I’ve heard that a lot, and as a Christian, I’ve said that a lot.  “II pray for you” is the Christian knee-jerk reaction to hearing anything from anyone.

  • You need a job, I’m praying for you.
  • Sick grandma, I’m praying for you, and her, and any other random family members who might be affected.
  • Hey, you lost a limb in a strange farm equipment accident, I’ll be in touch with the Big Guy, maybe He’ll get you a new one.

There is nothing wrong with praying for others.  Prayers of intercession (the ‘hey, look at me, I know big words’ way of saying prayers that help others) are an amazing way to support people.  Why would you not pray for those around you who need help?  All of us know people who have needs.  Whether those needs are physical or spiritual, we are all close to people who could use some prayer.  God is a big God, and why not spend some time talking with Him about the issues on our minds?  I love praying for other people’s needs.  It really helps me take focus off myself, and it reminds me that God is in control.

You know what else is a kind gesture to those in need?  Helping them.  It’s a novel concept, I know.  Some of you are probably staring blankly at the screen, trying to understand what that even means.  ‘Helping them? I’m not sure what he’s getting at.  I mean I said I’d pray for them, what else can I do?’

Not that prayer isn't good, but these kids might need some physical help we can provide right now.

When I see people around me who have needs, I pray for them, but I try to help them when I am able.  If they are feeling low, I offer an ear or a hug, or both.  If they need some money, I offer to help out.  I allow myself to be open to the needs of those around me so that I can be used to reach into their lives.  I get to use my gifts to help others, and I love it.

Where is the love?

Apple Inc. has made so much money during the recession that it is poised to beat ExxonMobile as the most profitable company on the planet.  This is not a statement against Apple, but a question posed to those of us who helped make that happen.  The unemployment rate is just above 9%.  Costs of goods and services are skyrocketing, and yet we spent so much money on unnecessary gadgets this year that we pushed a company that only makes unnecessary gadgets into a position to become the most profitable company in existence.

I have no problems with buying iWhatevers or iShinyThing#3 but where is our neighborly love?  Why must we force social programs onto the shoulders of our government?  If we, as ordinary people, took some time and helped those around us (volunteering at shelters, donating food and clothing, adopting and fostering children…) we wouldn’t need so many government programs.  There are so many people in the world with their legitimate needs left unmet, and so many people with so much excess in their lives, why don’t we give a little bit away to help those around us?

Prayer is an amazing way to help those around us, but we need to realize that sometimes there are practical solutions that we can provide to others.

James 2:15-16 - Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Dear God

Posted: July 28, 2011 in Christian Living
Tags: ,

Dear God,

Thank You for all of the good things You’ve done for me. Thank You for all of my blessings. Please forgive me for the wrongs that I have done, to You and to others. Please help my sick family members and help my buddy’s dad find a job. Please help me to be more awesome. Thank You for being more awesome than I could ever be. Amen

P.S.

If You invited me to be a friend, why am I praying you a pen pal letter? Should I be asking you about how your summer is going, and what you plan to do when school starts back up? Should I ask you about camp, You probably have some really cool camp stories. Anyway, just thought I’d touch base. Life has been crazy but I don’t really have time to talk about it right now. Summer’s almost over. Tell everyone I said hi.

Dear God, I hope you like this. I made it for you in art class

I hope God really isn’t offended by that. Not because it’s sarcastic or something like that. I hope He isn’t offended because that’s how a lot of my prayers go. If I look back at most of my prayers, it seems to me that I am just too vague and lame. I am not “real” with God.  I acknowledge God as who He is, but talk to Him like He is only generally interested in me. I pray my little prayer and then I go about my business. Am I really praying if I do that? Is there some sort of disconnect if I don’t treat my relationship with God with any real reverence? Am I alone in thinking that my prayers are feeble and childish? I need to re-evaluate my prayer life, and tap into the true relationship I’m supposed to have with God. Maybe you do, too, but I know I do.

