Always Beginning

Beginning to Pray book and coffeeIt’s usually not a good thing to constantly feel like a beginner. After all, who wants to be a beginner forever. That would be kind of like staying in Kindergarten forever. I want to always be going deeper into whatever I’m learning. But, there’s one subject of which I’ve figured out I will always be a beginner – prayer, and so will you. However, being a beginner at prayer is a good thing. Let me tell you why.

Admitting we’re always a beginner at prayer puts us in good company. I believe it was Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta who said, “I will forever be a novice, in the school of prayer.” In his book, Beginning To Pray, Archbishop Anthony Bloom, of blessed memory, speaks to the beginning of prayer as always beginning our relationship with God.

“We should rather think in terms of an increasing progression from depth to depth, from height to height, whichever formula you prefer, so that at every step we already possess something which is rich, which is deep, and yet always go on to longing for and moving towards something richer and deeper… God gives us so much, we are so rich intellectually and emotionally, our lives are so full that we imagine that there can be nothing more than this, that we have found fulfillment and wholeness, that we have reached the end of our search. But we must learn that there is always more.” (pages 39-40)

Sadly, many Christians see prayer as some mechanical thing to do, especially when they’re in need. They miss the whole point of prayer. God doesn’t need our prayers, nor does He care what words we use, if any (Though for our sake, our words are important). Real prayer is a privilege, not a “have to”. Real prayer is seeking union with God. As our creator, He knows us intimately. There’s nothing we could tell Him that He doesn’t already know, yet He invites us to come to Him in prayer. Why? Because He loves us and wants to transform us into His likeness in ever-increasing measure.

Won’t you join me in Kindergarten again? Let’s re-enroll in the school of prayer. Two textbooks you’ll want for this class are the Bible, and Beginning To Pray, which you can buy here. It’s a classic. I can’t stop reading it and I know you’ll find it captivating as well. In future posts I’ll be discussing some of the points made in the book in more detail. Until then, let us begin…

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

P.S. I’d be honored if you pre-order my newest book, A PRESENCE IN THE DARKNESS: Finding Hope in Death. It’s a book to help us deal with many difficult feelings about life and death we all have to work through. And, it’s 25% on orders through Nov. 30 and I’ll send you a signed copy when pre-ordered here. Orders will ship media mail on or about December 1, 2017. Thanks for reading!paperbackbookstanding_849x1126

Don’t Bother Me With the Facts

 

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 

John 9:39

Read John 9:18-41

Foghorn Leghorn“I say, I say, don’t bother me with the facts son, I’ve already made up my mind.” A bit of wisdom from one of my favorite cartoon characters, Foghorn Leghorn. It also sounds a lot like the Pharisees in their discourse with the blind man whom Jesus healed in John chapter nine. Have you ever been so sure you were right about something, you knew there was no way you were wrong, only to find out later you were? Me too. On little things, it really isn’t that big a deal. We’re all wrong at times, and it’s important that we admit it; that’s how we learn. But, on the big order questions of life – it matters.

The Leaders of the Jews were convinced they were right about Jesus; they had Him all figured out. In their mind, there was no way He was from God. In fact, they thought Jesus was from the Devil (Matt. 12:24), but they couldn’t have been more wrong. As they grilled the blind man, who was healed (John 9:18-41) about Jesus’ origins, the Pharisees couldn’t accept that He was from God. The healed man was amazed at their blindness (John 9:30). How could they not know He was from God? No one in the history of the world ever gave sight to someone born blind.

Lent is a great time to discover new truth about ourselves, and about God. Through the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting, God will open our hearts and minds to new knowledge of Him, as He draws us deeper into the Spirit-filled life. However, all that fasting and prayer won’t make a bit of difference unless we can be taught. Are you open to being taught?

Each Lenten season the Father shows me new areas of life in which He wants me to improve. Sometimes the learning process feels like a fire that burns away at me; other times it’s more like a flood about to overwhelm me. It’s in those feelings of being overwhelmed that I must learn not react defensively with God. If I really want to know I’m right, I must admit when I’m wrong, even though it hurts,

Most of the Jewish leaders couldn’t admit they were wrong about Jesus. They couldn’t admit their blindness. They were convinced they could see him clearly, and that’s why they were lost.

“Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

What about you? Are you too stubborn to admit your wrong, even in the face of overwhelming facts? Let God renew your heart by opening your eyes as you prepare for the miracle of Easter. Don’t be like my friend Foghorn. At the end of each episode, it never worked out for him. His stubbornness was his undoing. We laugh at cartoons, but this is real life. You can get a lot of things wrong in life, and still be okay. But, on the big order questions of life, if you get Jesus wrong…your eternity may hang in the balance. 

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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A Heart of Perfect Peace

 

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

Read Proverbs 4

Heart graffitiI always thought grief was the range of emotions people went through after the death of loved one, or a traumatic loss. I couldn’t imagine that I was in grief. After all, it was eight months already since my brother died so, I didn’t think it was from that. Yet, I couldn’t explain my feelings. I had had my heart defibrillator for about a month when the feelings began.

Have you ever had feelings of emotional pain for what you think you’ve lost, but really, you haven’t lost anything? Our hearts lead our feelings; Proverbs 4:23 tells us everything we feel flows from it. My heart was impaired. Wow, it was even painful for me to say those words. Nothing hurts like a broken heart. That’s the premise of almost every good Country and Western song, right? Of course, those songs are talking about a metaphorical broken heart. But, what about when your heart begins to hurt physically? Can’t that mess with your mind too? You bet it can.

During Lent, we intentionally spend greater time in prayer, meditation and fasting to grow stronger spiritually as we get closer to Christ. The closer we grow to Him, the more the hidden desires of our hearts are revealed. Do we really want His will for our lives? What about what we’ve always wanted for our lives? And how about this one? Doesn’t the Bible say, “…He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) Yes it does. But, that is a promise only to those who “delight” themselves in the Lord.

To delight oneself in the Lord is to want for our lives, whatever He wants. If that means we must go through hard times and tragedies, we can rest knowing that while Jesus didn’t cause them, He will help us learn from them. The difficulties of life are either the result of our own making, or the consequence of living in a fallen world. Such difficulties leave us with wounded hearts. But, when we bring our hearts to Christ, He is always faithful to renew them. We must always surrender our hearts to whatever Jesus wants for our lives – no matter what.

In my case, I was depressed thinking of what I thought I’d lost, because I had to have a small electrical machine wired to my heart to keep it safe from its own genetic defect. Would I ever be the same again? Would I be able to play with my kids? And, what about growing old with my wife and being active for the grandkids I hoped to have some day? The doctor never told me I’d be missing out on any of those things. I assumed them. Like many of us, I assumed the worst.

I knew something was wrong with my feelings. I knew in my faith I should have peace of heart, but I didn’t. With the help of a new friend I met that year (Who was going through the same thing), I began to realize I was grieving. I feared accidentally doing something too strenuous for my heart that would cause my defibrillator to shock me. Of course, I knew that if I were shocked, that meant I’d have been dead without it. Suddenly I felt so mortal. What if it shocked me while I was driving, or perhaps while preaching? Our minds can conjure up all kinds of worries. But, once I admitted I was grieving for things I hadn’t even lost yet, I began to deal with it.

What about you? Are you grieving for something you haven’t even lost yet? Don’t let your heart hurt over things you can’t control. Jesus wants to bring peace to your heart. The prophet Isaiah promised the peace of Christ to all who will trust Him:

Thou dost keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on thee,
because he trusts in thee.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord God
is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3,4

Won’t you renew your heart today by bringing all your cares to Him? Let Jesus give you a heart of perfect peace. Hearts of Perfect peace trust the keeper of their heart for everything. 

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Everyone Needs Heart Surgery

“The heart is deceitful above all things,

and desperately sick;

who can understand it?”

 

Jeremiah 17:9

Read Jeremiah 17

 

Heart-surgery-increases-death-risk-for-cancer-survivors-who-had-radiation-700x395I turned in my heart monitor thinking I would finally find out why my heart rhythms were so crazy. I had worn it for a week. Every time I felt some strange rhythms I had to push a button that would record what my heart was doing. Each day I had to upload the data to the Dr.’s office so they could monitor anything dangerous. My last upload was Monday night, and Tuesday noon I went to turn it in to the office. I couldn’t believe what they told me. “Everything looks okay. There are some arrhythmias but nothing bad.” There had to be more to the story.

