Category Archives: Faith

The Gift

There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is standing in the temple watching the wealthy give their offerings.* Somewhere in the midst of all this comes a “poor widow” who only has two coins to offer. After placing her coins in the offering, Jesus saw the difference between the two offerings. According to Luke 21:3-4, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

At first glance this story may appear as a blight against the wealthy or it might lead us to believe the only acceptable offering is giving every last cent in our pocket. Or maybe we’re just missing the point.

Some Baseball Cards, Dad!

Today is my 41st birthday. I’ve already received birthday greetings, cards, and a few gifts. I appreciate them all but there is one gift that stands out, one that I’ll remember throughout my life.

Yesterday my son Jared gave me a set of baseball cards because he knows I’m a baseball fan. And he’s becoming a fan, as we’ve taken in an Orioles game each of the last two years. So he decided to give me some baseball cards.

What makes this gift so special is that it’s the first time where Jared has decided on his own to give me a gift. In the past, his mother has always taken him shopping on our dime (insert smile). Not this year. Jared picked out his own gift to give. And he was so excited it! So much that he couldn’t wait until my birthday… He gave me my gift yesterday.

As I opened the gift and saw the baseball cards, I saw the smile on his face and the joy in his heart. That joy that radiated through his smile lit up the room and filled the air with joy. That was the real gift he was giving, a gift from the heart born out of the love he has for his dad.

The Heart That Gives…

Back to the story of the widow’s offering. What was it that she gave out of her poverty? Was it just two small coins or was it something much deeper, of an unmeasurable wealth?

I wasn’t at the temple with Jesus to see this woman’s expression or the expressions of her wealthy neighbors. Nevertheless, it seems that the gift this poor widow gave was her heart. Yes, the gift was expressed through two coins but the gift was the heart nonetheless.

The heart that gives is the gift that pleases God, that brings a smile to his face like it did when my son gave me the set of baseball cards. The heart that gives is a gift that can be expressed through two coins, if that is all one has, or through an abundance like the wealthy temple-goers had. Likewise, one can give either an abundant or just a small amount such as two coins and still never give from the heart.

What matters when we worship and when we serve God is that we do with a heart that gives. That’s not an offering that can be manufactured or taught. That’s the heart that gives because it’s the heart that loves… loves God and loves neighbor!

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* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (August 6, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Discipleship and Prayer

I’ve thought about writing on developing a rhythm of prayer for several months but have hesitated, as I don’t want come off as tooting my own piety which truly is nothing to brag about. However, in writing this, which involves sharing something of my own prayer discipline, the hope is that it might help someone else in this journey of following Jesus.

The Problem With Prayer

To begin with, let me give you a little background so that you’ll understand my struggle a bit more. The Christian tradition I come from, the Churches of Christ, is really big on pot-luck fellowships and Bible study. Have a cook-out or a Bible-study and you can expect a decent turn out. Invite people over for a time of  praying together and the turn probably won’t be so great. I know this from experience. This isn’t to say that people from the Churches of Christ don’t believe in prayer, it’s just doesn’t hold the same value as eating and studying the Bible.

But here’s the deal: As followers of Jesus, disciples, prayer is a vitally important aspect of our life. Prayer was an important discipline for Jesus, who would get up early in the morning so that he could go and pray in a quiet place (cf. Mk 1:35). Yet when we haven’t learned to value prayer like this it’s difficult to establish a disciplined rhythm of prayer in life. I suppose it’s even harder to do so in our world which seems constantly on the move, where we have hand-held computers in our hand almost the entire day.

In the past, I’ve tried remaining vigilant about praying every-time I get in my truck and drive somewhere, even if it’s just to the store. This, however, is mainly just a prayer asking God to see where he is at work so that I might join him in his work, which I also forget to do at times. There’s nothing wrong with such a prayer but in reading through the Psalms, I am convinced that prayer is more than just this. I also like to go for walks (it’s great exercise) and will pray at times during these walks but as someone who struggles with remaining focused and keeping my attention (ADHD)… Let’s just say that since my mind is thinking in a thousand different directions, neither praying or reflecting comes easy on these walks.

A Rhythmic Approach to Prayer

Wanting to become more disciplined in praying, I’ve developed a rhythmic approach that I want to share with you. I don’t know if someone else has developed a similar approach but I’ve really found this helpful. However, before I do let me share two important disclaimers. First, though we should be praying people just as Jesus was, I don’t believe this means that we must go about praying exactly as Jesus did. That is, the idea is becoming more disciplined in the practice of prayer but we can do that without necessarily getting up at dark-thirty in the morning for a trip into the woods for prayer. Second, the approach I am sharing with you is intended as descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, my way is not the only way. So if it helps, great! If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine too. But if I encourage you to become more intentional about the discipline of prayer then this post is worth the effort.

