Friday, November 30, 2012

I'll Pray for You, Maybe

prayer & devotion - hands 3How many times have I made the promise, "I'll pray for you about that."   In our culture it is considered a basic courtesy to those in need.  My secular friends will say something like, "you are in my thoughts today."  But Christians are expected to say, "you are in my prayers."    We throw it around like "please" and "thank-you." It is no more than a social courtesy.

After I make a promise to pray, one of two things usually happens.  Sometimes I make the promise and just forget.  I never think of the person or their situation again until I see them.  Then I feel guilty for not praying for them and their distressful situation.   Truth be told, I am often too wrapped up in my own life to think about others' needs.  In other cases I remember their request and make a quick cursory prayer, not really believing anything will happen, but reassuring myself that I have met my obligation.

I know a few people that tell others they will pray and mean it.  They actually struggle with the burdens of friend and stranger alike.  They are the ones that come back later and ask how God has been working in the situation.  I really want to be like them, but, I am just not there yet.

Don't get me wrong, I do pray.  And in addition to my other conversations with the Father, I pray for the needs of others.  If something or someone is really weighing on my mind, I will take it to God in passionate supplication.  At those moments I expect God to do something about my prayer.  But, to be honest,  this is doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like.   

Following Jesus means praying.  Jesus was all about praying.  He did it alone(Matt 14:23), he did it with his disciples(John 17).  He  prayed when he was happy (Luke 10:21), and when he was distressed almost to the point of giving up (Luke 22:42).   Jesus spent a lot of his time explaining how to pray.  He said we should be persistent because God wants to answer our prayers (Luke 18:1-6).  He even said to ask for anything in his name and it will be done (John 16:24-28).

Prayer is power.  Not in itself.  A lot of people pray and nothing happens.  But praying to our loving Father in the name of Jesus, under his authority, that is something else.  If we really recognized the power that is released when we take our requests to God in the name of Jesus, we would pray a lot more, and promise to pray a lot less.  We would not flippantly tell people that we will ask God to do whatever they desire.  What if they are asking for something that will hurt them or others?  Jesus healed sick people, but he didn't heal everyone who was sick. I am still not sure why he healed some of those he did and why he didn't heal some of those he didn't.  Until I figure it our, I am a little more hesitant to just start praying that every sick person I know or have heard of is healed.  Praying in Jesus' name is a responsibility of the utmost importance.  He asks us to represent him on earth.  He gives us the authority to do so.  That is humbling.

So if you come to me and ask me to pray for you, maybe I will and maybe I won't.  If I do, it is because I believe I am following in the footsteps of Jesus to complete his work, to advance his kingdom.   It is because I have decided to take your burden, on myself and wrestle with God on your behalf.  If I don't feel God compelling my heart to pray for your need, I might just say, "you are in my thoughts," or if possible, I will just do something to help you.  Rather than pray for your will to be done, I may pray that you will come to accept the situation God has put you in and that you will grow as a person out of your suffering.

Prayer is too powerful to be a social courtesy.   Please don't mistake my intentions.  I am not trying to be a jerk by not praying for you.  I am trying to pray for you in a way that really matters.  It's not that I am trying to pray less.  I am trying to pray more.  But more importantly, I am trying to pray more like Jesus.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black Friday-Golden Rule

I don't do Black Friday.  It's not a moral choice, but a practical one.  For a guy who isn't too crazy about shopping anyway, getting up at 4 am, standing in lines, dealing with crazy traffic, all to get a deal?  No thanks!  But I have to admit, I am tempted by some of the deals coming out Thursday evening this year.

For millions of Americans, Black Friday has become a staple.  And it is quickly becoming Black Thursday night as well.  People go crazy for a deal.  Things, whether to satisfy their own lust, or to lavish on others in exchange for love have become the centerpiece of the holiday season.  I will not go into how commercial idolatry is destroying Christmas, that will be a rant for another day.  But I am concerned about how commercial idolatry is ruining Thanksgiving, and ruining people all throughout the year.

Think about it for a minute.  For stores to open at 8 pm on Thanksgiving Day, how early do you think people have to be there, stocking shelves and preparing displays for the massive sales to begin?  It doesn't take a mathematician to  figure out that a number of people in retail are spending most of their Thanksgiving Holiday at work.  The trend is to open earlier and earlier.  In a few years, it will probably be a holiday tradition to go hit the stores in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving while your food settles. 

