You hear it a lot in church. I need God. Or maybe you have sung “I need Thee every hour”. Or maybe even “I need Thee oh I need Thee, every hour I need Thee”. Of course this leads me to ask, do we know what it means to need God? Or do we truly need Him?
That word ‘need’ is a funny word. The etymology of the word shows that it was born out of the idea that something would “be necessary, be required (for some purpose).” The definition in today’s language shows that need means, “to have need of; to require.” (wasn’t it a rule that you couldn’t use the word in a definition?). One of the underlying ideas behind this word study and definition is the idea that “need of something” serves “some purpose”. And so I think about this with our language toward God. Why do we say we need God? What purpose do we think He might serve? I mean most of us seem so bent on providing for ourselves or our loved ones. We work so diligently to insure that our “physical needs”, our desires and our wants are satisfied. We carry on as if all of this depends on us and so I wonder, where is our need for God?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about our worry about material things and provisions. He ends up this portion of the teaching with this very familiar phrase, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33 I think sometimes we get the cart before the horse in this scenario. In our pursuit of all of these things prior to God’s Kingdom we somehow supplant our need for God with our need for things and we loose out on what it really means to need God.
I want to need God. I don’t want to need things. And yet I find myself in a world where my need for God is choked out by all of this other stuff that seems to take over my needs. I think that’s why Paul said this in his letter to the Philippians, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8,10-11. Paul, who wrote 2/3s of our modern New Covenant canon wrote that all accomplishments, achievements, pursuits, etc. outside of Christ were garbage. And he wanted, longed, desired, dare I say needed to know Christ.
I want to need Christ like that. I want to find myself desperate for God in every avenue of my life. That is my prayer today and I hope it is yours as well.
How many of you love watching the news? I for one, am not one of them. I actually prefer to read my news in digital format these days because it seems as if the news is always just bad. Granted, reading it isn’t much better, but at least then I don’t think it has quite the same shock value. Every once in a while however, I find myself watching one of the early morning news programs. And it seems that every time one of these comes on one of the featured stories involves some sort of court room drama. There is some high profile case that is being decided/battled out in our courts and they just can’t wait to tell me all about it. And it’s not just the news stations that are court room obsessed. Have you turned on daytime TV lately? I think nowadays that when you are promoted to the bench it comes with a television contract.
Our obsession with the courtroom is weird. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I do think it may have something to do with all of our uncertainty in the world today. With all of the upheaval and chaos, here is a place where at the end of the day a verdict is handed down and someone is proved right and someone is proved wrong. The scary part of this for me is that this culture sometimes enters into the life of the church. The church finds itself also caught up in a culture of uncertainty and subsequently battle lines are being drawn over every issue and at the end of the day someone has to be proved right and someone has to be proved wrong. But I am not sure this is the script we are called to. I once saw a church sign, so who knows where this originated, that read, “Christians aren’t called to be judges or lawyers, but to be witnesses.” And I love that, as corny as it may be. It reminds me of that powerful verse in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So let’s play out the courtroom analogy for a bit. Christians aren’t called to be judges. There is one judge and we all must face Him eventually…so that responsibility is off our shoulders. Christians aren’t called to be lawyers. We don’t have to extricate the truth for those around us because the truth is completely embodied in one person, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We are called to be witnesses. And what do witnesses do? They share their experience, their story. You see, the gospel that brings freedom for captives, sight for the blind, love for the loveless, hope for the outcast is not something that can be handed down like a verdict. It can’t be argued for in a court of opinion. It must be experienced by an encounter with Jesus. And how can people know who Jesus is unless we are sharing our encounter, our experience, our transformation? Three of the most powerful words in all of scripture may be all that we need to be true witness, “Come and see…”. May we today come to the realization that people cannot be brought to Jesus unless they can see the difference He has made in us and want to experience the same.
Go Vols! Ok, I think I got that out of my system. Eh not really. For those of you who may not know, I am a Tennessee Volunteers fan. I know that doesn’t necessarily strike a chord with a lot of you, but it may with a few. I bring this up not to tell you that I am not really a fan of all Tennessee sports, but I consider myself to bleed orange and white specifically when it comes to UT football. I count myself among the myriad of rednecks who wear orange on Saturdays in the fall for football and on other days as a tacky fashion choice. You have to understand, there are a lot of weird traditions that encircle Tennessee football. Some make sense, and some…well. But my favorite of these occurs on home game days at Robert Neyland stadium (you can put your hat back on your head now). As the Tennessee players exit the locker room to take the field they tap a sign above the door frame that happens to be likened unto the shape of the great state of Tennessee and that sign reads, “I will give my all for Tennessee today.”
