Double-minded man. Prayer is hard for me.

I came across this term “double-minded man” in reading the first few sentences of the Book of James.  This nails me 100%.  The opening lines talk about the need to fully believe that your prayers will be answered by God according to his wisdom.  And then in James’ blunt fashion, he says that anyone who prays but doesn’t expect God to fulfill those prayers is a double-minded man.  Pursuing God, but still stuck here in the world.  At least that’s my take on it.

So let’s talk about believing in prayer.  This is tough.  Dude, you can hold your hands up in the air, fall to your knees, or whatever you like to get your prayers as impactful as possible.  But it’s all a bit of window-dressing, isn’t it?  Am I the only one who thinks it’s pretty darn tough to 100%, zero doubt, fully believe that my prayers are going to be answered?

Jesus did well with this (duh!).  I think he was the opposite of me.  I struggle to know what it would be like to 100% fully believe (in all honesty and not just trying to be “good at prayer”) in the power of my prayers.  I think Jesus would be the opposite.  I think he would have a hard time understanding someone who prayed to God on a regular basis but who, if being completely honest, was only very HOPEFUL that his prayers would be answered.  Not CONFIDENT.  I think he’d look at me and tell me I’m weird.  You know, that guy way of saying it where an insult isn’t really an insult.

Why is this hard for me?  Well the answer is actually really simple.  I just don’t pray enough.  And I don’t spend enough time reading the Bible.  I have this expectation that I’ll sit down to pray and just be amazing at it.  But I’ve never in my life been amazing at something the first time I did it.  Or the tenth time I did it.  Or the hundredth time.

And for something as complicated as prayer, it should take a while to get good at it, right?  I mean we have tough stuff going on.  Is that voice I’m hearing my own?  Or God?  Silencing my own head might actually be harder than hearing from God.  And I think I’ve heard from God at least twice.  Powerful experiences, both.  But there is a chance that every one of those times I wondered “was that God or what that my own head?” that perhaps it really was God?  If so, I’ve heard from God a lot.

I’m rambling a little bit.  Not unlike the way I pray.  I’m still all over the place.  Kind of like a conversation you might have with a 6 year old.  Halfway through you are thinking, “How did we end up talking about THIS?”

So… simple fix.  Just pray more.  And pray about regular stuff.  Stuff actually happening in my life.  I need to stop saying what I think God wants to hear when I pray a just talk to God about what’s up.  What am I thankful for?  What is stressing me out at work?  What does He want from me?  These are things I think about all the time but they never make it into my prayers.  Never on the “approved list”…

So no more approved list.  Just conversation.  Respectful conversation.  With a God who is so completely nuts that He actually wants to hear from a weirdo like me on a daily basis.

Good night all.

Broken no more.

We hear it all the time. Christ loves you even though you’re broken. And it’s true. And it’s life altering. And important. So important. It changes everything. We don’t need to be perfect to approach God.  He is a forgiving, loving God.  Even when we are broken.

The end.

NO!  NOT THE END!

Five years ago, I needed to hear and understand that God loved me even though I was a mess.  That fact changed my life. Or did it?  Did I spend so much time obsessing over God’s grace in light of my brokenness that I completely missed that I’m not broken anymore?  Am I missing my calling because I’m still delighting in the fact that God loves me despite my brokenness?  Or more honestly, did I simply never expect to not be broken anymore?  Am I satisfied to be broken but loved?  Or is there something else?  Do I ever stop being broken?  What happens then?

God’s acceptance became my crutch. It was my witness. “God loves you if you’re broken bro.  Here’s my story of brokenness.”  And that’s a good witness. But it’s only half a witness.

Being accepted and loved by God even through your brokenness is NOT THE FINISH LINE.  It’s the starting line of a race you may not even have realized you were in.  I sure didn’t.

What kind of father finds their broken child, hugs them, BUT THEN LEAVES THEM BROKEN?  Not my heavenly father. It is occurring to me for the first time tonight, since I’m a little dumb, that God put me back together for a reason. That he accepted me while broken, but didn’t leave me that way. He put me back together and stood my unbroken body on a frickin’ launching pad.

I’m not perfect. But I sure as hell ain’t the the broken down dude that God scooped up and loved those now several years ago.  I’ve been saying it all wrong.