The thing that keeps coming to my mind is Matthew 7:12.  "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (NIV)  This simple teaching is so broad, so all consuming,  that I am often overwhelmed when I try and think of how to live it out.  I am so far from actually obeying this rule in every part of my life, that I just don't know where to start.  So let's start with shopping.  I am going to try and live out the golden rule in my holiday shopping this year.  Do you want to join me?  Here is what we are going to do.

Before we go out to get that awesome deal at 8pm on Thanksgiving, we ask ourselves;  "Would I want to have to work at a retail establishment on Thanksgiving?"  If the answer is "no" then we stay home.  When we go out on Friday (or any other day during the tumultuous holiday shopping season), and there is a long line and the cashier seems to be going too slow and we're frustrated because we are about to miss the deal at the next store, we ask ourselves, "If I were this cashier how would I want to be treated?"  Then we do whatever it is we were thinking.  Like the rest of us, cashiers like to be acknowledged as a human.  They like smiles and words of affirmation.  Although most are not allowed to accept gifts or tips, we can find ways to show our appreciation.

What about the other shoppers?  How might they want to be treated?  We could start by not acting annoyed at them when they are holding up a line.  Maybe if we see someone with a large load, we could offer to help them carry it.  We could take people's carts back for them in the parking lot, especially the elderly and people with small kids.  Maybe we could slow things down a bit too.  If we just give ourselves a little extra time when we go out, we won't be too rushed to offer courtesy and help to others.

This is a work in progress, not an exhaustive list. What other ways can we live out the Golden Rule during the holiday season?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why I'm Not, Not an Evangelical

Saint Mark 
The label "Evangelical" has fallen into disrepute in recent years and probably for good reasons.  Ironically, it is evangelicals who often show it the most contempt.  From what I've heard, "evangelical" used to mean a person who took the Bible seriously, tried to do what Jesus says to do, and thought everyone should follow Jesus.  In the 19th century evangelicals were the champions of social causes like ending slavery and child labor, and giving women equal rights.  Nowadays, "evangelical" implies a host of other things - someone who likes guns, hates gays, votes Republican, and wants to bring prayer back to school (as if it ever left).  Evangelical culture has developed a product line full of books, music, movies, clothes, and all the other things that entice the commercially driven and insulate them from the influence of the "world."  Most of all, being evangelical implies being conservative, that is, having the orientation that things used to be much better (in America), during some long forgotten epic (the 1950s), and the best thing we can do is reverse the clock and return to those simple days (of racial segregation, misogyny, and the cold war ).

I find myself stuck in the middle.  When it comes down to it, I do believe the Bible, as it was originally given, was inspired by God, and should be taken seriously.  I also believe the Bible's teachings alone hold the answers to our greatest personal and societal problems.  I want everyone to follow Jesus.  I see something unique about those who do follow Jesus, that God has done something in them that differentiates them from every other person in the world. I believe any  life after this one is only guaranteed to those who know Jesus.   That level of exclusivity would lead many to label me an evangelical. So, maybe I am.  But on the other hand, I don't fit the cultural mold of an evangelical.  I don't always vote the way evangelicals do (and I don't put all that much stock in voting).  I believe following Jesus leads me to compassion for the poor, placing the needs of others above my own economic interest. I believe following Jesus leads me to pursue peace for all people, everywhere.  I reject the American dream, as it is sold to us, and I reject the idea that I can share my loyalty to the kingdom of God with any earthly nation, even America.  I prefer to get input ( books, news, the arts) from a variety of viewpoints, even from those I don't agree with.  If I say, "I'm not evangelical," I risk people thinking I don't believe certain things I believe, things we may hold in common.  If I say, "I am evangelical," I risk people believing certain things about my behavior and lifestyle that are just not true about me.

Is it possible to just not take a side?  What if we left the labels at home and just lived what we believed and let that speak for itself?  Maybe we could actually come to the table and talk sensibly about the issues we disagree on if we weren't so caught up in labeling each other. When I write, I usually avoid these loaded terms.  We mostly use these terms to sound smart around others, but they have the unintended consequence of putting people in a box, a rigid stereotype that they can't escape.  I don't like being put in a box, and I try not to box others in either.  I try to just explain things in the simplest terms, regardless of my audience.  I find people respond well to that.  So for now I am not an evangelical, and I'm not, not an evangelical either.  I'm just me.  Get to know me; we might have something in common.