Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Great Rap from Lecrae

I love this song, Desperate, by rapper Lecrae (featuring Cam). Here are the lyrics:
[Hook: Cam]
I'm so desperate, I can't believe I've sinned against you
Create in me a clean heart (I'm so sorry)
Your mercy is what I need

[Verse 1: Lecrae]
Woke up this morning too depressed and shamed to leave my bed
Can't stand to see my own reflection so I hang my head
Feel like a disappointment like the scum of the earth
I'm so hurt I know you see I can't cover my dirt
My souls dying hearts weak and I can't even cry
I'm sposed to run to you but WHY I'm such an evil guy
The sun's shining but for me it's the darkest of days
Try to pretend it never happened but the guilt remains
I leave the house it feels like everybody knows I did it
Feels like they reading my mind and know the sin I committed
Through your blood I'm aquitted but my heart doesnt get it
Oh God I'm desperate for Help cause I'm grieving your Spirit
I couldn't sing in the sunday service, Lord I felt fake
And when they started communion I just made an escape
I'm in need of your grace
Feels like you hid your face
Lead me back to cross and show me my sins erased

[Verse 2: Lecrae]
I'm waste deep in my pity
Is Satan tryna trick me and tell me you won't forgive me
Cause it's startin to get me
Jesus help me quickly I hate wrong I've done
I know we all fall but I feel like the only one
Feels like I should be shunned
Should I punish myself
I know it's dumb cause by your death all my sin has been dealt
But my sin is been felt
I didn't want to do it
But what I want to do I don't
I swear I'm gonna to lose it
Try to open my bible I need to read your pages

I need you Lord but my guilt has got me feeling so faithless
Help me see where your face is
Take me back to the basics
Help me find my joy in you and not people and places
My sin is ever before me I turned my back on you
Oh father break and restore me to bring me back to you

[Verse 3: Lecrae]
Have mercy on me God according to your steady love
Wipe away my transgression and wash me in your blood
Create in me a clean heart renew a right spirit
Don't take your Spirit away your Presence keep me near it
I'm waiting patience on you Lord I know you hear my cry
Restore your Joy in me
For you alone I live and die

It's you I Glorify cause you don't want my sacrifice
You want me broken and contrite trusting in the Christ
I confess to you my sin and you show me mercy
I turn away from it demonstrating that you are worthy
Over lust, over pride, over all sin
Is my affection for Jesus is who died for all them
I was lost now I'm found I was toss to the ground
My sin weighed on me heavy but I am no longer bound
As sure as Christ wears the crown
I know that grace will abound
And even when I feel lost I know in You I am found
[ Desperate Lyrics on ]

Learning to Pray (Third Midweek Lenten Devotion)

[This was shared during midweek Lenten devotional worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this evening. We're looking at the Lord's Prayer as a model for our prayer lives. Tonight, the focus was on the fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread."]

Isaiah 25:6-8
Psalm 37:4
Matthew 7:7-8
Ecclesiastes 3:11
In his book, The Journey of Desire, author John Eldredge addresses the ambivalence Christians feel about what we want, the things we desire. Because the ninth and tenth commandments tell us not to covet our neighbors’ property, spouses, servants, or possessions, some Christians seem to have the mistaken notion that it’s always wrong to want anything. But, Eldredge reminds us that desire isn’t bad in itself. To have desires is part of what it means to be human.

And we have enormous desires. Ecclesiastes 3:11, in the Old Testament, says, “[God[ has…set eternity in [our] hearts…” In other words, we were made by God for wanting a lot more than new cars or the latest video game system: We have eternal appetites. Our desires are built right into our DNA by our Maker.

So, what does all of this have to do with the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer? Be patient with me, for a moment; I'll get to that.

Martin Luther is right, I think, to say that, “Daily bread includes everything needed for this life…” But there is something much more to daily bread than what we need for daily living, I think. God has a much more expansive view of “our daily bread” than we do! God believes that you and I need more than just "food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbors.” If these daily blessings—important and wonderful as they are—are all God had in mind for us, Jesus would not have been born, He wouldn’t have died for us, He wouldn't have risen from the dead. Truth be told, we need more, much more, than all these things. God thinks that you and I need eternity and all its blessings! And, if the earlier petitions are to be believed, God believes that we need these blessings now.