It doesn’t take a keen eye or some sixth sense to know that today’s kids are struggling with life. There are so many options and so many paths they have laid out before them. Most don’t seem to know where they’re going or even that they should be going anywhere. Their parents tell them what to do after school(usually college), their teachers tell them what to do, and their friends tell them what to do. They are constantly bombarded with options and choices, some with dire consequences. I see students all of the time. I work for a public school district and I am a youth leader at my church. What I see around me are students who are trying to figure out where they fit into the grand scheme of life. They have lots of decisions to make, and lots of factors to weigh. The big question is; who is actually helping them?

You won't get through to him if you can't get him to pay attention

Teenagers need direction; but who can they turn to for real help? Parents would be the easy answer, as would teachers, friends, older relatives, clergy… and many others who may or may not be the ones you want investing time into today’s youth. Sometimes even those who seem like obvious answers to us adults are not necessarily the first places teens will turn for advice. In fact, those people might be the last people teens turn to. Some teenagers are afraid of looking stupid, or failing to meet expectations. Some just don’t want to deal with the stress. The fact is, some teenagers just don’t have good role models to emulate.

See, still not paying attention

What can be done to help? Is there any way to offer help and support? I think there is. I spend a lot of time working with teenagers, and I consider that one of the best decisions I have ever made. Working with the youth group at my church has been amazing. I get to spend time with some of the greatest people I have ever met. These students are fun, funny, smart, caring, energetic and lovable. Like anything, there are good times and bad times. Joy is mixed with frustration and heartache. There is also a lot of work and it can be very stressful at times. The rewards are worth the effort, though.

I get to watch teenagers grow and mature. I get to see them stumble and fall, and then pick themselves back up again. I get to help them make decisions (well, those who choose to listen) and many have bent my ear from time to time. The relationships built as teenagers can grow into real adult friendships, too. I still spend time with a lot of my former students, and one of my old students was even the best man at my wedding.

What is the secret to being a good mentor? There really isn’t one. There are some ingredients that are needed, but they aren’t really secrets. Time and effort are key, though. Make time to be with those you mentor. It’s like any other relationship. If you neglect to spend time with someone, the relationship you form will start to die. If you don’t invest any time at all, there will eventually be no relationship. Effort is also important. Some teenagers have been let down before and it may take some legitimate effort on your part to build a solid relationship with them. They need to know you aren’t going to throw them to the wolves or berate them when they make mistakes. They need to know they can confide in you and that you are trustworthy enough to listen without judgement. There might be some baggage to sort through and some pains that need healing, but when you can see hope in the eyes of a teen, especially one who never had hope before, you will see why people devote their lives to investing in others.

Freedom

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Christian Living, General Life

FREEDOM

Go ahead and look at that word again.  Stare at it for a second and let the word sink in.  Everybody wants freedom, but what exactly is freedom?  What makes someone free?  What do we do with freedom once we obtain it?

The U.S. is built upon the promises of freedom.  Freedom of speech, religion and press are the foundation upon which we built our nation.  We fought for these freedoms, and in many ways, we still fight for them.  One thing that bothers me is that I think we have lost sight of what freedom really means.

In the movie, The American President, Michael Douglas’ character says, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours”.  When you think of freedom, is this how you imagine it?  That is freedom of speech.  If you want to be able to say things, you need to allow others to oppose your ideas.  If you believe in something, there is probably someone out there who disagrees with you.  True freedom is allowing others to speak their minds.