“God loves me even though I’m broken.”

Wrong.

“God loves me even though I used to be broken.”

Yeah. That.

I gotta quit feeling like a still-broken shell of a man. God found me. Repaired me. And why?  To send me out to battle.  To push me head first into a dying world.

No.  I declare today that I am no longer broken. And I am no longer wallowing in my self pity of brokenness that God repaired in his grace.

I’m ready. Ready to enter the world that God called me to, and built me for. Broken no more. Ready to serve.

Are you still broken?

Are you sure?

Warm. Comfortable. And I don’t need God.

What is the devil’s most powerful tool?  Al Qaeda?  ISIS?  Child porn?  Sexual slavery?  I don’t think so.  I think the devil’s most powerful tool is in my living room.  I think it’s in my bank account.  I think it’s parked in my garage.  I think it’s hanging in my closet.

I think the devil’s most powerful tool is comfort.

You see, I lead a fairly comfortable life.  What exactly do I need God for anyway?  I don’t feel the intense need for a relationship with God on a minute by minute basis.  David Platt said, “If you don’t feel like you need prayer in your life, you’re probably right.”  What? Don’t panic.  He wasn’t really talking about prayer.  He was talking about comfort.  God doesn’t promise to deliver a life of comfort.  He promises to deliver a life of purpose.  And purpose is not comfortable.  Athletes do not fulfill their competitive purpose without discomfort.  Neither do Christians.

My life is so comfortable right now that I am taking it as a sign that I’m not spending enough time sticking my neck out there for God.  The things that God has laid out for me are hard.  Scary.  Stressful.  They are things that I cannot possibly accomplish without God at my side.  If I don’t feel like I need a constant level of communication with God, I’m right.  Because I’m not doing what God called me to do.  I don’t really need God around to help me with the day to day humdrum that I’ve filled my life with instead.

It’s pretty blunt.  But I think it’s pretty damn true as well.  Isn’t it?

Maybe it’s time for a little discomfort.  A little stress.  A little, “I don’t think I can get through this without God” type stuff.  Maybe it’s time for me to answer my calling.  I had this vision last night.  A vision of me.  A physically fit me, in front of about a thousand people.  I was on fire.  I was inspiring them.  I was delivering God’s word to them.  Leading them.  And it gave me cold chills.  It invigorated me.  But don’t have time to get fit.  I don’t have time to start a major ministry.  I don’t have time to finish  the book  I started.  I don’t know how to start a ministry.  There are a million things I don’t know how to do, or don’t have, or don’t like, to make that vision a reality.

So… I guess just maybe… I need to get off that couch and start asking God how exactly I’m supposed to pull this off.  Maybe it’s time to go.  Go to a place that I won’t survive without the desperate, needy, stressed, and terrified prayer to God, “How can I get through this Lord??  I need your help.  I’m lost and I don’t know how to get this done.”

Rusted out soul.

Today a headline was released that ISIS beheaded twenty one Christians.  Here is how I spent my day.

I watched five episodes of The Vanilla Ice Project.

I watched three episodes of Overhaulin’.

We drove three towns over to shop for a specific brand of trail mix that we like.

I played Words With Friends.

I scanned through Facebook probably a dozen times.

I rode a stationary bicycle for thirty minutes.

We bought ice cream from Oberweis with a gift card I forgot I had.

I read a chapter of the book Joshua.

I ate a bowl of cereal, two pita sandwiches, some salad, about a dozen pieces of candy, a spoonful of ice cream, and some tortellini. 

I compared prices on various species of wood I’m thinking about using to make a table.

I took a shower and was irritated that it wasn’t really hot enough.

What did I do today?  The same thing I do every day. Not a damn thing. Just exactly what the devil ordered.  Not a damn thing.

This is broken. Not even destroyed. It’s rusted out from sitting unused for two decades. Rusted out soul.

A war has been waged against us and I had to stop myself from complaining that my government wasn’t doing enough about it.  All while I did even less.

Stop praying for strength!

I pray it a lot. “Lord give me the strength to get through this week, to endure this temptation, to sustain this whatever it is that I’m dealing with.” I got a pretty clear message from God tonight: Cut it out. Stop praying for strength.