Now there are times in the past when I have wondered whether or not the players on the field took that seriously. But I love the expression behind it. In the immediate moments prior to their physical engagement with their opponent, a UT athlete is reminded of the reason he competes and who he is representing. It kind of reminds me of this verse found in Deuteronomy 6:5-6, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” In this passage, God is reminding Israel that the commands he gives them are to always be before them; on their heads, their hands, and even on their door frames. This practice of putting the law on the doorframes of the houses came to be known as the Mezuzah (the Hebrew word for door frame) and in many Jewish homes today you will even see a little box on the side of the doorframe as you exit the house. This little box contains some of the law from Deuteronomy and it serves as a reminder. What does it remind us of? That question is answered later in the chapter, “In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt…'” – Deuteronomy 6:20-21. The mezuzah, the law itself was a reminder of who God was, who we had been and ultimately what God had done for us.
Now think about this with me for a moment. Every time a faithful Israelite exited his/her home they were reminded of their identity. Every time a Tennessee player exits the locker room they are reminded of their identity. What mezuzah do we have established in our homes. Do we just exit our house without a thought as to who we are and who we represent? Are we in such a rush that we forget to remember what God has done for us and how it should effect our entire state of being? I myself have found that taking a moment before I leave my home to remind myself of my identity has reshaped my life in amazing ways. May we find the time to establish a mezuzah for ourselves and for our children before we forget who we are.
For those of you who may or may not be aware, the common domesticated house cat is not, how you say, a fan of water. In fact, I can’t think of many things that cats detest more than submersion in good ole H2O. That being said, last night I had the extreme pleasure of bathing our domesticated feline, Mr. Smarty Pants, due to the increasing odor he was evidently not aware of. So I readied the tub, my will and began to attempt to bathe our cat. The only thing I forgot evidently was my medieval gauntlets with which to protect my forearms. So 10 minutes later the cat emerged sopping wet and smelling slightly better while I emerged traumatized and bleeding from a few nasty claw marks on my right arm. Needless to say it was a very successful venture.
At the end of the day though, we all know he needed the bath. It was something at that point we just couldn’t avoid. It kind of reminds me of conflict within the church. Now I’m not talking about arguments over worship, carpet color or kitchen responsibilities. For the most part these types of arguments don’t hold a lot of eternal significance. What I am referring to however is those times when we as the church forget what we are supposed to be about. You see, it’s really quite simple. We as the church are the physical embodiment of Christ. Soooo…when we don’t behave like Jesus, it might be time for a cat bath. When our behaviors misrepresent Jesus to the world outside the church, when our political ideologies malign those who need to hear the gospel, when our judgmental attitudes keep people from experiencing Christ, then it might be time for a cat bath. Jesus, the One we are supposed to be emulating, saw similar behavior amongst the “religious” folk of his day and he had this to say about it, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” – Matthew 23:13, 23
Now I’m not saying for you to just go and start picking fights in a holier than thou, gloves come off because I know how to be a better Jesus than you do fashion. But neither am I saying that we need to shy away from the tough conversations within our churches. We need to be willing to seek out the behaviors, actions, words, etc. in our midst that have us stinking up the name of Jesus and wash them out. It’s going to take grace and truth and we might even end up a little scratched up and bloodied. But isn’t the message of Christ important enough to make sure it’s shared as He would share it. So let’s do some self evaluation. Let’s do some church evaluation. Let’s take an honest look at ourselves and ask if we are truly being the Bride of Christ in the world. And if not…? Then get out the gauntlets (grace lined of course), it’s time for some cat baths.
For those of you who don’t know, I have in the last four years become a Disney Princess aficionado. This is a position that has been rendered upon me by the birth of our now 4-yr-old daughter. Not only can I recite to you every Disney Princess story in breathtaking detail, but I can also sing every song, dance some of the dances and may have even been moved to emotion while watching one or two of the movies. Let’s be honest; having a daughter changes a man. But sometimes the lyrics in said Disney movies stick with me for all the wrong reasons. For instance, this morning the song Human Again from the second release (oh yes, there was a second release) of Beauty and the Beast began coursing its way through my synapses. I’ve often wondered why the objects in the enchanted castle were so consumed with being human again. I for one think it would be pretty cool to be a talking grandfather clock or candellabra, but they seem to be overly tired of that existence. The song even concludes with the following stanza, “I’ll be all that I was, On that glorious morn, When we’re fin’lly reborn And we’re all of us human again”.
