demand for understanding rhythms of life lived in response to Jesus and an increasing pull toward spiritual direction – and it serves the needs of the church.

The book is clear and never drags on. In fact I felt invited further in with each chapter. Starke shares his own experience but not as one who has it all figured out but one on the same journey as you, leaning into life of contemplation and prayer.

This book actually does better in my opinion than the recent tranche of books on hurry and slowing down. Starke rightly orients the desires to solve those things with the gospel and a life in response to it. There is abundant grace on these pages and whether you count yourself as a prayer warrior or prayer novice, this is for you and will enrich you in your walk.

Here are some choice quotes from the book:

“The witness of Christian history is that the ambitious need quiet hearts. We need ancient paths for our modern, busy lives that teach us to be settled with God in an unsettling world.”

“When we pray, we come with Christ into the mountain-melting presence of God. He is more intensely and densely real than anything else. This is not a god of religious experiences or a god to be manufactured for trivial comfort. He is ultimate reality. He is the God of all being. He is the God who confronts Moses at the burning bush, saying, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground….I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:5, 14).”

“If we come to the Bible and read it on its own terms, it will divide our hearts, separating us from our lusts and false loves. If we come to commune with God in his presence, we must be prepared for pain. He shows us where our hearts are in conflict with his heart, and he will bum away the chaff and purify us.”

“The practice of prayer consists of primary rhythms (communion, me meditation, and solitude), and secondary rhythms (Sabbath resting, fas ting and feasting, and corporate worship). The word secondary shouldn’t communicate “optional” or even “supplemental.” Just as faith without works is dead and love without truth is trivial, primary and secondary rhythms of prayer depend on one another for vibrancy and life. Our personal times of communion, meditation, and solitude are enhanced by the regular rhythms of Sabbath rest, fasting and feasting, and corporate worship. And our rhythms of Sabbath rest, fasting and feasting, and corporate worship are deepened by our personal habits of communion, meditation, and solitude. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder!”

“The individualistic streak in American Christianity balks at the importance of corporate worship. “As long as my relationship with Jesus is good, I’m good, we say. But the New Testament doesn’t allow for that. The more we are alienated from other Christians, the more we will be alienated from Christ himself. It’s a mystery, but that’s how God has put it all together. We simply cannot depend on a personal prayer life for a healthy spiritual life or even an adequate one. Without other Christians and the experience of worshiping with them on a regular basis, our personal prayer lives will suffer. We need corporate worship. We need to gather regularly with other Christians to sing, pray, read, and hear God’s Word, to receive the Lord’s Supper, and to be sent back into the world full of peace and good news.”

Find the book for yourself here.