Have you ever gone to the Dr. only to get an answer you just didn’t feel was right? “Oh well”, I thought. I’m not a doctor so I guess it is what it is –but it just didn’t seem right. My heart rhythms had often been so crazy I thought it was going to leap out of my chest, and I would get extremely light headed.

Lent is a great time for heart surgery. It seems every year, come Lent, I need surgery. Thankfully not the physical kind, but certainly the spiritual. Jesus said it’s out of our hearts that all bad things come (Matthew 15:19). Sin is always conceived in the heart before it ever becomes an action we commit. All the things I’ve said or done that I regret throughout the year seem to come to my mind as I begin a serious time of examining my conscience during the Lenten season.

The prophet Jeremiah, along with all the prophets, tried to get the people of Israel to examine their conscience, but they would not. Jeremiah announced to the people of Israel they all needed heart surgery. He said their hearts were sick (Jer. 17:9), and if they didn’t have heart transplant, they were going to die. God would bring judgment upon them for their following after foreign gods (Jer. 17:27).

Tuesday afternoon, right after I had told the staff that the Dr.’s office said everything was okay – my phone rang. It was the Dr. It seems I had uploaded that morning’s data just before I turned in the monitor and they hadn’t seen that data. Their diagnosis was based on the end of the day before. The Dr. said He scheduled me to have a defibrillator put into my heart the very next day.

All was not well. The problems I was experiencing showed up on that last data upload Tuesday morning; they were dangerous rhythms call, Ventricular Tachycardia. I was in great danger of sudden death if I didn’t have a defibrillator implanted. It would be like having my own electric heart paddles shocking my heart from the inside should it stop beating during one those tachycardia episodes.

The good news is that the very next day, I received a defibrillator to protect my heart from dangerous rhythms. But, that only works on my physical heart. My spiritual heart is always at risk. What about you? How’s your heart? Lent is a great time to have “spiritual” heart surgery. Think of it as a cardiac checkup. We’re always in need of renewing our hearts. The really good news is, our God is a specialist at heart transplants.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ez. 36:26

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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In the Blink of An Eye

Save me, O God, *
for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire, *
and there is no firm ground for my feet.

Psalm 69:1-2

Read psalm 69 

Lent.jpgIt was a hot afternoon and I had just finished playing Tennis with my Pastor. There was a family in the church who had a swimming pool and they had told him that he could use it any time. I told him I couldn’t swim, but he said I could just cool off in the shallow end. So, we went to the pool to relax and cool off. My Pastor got out of the pool and decided to lay in the sun for a while. I thought this would be a great time to practice my float on my back as I had in the swim lessons I’d taken about a year before. The next thing I knew, my life was literally flashing before my eyes.

In Psalm 69, we read words that are prophetic of Jesus as he endured the agony of torture and loneliness awaiting His crucifixion. His words cry out to the Father for salvation. He knows he will soon die, but the feeling of being surrounded by death was too much. The strength that led him on His journey to the cross now seemed gone – it seemed all that was left was death.

Our lives can feel overwhelmed before we know it, especially if we’re always acting strong for others and feel we have no one to reach out to with our own pain. Today is our third Friday since beginning Lent. Friday’s are a day for remembering the great sacrifice of the Cross that Jesus made for us. Today scripture speaks to us of the overwhelming circumstances of which may sometimes surround. As you read and pray, be real with Jesus. If you feel you have no one to turn to who understands what you’re going through, I guarantee you He does. You can cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

As I was practicing floating on my back in the pool that day, I somehow drifted out over the deep end. As an 18-year-old, I was afraid of the water. I never learned to swim, and had no confidence to put into practice the things I learned in my lessons. When I went to stand up there was no bottom for my feet. In a panic, I began flailing around for dear life, as they say.

man-struggling-in-waterIn that moment, in the blink of an eye, I went from calm and serene, to shear panic. My life literally flashed before my eyes. I thought this was the end. I was going to drown in that pool. But, my pastor was there. Surely, he would jump in and save me. I cried out to the Lord, “Save me O God! Don’t let me die like this!” Just then, my toes hit concrete and I could drag myself to the edge of the pool. There at the edge of the pool, standing down and looking in was my Pastor. He said, “Are you alright?”. The only thing I could manage to say between coughing up water was, “No, thanks to you! What happened to all that talk of laying down your life for a friend? You didn’t jump in to save me!” To which he said, “The way you were flailing around, you would have dragged us both down!”