This is not an all out declaration that no one should ever pray for strength, or even that I should never again pray for strength. But for me, right now, I don’t need to be praying for strength. I need to be USING the strength that God has already given me. I am using my prayers for strength as a crutch to avoid going and doing the very things that God has given me strength to do.

So today, in my current season in life, I need to stop praying for strength. Because the strength I seek has already been given to me. I keep asking for it again and again because, to be honest, because I am not fully vested in that thing which God has called me to do. I don’t even know exactly what it is. I never found out. Because I was so convinced that I “needed more strength” and kept on praying for it that I never realized I had all the strength I needed.

It’s a little like praying your whole life asking for some way to get where you need to go, and God says, “Um, you know you’re sitting in a running car, right?”

It’s the perfect way to avoid answering your calling. To answer it, you need strength. And It’s not like you’re doing nothing. I mean you pray for strength ALL THE TIME. And God just hasn’t delivered it yet. So, ya know, it’s kinda like sorta God’s fault, right? But we don’t say it that way. We say churchy things like, “God will deliver me in his time and I need to be patient and wait.”

Hey that’s true. If God wants you to wait, you better. Just be sure you’re right about that and I would even go as far as saying I’d pretty seriously doubt it. There is not a ton of Biblical support for God wanting people to sit around doing nothing while they wait for God to deliver what they need. Even during the forty years in the desert the Israelites KEPT MOVING. Yeah they needed to wait to enter the promised land, but God didn’t leave them just sitting around doing nothing. He kept them moving with a pillar of fire.

Side note. Being led around by a pillar of fire would be pretty awesome these days. Can you imagine? “Traffic on I-355 is backed up with delays of over an hour.” Ummm… not after me and God show up with our flippin’ pillar of fire yo!! Okay I digress.

So here’s the bottom line. Yeah God makes us wait for stuff. The Bible is FULL of stories about droughts and other times when we had to wait for God. But I think, at least for me, that I sit around waiting when God actually wants me moving all under the pretense that I’m waiting on God to do some amazing thing to set me on my way when in reality.. he already has.

So if you’re spending a lot of time praying for strength, at step back for a day and think about whether you’ve already got all the strength you need. You probably do, and God may just be sitting there with something AMAZING for you waiting for you to step into the strength he built into you years or even decades ago.

Just my two cents…

Now go be awesome, would ya? It’s what you’re MADE FOR!! Later dudes.

Crazy homeless dude…

So I’m in the city the other day and this homeless guy comes up to me and starts talking to me.  I try to be a decent guy about it but it was definitely weird.  It’s winter and this guy is wearing sandals and he’s kinda freaking the kids out.  Not going nuts or anything but the whole “stranger-danger” thing, you know.

He was actually a nice guy and seemed pretty set even though he was obviously broke.  Never asked me for money which I was sorta waiting for any minute.  And he’s telling me about how he’s at peace, blah blah blah.  And I’m like, “At peace?  Dude, nothing personal but you look like you’re having a rough time of it here.  I don’t mean to be presumptuous but how are you at peace?”

So he tells me about his dad and all this stuff and to be honest I kinda wasn’t listening 100% but he’s definitely a lot less stressed about his situation than I would be.  You need a job bro!  I finally just broke down and asked him how he can be so chill under the circumstances, and he’s like, “What circumstances?”

Seriously.  Dude.  You’re obviously homeless.  Fine.  It had to be said so I said it.  And he’s like, “Oh that.  Yeah well it works out.  Never missed a meal yet.”

Never missed a meal yet?  What the hell?  Seriously?

So I figure I’ll test the guy.  I’m no angel but I do my best to be a decent guy and I guess you could say I play by the rules.  So I’m like, “So dude.  I have a good job.  Went to school.  Do an honest business and do right by my wife.  And I’m about ten times more stressed out than you are.  What’s the deal?  Hook me up.  What do I gotta do to chill out?”

So then the sales pitch hits.  I knew it!  Dude tells me to sell all my stuff.  Now I get it.  Sidewalk preacher.  Probably has a dozen of these “homeless dude” outfits that he throws on in the back of his Rolls Royce and heads out trolling for suckers.  No dice pal.  I’m not biting.

But now I’m pissed and I kinda can’t let it go.  “So you want me to sell my stuff and give you all the money?”