I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  I also believe the Bible is true.  Some of you are not Christians.  Some of you believe the Bible is a book of fiction.  Some of you believe Jesus was just a guy, others just a prophet, and even others don’t believe He even existed at all.  Some of you believe that there is no God, while others believe we all are God.  There are many different religions and theologies out there.  Most of us are pretty stubborn about our beliefs, not just in our convictions, but in our conversations.  We may not agree with other faiths, but do we have to be so angry toward others when they tell us what they believe?  We don’t have to berate those who disagree.  Just like the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion gives everyone the right to believe what they choose.  That freedom is important.  If God gives us the right to choose, and the Constitution gives us the right to choose, who am I to take that choice away from you?  I can offer my beliefs, and defend my choices.  I can even try to convince you that you should believe what I do.  What I don’t have is the right to tell you what to believe.  I don’t have the right to force you, or coerce you into believing what I do.  I can’t beat you, kill you, threaten you, round you up and imprison you for disagreeing.  We all have the same rights to believe whatever we choose.

Civil discourse.  My favorite type of discourse.  I love to debate, to exchange ideas and thoughts about almost everything.  I am fairly opinionated, and usually very stubborn, but I try to listen to what other people say, and try to understand where they’re coming from.  I enjoy hearing multiple sides of an argument because it helps me learn.  I like learning why people do things the way they do, especially when they do things that I wouldn’t, or do things in ways I wouldn’t.  It would be amazing if everyone else enjoyed a good, tasteful debate.  Think of how the political arena could be if the candidates could just say that they don’t agree with their opponent.  “Hi, I’m Joe Awesome and I’m running for Congress.  I think that my opponent, John Supercool, is a great guy, but I just don’t believe that his thoughts on balancing the budget are what we need at the moment.  Now, here are my thoughts on the subject…”  That would be so much better than the hateful and disrespectful exchanges we are subjected to during the political process.

If these guys can laugh together, surely we can find common ground with each other

We live in a world full of different people.  Those different people have different viewpoints, different experiences and different approaches.  Here in America, we have the freedom to express those differences.  Embrace those differences and especially the freedom we have to express them publicly.  Freedom isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Yeah, if only campaigning was done with this much smiling

…Hello? Is there anyone still around?

Hopefully you didn’t think that I stopped writing for good. I got married and decided to take some time off to prepare for the wedding and to be with my wife on our honeymoon. I had a great time in the beautiful parks of Utah, and for those of you who have never been there, you should definitely go visit sometime. Hannah and I got married in Bryce Canyon and went to Zion National Park for the honeymoon. Both were amazing, and well worth the money we spent to get there, stay there and eat there.

I do not deserve such a beautiful and wonderful wife

I am enjoying this married life, and all the fun and craziness that comes with it. But I missed writing. I didn’t think I would miss it, but I did. I really enjoy organizing my thoughts on paper (or online, whatever works). So, I guess what I’m saying is, I’m back from my break, so expect to see more of my thoughts soon. I’m going to shoot for one or two articles a week.

I guess that’s it for now. Go do something productive.

There is a lot of discussion about the legitimacy of the institutional church lately. There are intense debates occurring in print and online. I have read books and blogs written by people who suggest that we get rid of all remnants of the institutional church. I have also had discussions with some people who believe the church as we know it is fundamentally, biblically flawed. I follow blogs and twitter feeds that share ideas by people who feel strongly about their beliefs regardless of which side of the issue they fall upon. I believe that those who want to get rid of worship services are trying to do what they think is right, but I have to disagree with them on this issue.

Reading sections of the New Testament, those who want to dismantle the church find verses that (when cropped to cut out the parts that they don’t want to talk about) support their notions that the church (usually identified as the “institutional church” to make it sound like it’s a literal prison) is anti-biblical. This is the panacea for all those who find fault with a pastor or a congregation, or a worship team’s decibel level. No more scrambling to find the perfect church (which doesn’t exist). Hey, I don’t have to go to church at all because Paul wrote a letter telling the church of Corinth that all people should be able to use their gifts in their meetings. If you find that passage, please stop reading as soon as you get to the part where it says that everyone should use their gifts, because after that verse, Paul says that women should be quiet and not interrupt the men. Paul says women should not speak in church because they are distracting. When you ask those who want to destroy the institutional church about that section, immediately following the one about everyone getting a chance to speak, they say that the women thing is only written to that specific church at that specific time. The other stuff is timeless though. Interesting. I guess we can all just take what we want to take out of Scripture and make it say what we want it to say.

