Dear readers and perusers-
This blog will be paused this coming week for a time of mourning. My grandmother, Dorothy Bremerthon, went to be with Christ and my grandpa in glory. It has been a tough few days, but I know that she has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and now is beside the still waters and green pastures (as Psalm 23 comfortingly describes). But it still sucks. Prayers are appreciated for my family.
The Psalms helped all in the room centered on the covenant keeping faithfulness of the LORD, and Psalm 121 especially helped me.I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121
Grandma, rest in the peace of Christ our Savior.
I have found that in the times where things seem desperate and my heart is a bit downcast, it is in those moments that I am drawn to listen to myself. Listen to fear. Listen to doubts. I sit and listen to the chorus of voices that compete for my attention. It is in these times though that I need to listen to something else. I need to listen to a good word. Instead of listening to myself, I need to talk to myself. Stay with me on this.
SiftingPoint highlighted an excellent piece on this theme from Chris Poblete at Servants of Grace. When things get rough and life gets a bit weary, it is in these times that we need to hear from someone other than ourselves. It is in the moments of despair that I need to tell myself what I need to hear.
Let me ask you a question. If and when you sit idly by, what voice do you often hear inside of you? It’s usually the emo one, right? It’s the fear voice that tells you to get your life in order all at once or not at all. It doesn’t tell you to take one thing at a time and get your act together (fear is schizo like that, as Jon Acuff points out in START). It doesn’t tell you to start praying early in the morning, and then build in an exercise routine, and then add in healthier friendships. No, the voices are often crippling and destructive. That’s why we need purposeful words spoken into our own hearts.
Something that I use when I am down is to quote passages from the Psalms to myself. My Psalms class at Fuller Seminary convinced me that the Psalms are meant to be used as a prayer book for the people of God. The emotions, raw and real, are there and frequently touch on everything from joy to sorrow. It is in these personal times of preaching to myself that I am reminded who God is, what God has done, and what he has pledged to do.
Dear reader, when you get knocked down, look to the hills. For that is where your help will come from. It will come from the Delivering God himself.Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5
I have a confession.
When I’m rushed in my morning routine, I typically cut down my morning routine. I cut out the gym, writing, and a few other things out of my routine. But if I was honest, I would say that something more vital might be placed on the dusty bookshelf as I rush my way out the door for work. I put my prayer life on pause. Alright, that sounded too nice: I choose not to pray. (Ouch, that sounds really harsh!) I mean how important can it actually be?
According to Henri Nouwen (among others!), it’s pretty vital.
In The Way of the Heart, Nouwen expands on prayer by addressing what it is not and what it is meant to be.
Prayer is not a last ditch support system
Prayer is not a weakness, a support system for weaker men and women. It is not a last resort for people at the end of their rope. Though it might be a good place to start when you hit a dead end (I think about George Bailey’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life), prayer is a basis for all relationships. As Nouwen puts it, prayer is a creative contact with the source of all life.
Prayer grounds us
How do you picture God? Is he the cosmic fly swatter, a magical magician in the sky, or a wise sage? Nouwen would suggest that if we try and fit God into our own views, into our own preconceived idea of who God is, then our prayers will become warped. If the God of our prayers is “created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns” then we will indeed see it is a weakness, our last line of defense.
Think about it another way, if we come to God and create him in our mind to be something that he is not, then we will be disappointed every single time. Thinking about prayer as a last line of defense will simply lead to frustration and a Christian who might live more like an atheist than a Christ follower (since the person might believe in God, but is living as if he doesn’t exist until they hit rock bottom, see Craig Groeschel’s The Christian Athiest).
Prayer connects us
Prayer not only grounds us, but it also connects us with the author of a grander story. It grounds us in the reality of a relationship with the giver of life. Prayer is thinking and living in the presence of God. Certainly we ought to set aside time to pray, even when we have a full schedule. Martin Luther once remarked that he was going to have such a full day that he would start it off by spending the first two hours of it in prayer. Prayer is huge!
Prayer grounds us in the Kingdom of God and connects us with the mission of Jesus. In fact, Jesus himself often snuck away to pray. If the God-Man believed it was important, how much more important would it be for confessing followers of Jesus?
My challenge and encouragement is in your full days, take time to pray. Maybe you are so busy that you should heed Luther’s motto and spend the first hour or two in prayer. What say you? Care to join me?Photo credit: Leland Francisco via Compfight
What moves you?
Money? Sex? Power? A dream?
I wish I could say without the slightest hesitation that it is Jesus the Messiah. I wish that I could look you straight in the eye right now and tell you that my top desire is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Unfortunately, I know that this is not the case. I am a man who often wants to do X, but instead chooses to do Y instead. Can you relate?
This despair led me to the writings of Henri Nouwen. In case you haven’t been introduced to his works, Nouwen was a Catholic priest and prolific author of 40 books. I first encountered him in a class on Christian Spirituality at Fuller and his book The Way of the Heart about Silence & Solitude deeply influenced me. His constant reminder and example as a man of prayer is something I want to explore for the next few Wednesdays. The themes will come from a compiled book on Nouwen about prayer called The Only Necessary Thing.