Besides praying on walks, praying with my family before bed, I have started practicing a rhythm of prayer based on the A.C.T.S. acronym. Perhaps you’ve heard of this before but for those who haven’t, this acronym stands for AdorationConfessionThanksgiving, and Supplication. While the acronym has four parts, the rhythm involves five times of prayer throughout the day that runs as follows:

  • The Prayer of Adoration at 9:00 AM (Morning Prayer) praises God for who he is as Creator and Redeemer. Reflecting on all that God is and all the ways that he is at work in the world, this prayer exalts him for this.
  • The Prayer of Confession at 12:00 PM (Noontime Prayer) involves a confession of faith and confession of sins. This prayer professes the fundamental beliefs of being Christian (i.e., “Jesus is Lord!”) and admits the things done and not done that are wrong and therefore are sin.
  • The Prayer of Thanksgiving at 3:00 (Afternoon Prayer) involves thanking God for his blessings and grace. That is, in light of all that God has done, including the continued grace and mercy he extends, this prayer expresses gratitude.
  • The Prayer of Supplication at 6:00 (Evening Prayer) involves petitioning God for the various needs I encounter. This is the prayer where personal needs as well as the needs of others are brought to God’s attention.
  • The Lord’s Prayer at 9:00 (Nighttime Prayer) is simply a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). In some ways, this prayer is a rehearsal of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

As I suggested earlier, this rhythm doesn’t exclude other prayers and if you can take some time out every day for a prayer walk, that’s good too!

Let me share a couple of helpful ideas. One thing that I’ve done is scheduled these prayer times into the calendar on my iPhone. When the time comes for prayer, a little “alert” sound will ring letting me know what time it is. So if you have some sort of smart-phone, you can use the calendar to help establish this rhythm for you. Lastly, there are some days where my rhythm is thrown off and occasionally I blow it off (I’m a work in progress). That will happen to you as well but don’t fret about it and don’t be a legalist about setting a rhythm like this. I am convinced that having a disciplined rhythm of prayer is vital as we follow Jesus as but the rhythm itself is not the Lord. So if you miss, then just pick up where you left off.

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Do you find this might helpful? What other ideas you have or how you can incorporate a rhythm of prayer into your life? What suggestions do you have for me and others?

Twelve Years Ago… Remembering Kenny!

Grace! A Scandal Among Christians?

Hang around almost any church in America and it won’t be very long until you hear something said about the grace of God. It’s one of the most cherished and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet this grace is a scandal.*

Grace is Much Deeper, More Earthy

You see, though salvation is by the grace of God, grace is much deeper and more earthy than a few hymns and a doctrinal statement. The grace of God is rooted in and finds its grandest expression in the incarnation of God… in the Son of God, this Galilean born in Nazareth among a barn, born to a mother whose unwed pregnancy stirred enough scandal all by itself.

We know him as Jesus, the Messiah. We believe in him. We pray in his name, sing praises about him, and apparently we’ll even rent out entire theaters to watch movies made about him. I guess you can say that we love the stories told about Jesus, the ones in the Bible. In fact, every preacher knows that he or she can’t go wrong in preaching about Jesus. After all, we’re Christians… We have a friend in Jesus, who all of our sins and griefs to bear

We adore Jesus and we adore all those stories we’ve read about Jesus in the Bible. We hear the stories of Jesus driving out demons, healing a leper, feeding five-thousand hungry mouths, eating lunch with sinners and tax-collectors, forgiving a woman caught in adultery, washing the feet of his friend-become-enemy named Judas Iscariot, and even promising paradise to the condemned criminal as Jesus himself was being crucified… And our hearts melt! When Jesus spoke from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34), we hear his grandest expression of love and mercy. For even as he was dying a cruel and shameful and death he didn’t deserve, he never abandoned the character of God’s grace.

But… Malarkey!

The Apostle Paul wrote that even as we were “sinners” and “enemies” of God, Jesus died for us to save us (cf. Rom 5:8, 10). We love it, cherish it, stake our faith upon it. When it comes to us, we’re never beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. It’s not that we think we’re somehow deserving of God’s grace. We just know how much we need the grace of God, so we relish in knowing that God loves us and is merciful to us from the boundless riches of his grace.

But what about the other person whose sins are different than ours, whose struggles are more apparent than ours, whose life is much more of a mess than ours? What happens when we encounter a homeless veteran who only knows how to numb his pain with lots of drugs and alcohol? What happens when we encounter a flamboyant LGBTQ person suffering from AIDS who’s angry towards Christians because of the rejection he or she encountered among the church of their youth when they were struggling with their sexual identity? What happens when we encounter our Muslim neighbor whose ideological outlook on life appears unAmerican? What happens when that family whose skin color differs from ours, whose language isn’t American English, moves into the neighborhood bringing with them their culture from back home?

This is where the test of how well we really embrace the grace of God is proved. But truly embracing the grace of God is not something all Christians have an interest in doing. Some will go to great lengths to evade practicing the same grace they revel in as believers. When it comes to showing mercy, loving one’s neighbor and even their enemy, and practicing hospitality with the stranger whose sin is reviling, some Christians turn to their ever handy and favorite ad hoc proof-texts from the Bible. With their favorite proof-text in mind and coupled with a big dose of utilitarian reasoning, they dismiss the example Jesus lived – this life we are called to follow Jesus in living. I even heard one Christian point to King David from the Old Testament, as though we’re called to follow David rather than Jesus… as though the example of David is greater than the example of Jesus.