In an imperfect world where bad things happen, we have an appetite for eternity. We need God’s kingdom to come to us, now, today. We need God’s will to be done in our lives as it is in heaven, now, today.

But there is a problem. The condition of sin distorts our desires. Let me explain.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to eat food, until sin turns hunger into gluttony. (Or, in the sad desire to control one’s body or one’s hungers, a person becomes anorexic.)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the sexual intimacy that God engineered into our beings, unless we seek it outside the bounds of marriage. (Or, in the desire to claim moral superiority, we deny the power of our sexuality and become insufferable, judgmental prudes.)

There’s nothing wrong with desiring to better ourselves unless the desire becomes covetousness or a drive to look down our noses on other people. (Or, as I’ve seen happen with some people, they’re so anxious to prove that they’re not covetous that they give way more than God’s proscribed tithe of 10% or spend so many hours volunteering in the community that they destroy their families, their marriages, or their own health.)

The human problem, form God’s perspective, isn’t that we want things—that we desire things. Many of the things we desire are good things, things created and given by God, including the whole list Luther gives as examples of "daily bread" in The Small Catechism.

Sin happens when we desire or take good things at the wrong times, in the wrong ways, for the wrong reasons. But food, sex, and success, along with orderly communities, good governments, and positive reputations are all legitimate things for us want, or, as the fourth petition reminds us, to ask God to grant to us! This is important for us to remember when we pray, I think.

This is often difficult for us to remember. A person with whom I was discussing a book revealed our group that she never asked God for anything. “I don’t feel that I can do that,” she told us. “God has already given me so much.”

That individual underestimated God’s love for us, I think. When Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our prayer lives, He didn’t mean for us to eliminate the laundry lists that often fill our prayers. He teaches us, in fact, to pray for those things for which we hunger, the things we desire.

But He also put this petition in a larger context. For many of us, much of the time, our praying is sporadic, episodic. We pray when we’re desperate for the needs we see in our own lives or in the lives of others we know and care about. We risk turning God into a cosmic ATM.

In the Lord’s Prayer though, Jesus shows us that God wants to have an ongoing, eternal relationship with us. God wants to be “our Father.”

So, Jesus doesn’t tell us to stop asking God for things. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew records that shortly after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus went on to urge us to pray. “Ask,” Jesus says, “and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” I don’t see Jesus telling those who believe in Him, “You can only pray for this and nothing more.” So, Jesus seems to tell us in this petition, “Bring Your laundry list of desires to the throne of your Father.”

The way I see it, Jesus doesn’t want us to so much change the content of our praying, but its context. He wants us to come to God with the same confidence that a child who is loved has when she comes to her mother or father, but also with the same submission, the same surrender. A trusting child will feel free to ask a loving parent for anything, but will also want to submit to her parent’s judgment, love, and will.

In the context of a relationship with the Father we know through Jesus Christ, God’s and our perspectives begin to meld. We see things as God sees things. We want God wants. We desire what God desires. Our laundry lists continue; but as we continue in a relationship with God, our lists change. As our trust in God grows, our reactions change when God’s answers to our requests are not just Yes, but also: Maybe, Wait, or No.

The person who truly prays, “Give us this day our daily bread” not only trusts God for the daily needs of life, but also believes that God is going to spend all eternity showering us with blessings beyond what any of us could ask or imagine. We believe that we will enjoy that eternal feast described by Isaiah seven-hundred years before Jesus' birth. Through the daily submission of prayer, our lists change and our goals change. We seek, above all, that God’s Name will be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven, that His kingdom—His reign of grace and love--will come to us and the world around us, and that His will be done, in our lives and everywhere.

When I was a young Christian, I struggled with the meaning of a verse in the Psalms. It’s Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I knew that my desires were infinite and not always pure. Did that mean that God would give me anything I wanted, even things that may seem good on the surface, but in the end would lead to my own undoing or to my separation from God?

Then I took a closer look at the verse. God will give us the desires of our hearts when we take delight in Him, when nothing and nobody is more important to us than God Himselfwhen the chief object of our lives is to glorify God—hallowing His Name, seeking His kingdom and His will.

The more intimate we allow our relationship with our Father to become, the more similar God’s desires and our desires will become.