Human beings desire something. We desire something special. St Augustine would write that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. What do you think about that?
Nouwen in The Only Necessary Thing would similarly suggest that we mainly desire communion (“union with”). Certainly, we look for union in many things, both good and bad. Whether in marriage, friendships, recognitions, or successes, we look to belong with something or someone.
Yes, desire is a good thing. Please don’t journey down the road of the Eastern mystics or Stoics that seek to remove desire. It is a natural thing that causes both immense pain and joy. Nouwen remarks that Jesus came to proclaim that “our desire for communion is not in vain, but will be fulfilled by the One who gave us that desire.” Perhaps Augustine was right. Maybe we do yearn for something more.
Nouwen makes the connection that the more we desire God and the more we pray (through living a prayerful life), the more we desire to pray. Just as there are vicious circles that lead people into bad habits, this pattern of prayer leading to more prayer is a victorious circle that lead people into a Kingdom building life.
Having discovered a desire to love God though will not just have us end there. No, it’s a love that needs to be cultivated. Like a rose garden, a marriage, or planted field, it needs to be tended daily. Nouwen would suggest that after we have found the treasure of God’s love, we are then put onto a new quest. It is a quest that will not be completed on our own terms though. We cannot just pray on our own time, and expect God to show up at 630AM every day. He could be trying to reach us at 11:05am, or perhaps 3:32pm, or 6:58pm. God is not a tame house cat, instead he is a lion like Aslan, one that is good but never safe.
“A truly spiritual life is life in which we won’t rest until we have found rest in the embrace of the One who is the Father and Mother of all desires.”
Sometimes life is not too clear. Sometimes we can’t see what is before us, and we don’t know how we’ll make it through the day, week, month, or year. In those times, I am reminded of the only thing I can do. All I can do is look to the hills, for God alone provides. As I wrote over at More Than A Beard last week, “sometimes we need to hold on to a confidence in God’s provision. This same God who brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt and the same God who raised Christ from the dead, this same God abides. He’s done it before, he’ll do it again.”
Dear reader, know that God provides even in the desert. And when things look the gloomiest, look to the hills. For it it the LORD who will light your lamp, he will lighten your darkness.
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent of being exact
in my explanations and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord.
– Thomas Aquinas
As you may or may not know, my wife and I have recently found ourselves journeying towards the Anglican tradition. Originally, I was invited by a seminary classmate to visit their Anglican church for a service. It only took a few visits until we were both hooked on the liturgical service and the constant immersion of the people of God into the story of the Kingdom.
One of the things I appreciated from this tradition is the emphasis on God’s Word as a part of one’s church life. We read four chunks of Scripture in the service from four different parts of Scripture, and we are encouraged to read four chunks of Scripture at home through the guidance of the Book of Common Prayer. With so many opportunities to be formed by the Word, one will find themselves soon caught up in the redemptive narrative of the Bible.
I have found that the above prayer of St. Patrick reflects this immersion in the narrative of God’s story. It is rooted deeply in the Psalms and it is founded in the goodness of God’s creation.
For the early Celtic Christians, God was near. The Trinitarian God that is revealed in the Bible could also be seen in creation. The Celtic cross that is so prevalent draws on this frame of reference. Scripture and creation are inextricably tied in this one form, as the roundness of the sun and the shape of the cross are etched together. The revelation of God that is described by Paul in Romans are tied in this symbol, since God is revealed in both nature and the Bible.
The psalmists are so confident in their God, even when things look dark, even when things look utterly hopeless. There was room still for God’s salvation, for he saved his people through the Exodus. He saved his people through invasions, famines, and slavery. And if God did it once, he can surely do it again. That’s why Patrick could arise each day and rely on the strength of God.
Please keep in mind though that Patrick was not more spiritually talented than you or I. No, he had to learn to trust in God. And through his experience, he was able to boldly proclaim the prayer above. He was able to arise each day because he knew the God who formed the foundations of the universe also formed him and cared for him.
I pray that we would rely on this sure foundation.
It’s that time of the year again, where Americans celebrate the 1/64th Irish blood in their veins with song, corned beef, and Guinness. So unless you find yourself in a Baptist, Pentecostal, or dry household, beer will likely be on tap.
In my own experience, I grew up in a dry household. Even though it was a dry household, I never received the impression that our family had a condemning view towards alcohol. With the exceptions of going to a San Diego Padres game and having the classic hammered fan yelling chants at the opposing team or spilling gross Miller or Bud Lite on us, I was never really exposed to it. In fact, I never thought too much about it until years later.
I recall in my recent Church History classes that it seemed as if the American Church (in all its iterations) developed a negative view of alcohol in the last century. It came about through the Progressive movement of the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century, where many people (including churches and Christians) tried to use the State to implement an ideal nation. Without getting into the politics of it all, it seems like that perception has never quite fully disappeared.