This is malarkey! When we resort to such evasive tactics, we become like the Pharisees and other religious authorities of Jesus’ day who knew their Bibles well but missed the very heart of God revealed in Jesus. The grace of God, which is most palpably expressed in the life Jesus lived, must transform our character so that we learn to think, speak, and act with love and mercy towards others regardless of what condition or decisions they have made in life. When it doesn’t, then the scandal of God’s grace apparently becomes too big of a scandal for even us to embrace.

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* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (June 4, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Forgiving Others As God Forgives Us

In Matthew 18:21-25 Jesus tells a parable about an unmerciful servant. In the parable, the servant owes a large sum of money to his master and cannot pay it back.* After begging his master not to sell his family into slavey in order to recover the money he is owed, the master chooses to cancel the debt of this servant and let him go. However, as soon as the servant departs, he finds another man who owes him money and has this man thrown into jail when he cannot repay the debt. But then along comes the master, who is livid with his servant for not extending the same mercy that he received from the master. The master then hands over his servant to be “tortured” in jail until he pays his debt back in full.

After telling this parable, Jesus says in v. 35, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Forgiving Others

The parable is a response to Peter’s question regarding how many times he should forgive another person who sins against him. That, of course, draws a response from Jesus saying, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The entire direction of this conversation has come about because Jesus told a parable about the Father’s happiness in leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost sheep and then some instructions for dealing with sins (Matt 18:10-20).

What we encounter first is the expansive nature of the grace and mercy that God extends. When Jesus begins the parable of the unmerciful servant, he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” as he begins telling about this master who forgave a great debt out of sheer grace and mercy. Jesus begins the parable that way because this is really how God forgives and what God expects of us. That’s why God is more concerned with the one lost sheep and why Jesus provides instruction about dealing with sin as well as how many times we should forgive others.

On one hand, as already stated, the passage implicitly speaks to the expansive nature of God’s grace and mercy. Sometimes we might wonder if God would ever forgiven us of our sins. The answer is a resounding “Yes! God does and already has forgiven us!” That, however, is the basis for the explicit point of the passage which is the fact that we must forgive as God forgives us.

But What If…

It’s one thing to talk about forgiveness and it’s another to do it. The challenge will always be actually embodying our doctrine of God’s grace. In particular, will we forgive others as much as God forgives us?

Over the last two and a half years, one theme I have heard over and over is how much of a healing community our church has been and I believe we are because I’ve seen it. We are striving to be as we say, “a family of grace in Columbia.” Yet a big part of what makes a church a place of healing, where the grace and mercy of God is palpable, is the willingness to forgive others as God forgives us. Whether it is the one lost sheep or the fellow Christian who sins against us, we must always forgive.

God’s desire for us to forgive others is not contingent on whether or not such forgiveness is deserved because it never is. We are to forgive others because God forgives us. That inevitably raises an objection from someone suggesting that forgive others might result in being taken advantage of by someone else. That’s a good point because at some point along the way that will likely happen to us… Just like it happened to Jesus even to the point of death on the cross so that we might be forgiven of our sins. But I never hear anyone objecting to that. So let us not raise objections instead raise our practice of grace and mercy as we forgive others.

How wonderful it is to know we are forgiven!

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This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (May 21, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Dad, Daughter, and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures

IMG_0142I brought my 9 year-old daughter with me to the Pepperdine Bible Lectures so that she could participate in the “Making Waves” children’s classes. She’s having a great time and so am I! Last night, on our walk back to our room (about a 15 minute walk) we had a wonderful conversation as my daughter asked me a question saying, “Dad, what is the gospel?” It was good to explain the gospel to her and let her chew on it, as she is thinking about a lot of things right now that have to do with Jesus, baptism and the Holy Spirit. She said, “I know that baptism is what people do when they decide they’re going to live their life for him!” So I asked her what it means to live our lives for Jesus and she said, “It means that everything we do should be about Jesus and what he would do.” My daughter’s faith is emerging and when she’s ready, I pray that she’ll give her life to the Lord and be baptized into Christ.

The picture is my daughter and I standing on the Pacific Ocean. Thanks for letting me share my joy with you!

Pepperdine Bible Lectures 2014

It’s that time of year again. I’m leaving today for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. This year I am taking my 9 year-old daughter, Caryn, with me and she’ll be participating in the Making Waves children’s program. Trust me when I say, she’s excited. Join me in praying for her faith formation.

This year’s theme is Enter the Water, Come to the Table. As expected, it will be a faith enriching time and it will be good to reflect on what it means to live from the reality that I am baptized into Christ and share in his table fellowship.

I look forward to the sunshine, balmy weather, blue-waters of the Pacific Ocean, and the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains (yes, it’s a hard life but someone has to live it!). I also look forward to the great periods of worship in the Firestone Fieldhouse as well as the challenging key note messages and the many classes. But the lectures would not be complete without seeing many friends, some of whom I’ve only known thus far through social-media (it’s the new world). So if you’re headed to Malibu, I look forward to seeing you!