Monday, July 31, 2017

What's So Important About Having a Sacred Space, and a Personal Prayer Team?

            DO YOU HAVE A SACRED SPACE? That special place in your home, or back yard, even, where when you go to it you know you go to meet the Lord. Study his word. Journal some thoughts. Read some inspirational material. A place you go where you can feel God coming to meet you as you settle in for some soul digging time.

            And do you have your very own prayer team? No? Then read this article I have linked below by Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter), to learn how important it is to establish a group of soul-connected believers you can trust with the deepest desires, fears, and secrets of your life.

            Did you know Moses even set up a “prayer closet”? Actually a tent. Outside the camp. A place where people could go to inquire of Moses. A kind of spiritual meeting place.
            While you might not be able to designate an entire room to prayer, is there a special (favorite) place in your home that is quiet and allows you to focus on God? A place where you can hang your “Do Not Disturb! Prayer in Progress” shingle and not be interrupted? Is there a special time during the day when you are unlikely to be disturbed in your prayers?
            While you might not be able to assemble a team, could you ask two or three other people to be a part of your prayer group? To pray for one another?
            I’m a part of a couple of prayer ministries. One at my former church is an on-line prayer team called “Knee Mails.” If you have a specific prayer request or praise, you can email it into the coordinator, and she shoots it out to everyone on the list. Another email prayer team I’m on is through a dear friend and pastor’s wife who faithfully sends all on the list a Verse of the Day to meditate on and any prayer requests sent in to the group. This particular prayer team has members all over the world, so we’re getting requests from across the country and from different countries, individuals and ministries.
            While you might feel overwhelmed by being involved with so many people, or feel these types of groups are too impersonal, pray about what you need, and who the Lord might gather with you to pray and support one another.
            As I’ve mentioned before, prayer is one of the number one activities (probably the most important, actually) a Christian can engage in. It should precede anything and everything you do in life. A day should begin and end with prayer.
           One of our greatest desires should be to become a mighty prayer warrior, along the lines of spiritual giants like Daniel. It’s a tall order, but a noble one.
            And, come to think of it, we should also be praying that our brothers and sisters in Christ become mighty prayer warriors. We need them to be!
            Enjoy Anne Graham Lotz’s post. As she says, a commitment to pray just doesn’t happen. It needs preparation. I know it will give you some things to think—and pray about.

            I’m off to the great Northwest this week, where once again I’ll be hunting for sacred spaces. Maybe off the beaten path locations, where I can do some serious soul digging, or just inviting God to show up and surprise me. He always manages to do that in some way, and it’s always glorious!
            Hope you’ve been able to carve out some sacred-space time and change of scenery this summer (or winter if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere). If you have, let me know some of your favorite sacred space places.


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photo by Google Images

Monday, July 24, 2017

Are You a Patriot First or Christian?

            HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF? First, as an American, or as a Christian? A Patriot, or a member of the global Body of Christ? As Americans (or Australians or Russians, or you name the country) and Christians, how do we live with and reconcile the tension between the two? And we can ask ourselves some hard questions, like: Do I see politics as important or ultimate? What is more important to me, state-craft or Church-craft?
            While I normally don’t tread into politics in my blog, I wanted to do one more post on patriotism (and maybe misplaced patriotism it is) in the month of July, being my country’s independence anniversary month and all; and it really does more to do with theology than politics. And maybe it’s because I feel as though the Lord has been convicting me about these issues for some time, and our pastor’s July 2 sermon on the topic hit home for me.

            Pastor Mark quoted Russel D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, when he said, “We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first.”
            And then he reminded us that, while our country was founded by many devout Christians who believed in, followed, and cherished God’s word, and said that the principles of this country were founded on Biblical principles, it was not founded as a strictly Christian nation. That alone is pretty hard for many of us to hear and take.
            Then Pastor Mark referenced Second Chronicles 7:14, the passage we so often use on our National Day of Prayer to redeem this nation and swing it back to God. But Pastor Mark, as did Russell Moore) pointed out that this passage was specifically addressed to God’s people (the Israelites) and not to an ethnic group or a nation. And it isn’t addressed to a nation today, either. And there are several other things this passage emphasizes:

First, it emphasizes our need for prayer.

