Category Archives: prayer

shhhhh

Lately I feel as if I am surrounded by noise. And I’m not talking about the loud rambling oilfield trucks that plague our suburban streets. I’m not even referencing the fact that there are four kids in my house who must all have inside voice issues. I’m actually making reference to the multitude of voices in our world today that feel the need to make sure that they are heard, they are understood, they are perceived as being right and that they solicit change. It’s exhausting. It doesn’t matter on which side of which issue someone is speaking about it all has begun to blend together and just become noise…and I’m afraid I have even been guilty of adding to the noise. And so today I say to you and to me…’shhhhhhh’.

Often when I am plagued with some seeming societal ill I try to look to the testimony of Jesus to see how best to address what is going on around me. There are a couple of interactions that Jesus has in the gospels that have always perplexed me. It comes after Jesus has spoken some very unpopular/polarizing words and it doesn’t go over so well (I’m sure none of us can relate to that as of late). The first is in Luke at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” – Luke 4:29-30 The other instance takes place in John 8 after Jesus is forced to stand in the way of the religious elite on behalf of a woman caught in adultery and then speaks about His being sent by the Father. “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” – John 8:59 Notice what it doesn’t say here, “Jesus kept arguing the point with his opponents until they were forced to concede and admit defeat.” No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He realizes the crowd will no longer listen, has gotten past the point of listening and so He walks through their midst. Jesus just steps away. 

Of course Jesus doesn’t walk away and have a pity party. No, Jesus gets back to doing what He does best…enacting the Kingdom of God. In Luke He begins casting out unclean spirits and in John He heals a blind man. Jesus realizes that His argument is best made in enacting that which He is speaking about. There is no greater defense of one’s position than positive Kingdom action that will at once pull you away from pointless arguments and eventually silence your naysayers. Jesus knew this and trusted His work to it. Why? Because He knew the value of silence and He trusted the mission. Here as well we must seek to model Christ of whom we read these words just a short time later in Luke, “ But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16 Maybe we need to pull away from the noise. Maybe we need to withdraw. We certainly don’t need to add to it. Maybe it’s time for a little more shhhhh and a lot more action for the Kingdom.

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truly thankful

It amazes me sometimes how quickly a year passes. At one moment you find yourself in sweltering summer heat then you turn around and it’s the middle of November. November is special in its own right as it is a month, at least in America, that we set aside to be thankful. There is even a holiday we call Thanksgiving that is typified by overeating, football watching and the navigation of familial conflicts that have laid dormant for most of the year. Come to think of it, it’s kind of odd that we call this day Thanksgiving. Others sometimes take the opportunity afforded by this month of Thanksgiving to offer up things they are thankful for throughout the month. While this can be a good practice, and also one that yours truly is participating in, sometimes it tends to lean towards lip-service and I begin to wonder if it is a true expression of Thanksgiving at all.

Let me explain a bit further. According to Miriam Websters, thanksgiving is the act of giving thanks, a prayer expressing gratitude, or a public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness.I think the first part of that definition is a violation of all that I was taught in school, but the latter two pieces are a bit more important. Thanksgiving is a prayer or a public acknowledgement/celebration of Divine goodness. In other words Thanksgiving is a response. There is a parable Jesus tells in the gospel of Luke that I think might help to clarify this. He is addressing some of the piety he sees around him and he shares the story of two individuals praying in public. The first goes like this, “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’.” The latter was just slightly different, “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ – Luke 18:11-13

I find it funny that the Pharisee “thanks” God that he is better off than those around him. But then again I wonder how often my “thanksgiving” is similar. I do appreciate the blessings in my life, but does that truly call out a response of thankfulness from me? Or am I simply thanking God that I am well off compared to others around me? The tax collector maybe understood what he truly needed to thank God for; mercy. Grace is that which we ultimately should be thankful for. It is grace that is the primacy of our thankfulness and brings about the only real response of thanksgiving we can make. We show our thankfulness by extending that grace, mercy and love to others. We don’t thank God that we are not in there position, but rather we show our thanks to God by extending compassion to those who aren’t as well off as us. This is thanksgiving. This is giving out of our spirit of thankfulness. And this is what it means to be truly thankful.


