Monday musings on prayer.

“Is Jesus God?” is a question I sometimes ask people when they are struggling to figure out prayer. It’s not a debating question. When I ask, I’m usually talking to people who can’t quite believe that I’m asking.

“Yes” is the most frequent answer. “Duh” is next.

I continue: “And prayer is talking with God?” It’s one of the simplest ways that people try to explain prayer. Not that it’s simple in practice, but it’s a helpful description.

And people often answer, “yes.”

I continue: “So when the disciples on the boat said to Jesus, ‘don’t you care that we’re about to drown?’, they were praying? Why did he wake up and respond rather than a lightening bolt from the storm striking them down?”

Why did Peter not get fired for the way he talked to Jesus? When Jesus told the disciples to feed the 15,000, why did he let them get away with speaking about their inability?

IMG_0764.JPGMaybe we can express doubt, disagreement, distrust, and despair as we talk with Jesus and it won’t get us in trouble.

Maybe, as it did with the disciples, it will be greeted with conversation more than condemnation.

I’m intrigued when people are afraid to tell God what they really think of him at moment. As if he doesn’t already know. As if he can’t handle it.

As if we are afraid he might want to keep talking.

As we start the week trying to figure out how to talk to God with some appropriate kind of respect or reserve, think about the disciples. Just speak out of the honest depths of your being. We may not end up with the situations we wish for.

But we will still be with God.

Stephen. Like Jesus.

(A long story for the weekend from Acts 6-8:1) 

Stephen was living in Jerusalem not long after Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven.

We don’t have many facts about his life, but there are several things we can figure out.

Although he was Jewish, he probably wasn’t from Jerusalem. The name “Stephen” is Greek, not Hebrew. He was likely born somewhere outside Israel to a family who had been driven away from Jerusalem in one of the many scatterings.

In other words, his family became religious refugees from the middle east. They settled somewhere, learned Greek, lived in the culture but never took on the local religion.

Somehow, Stephen came back to Jerusalem. It may have been because he came on a pilgrimage and never went back home. But although this was his religious home, it wasn’t where he grew up. He didn’t speak like a native. He didn’t know the local stories. He would have been an outsider in Jerusalem, too.

Somehow, Stephen learned the story of Jesus. Because Jesus had a habit of talking with people on the edges of society, offering them hope and identity and community, Stephen may have connected. He became a follower of Jesus and, as the church began, he belonged.

stephenThere were challenges in this early church. One of these challenges was in widow care. Because widows were often left with no means of support, the Jewish tradition was to distribute food for them. The new church picked up that responsibility. But there was some discrimination happening, with widows originally from Jerusalem getting better service than immigrant widows.

It’s not unusual. It’s always easier to notice the people who speak your language, who know your culture. But it’s also not how Jesus worked. And so the leaders said, “Find seven men who are full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit.”

Stephen was the first name on the list. Stephen was the kind of person that you trusted to take care of the people on the edges of society, maybe because he spoke the language, maybe because he understood what it was like to be on the edges, maybe because he was the kind of person that everyone wanted to take care of their mother. Because this team wasn’t responsible for just the immigrant widows, they were responsible for all the widows.

So Stephen started his practical work of making sure that the food distribution was fair. And soon there were stories about his work.

In writing about him, Luke says that he was doing signs and wonders. To understand, we probably have to look at the works that Jesus did, of healing people in miraculous ways, of speaking truth with clarity and freedom, of providing food in ways that were natural and supernatural.

This didn’t sit well with the traditional religious leaders, so they started debating with him. And they lost every time. Because Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

And so Stephen was brought to court, falsely accused. He defended himself with great spiritual insight. And then, as we read this earlier, he was killed. And as he died, he repeated the words of Jesus. “Forgive them.”

As we walk through his story, we see that he started on the edges, like Jesus. He faithfully and miraculously cared for the people Jesus cared for. He was known for wisdom, like Jesus. He answered accusations with incredible wisdom, like Jesus. And he died, like Jesus, with forgiveness on his lips, like Jesus.

In our culture, in our generations, we often say, “I want to do amazing things.”