Second, we need to be earnest in our prayer and relationship with God.

Third, we are the ones who need to do the turning back to God and away from our wicked ways. We literally need to experience a type of metamorphosis.

Fourth, after we do these things, then God will forgive and heal us.

It's one of those "if then, so" premises, statements, arguments and conclusions many of us learned in logic class.

            Do I think this means that we should abandon the National Day of Prayer? No. I think it’s important for people to gather together to pray earnestly for their nation and its leaders. I do think, though, that we need to have the right perspective with it. We can’t get around the fact that, as Christians, we are sojourners in a foreign land, and our country is always going to feel oppressive to us in some way because it’s not truly our home.

May I repeat that truth? (Which, by the way, you'll find in one of Peter's epistles.) There is no getting around it. Christ followers are going to feel oppressed.

            In my curiosity, I did some on-line researching and found Moore’s 2016 Erasmus Lecture. Evidently it got him into a lot of trouble with people in his church and hardline conservatives, and he nearly lost his post. He calls our behavior and attitudes into question, our sudden idiosyncratic behavior to wave off things we shouldn’t be dismissing and sometimes (truthfully, oftentimes) slaying our own and looking too much like the world.
            While the entire paper is worth a read, here is an excerpt from it. Don’t skim through it. Read it carefully, with a heart and mind open to exhortation.

I am an heir of Bible Belt America, but also a survivor of Bible Belt America. I was reared in an ecosystem of Evangelical Christianity, informed by a large Catholic segment of my family and a Catholic majority in my community. I memorized Bible verses through “sword drill” competitions, a kind of Evangelical spelling bee in which children compete to see who can find, say, Habakkuk 3:3 the fastest. The songs that floated through my mind as I went to sleep at night were hymns and praise choruses and Bible verses set to music. Nonetheless, from the ages of fifteen through nineteen, I experienced a deep spiritual crisis that was grounded, at least partially, in, of all things, politics.

The cultural Christianity around me seemed increasingly artificial and cynical and even violent. I saw some Christians who preached against profanity use jarring racial epithets. I saw a cultural Christianity that preached hellfire and brimstone about sexual immorality and cultural decadence. And yet, in the church where the major tither was having an affair everyone in the community knew about, there he was, in our neighbor congregation’s “special music” time, singing “If It Wasn’t for That Lighthouse, Where Would This Ship Be?” I saw a cultural Christianity with preachers who often gained audiences, locally in church meetings or globally on television, by saying crazy and buffoonish things, simply to stir up the base and to gain attention from the world, whether that was claiming to know why God sent hurricanes and terrorist attacks or claiming that American founders, one of whom possibly impregnated his own human slaves and literally cut the New Testament apart, were orthodox, Evangelical Christians who, like us, stood up for traditional family values.

I saw a cultural Christianity cut off from the deep theology of the Bible and enamored with books and audio and sermon series tying current events to Bible prophecy—supermarket scanners as the mark of the Beast, Gog and Magog as the Soviet Union or, later, Saddam Hussein or al-Qaeda or the Islamic State as direct fulfillments of Bible prophecy. When these prophecies were not fulfilled, these teachers never retreated in shame. They waited to claim a new word from God and sold more products, whether books or emergency preparation kits for the Y2K global shutdown and the resulting dark age the Bible clearly told us would happen.

And then there were the voter guides. A religious right activist group from Washington placed them in our church’s vestibule, outlining the Christian position on issues. Even as a teenager, I could recognize that the issues just happened to be the same as the talking points of the Republican National Committee. With many of these issues, there did seem to be a clear Christian position—on the abortion of unborn children, for instance, and on the need to stabilize families. But why was there a “Christian” position on congressional term limits, a balanced budget amendment, and the line item veto? Why was there no word on racial justice and unity for those of us in the historical shadow of Jim Crow?