“No dude I don’t need your money.  I told you.  I’m good.  Never missed a meal, remember?”

Oh so I give it his “charity” I suppose, right?  Some charity that he just happens to run, etc. etc.  No.  He tells me, “Just give it to the poor or something.  I don’t know.  There’s always going to be poor folks.  Widows.  Kids with no parents.  Help them out. But this stuff you’ve got.  It’s not helping you at all.”

Not helping me??  What like my car?  My car?  That doesn’t help me get to work?  What an idiot.

Give it to the poor.  Like just find some random poor guy and give him all my stuff?  That’s crazy.  He’s like, “You’ll figure it out.  You figured out your job and your car and your family and your house.  I’m sure you can figure out who to help by selling all your stuff no problem.”

So obviously this guy was a complete whack job and I’m not getting that twenty minutes of my life back anytime soon.

Frickin’ nutcase.

_____________________

And that, my friends, is how easy it is to reject Christ.

Go be awesome at something.  It’s what you were wired for.

J

Image credit: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/File:Portrait-of-Homeless-Man-IMG_3825.jpg

Results Oriented Faith

Christianity is a pretty awesome faith these days. We have totally abandoned the concept that faith would actually produce some sort of result in someone’s life, or even our own. It’s basically just a mechanism to improve ourselves, ask God for stuff that would make our lives better. But nothing ever actually HAPPENS, right? Well, except that you “have faith”… That (whatever that is) happens.

But this is not Biblical faith. Biblical faith included all sorts of crazy stuff. It included healing people. And feeding huge crowds with tiny amounts of food. And causing trees to wither in an instant. Water into wine. Speaking in tongues. You know. Some pretty crazy stuff.

“Oh but that’s just stuff that Jesus did. That’s different.”

Is it? Not according to Jesus. He didn’t say that faith the size of a mustard seed could allow HIM to move a mountain. He said it would allow US to move mountains.  Faith used to be something that allowed you to DO stuff.  Crazy stuff, like heal people.  Now it’s just something we TALK about.  You have faith if you talk about Jesus a lot.  Or talk about the Bible.  Or go to church.  But it doesn’t actually turn into actions.  Actions that can only be explained by faith.

That’s all outdated stuff, the thought that faith would make doing crazy things possible. Anyone who claims to have done something crazy by way of faith is a nut.  We tend to step away and assume that someday they will be praying for people on TV in exchange for a $25.00 donation.  WE DON’T EXPECT TO SEE FAITH IN ACTION ANYMORE.  We’re satisfied just talking about what things were like 2,000 years ago when “that stuff” actually happened.  God’s retired now.  Didn’t you hear?

Today we don’t measure the significance of a church by the crazy weird stuff it pulls off in radically saving people’s lives (like with food, or healing). We measure the weekly collection. Butts in seats. We measure the extent to which we can get people to come into the church instead of measuring the crazy radical stuff the church members do when they are NOT in the pew.

Faith, to be blunt, has been watered down to the point that just showing up for church at all is considered an act of faith. And that’s not as dry and boring as it used to be because church these days is pretty entertaining stuff. And that’s not a bad thing. Unless it’s the only thing.

Faith is about showing up in an impoverished nation without enough food to feed the people in front of you but somehow not running out of food. That’s the crazy kind of stuff I’m talking about.

I’ve been working with a friend who is planting a new church. This is one of those places where crazy things happen. Old Testament and New Testament kind of crazy things. I’m not talking about people wandering around with their hands in the air aimlessly and praising Jesus every three seconds. I’ve been to a few of those churches and that stuff weirds me out. Seems fake. No I’m talking about stuff I can’t really get my head around.

I tell my Sunday School class all the time that God did stuff in crazy ways for one simple reason: So we would know it was Him. You see a burning bush talking to you, there are only a couple of extra explanations for that. You’ve either eaten the wrong kind of mushroom, or that’s God. Toss in the fact that the bush wasn’t actually consumed by the flames and you’re pretty deep into God territory there. Stepped into a blazing furnace and your hair didn’t event get singed? Yeah. That’s pretty crazy. Only one explanation for that.

