Prayer

Prayer is a funny thing. My daughter prays. She’s 4. Sometimes her prayers are very sweet. Praying for the sick kids and teachers from her school. Sometimes, she just prays that’s she going to get to meet the characters at Disney World or that she got a new book. Which, the gratitude is great and talking to Jesus is awesome but… doesn’t really get at the heart of prayer.

Anyway, I have stated previously that since moving to Philly, my prayer life has been others focused. I prayed for so long for the same thing that I gave up. It was time to move on. Refocus and not stress about what had not happened for me. Yes, prayer isn’t about getting anything and it’s not about answers, but I still had to take a step back. I went liturgical and read from the Book of Common Prayers. I lit a prayer candle and paced silently. It was different and resetting.

Now, if a family member needs prayer, boom. If a friend is struggling, I’m on it. I light a candle and ask God to help them. But prayer isn’t about me or my ambitions or goals or dreams. And that’s fine. My prayers would be selfish and self defeating. So I focus on others. My life is pretty great already.

Sharing the Bad

Yesterday when I picked Emily up from school she told me her teacher gave her something and she wanted to show me. It was from the ocean and I had to smell it. It was a piece of coral reef and man oh man, it stank. When I smelled it and recoiled, Emily said “yeah, it smells bad.”

Why is it our instinct to share bad things with other people? It starts young (apparently) and doesn’t change. I was at lunch with some friends a few years back and one friend got some milk for his son. He took a sip and said “this milk is bad.” And then he looked at his sister and said “you try it.” The milk wasn’t good and they both knew it and yet he wanted to share the badness and she took a sip.

Why the need to share awful experiences? Even these minors ones? Why do we want people to share in our pain or discomfort? Is it just to have someone to share an experience with? Someone who can commiserate in our pain? Even if it’s just sour milk?

Words

So when did the word for the year trend blow up? Every person I know has their own personal word for the year. Their life motto for 2019. I’m not trying to shit on it. My wife and I always write down a few words that correspond with our goals for the year (although this year she personalized the word(s) for herself).

If you’re curious, my word for the year would be emo. I mean new music from Mineral, American Football, Pedro the Lion, (probably) Jimmy Eat World, etc… Of course it’s emo (again).

Anyway, words. The trend is interesting to me. Pick a focus word and try to build a year around it? Or be a motto to live by? An ideal to uphold? I’m not a trends guy. Probably the punk side of me. I don’t know my enneagram number (I tried to take the test but found the questions stupid and not this or that enough to factually answer). I really have no problem with people doing it. It’s a way to try and better ones self and that’s just fine. What am I trying to say? I dunno. Just that I don’t get why it exploded this year.

More Love, Less Moral Policing

By now, everyone has seen or heard about or read think pieces on the Jerry Falwell Jr interview with the Washington Post. Welcome to my think piece. Ha. Ok not really. This is personal.

The comments made by Jr reflect comments I see from people all the time on social media. Comments like the one Falwell made make me feel lied to and are why I can’t call myself a Christian. Just take a couple of quotes from Jerry:

“There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country… it’s a distortion to imagine that the country as a whole should love its neighbors and help the poor just because Jesus told individuals to do so.”

This argument comes up frequently. They want “christian” policy in place when it comes to abortion, marriage, sexual education, and other moral policies. Religious freedom has become a buzzword but it only applies to christians in their viewpoint. But it when it comes to helping people, feeding the poor, offering refuge for the stranger and refugee, well that’s the churches and individuals responsibility and shouldn’t be something the government legislates. When it comes to helping people, when it comes to loving people, christians in politics shouldn’t use the bible as their measuring stick for legislation. Every time this argument comes up I want to rip my hair out. I’ve had people use this argument, but they’re also people using the bible to tell me my tattoos are sinful.

It’s frustrating that there is such a concern for morality in our country but not people. When I read the bible, morality isn’t the driving message. It’s about people. The great commandment is love God and love people and if you don’t love people, you aren’t loving God. That is my belief. The moral majority missed that message and so many of us grew up with a distorted view of the bible and christianity and are trying to right the ship and fight for a better understanding.

And I feel like we have to fight. Because christianity that thinks separating families at the border is “tough love” has to die. And if that’s what christianity is, I want nothing to do with it.

Music Matters

It’s beyond cheesy but I love the scene in Garden State when Natalie Portman has Zach Braff listen to the Shins. “This song will change your life.” I love it because I get it. When you hear a kick ass song, you want to share it with every single person you know. Love this song like I love it. The current song that is rocking my world is Luxury’s Parallel Love. Just amazing.

Music makes you feel good. It can make you think or connect with God. It’s all spiritual. I believe this. I have seen people cry watching Sigur Ros play live. It was intense. From churches to basements, arenas and dive bars, people find communion and connection through music. There’s nothing better.