off kilter

I am admittedly a creature of habit. I know that for many of you who have known me over the years this may come as a bit of a surprise. But, ask my wife and she will definitely confirm this fact. I love my routines. That doesn’t mean that I can’t break away from the norm from time to time, but just that I’d rather do things a certain way day in and day out. I guess it’s more of a framework than a schedule. I like for things to fit my general framework. So in any given week my Mondays will be reflexive of other Mondays and the list goes on. Now this week, we took a couple of days to commute to Austin for a District Education event and I find myself now on Thursday and completely out of it (this perhaps could maybe have something to do with 17+ combined hours of sitting in class or driving over the last two days, but I digress). How did I get to be so dependent on this framework? Why is it that I find myself so rattled after this change?

There is this passage towards the end of Jesus life in the gospels where the disciples find everything changing. Now I don’t want to compare my off kilter schedule to the disciples predicament in this passage, but I think there is truth to be found here. Jesus has had a final meal with the disciples, they are groggy and he asks them to pray with him. Let’s put this into perspective even further. They had come to the city to celebrate Passover. This was something they knew very well and more than likely had even done with Jesus twice before. But this time something is different. He consecrates and celebrates the meal differently. He washes their feet. And then he drags them out into the garden to pray with him. Multiple times they find themselves out of their element and even falling asleep and Jesus says this to them, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41 The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Today I have been reminded of my mortality. A two day road trip combined with a compromised immune systems (you should see the stuff we are sharing in our house) along with a schedule that is off the norm and you have an Arp who is feeling very mortal. I love Jesus’ reminder to us though. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”. When we are off kilter or when we are out of balance it is easy to fall short of God’s best for us. But He doesn’t say try harder. He doesn’t say to power through. What does He say? Watch and pray. Step back out of your situation, see what is going on around you and lean into me. May these be words of comfort for you today. Whether you are full on in your routine and schedule or you find yourself a bit off kilter today, there is always room for us to watch and pray.


moving fast

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.


ouch

Sometimes as pastors we often ask hard questions. And truth be told many of us ask the same questions and more difficult ones of ourselves at times.

Am I being effective in my ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed?

Am I making a difference?

Am I living into the calling Jesus has for me?

Not sure if you caught the thread there, but a lot of those questions, in fact a lot of the doubt that circulates in church culture seems to be rather ‘me’ focused. I need to work on my issues. I need to be more effective. I, I, I…When really that is not what we are called to at all.

The crux of a lot of this issue is the society of which you and I find ourselves a part of. This statement is of course made with the assumption that most of the people who read this belong to the Western industrialized world. The world in which we live is increasingly ‘me’ driven. How can I get in better shape? How can I improve my value and worth? How can I get more stuff? When really this has little or nothing to do with our calling and the journey that Christ has called us to. There is this wonderful passage in the Sermon on the Mount that I am pretty sure most of us are familiar with. Jesus feels the need to teach us to pray and it goes a little something like this, “OUR Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give US today OUR daily bread. And forgive US OUR debts, as WE also have forgiven OUR debtors. And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from the evil one” Not sure if you caught my subtle editing there or not, but I am pretty sure I am not reading any first person pro-nouns in that text. And unless you or I are British Monarchy I am pretty sure we don’t refer to our needs in the first person.

What I think I am trying to point out is that this prayer is intrinsically communal. And if this prayer, taught to us by God in flesh himself, is formative to who we are called to be, then we are called on this journey together and not individually. Let’s go back to those hard questions for a second. All of them are lined with self-doubt. What if we looked at them a little differently:

Are we being effective in our ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed because of us?

Are we making a difference?

Are we living into the calling Jesus has for us?