Later I came to believe he wouldn’t have let me die – but it sure felt like it at the time. But, I know a God who never lets us down. He has promised to never leave us. I know He was in the pool with me that day, just like He was with Jesus in those long hours of agony. Yes, Jesus died, and one day we will too. But, on the third day, Jesus was raised to life never to die again. We too can live with the assurance of the Resurrection in the last day. Till then, we need not fear death…it is the doorway to everlasting life. 

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Confession Anyone?

confess-confession

‘Return, faithless Israel,
says the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
says the Lord;
I will not be angry for ever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
says the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 3:12-13

Read Jeremiah 3:6-18

“Confession is good for the soul”, so said a wise man. Have you ever done something wrong and regretted it? Of course, you have. We all have. Depending on how bad the wrong is we may even develop more than regret. We may develop a sick feeling inside. One of the most elementary truths of human nature is that when we do wrong, our conscience hurts. If we burry that hurt under a mountain of false feelings and try to forget it, it will only fester to the surface at some later point in time.

I think one of the reasons I love the season of Lent so much is that, to me, it’s like a 40-day confession. I want to spend each day considering my own sins and failures and asking the Lord not only to forgive me, but to cleanse me. And then, to uphold me with His righteousness to keep me from falling. The only way we can truly be prepared for the miracle of new life that comes at Easter, is to confess, repent, and allow the healing ministry of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us.

Jeremiah reminded the people of Israel and Judah just how faithless they were. They had left their God for other gods, even after all He’d done for them. But the message God gave to them was one of forgiveness, not judgement. If they would repent, He would forgive. That’s still His message to our world.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Today is a great day to consider your ways. Let the Holy Spirit search you and see if there be any wicked ways within (Psalm 139:23).

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Rocks for Jocks

Hear my cry, O God, *
and listen to my prayer.
I call upon you from the ends of the earth
with heaviness in my heart; *
set me upon the rock that is higher than I.

Psalm 61:1-2

Read Psalm 61

Western Wall
The Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem

I think rocks are fascinating. They can be so great in size they can’t be moved. What a great metaphor for our faith in God. Our faith in Jesus Christ can grow so big and strong that it can’t be moved. When temptation comes, our rock of faith can be so big and strong that it doesn’t crumble and start an avalanche in our lives; a downward spiral into sin. Rocks are great aren’t they?

 

My fascination with rocks began in college, where the only science class I took was Geology. It was called, “Rocks for Jocks”. No, I wasn’t an athlete, but it was considered the easiest science class to take. It was supposed to be so easy that even “dumb jocks” could pass it. Well, that was good enough for me. I never was good at science. However, I really enjoyed the class. I was fascinated to learn how rocks form deep in the earth over millions of years and have, in some cases been raised to the surface through eruptions and erosions.

The soil in Jerusalem is very rocky. At the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, there is church built over and around a rock. That rock is believed to be the very rock were Jesus prayed in agony on the night of His arrest. To get to the church you pass through the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus often went to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus’ own faith in His Father was formed and strengthened.

Rock of Agony mosaic
Christ in Agony Mosaic

As I visited the Church of the Agony in Gethsemane, I knelt to pray in front of that rock. It was once a massive boulder, now shrouded by the church built around it. You can see only the top of the rock as it protrudes through the floor in front of the Altar. Above the Altar, on the back wall of the church there is a mosaic of Christ kneeling upon the rock in prayer…in agony.

Rock of Agony
Rock of Agony in front of the Altar, Church of All Nations “Agony”, Gethsemane

As you journey through Lent, I hope you will find times and places where you too can climb and kneel upon a rock of prayer. Climbing to a high place in prayer represents our reaching Heavenward, lifting our souls to God. Be creative in your prayer times this Lent. Perhaps there is a “Gesthemane” near you where you can get a way and pray. There may not be a giant rock to climb upon, but no matter where you are, you always have the rock of faith that is Jesus. It’s on Him, our solid rock, that we like the Psalmist, plead for God to set us upon.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV