Be Careful What You Pray for (and other random thoughts)…

I haven’t blogged in a while. My “blogging” had become little more than a regurgitation of sermons I was preaching, and well, honestly, that seemed like a waste of time, so I let it go. Maintaining margin in life demands that we must let go of some things. Posting an edited sermon (though it didn’t take a lot of time) was one of those things I could let go without affecting too much else. But…

Since I haven’t “blogged” in a while, a lot of random thoughts have just sort of piled up, so anyone reading this will get my thought vomit as I use today’s blog for what blogging was supposed to be in the beginning–a journal. Speaking of journaling, I used to be an avid journaler. Not so much anymore. Since I started a job in the “real world,” I find it difficult to find the time to journal like I once did. It makes me appreciate in a much deeper way those persons who do live in the rhythm of a regular spiritual discipline. Cudo’s to you, I say!

Okay, so random thought number one is to confess that I found it easier to establish a pattern of spiritual discipline when I was serving in vocational ministry. I’m not sure if that is because I had more time (I seriously doubt it), or I made more time (out of guilt or a sense of duty), or if I was simply more in-tune to the Spirit and that brought intentionality. Whatever the motivation then, I am challenged more to find and/or make the time to practice the spiritual disciplines.

One spiritual discipline that I haven’t relinquished is prayer. I still pray…a lot. One thing I’m praying for even in this moment is for my friends and former colleagues in Southwest Louisiana. They have been hit hard over the past several hours with rain and tornadoes. Of course, that rain and those tornadoes is on top of the hurricanes from last year from which people are still recovering. I pray for strength and hope to fill their hearts and lives, and for the merciless insurance companies to discover some amount of mercy as flood waters recede and recovery begins.

Speaking of prayer. Yesterday, I prayed what I thought to be a bold prayer–“I’m broken…Lord, break me more.” I suppose this is confession number two, but I’ve been a bit spiritually broken lately. I won’t bore you with details, but there has been a bit of unsettledness in our lives as of late, and that unsettledness has caused me to question the Lord on not a few occasions. I have dealt with some anger. I have dealt with some doubt. I have dealt with some confusion, and if I’m being totally honest, I’ve dealt with some fear, too. I just sort of laid that out before the Lord and said, “I’m broken.” Immediately, I knew my prayer had to be, “Lord, break me more.”

Well, be careful what you pray for!

Here’s what I heard in reply:

“You know, Lynn, one of your problems is that you are confusing your wants and your needs. What you want is for Me to be an add-on to your self-centered life, but what you need is for Me to totally eradicate your self-centeredness. You also know that if I give you what you need, it’s going to be painful, and I know you really don’t like pain that much. So, as long as you waver between what you want and what you need, you’re going to continue to be unsettled. When you’re ready, I’ll give you what you need. That, too, may be unsettling, but you’ll have peace, and that’s really what you’re lacking right now.”

“What you want is for Me to be an add-on to your self-centered life, but what you need is for Me to totally eradicate your self-centeredness.”

So, as is always the case, one prayer leads to another, and today my prayer has become, “Lord, give me peace.” Confession number three, I’m a little afraid of how He will answer that prayer, too. In some ways, I feel a little like Sonny (played by Robert Duvall) from the film “The Apostle.” I said in some ways I feel like Sonny…not all ways, but I do want to shout out “Give me peace! Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me!” If you want to see what I mean, you can watch it here.

So, I’m going to just leave it there for now. It might give you pause for contemplation. And besides, that’s about all the random thoughts I can handle for now.

Until next time, keep looking up…

I Have My Doubts…

I think we’re in a bit of a double bind. You know what a double bind is, right? A double bind is a situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action. Our double bind comes because we’re being told we must “listen to the experts.” Well, which experts would that be? The ones who tell us we must remain in lock down due to the Coronavirus, or those who tell us we have to open the economy to prevent the collapse of our economy? I suspect which expert we chose to listen to has much to do with which side of the political aisle we occupy. I’ll confess that I have my doubts about the experts on either side, but that’s probably just a result of my natural cynicism.

Doubting Thomas

Of course, I’m not the first person to play the cynic and express my doubts. I’m remembering the Apostle Thomas this week after Easter. John relates the story in his gospel (John 20: 24 – 29) that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas wasn’t present. The disciples told Thomas about the encounter, but Thomas said, “I’ll believe it when I see it” (the Lynn paraphrase). Thomas had his doubts, too. I’m feeling like I’m in pretty good company.

We just don’t expect dead people to live again. Why do we suspect it was any different in the 1st century? Doubting Thomas? Surely it would be doubting Lynn, too, if I were in Thomas’s shoes. I think Thomas has been the scapegoat for the church and everyone else who ever said doubt was wrong, or that it is somehow unfaithful to need a sign, or a vision, or a personal encounter.

Why can’t we ask the hard questions without being labeled a cynic, a skeptic, or worse, a hater? Are questions bad? Is there something wrong with admitting we don’t understand everything? Is it wrong to ask God to clarify a few things? I hope not! Think about Job. Job had questions. And the Psalms are full of questions, uncertainties, and not a few complaints. Even Jesus, hanging on the cross, asked the question of the ages, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thomas is just the next in a long line of faithful folks who raised their voices to ask God hard questions.