However, compare this American perspective with the Irish Christians of the olden days like St Brigid above. They were a different breed of Christians, a little bit lighter than the developing Roman Catholic Church. While there were deeply Trinitarian in their theology, they also saw God in the wild (but not in the pantheistic understanding). They were frequently seen as an ancient group that had a love of nature, since it reminded them of God’s goodness. They also loved stories, and they saw the connection between the secular and sacred. And to make the large leap into the future, the love of stories is usually connected with the pub and a hearty ale.
For those who are being shaped by the Word of Christ, I want to make clear statements that drunkenness, not necessarily drinking, is condemned in Scripture. So if you find yourself with a green beer in your hand this weekend, I hope you consume it responsibly. And with St. Brigid, raise a pint of ale to the King of Kings in preparation for the return of the King of Kings! Raise your Guinness, knowing that one day we will raise a glass with “Heaven’s family, drinking it through all eternity.”
“Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. Then everything in him that repels us falls away; we see him in all his destitution and need.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together
Think of that annoying person you cannot stand. (Hopefully my image didn’t pop into your head) Think of that person who drives you absolutely up the wall when they walk in the door or say something out loud.
Now with that person still in mind, can you pray for them? Can you say with a straight face that you wish them well and that you would hope for their redemption in Christ? It’s tough for me! But the counsel of Bonhoeffer in Life Together is different. He understood that even within a tight-knit Christian community there would still be personalities that would conflict and drama that would have to come forth. Life happens and people are not perfect.
To pray for someone, to really mean it, is not to passively tolerate that person. Instead, prayer is to bring that person into the presence of God. It is to see him or her as in need of grace and of in need of redemption. Bringing that person before God provides the opportunity to see that they are just like you and me, imperfect people who really need care. The cloud of dust that surrounds the person like Pig Pen from the Peanuts comic strip will begin to dissipate, as the true self emerges. The true self that they were delivered through the redeeming work of Jesus.
Please listen to me though, this does not mean that the praying one is superior to that person. Bringing that person to the Lord in prayer grants the other person the same right we have received, “to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”
Let’s try together this week to bring that person, the nemesis/stalker/harasser/annoyer, to Christ and ask that mercy would be shown. I know that it will be tough, but it’s certainly worth a try, wouldn’t you say?
(Part 2 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
Bonhoeffer viewed life differently. He saw that the core of ones faith was found in being steeped in God’s Word. Being rooted in the word shaped the day for the family and individual. He advocated in “Life Together” to have a dedicated time of song, Scripture, and prayer for the community. Since, in his mind, the family was the core, they should as a whole be formed together.
One of the points that I found interesting is Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the Psalter. The Book of Psalms acted as a prayer book for the people, expressing emotions across a wide space of time. Through the praying and chewing of these psalms he has found that it is Jesus himself praying through them. “The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word. He prayed the Psalter and now it has become his prayer for all time.”
Through these ancient prayers, we learn what prayer means (standing on his Word and promises), what we should pray (moving in the emotions of the Psalter), and it teaches us to pray as a fellowship (praying together the same words, across space and time). Bonhoeffer is very encouraging in this. Praying the psalms teaches us how to pray, and the more we grow in this aspect, “the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”
Reading the Biblical books from front to back will confront the reader. It will put themselves into where God has “acted once and for all for the salvation of men.” Why should we do this? Because Scripture teaches us about ourselves. It will help steer us through the chaotic waters of life and will help correct our hearts when they stray. “It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s word.”
Prayers, songs, and readings must abound to form our lives in a world that is so influencing. We are so shaped by constant advertisement that the community of faith needs another influencing factor in their lives. Bonhoeffer’s response is that we need to be shaped by a whole host of things, highlighting church service, work, eating, and more into play.
For Bonhoeffer, it seemed like all of life was under the rule and reign of Jesus. “Thus every word, every work, every labor of the Christian becomes a prayer.” Everything, even sleep, can be done with our focus on God in Christ. Life Together is found by being united in Jesus and enjoying him through fellowship with others.
How have you been encouraged in community?
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Have you ever waited for something? Have you ever sat in your chair, waiting for something to come to fruition? A flight to board, a proposal for marriage, a job offer, or a long expected call from a friend? Unless your superhuman power is patience, most of us get a little weary from the waiting game.
Now with that impatience in mind, let’s turn to the song above. Israel was under domination for years. They experienced empire after empire, new king after new king as they waited. They waited under the rule of foreign leaders. Just imagine being promised liberation for years and it never comes to fruition. Revolutions failed and freedom fighters lost their battles, and you were still in your occupied homeland. Then finally, at just the right time, a prophet was born. This above song came from Zechariah, a priest who fathered John the Baptizer. John would be the one who would go before the Messiah, he would prepare the way “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” John would prepare the way for the one who would give light to those sitting in darkness and guide those to the way of peace.
Read over those verses again, waiting for the long expected Messiah. Waiting for your issues to be resolved. Bring those things to God. Bring those frustrations to him. Light a candle and pray to him, bringing those longings to God in an open and honest way.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
What have you been waiting for?