I do not have all of the answers. What I am saying is just because something is not brought up in the New Testament, that does not believe it is ant-biblical. In his book, “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola derides the institutional church because there is nothing in the New Testament about believers meeting in buildings, and that a pastor leading a congregation did not exist for the first Christians. These may be accurate facts, but if there were no Sunday schools, or youth groups, or worship teams in the Bible, does that mean that they are inherently wrong? Do those things, or can those things, bring value to God’s people? Can they bring hope, or love, encouragement or challenge, knowledge or wisdom? Just because they are not part of Christianity two thousand years ago does not mean that they are worthless, or worse yet, heresy.

I believe that there is value in the church system. If you are only getting your faith from a sermon on Sunday morning, I think you are missing a big part of your faith. I believe that personal quiet times with God grows a person’s faith deeply. But for those who do read the Bible and pray throughout the week, Sunday morning church services are amazing boosts. Pastors are paid to devote their time to study and pray so they can help teach, encourage and challenge a congregation.

I went to college and paid professors to teach me things that I could not have learned from books directly. I paid them to spend their time to plan lessons and to challenge me to grow. That did not take the place of personal study and homework, though. I could not have passed without studying on my own or doing work outside of the classroom, but I could not have learned as much as I did without going to class either. I feel church is very similar. I think that we should look at church the same way. Our faith cannot come from a pastor, alone. But we should not discount the gathering of saints on a Sunday morning, or a Sunday night, or a Saturday night, or whenever that congregation meets. To do that is to cut off the body from a vital part of faith. Belonging to a congregation can be a great experience. In a congregation, people can learn how to live with other people with other personalities. People can learn how to faithfully and biblically handle conflict, how to serve and to follow others. In a congregation, we learn how to put others first, how to listen.

I know that this is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I believe that God is working in the hearts of those on both sides of the issue, and I know that His glory will still shine in the world regardless of where we meet. I’m sure some of you reading this will have strong opinions about what I have said. Feel free to comment, but please try to keep from tearing people down.

I have not been teaching lately. With the wedding coming up, and some important details still in the air, I have delegated a lot of my youth group leading to other leaders. The young adult group that I lead is on a hiatus for the summer, as well. Therefore, I am not teaching right now. This break started a couple of weeks ago, but already something is noticeably different.

Image: smokedsalmon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hello??? Am I just teaching myself here?

I feel like my relationship with God has changed, or has at least dwindled some. The funny thing is, I have been reading my Bible more often and my prayer life is as good as, if not better than, it has been over the past few months. I was kind of at a loss about what was happening, until I talked to an old friend of mine the other day.

He told me that faith is a very interesting thing. It is something that only increases as you give it away. He told me that it was normal to feel a little out of it right now. He told me that my break from teaching right now is what’s causing my supposed slump. It isn’t that my faith is weaker, but just that it’s different. I’ve been teaching the young adult group for about five years and both that group and the youth group for around three. My faith has grown into something that I love sharing and teaching. So now that I’m not teaching anyone, it feels like something is wrong. I don’t believe that there is actually anything wrong with my faith right now (not compared to when I was teaching twice a week), but that I just need to learn how to deal with this aspect of my faith.

I know myself as a creature of habit, and I generally try to find patterns in things so that I can find the most efficient way to do any task. Once I get the pattern down, I can just hammer out whatever it is I need to do. While I was teaching, I had my faith organized to work within my schedule and my life. I am starting to think that my problem lies within my pattern based life. Maybe I do need this shake-up to take stock in where I am with God. Maybe He wants me to change how I interact with Him, and how I show Him to those around me? Have you ever been in a situation where God has changed some part of your walk so that you can refocus on Him? If so, how did it work out?