But that stuff doesn’t happen today. Right? Why not? Maybe it does. Maybe we’ve just watered down our perspective on faith that we don’t expect crazy weird stuff from God anymore. But maybe we should.

So I’m seeing some crazy weird stuff. Haven’t see a mountain move yet. But I’ve seen some stuff. Stuff that can only be explained by the hand of God. So my mind is opening a little bit. There’s a miracle for ya!

A lawyer with an open mind. Yeah… God really does do crazy stuff.

More than a crucifixion.

You know, I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I’ve been a “renewed” Christian for a few years now. And with all of that there is a simple fact that has completely escaped me about Christ. I know he gave his life for me. We all know that. And to me, that always meant the actual act of dying on the cross. That’s a life-changing fact right there. But it’s missing something.

He gave his WHOLE life for me. Him dying on the cross would not have meant as much if he was just some random guy with kids and a dog. He gave things up in order to be the Christ who’s death would matter. He gave up EVERYTHING. I started thinking about examples.

He never had a girlfriend. He never experienced that exciting glance across a room with someone he was interested in. He never walked holding the hand of the girl he loved.

I held my newborn nephew this weekend. It was awesome. He ate, and then fell asleep. And he was so peaceful. It made me remember holding my two girls when they were infants. It is an experience that can never be duplicated. It is an experience that Christ never had. I can picture him in a room with moms holding their kids and thinking it would be nice. But knowing it would never happen.

I see him watching a husband and wife give each other a hard time in that playful way that married couples do when they are playing around. He never experienced that. And he knew every day that he never would, never could. He never walked through the door of his own home and put the world behind him and just hung out with his kids and forgot the stress of the day. He never had a home. He never laid his head on a pillow and listened to his wife tell him what the kids did that day, what her plans were for tomorrow. He never heard the cry of his daughter from the other room and decided to let his wife sleep through it, and rocked his baby girl back to sleep in her dad’s strong arms and watched her eyes slowly fall shut. He never looked on that face, that pure innocent face, while she slept as though nothing was wrong in the world.

The sacrifices that Christ made while being beaten to within and inch of his life, and then hanging on the cross while life actually left him, are mind boggling. Literally beyond comprehension. But it is suddenly weighing on me the daily sacrifices that he made as a child, as a teenager, a 20-something. Every single day of his 33 years was a sacrifice. He was a man. These were things he most certainly thought about. It’s not like he wandered around in a stupor completely unaware that these amazing experiences were out there. He knew. And he felt the pain of missing out on them. Every day.

I complain when I go a few days without seeing my kids. It’s a huge sacrifice. I didn’t hug my wife on the way out the door the other day and it bugged me all day. These are tiny snapshots in time compared to 33 years of total sacrifice. Sacrifice of the very amazing day to day things that make living our lives amazing.

There is no major conclusion here I suppose. There is no “here is what you should do with this” type of ending to this post. But it was on my mind, and I wanted to share it with all of you.

God bless each of you.

J

Talking Christ out of dying on the cross.

Okay, Jesus. I get it, okay? You love all people, etc. etc. But you’re talking about dying here for these people. Dying for their sins, right? That’s what you said. Listen, do what you want. But just listen to me for a couple of minutes.

So you’re dying for THEIR sins, right? Setting aside the fact that this doesn’t really make any sense to me, let’s be practical for a minute. First, limited audience. How many people are even going to be in town to see this happen. Sin is global, dude. GLOBAL. Even if everyone in town sees you do this and stops sinning, how many is that? A few thousand? At best? Out of the entire world? Talk about a drop in the ocean. It’s not worth it.

Also, talk about giving a drunk a drink! It’s not like people are actually going to stop sinning. You’re dying for their sins right in the middle of them continuing to sin, pal. Think about that! How unfair is that? And also, doesn’t it seem a little pointless? Die for their sins and they start sinning again in what, 30 seconds? Listen Jesus, you just don’t buy a drunk a drink. It’s not right.

Also, why does this all have to fall on your shoulders? Shouldn’t their be some sort of organized initiative or program to reduce sin? There are a lot of good people and good organizations out there. If you don’t do this, someone else will.

________________________

Sounds ridiculous, right? Then why do I have this conversation all the time about the people around us who need help right now?

Have an awesome day.

JDV

Photo credit: http://www.johnlund.com