This transformation will hardly be noticeable to us or to anyone else. But it will happen in the lives of those who truly pray.

A good analogy to the transformation to God's perspectives might be marriage. When Ann and I married 36 years ago, we came from very different backgrounds. My family is mushy and gossipy. Ann’s family was more stoic, its humor of the towel-snapping variety. But as Ann and I have lived together and committed ourselves to our relationship every day, our outlooks, our ways of doing things, have blended and melded. Most days, there’s little difference between us on what we want or how we’ll live.

Something like that, but infinitely more wonderful, can happen as we lay ourselves before our Father each day in prayer. More and more, we delight in the Lord, we desire the same things, and we grow in the certainty that for all eternity, God intends to give us much more than morsels of bread each day. He wants to give us Himself forever.

And that's only a fraction of what God invites to ask for when He teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Thoughts, Actions

This was sent out today via email by my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Thoughts lead on to purposes;
purposes go forth in action;
actions form habits;
habits decide character;
and character fixes our destiny.

Tyron Edwards

Philippians 4:8 NIV

Finally, brothers,
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.


Lord, help me to center my thoughts on those
things that are good and useful and may they
lead me forward. Amen


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Making This Moment Count

[This was shared this morning during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Luke 13:1-9
Priest and novelist Andrew Greeley tells one of those stories that isn’t true but tells the truth. It’s about a couple who win a two week trip to Ireland. They were excited, but it was spring and they had until June 1 of the following year to claim their prize. They couldn’t go that summer, they decided, because it would interfere with their usual trip to the lake. September was out because the kids would be going back to school. They didn’t want to be away from home over the holidays; they decided to forgo the trip until after the first of the year. They learned though, that the weather wasn’t good in Ireland during January and February. So, they finally decided to go in May. Then the husband had a gall bladder attack and needed surgery. The doctors said he would be able to travel…by the middle of June.

Life is unpredictable. Many things can interrupt our agendas. Sometimes, tragically, death itself interferes. All of which leads to a very serious question: What would we do if we knew for certain when our lives were coming to an end?

My guess is that most of us would have some thoughts about how we would live differently from the way we live right now.

This question is suggested by today’s Gospel lesson. In the first part of it, Jesus talks about two terrible incidents that the crowd surrounding Him was talking about. If they’d had cable news back then, these are two events they might have been discussing. One was a massacre of Galileans ordered by the Roman governor, Pilate. (They were massacred while they worshiped!) The other incident is one Jesus Himself brings up: The collapse of a tower at the famous pool at Siloam. There, eighteen people died. (Siloam was a place to which people went, believing that the pool's water had healing properties.)

Many people, when they confront such inexplicable tragedies so need to make sense of them or feel such a need to feel morally superior, that they accept explanations which really defame God. They convince themselves and others that God is punishing people for their sins. Jesus will have none of such explanations for life’s tragedies. Nor should we.

Back in the 1980s, a new disease of which none of us had heard before began killing, at first, only gay men. AIDS took thousands of lives immediately and consigned thousands more to certain death. One Sunday, I told the people of my former parish that, contrary to what some were telling us, I did not believe that God was punishing gay men for their homosexuality. If God killed people because of their sins, we all would be dying horrible, premature deaths. The Bible teaches that none of us is sinless and that God sent Christ to die and rise so that sinners like us who repent and trust in Him will live with God forever, no matter how long our lives on earth may be.

After the service at which I'd preached this, a woman approached me. “Pastor,” she asked, “do you mean to say you don’t think that God is punishing these men?” “No, I don’t,” I said. Her reaction surprised me: “I’m relieved to hear you say that. I was beginning to think that maybe I’d misunderstood God all these years. These preachers who say that God was punishing these men seemed so certain of themselves. But the God they talked about didn’t sound like the God I know in Jesus.” She was right.

But how do we explain tragedy? When Jesus cites the two tragedies in our Gospel lesson--one perpetrated by a tyrant, the other an accident, He doesn’t try to explain them.

And He specifically rejects any attempt to paint the victims of the tragedies as being worse sinners than anyone else.

As Jesus puts it elsewhere, in this imperfect world, the sun shines and the clouds rain on the evil and the good. More important than trying to figure out why bad things happen to good and bad people, is learning to let God love us every day and to strive to follow God faithfully each moment of our lives!