What if we recast that a bit. What if we said, “I want to live like Jesus did. I want to do what Jesus did.” Which may be even more amazing.

As we listen to those no one else will. As we touch those no one else will touch. As we risk and give our lives for others that no one else cares for. And as we ask God to forgive those who are killing us.

It’s what Stephen did.

Being feeders.

grosbeakWe try to keep two feeders full most of the year. We are aware that the birds have other places to eat. Other feeders, flowers gone to seed, fields with seed in the harvesting process. We are also aware that we may be creating bad bird habits, teaching them to depend on us rather than learn to forage for themselves. On the other hand, eating at our feeders may be part of foraging. We are one of many places, we are being helpful.

But I’m not debating avian codependency. While I was filling the bird feeders, I was also thinking about the course I’m teaching. We’ll be reading all of the Sermon on the Mount in our next class.

At one point in that teaching, Jesus encourages his followers to seek the Kingdom of God rather than worrying about food and drink. He uses the metaphor of the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

As I was feeding the birds that pass through our yard, I thought, “What if I’m part of how the heavenly Father feeds them?” Not that He doesn’t have many ways, but for these birds, for this geography, in this season, I am part of that feeding plan.

Which made me begin to wonder: “What people I am also being prompted to feed?”

In the rest of that conversation about worry and provision, Jesus invites us to pursue the kingdom of God rather than pursuing clothing and food. And, he says, the rest of our needs will be provided.

I can’t help thinking that for some of us, pursuing the kingdom of God means caring for others, and that is how God is intending for the others to be fed.


A couple other places to eat, written by friends of mine:


What I learned from 30 days.

30 daysA few weeks ago, I read about doing bodyweight squats twice a day for a month. The writer started with a set of 25 squats, repeated twice each day (total of 50 per day), and increased the amount each week.

Because I’m teaching spiritual formation again, I decided to try it. We can learn something about growing healthy spiritually by practicing with our body.

Here’s what I’m learning.

  1. A daily practice of exercise is less about time than it is about intention. It takes about 3 minutes (I think) to do 40 squats. Maybe more, maybe less. That’s not much time. It’s about the same amount of time as commercial breaks, sitting in the drive through, or reading this post. But I find that this physical practice and other spiritual practices are less about the time and more about the intention work: starting the exercise, picking up a pen, setting down the phone, turning my heart to conversation with God or others.
  2. Doing squats every day makes you stronger in some ways, but for what? Without a bigger goal, without an understanding of what lower body strength helps me do, this is simply an exercise. I can sustain the practice for awhile, but at some point, I need to know why.  On the other hand,
  3. A month at a time is doable without knowing all of the why. 
  4. I need a chart to see what I’ve done. It’s hard to keep track of days in my head. So I’m keeping track on the bathroom mirror.
  5. It’s a choice for health, not the only choice for health. It’s part of getting stronger, but that’s only part of being healthy. I have to make a thousand other choices in a day that need to be connected and congruent. For all kinds of health.
  6. I now know I can do it.


So, what should my next 30-day practice be? What’s yours?

For fun.

“What do you two do for fun?’

I was asked that question again recently and once again, I didn’t have a clear answer. I said something about walking and talking together, but that sounds a little too basic.

It’s a question that Nancy and I ask each other from time to time, at those times when we get an unexpected free day or evening. Other people go out to eat, or go to a movie, or go to a sporting event. Some people take ballroom dancing lessons or go on climbing vacations or have adventures. We don’t. And so it has always felt awkward to come up with an acceptable answer.

Driving home after the conversation, however, I finally realized what the answer is: We do life together.

IMG_3159.JPGWe talk to people in crisis moments together. We talk about people in crisis together. We are the church service on Sunday mornings together. We sit at tables with people for vacation. We eat leftovers together or decide to splurge on $5 pizza together. We help eat other at work. We help each other with wording, we worry and pray for and smile about our kids. We cheer for each other and cry with each other. We nap on the sofa after long days. And we do walk and talk together.

I’m not against the other ways people choose to have fun. But I’ve decided that I’m not worried about not having fun anymore. Because being us is fun. At least for us.

Because we do life together.