Hope

A new year. Where we all hope to that the coming 365 days will be better than the previous ones. Unless the previous the previous year was awesome. Then we hope the coming year will be equally as good for us, if not better. Hope is dangerous. We put our hope in a person, who fails us. We hope our prayers are answered and when they aren’t, well, sometimes it’s devastating. We hope for a great year but instead are handed divorce papers, or lose a job, or a child. We break an arm, get in an accident, the offer for a house doesn’t get accepted, you name it. Life happens and despite our hopes, we don’t have a lot of control over things.

In 2018 I had friends and family get divorced and lose a baby, a parent, pet, have surgery and cancer scares. And that shit sucks. For me, 2018 was a pretty great year. And I have hope for another great year. But life doesn’t care about my hope.

I don’t view the Bible like I used to, but I like where Paul says faith, hope, and love remain. Faith, hope, and love can all fail us. Be it people or systems, political parties and religious affiliations. But at the end of the day, faith, hope, and love will still be there. It’s still important.

So I hope this year is the best yet. And if it isn’t… I’ll hope the same thing next year.

Having Grace To Hear

Last summer I read a book about John F Kennedy’s assassination. The book was about how the false narrative around JFK’s death fueled the social and cultural change that happened after his death. The idea that JFK died fighting for civil rights changed liberalism in America. It was an interesting read. What bugged me about it was the not so subtle implication that social changes, like desegregation, should have never happened. The idea being that because these changes happened under false pretense that it was somehow bad for the country. Instead of seeing the good, all the author could focus on was how the changes happened on a lie.

I read this book as America was engaged in protests and riots over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and countless others. And it was easy to see the correlation between the point the author of the JFK book was making and the way pundits and journalists were talking about Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Michael Brown. Yes, the initial accounts of what happened between Brown and Officer Wilson weren’t accurate. But the Justice Department still found racial biases in the Ferguson police department. And calling attention to that fact is important and needed to happen! If truth and awareness and (eventually) change come out of a situation where the initial reports might not have been fully accurate, that change and truth are still just as valid and as good as they would’ve been had the initial reports been more factually correct. Truth isn’t invalid if the situation where the truth was found is misrepresented. It’s still true.

And what I found bugging me most in conversations where I supported Black Lives Matter were comments that went like this.

“If they had only followed the law, they wouldn’t have been in trouble.” “Why are you supporting and protesting for criminal/thug?”

I keep coming back to simple phrase “Every number has a name. Every name has a story. And every story matters to God.”

I think about John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. “If only she had followed the law, she wouldn’t have been thrown before Jesus and the Pharisees wouldn’t have been ready to stone her.” “Why stick up for her? She’s just a whore.” Jesus didn’t just see her for her flaws and her sin. He saw her potential. He saw a person, created in God’s image, who just needed grace, mercy, and a second chance. From the shepherds in the Christmas story to tax collectors and prostitutes, the Gospel’s are full of stories where Jesus interacts with and shows love to people who most of us probably wouldn’t go to bat for.

We just finished a series on wisdom at church and the final week was about how Jesus is the ultimate display of God’s wisdom. I think about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians.

“Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. So no human being can brag in God’s presence. It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Sometimes God calls us to love, stand up for, support, or forgive people who we may think are unlovable, unforgivable, too far gone, and not responsible enough. Sometimes God uses those people to help you see an injustice you never would’ve have noticed on your own. Sometimes you have to stand up and support a cause or person, even when it seems “unwise.” Because you never know what God might be up to.

5 Loaves. 2 Fish.

One of the themes I keep coming back to in my prayers since we moved to Philadelphia is the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. But not the feeding of the 5,000 or the leftover part. 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish is insignificant when there are over 5,000 people who need to eat. Yet someone still felt compelled to give what little they had in hopes it would help.

When we moved to Philly I set aside looking for a job to be a stay at home dad. I blog and podcast because I enjoy them, but if I stopped, nothing in the world would end. My responsibilities are to keep Emily alive and make sure we have dinner and clean underwear.

So my prayer has been “Lord let me give my five loaves and 2 fish.” With whatever little bit I have to offer, let me give it freely and cheerfully.

Yesterday we went to Target, where there was a homeless woman sitting outside the store. Emily pointed at her. Emily points at everyone because she’s one. But there was a sadness I saw in her face. I didn’t want to do anything in that moment because I didn’t want it to seem like I was helping because I felt bad that my daughter was pointing at her. So I went in, did my shopping, and when I came out of the store, stopped, gave her a couple of bucks, asked her name and if I could pray with her about anything. Small and insignificant.

I don’t want to get to heaven and hear Jesus say, “I was hungry and you did not feed me.” So when my heartaches on the way to and from church at the poverty in this city, I remember that they are made in the image of God and I take sandwiches to pass out. Small and insignificant. It’s what I have.

God said all people would be blessed through Abraham, so I’m trying to do my small part. Sometimes being a blessing means giving a dollar or socks or sandwiches to the homeless on the way to church. Sometimes its leaving a nice tip for a waitress whose previous table was not impressed and took it out on her. Sometimes it’s a smile and conversation with the barista or the checkout guy at the grocery store. Sometimes it’s the lighting of a candle as a reminder to pray for the families of victims in mass tragedies or for friends and family grieving their own losses and hardships.