All of a sudden the burden gets a little lighter. It doesn’t excuse us from responsibility for making disciples and bringing God’s Kingdom, but it somehow makes it seem a little more possible. Maybe it is time to throw off our religious self-doubt and embrace our church calling. Maybe as the body of Christ we come to realize it is not just about me, but more about we. And maybe by learning to live life better together we find ourselves no longer asking questions of doubt but celebrating stories of faith as we journey together.


one night stand

I know what you’re thinking…well actually I don’t. This is kind of a weird title, but you will see how it fits in a bit; at least I hope so. A week or so ago we had an amazing service with our students and several of them went to the altar to pray. My wife and I both went and prayed with several students and afterwards she remarked about how awkward it sometimes seems afterward. You have had this amazingly intimate moment with someone, possibly even someone making the most important decision in their life and yet for some reason shortly after it becomes awkward. Not that either of us have ever experienced it, but it kind of sounds almost like a one night stand. Let’s all be honest for a minute…even though hopefully most of us have not experienced a one night stand we at least understand the concept. Guy meets girl or girl meets guy, intimacy ensues and then is shamefully broken off the next day. You can see how wrong and messed up that is without me even spelling it out. And yet for some reason I think that’s probably the same way I feel about those spiritual moments that somehow turn into a weird tension.

In his letter to the church in Galatia Paul puts this into a little better perspective. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1a-2) Now granted, Paul is referring to walking in restoration with someone, but I think the same can be applied for those intimate spiritual moments we have with others. The word for “carry” each other’s burdens is bastazō and the connotation behind it is a sustained carrying. A continued laboring with. Often times we pray with someone and think the matter settled. Or because we all of a sudden have this intimate knowledge of someone’s spiritual journey we feel as if we can’t be normal around them anymore. But truth be told we should actually become more intimate with them.

In reference to the above analogy of one night stands the reason these are so broken is because of the lack of sustained intimacy…it’s just awkward. But you look at those healthy marriages and relationships of those who have enjoyed marital bliss for years and the key to the health in the relationship is sustained intimacy. They walk closely with each other and there ultimately is nothing in the way. If we could understand/model this behavior in our accountability with each other in the Kingdom perhaps there would be a lot less stumbling, falling or failing and a lot more community. I for one am trying to eliminate the one night stand and begin the whole life journey with those around me. May we be so courageous as to get up from the altar and walk with those whom we are called to bastazo life’s burdens with.


a little different

This past week I had the pleasure of getting to the be the speaker at a Senior High youth camp. Having been profoundly effected by my experiences at youth camp in my younger days I always look forward to the opportunity to share and be a part of students lives. Not only that, but being for the most part a kid inside I still enjoy the games, the late nights, and all the other goofiness that goes along with camp. But about mid-way through camp I noticed something that was a bit unsettling. You see, I belong to a tradition (The Church of the Nazarene), where if you want to do business (I suppose this is a campy way of saying it) with God then you respond by coming to the altar. And it was towards the middle of the week that I came to my wife discouraged because no one had been responding by coming to the altar. I felt as if I had put in the proper preparation for my sermons and I knew the camp was being covered in prayer, but still… Then my wife asked me a very pointed question; what are the counselors saying about their campers and your messages? “Well they said they have loved them. And that the students are responding during their small group time. And they are seeing great things.”. “Well maybe their altar time looks a little different than yours”, she replied.

For those of you who have not married a spouse wiser than you (women) I can’t tell you how amazing it is at times to get to feed off this insight. Maybe their altar time is a little different because they realize that the burden of the church and its’ mission isn’t meant to be carried by just one person. Maybe we do indeed have to learn to respond together and be accountable together if we are going to truly live into what God is calling us to be. In his letter to the church of Ephesus Paul writes, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:21-22 In Christ we are one together…in Him we are being built up together to be a place where God’s Spirit lives.

I am not saying that there isn’t a place for us to come to God on our own and come clean before Him. But maybe there needs to be more places where we come together and do business with God as a group rather than just as individuals. That week at camp we talked about the image of God and how we were created to reflect the creator. And I highlighted the fact that the beautiful thing about it is that we can’t in and of ourselves reflect what God has in store for us…but maybe, we as the Church can come closer to living out God’s image as we all come together to respond to the world and its’ brokenness. I guess I just wasn’t ready for people to take those words to heart. May we respond as one to God’s Kingdom being brought to earth and may we come to an altar before God together to find Grace and mission.


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