I was left with the increasingly cynical feeling—an existential threat to my entire sense of myself and the world—that Christianity was just a means to an end. My faith was being used as a way to shore up Southern honor culture, mobilize voters for political allies, and market products to a gullible audience. I was ready to escape—and I did. But I didn’t flee the way so many have, through the back door of the Church into secularism. I found a wardrobe in a spare room that delivered me from the Bible Belt back to where I started, to the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

I had read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and its sequels as a child, and found something solid there. As the other Inklings knew, the Narnia series wasn’t great literature or a carefully constructed myth such as Middle Earth was. My experience was similar to that of science fiction writer Neil Gaiman: “The weird thing about the Narnia books for me was that mostly they seemed true,” as if they “were reports from a real place.” So when, in the middle of my spiritual crisis, I saw the name C. S. Lewis on the spine of a book called Mere Christianity, I was willing to give him a chance—and he saved my life. Mere Christianity is not the City of God or the Summa Theologica or the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It didn’t need to be. All I needed was for this drinking, smoking, probably dancing and card-playing man on another continent to tell me the truth, to point me to a broad, bustling Church that took serious questions seriously and could be traced all the way back to an empty hole in the ground in the Middle East.

Most faiths that persist are tested and questioned and tempted along the way. But for me, the question was whether I was a beloved son or a cosmic orphan. It seems to me that my spiritual crisis is similar to a larger one that threatens to engulf religious conservatism in America. The religious right—whether we trace it to the school prayer skirmishes of the 1960s or the segregation academy controversies of the 1970s or the response to Roe v. Wade and the sexual revolution—was always a multifaceted coalition. After all, Jerry Falwell adopted Paul Weyrich’s language of a “moral majority” because the movement encompassed not just born-again Protestants but also many traditional Roman Catholics and Latter-day Saints and Orthodox Jews. But while the movement was in many ways informed by sources such as John Paul II’s theology of the body and Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square, the entrepreneurial energy almost always came from Evangelical Protestantism. For that and other reasons, American Evangelicalism is enmeshed with the religious right psychologically, institutionally, and in terms of reputation in ways the Catholic bishops, the Mormon apostles, and Orthodox rabbis just aren’t.

The fate of religious conservatism is important, though, and not merely for its own sake. Ross Douthat is quite right that America—left and right—needs a strong religious conservative movement. The religious right, at its best, modeled the kind of civic engagement and civil society that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wanted for this country. At its best, the religious right reminded all of us that there are realities more important than political or economic success; that we are a nation under God, one that can be weighed in the balance and found wanting. At its best, the religious right kept the focus on a vulnerable minority that easily becomes invisible to those with power: unborn children. Douthat is correct that without some form of religious right, the space left behind can all too easily be filled by European-style ethno-nationalism or Nietzschean social Darwinism. The religious right must, in some form, be saved. But how and in what form? That question, of course, brings us to the 2016 presidential election.

See, for instance, the use of 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land”) by many in the Evangelical wing of the religious right. The text is employed to speak of national “revival,” defined in terms of renewed civil religion and moral awakening. The “land” is assumed to be the United States of America. No recognition is given that this Old Testament verse is speaking of the temple—a temple the New Testament identifies with Christ himself and the living stones of his Church. God has made his covenant with his elect, not the American nation. Such considerations are often seen as beside the point. The text is useful for a political purpose, and so it is put to use. This is theological liberalism. When Christianity is seen as a political project in search of a gospel useful enough to advance its worldly agenda, it will end up pleasing those who make politics primary, while losing those who believe the Gospel.”

Moore has a lot of strong, thoughtful comments to make on the issue, don’t you think? If you enjoy, and are up for reading thought-provoking (and maybe convicting) treatises, you will want to peruse his entire lecture printed on line at First Things—The Institute on Religion and Public Life at this link:


Let me leave you with some soul-searching questions this week.

Do you, like C.S. Lewis points our, take serious things seriously?

How are you doing on the patriot scale? Super patriot? Super Christian? Having difficulty with the tension between the two?

Where do your loyalties lie? With God and His blueprint, or with the party line? Do you compartmentalize the two?

Just asking.