Faith is Hard

Thomas’ undeserved reputation notwithstanding, I learn two important lessons from his encounter. Lesson one: Doubt is a testimony to the difficulty of faith. It’s just hard to believe. Faith takes work, and honestly, sometimes I’m just too lazy to believe. Faith takes work because it puts us in uncomfortable places and begs us to ask tough questions. Genuine faith says it is okay for us to ask questions of God.

Faith is when we are willing to embrace the doubts, ask the questions, and face the answers. Jesus knew faith in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there he was willing to say, “If…” And, on the cross, too. The Apostle Paul knew faith on the Damascus Road and in a Roman prison. They knew, and I learn, that faith is believing something that is totally beyond my comprehension, but being unafraid to try to believe it anyway. Jesus could say from the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Paul could say, “Your grace is sufficient for me.”

The Christian faith is not some cut-and-dried faith. Faith in Jesus Christ cannot be reduced to a set of rules, where everything fits, where everything makes sense, where all we have to do is connect the dots. That’s what the Pharisees tried to do. They had to explain everything in a formula; to make all life so that it could be answered by a set of rules, and if it didn’t fit within that hard and fast set of rules, it was rejected as heresy or blasphemy. Well, Jesus didn’t fit within their set of rules, and look what happened to him. Consequently, their eyes and their hearts were closed to the very thing God was doing in their midst. They were blind to the miracle standing right in front of them.

Sometimes, our faith will ask us to look outside the box; to color outside the lines, and believe some things that the rest of the world says are ridiculous. Some things like believing a virgin could have a baby (I believe that!), or that God and man could live in one person (I believe that, too!), or that Jesus would die for the sins of the world (and I believe that one, too!), or that Jesus could actually rise from the dead (we all better believe that one). Our faith may ask us to do things that the world says are pointless, and that will be hard work, indeed. That work will raise a few doubts, but the doubts will testify that faith is no easy thing.

Faith is an Encounter

Lesson two: Faith begins with an encounter. Like Thomas, until we see the risen Lord ourselves we can’t believe. Until we see Christ, the resurrection is about as silly as seeing Elvis at the convenience store, but a personal encounter with Jesus changes all that. When we encounter Jesus personally, the lines of our lives get blurry. The line between believing and not believing, and the line between life and death are suddenly crossed. Those lines once seemed so absolute. When I meet Jesus…not so much, anymore.

Thomas’ story is ultimately a miracle of faith. His mind was opened and his heart swelled with the words, “My Lord and my God!” All because he had a personal encounter with Jesus. Without the personal encounter with the risen Lord, Thomas would have continued to wallow around in his own doubt. At best, he would have been stuck in a world where the rules cling only to those things which are possible.

Do you know the difference in Thomas and the other disciples? Thomas was a week late, that’s all. The other disciples needed a personal encounter with Jesus as much as Thomas did. Remember, they were hiding in a locked room, cowering in fear of the Jewish leaders when Jesus first appeared to them. They were just as afraid and doubtful as Thomas ever was. Faith and understanding began only after Jesus made himself personally known to them.

That’s true for us, too. We remain in our own cynical, skeptical little world until Jesus breaks through the door of our locked hearts. There’s the miracle in all this: Jesus searches us out and finds us, even when we don’t want to be found. We can lock ourselves away from the world, we can lock out the Good News, but Jesus, if he wants us, breaks through that door. We Wesleyans like to call that prevenient grace.

No Second-hand Jesus

If a stone couldn’t keep Jesus in a tomb, I don’t think a wooden door was going to keep him from getting to the disciples with the Good News of his resurrection. We all need a personal encounter with Jesus Christ before we can declare, “My Lord and my God!” A second-hand Jesus just won’t do.

Encountering Christ was simple enough for Thomas. Jesus was right there. He’s right here, too. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon those first disciples. He breathes the Holy Spirit on us, too. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus present with us today. The Holy Spirit is present in our worship. The Bible says God inhabits the praise of His people. When we praise God, He is present and we encounter Him. Through music, through the Bible, through study and prayer, we encounter the One who was raised from the dead because he has given us His Spirit to know He is here. And, we encounter Him every time we receive the Lord’s Supper or participate in the sacrament of baptism.

If others are to encounter Jesus they will encounter him through us. That’s why evangelism is so important. We have to leave our locked little worlds and share the story of the resurrected Christ with others. The world will have their doubts, but others will not know Jesus apart from us. They will encounter Jesus when they  see him alive in us, when they see the way he loves them through us, when they see the way we respond to those in need, when they see the way we care for all that God has entrusted to the church. We give others a first-hand encounter of the risen Lord, and that is where faith begins.

I will probably continue to have my doubts about all these experts and the Coronavirus, and I’ll just be skeptical and continue to ask questions, but one thing I’ll never doubt is Jesus, and His love for me. That’s one doubt we all need to reconcile.

Until next time, keep looking up…