Now I for one don’t quite relate to their elation at being human again. For instance, two days ago I was reminded in the most violent fashion of how human I was again. While attempting to better my human self at our local gym I was briefly distracted while moving a weight from a rack to the bar. And said 45lb weight thought that a nice detour between the two locales would be a five foot drop onto the top of my foot. It didn’t take long for me to remember how non-superhuman I was and how actually run of the mill human I truly am. And for the last two days I have carried/dragged that reminder around with me. Needless to say I don’t really need a reminder of what it is like to be human again.
I find it aptly timed that I received this little reminder of my mortality and fragility during the season of Lent. A season where we reflect on our condition apart from Divine intervention. The apostle Paul reflects on this same condition in his second letter to the church in Corinth saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7. I guess my issue with the talking house decor from the aforementioned Disney movie is that their idea of being reborn is to simply be human again. My idea of being reborn is to be more than human. And this isn’t accomplished by my own strength and power. That usually results in me dropping heavy things on my appendages. No, this is something more. What I long for and seek to live into is the Divine miracle of the Spirit of the Eternal God making It’s dwelling inside of this fragile, flawed, decaying clay jar that I call me. And it becomes for all of us a new way to be human again as we are made into the image of God.
Last night I was able to sub in for one of our regular teachers here at the church and I got to lead our adult Bible study. In the midst of our conversation we were looking at a text that alluded to believers in Jesus being tested/tried. And then the verse was brought up that is often brought up in this discussion from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I am not faulting anyone for bringing up this verse. This is one of those verses that often gives us great comfort in the midst of trials, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning at face value really applies to the temptations/trials that we as humans often want to apply it to.
For those of you who are not readily aware of it, we in the Christian tradition have just entered into the season of Lent (no this is not a reminder to clean out your dryer vent). But rather this is the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and marks the 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally characterized by some sort of fast on the part of the believer and is ushered in by the marking of the believer with ashes on Ash Wednesday with the scriptural reminder from Genesis 3, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The beginning and overarching tone therefore of Lent is a remembrance of our mortality. In fact, the reason that Lent is celebrated for 40 days is a call back to Jesus’ mortal temptation in the wilderness.
Can I be real honest here for a minute? I don’t think any of us would have survived what Jesus did in terms of His temptation in the wilderness. Be you Bear Grylls or Survivor Man, I really don’t think it matters. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and after that He was tempted. You put me for four days, let alone forty, in the West Texas wilderness and then tempt me with anything and I would probably cave. Why? Because I am weak. I am human. And often times when I come under stress, trials, temptations, etc. it is so easy for me to buckle. But here is the beauty and the simplicity of my reflection on the verse from 1 Corinthians above, “they are weak but He is strong”. In my humanness I may consider often that the trials and temptations that I undergo are too much for me, but they are never too much for Him. And that really is what Lent is ultimately about. It’s a reminder that were we to be left to our own devices all that would await us is defeat, brokenness and death. But thanks be to God that the end of Lent is the ushering in of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So may you take to heart these 40 days. May it be a reflection upon your weakness and mortality, but also a remembrance of His power that is at work within you…Yes, Jesus loves me!
Just this last week I was part of a prayer retreat for the South Texas Nazarene pastors in Leakey, TX at the HEB Foundation Camp. The time away was incredible as we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and God’s presence was very real in our meetings. But I am always left thinking and pondering more by these times after the fact because I am not sure my response/intentions are always aligned correctly. Don’t get me wrong, time away and prayer are incredibly important, but I think the response and intentionality of why we pray/get away is even more important. I heard an African proverb last week from a podcast featuring Rep. John Lewis that I can’t seem to get away from. “When you pray, move your feet.” In other words, prayer requires action/engagement from our dialogue with God.
This is a bit of a paradox as most of the time, at least in Western culture we think of prayer as a solitary practice void of action, or at least mobility. We are to find a quiet place where we can have alone time with God. And I’m not saying this is a bad thing (in fact I do it daily), but what are our prayers for? And if we pray and fast, what are we praying and fasting for? Does it change the way we interact with the world around us? During the time of Isaiah the people of Judah, although faithful to their religious festivals, fasts, etc. were not faithful to the call these were meant to institute. God’s reply to their inaction, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
So my question to us today, are we praying and fasting in order to move or to be solitary expecting movement without us? Saint Augustine is credited with saying, ““Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Maybe this is what we are supposed to be reminded of. Our prayer and our movement, our fasting and our work are inexplicably related. We don’t pray in order to remove ourselves from the lives of those around us, we pray in order to weave ourselves into their world. We don’t fast in order to become separate from the world around us, we fast in order to move into the neighborhood. So today, when you pray, may your feet move. And when you fast, may your soul and spirit move for those around you. And maybe once our prayers and fasting are linked with action we might find ourselves praying for the right things as we embody the heart of God.