Maybe if we were better Christians, we’d be better Americans (or Lithuanians, Japanese, French, English, Germans or Scots—you fill in your country). And our countries, states, cities and neighborhoods would be better for it.

Until next week (and Music Monday!),


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos by Google Images

Monday, July 17, 2017

Whom Do You Seek?

            EVERYONE IS SEEKING SOMEONE. We’re either seeking someone to spend time with, to love, to listen, to hire us, complete us, to spend the rest of our lives with, to educate us, mentor us, pat us on the back, or empathize with us.
            Knowing whom you seek tells you whose opinion you are seeking. So may I ask: Whose opinion matters most to you?
            Before you read on, think about how you’d answer that question.
            When I was speaking to my sons during their coming of age celebrations when they turned thirteen, I told them that nobody’s opinion of them should matter more than what God thinks of them. The directive means that everything you do in life is driven by what God thinks of you and your actions. It means that you spend time with God, you listen to God, you study His word, take His directives and then move out with them. And when you do that, it means—more often than not—that you live like a salmon swimming upstream, going against the flow. Fighting against the world’s wisdom and the world’s status quo.
            More often than not, it means that instead of being a world follower, you are a world changer. And not in the political sense. (Check your Bibles, but I don’t think I heard of any of the early Christians carrying political banners, holding rallies, or having shouting matches with the Roman government and Emperor Nero.)
             Look at the people in Scripture who changed the world. There are plenty of them, some of whom were the least respected people in society and the last ones you’d expect to change anything.
            But they had certain characteristics we should pay attention to:

            1. They listened to God.
            2. They obeyed God.
            3. They had their minds set on heaven rather than on earth because they knew                       their citizenship was in heaven and not here.

            Read that last point again. They had their minds set on heaven rather than on earth. That doesn’t mean they ignored their physical needs; it means they focused on the main thing—that possessions and opinions and political power and 401Ks and Roth IRAs and power positions didn’t absorb their energy. Doing God’s will absorbed their energy, even though it wasn’t always easy and sometimes put their lives at risk.
            They were world changers. As Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship says, “A world changer is a thermostat, not a thermometer.”
            A world changer sets the temperature, or tone; he doesn’t just report what it is. A thermostat sets the desired temperature, and then regulates when that desired temperature is met. If it’s set to 72 degrees, it keeps the air conditioning unit pumping and working to get the house cooled to that temperature. It doesn’t re-set itself because it’s easier or more advantageous to do that.
            And one more point:
            4. World changers live by faith.

            They live their daily lives based on God’s promises, not their own fluid and often unreliable emotions. They see what others don’t, or what others ignore or dismiss. They apply their faith to their lives, which sometimes means taking risks. Big ones. When the rest of the world is zigging, they decide to zag.

            You’ll want to hear everything Pastor Greg has to say about being a world changer. You can find it at the link I've added at the end of the post. It’s worth listening to just for the wonderful testimony of living by faith and finishing well played in the middle of the broadcast.

             But before you listen to Pastor Greg and as you go through your week, do some personal assessment and ask yourself some hard questions. (My BFF calls it "soul digging.")

1. How much do you really pay attention to how much do your emotions swing up and down or right and left by the world’s news?

2. How much stock do you take in what others say? How many of your decisions are based on what the world, or your friends say, that don’t line up with what God says?

3. How much praying do you do before making an important decision? How much searching the Scriptures? How much time do you spend listening to political radio or television? Secular opinion talk shows?

4. What kind of influence are you having on your family or friends? And what kind of influence are they having on you?

5. As Pastor Greg asks: “How often do you remind yourself that earth is not your home, that you’re just passing through?” and “Are you expecting this world to give you something it can never deliver?

             Honest answers to those questions may reveal why you’re so frustrated with life, angry about the unfairness of it all, why you’re suffering anxiety and depression. Why you feel as though you haven’t achieved, or have fallen short of the world’s or someone else’s standards.

             Finding the answers to those questions may give you the peace and joy that’s been eluding you for so long.


Next week we’ll revisit patriotism and how that may clash with your Christian faith. That also goes along with who you seek and how you view this life.

Until next week.

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images