Jesus says that unless we repent, we all will die. The death He’s talking about is the death of eternal separation from God, eternal separation from human fellowship, an eternity of regret that we chose to go it alone, rather than relying on Christ for life.

To repent, as we’ve said before, is to repudiate sin and to walk toward Christ. No one can do that perfectly. But God isn’t looking for perfection in us. As the Old Testament tells us, God remembers that we’re dust.

I remember when our two kids were learning to walk. Whenever they showed an interest in walking toward us, we held out our arms and praised them for every imperfect step they took, even when they fell on their seats. We wouldn’t have thought of criticizing them or punishing them because they didn’t do it precisely correctly.

The person living repentantly is taking baby steps toward Christ and even though we may sometimes fall or fail, as long as we keep walking toward our Savior, the cheers coming from God’s throne are so loud that if we were privileged to hear them, we’d have to cover our ears!

If I knew the date of my death, I hope that I would be walking repentantly, moving toward Jesus.

But, there’s a second thing I hope that I would be doing if I knew exactly how long I had to live. Jesus talks about that in the second part of our lesson, in a parable--or a story--He tells that same crowd: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’"

The owners of vineyards in Jesus’ home country didn’t waste precious water on young trees. Nor did they have patience for trees that occupied space and didn’t bear fruit. They simply couldn’t afford any sentimental attachments to a barren tree. So, according to the practices of the time and the scarcity of acreage and water, the landowner in Jesus' parable was right to order that the fruitless tree be cut down. But then, the unexpected happens: The gardener begs the landowner to give the tree one more year. It’s a gift of life. If the tree doesn’t take advantage of that gift, the tree will be cut down.

You and I are that tree in the vineyard. Every day, God allows us to occupy space, to live. He’s sent His Son to give all who trust in Him new life and sent His Spirit to help us grow strong in faith, in love, in courage. God also gives us spiritual gifts by which we can play our part in His Church and His mission in the world.

But often we take all of God's gifts and then live lives that look just like that of the spiritually disconnected person who lives next door. Christ died and rose for you and me to do more than just exist. Even here, in this imperfect world, He’s pumping the life, love, and power of eternity into us. But, I suspect that you wouldn’t know it by looking at the lives of many Christians.

No matter how much time I have left on this earth, I hope not only that to live repentantly, but to also be bearing fruit, displaying evidence that I really have been saved from sin and death by Jesus, that I relish being God’s child.

I’ve told you the story before of an important conversation that Jimmy Carter had with his sister, the evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton. It happened after Carter lost his first bid at becoming governor of Georgia to a notorious racist, Lester Maddox. In addition to feeling badly about losing an election, Carter also couldn't understand how God could have let someone like Maddox win their election race.

His sister told Carter that his being governor of Georgia wasn’t as important to God as whether Carter was walking with God. By that time in his life, Jimmy Carter had already spent decades teaching Sunday School and going on mission trips in which he went door-to-door leading people to faith in Jesus Christ.

Talking cold turkey with her brother, Stapleton wondered who Jimmy Carter had done all of that for. Then she asked him, “Jimmy, if it were a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

That question changed Jimmy Carter’s life. What his sister was really asking him was, “Are you leading a repentant life, a life in which you’re walking toward Christ? Are you bearing the fruits of that repentance? Can people see Jesus working in your life even though you’re imperfect like the rest of the human race?”

Those are good questions for all of us to be asking about ourselves, I think.

I hate to tell you that in fact, there are many days when I hang my head in shame over the answers which honesty compels me to give to those questions as I look at my own life. But thank God, we follow a gracious God Who gives repentant people more second chances than we deserve, opportunities to so open ourselves to Him and His love that we walk confidently in that love and let the whole world see what a great, open-hearted God we follow!

Today, this week, I invite you to offer two simple prayers: Ask Jesus to help you walk toward Him. And, ask Jesus to let the investment He’s made in you--the investment of His life on a cross--show in something you say, you do, or you think this week.

Don’t put it off. Pray those two things: Ask God to help you walk toward Christ and to let Christ live in you.

Whether you and I have one day, one year, or fifty years left to live, we can’t go wrong if we keep asking God to answer those two prayers each and every day.