Our time in Philly feels like a season to be more obedient to the simple things Jesus has taught us to do. I don’t need more sermons or more knowledge and better theology because, to paraphrase Paul, if I don’t have love, who cares?

Being in a new city, church looks more like shared meals and cups of coffee. It looks like recording podcasts and talking about real life issues. It looks like trying to become a better and better cook and impressing my wife with dinner each night. It looks like trying to come up with creative ways to get my daughter to eat spinach and brussel sprouts.

I’m not the one who can do a miracle. But Jesus can’t feed 5,000 if someone doesn’t offer their 5 loaves and 2 fish. So I can bring what I have to offer, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, because with God nothing is small and insignificant. And if I’m obedient, I might not witness a miracle, but I might be able to be the bright spot in someone’s day.

A Lifetime Of Learning To Love

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. We have known and have believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.” – 1 John 4:7-21

Jesus said the greatest of the commandments was to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) Jesus gave a new command; to love one another as He loved us. (John 13:34) Jesus said to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) Jesus wasn’t a one hit wonder, but there’s a theme to his teachings and life example.

Jesus had to be the fulfillment of the law because he knew that if he left us with more to do than loving God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we’d never be able to live up to that standard. As it is, with just those two commands it’ll take us our entire lives to try to perfect them and still never get them right. Our sinfulness will always work its way into our hearts so that we fail God and hate people. I realize how much I am doing both of those when I’m driving and curse at someone. I instantly have to pray and ask for forgiveness.

Jesus said people will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). In the text above, John says if we claim to love God but hate our brothers and sisters we are lying.

Loving others is hard. From a fellow believer with theological differences, to politicians whose policies we don’t like, to real life threats halfway around the world, we are not great at loving people. We call christians heretics, accuse politicians of being liars and cheats, and we want to blow the Middle East sky-high and let God sort ’em out. I have been and am guilty of all of these and more. I have prayed more for Islamic State members than any member of congress this year. I get frustrated. And frustration is fine from time to time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disagreeing on ideology. But it CAN NOT change the way I love and interact with people. And it’s a tough line to walk because Jesus is on record as saying some pretty harsh things to the Pharisees.

All of us need to get better at the great commandment. We can never be too loving. Whether it’s the words we use online in reference to those who disagree with us or the statements we make involving political or cultural ideas, we have to find a way to curb our frustration and love better. At times that will mean we just walk away. The old adage of, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is true. Sometimes we just need to not comment on a blog post or news article. Sometimes we need to know when a conversation isn’t going to be handled with love and care and not broach it.

Perfect love casts out fear. That promise and confidence should be our catalyst to go love others. It’s what we’re called to do! Love should be our motivator. When we pray that God would break our hearts for the things that break His, we’re asking for a deeper level in which to love others. Love should be our driver day in and day out, in each interaction. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Finding Fellowship In Our Differences

“Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us. But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us. I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.” – 1 John 2:18-26

If you spend any amount of time on twitter and follow a handful of bloggers and pastors, you’ve probably seen someone called a heretic or false prophet. It’s an easy claim to throw out online. It can be used over a big doctrinal or theological dispute, or over something so small and silly it doesn’t seem worth it. We get so worried about what will lead people astray and aren’t willing to give anyone, no matter how big or small their platform is, the grace to work through the tough questions. If they want to do it publicly and invite others in to also ask the tough questions, should we get so upset that we call them a liar and accuse them of apostasy?

John warns us of those who will try to lead us away from following Christ. The “antichrists” are those that were once among us but have left. So many of the people who get accused of heresy these days aren’t leaving the christian faith. They still consider themselves members of the family of God. But because of theological differences, so many of us want to throw them out on the street and label them with the scarlet letter H.

The lie that John warns the believers about is those who deny Jesus as the son of God. Those who want to separate the fellowship we have with God. We all want relationship and communion and the ultimate relationship we can have is with God. And those who want to break that relationship will try to convince you that there is no God, that you and I and everybody is the divine, or they will lead you into other less meaningful relationships that distract and tear us away from our relationship with God.

I keep hitting on the same themes because it’s what in my spirit. We have to find a way to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when our theology or ideas on certain topics don’t sync up. Those of us who profess Jesus as Lord, whether we agree or not on hell, creation, Levitical law, tattoos, are still brothers and sisters in Christ and will be spending a lot of time together when we leave earth.

Our differences are what makes us the body of Christ. Calling someone a heretic because you disagree on theology when their gifting and viewpoints can reach people I would never be able to properly communicate with feels like having a very narrow view of how God works. I just honestly believe we have to find a way to celebrate each others wins in spite of our differences. If we profess to be followers of Jesus and believe that he’s the Son of God, casting someone aside as the other because they don’t believe the earth was made in the same number of days as us seems like a battle we were never meant to fight.