Friday, October 24, 2008

Crazy Prayer

I like softball. Ok, I confess, I love softball. I love softball so much that sometimes I get in trouble for playing softball. A couple weeks ago I was at home preparing my wife’s favorite meal (steak) in anticipation of her arrival home after a long stressful day at work. I knew it was a stressful day for her because it was a Monday and everybody has stressful Mondays and in her business Mondays are the worst. Anyway, I’ve got the grill going with a nice juicy steak on it, just the right seasonings, anticipating her gratefulness at my being such a wonderful and thoughtful husband and then my phone rings. I answer my phone and on the other end of the line is an opportunity. Not a ministry opportunity but an opportunity to go and play two games of softball! This was an easy no-brainer for me to make the right decision… so I jerk my wife’s medium rare steak (she likes medium well) off the grill, grab my stuff and kiss my beautiful wife goodbye. I’m headed down the road to the ball field and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with the knowledge that I’ve made the wrong decision. (Some of you are saying “Duh” right now and I have to warn you that it’s not very nice to call people an idiot.) At this point I’m overcommitted and if I don’t show up, then nine other people pay the penalty for my bad decision not to mention the one person at home who is already paying the price. I’m still not sure how to correctly handle this situation other than to not allow myself to get into a situation like this in the first place. Right or wrong, I went and played my two games and came home asking for forgiveness. The problem is that this wasn’t the first time I’ve let softball (or my desire to “play”) override my relationship with my wife. I’ve spent a lot of time since then thinking about what drives me to love softball so much that I would drop everything for an opportunity to play. I just cannot get enough of that feeling of competition, the thrill of victory, the physical exertion, the drive to be better each time, the relationships and sometimes it just consumes me... but that is a lesson for another day.

I was playing in a softball tournament this past weekend when something interesting happened. God has blessed me with the gift of prayer and these tournaments are often filled with opportunities to use this gift to glorify him (I hope and pray). Before the first game, I was getting loosened up with the team and thinking about the day and the opportunities that lay ahead. I did not feel the stirring in my spirit with the desire to gather the team for prayer before the game. In the past, I probably would have forced myself into gathering the team and praying but I decided to let this one go and no one else brought it up. We won the first game but it was a bit of a struggle and we had to come from behind in the late innings to squeak by with a victory. As we were getting ready for our second contest of the day one of the guys on our team requested that we get together and pray. As I was preparing myself mentally to lead the team in prayer, another player on the team stepped up and began to pray. We proceeded to go out and get our second victory. As the day went on, the victories continued to come and I think we may have had another prayer or two but eventually we found ourselves preparing to play for the championship trophy. Once again, this player calls us all together to give praise and thanks to the Lord before our final game. His prayer began similar to the others that day but as he neared the end of the prayer he spoke these words “God, help us to annihilate the other team. I don’t like them very much. I know this isn’t right but I love you.” I have to be honest and say that this drew quite a few chuckles along with some raised eyebrows (mine) about the validity of this prayer and perhaps (shame on me) the quality of his relationship with Christ. As we took the field, there was some question as to whether God had heard or would respond to this prayer. I’ve learned through experience to be very careful with how I pray so I fully expected it would be us that got annihilated. Forty-five minutes later our team exits the softball field after what could only be described as a brutal beating or in the words of the prayer an annihilation of a pretty decent softball team. The guy who had prayed for us is overjoyed with our victory and proceeds to give out hugs and high fives like they were Halloween candy. In the end, some of us are gathered in the parking lot after the game, stowing our stuff and having a conversation about the day when this guys drives up and wants to take a picture of us with the trophy. After some urging, he allows his father to snap a picture of a few of us gathered around him as he held the trophy. He is simply ecstatic about the victory of the day and the talent of our ball team. He continues to thank us until his words are diminished to just tears and he slowly drives away. It’s only after he leaves the ball field that I discover the entire story behind his high emotions and his tears. It appears that the team that we beat in the final game was one that he had played with on a regular basis during the year. They had abandoned him and found a replacement to enter this tournament. It was he that paid the entry fee for our team to get into the tournament and he had initiated the gathering of our team to play together. He had even received a phone call just days before the tournament from a former teammate taunting him and saying that we wouldn’t show up and that we would never stoop to play with someone of his talent. Since that moment, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the words of this guy’s final prayer and the spirit behind it. It seems to me to contain some very basic elements that I normally use in my prayers. He started with thanks and praise, then he asked for an overwhelming victory over his enemies, followed by confession of his sin and acknowledgement that he was under the law of God’s love and grace for failing to love them as he should. Here is the crazy thing… I don’t know if his prayer was heard by God or not, answered by God or not but I know that this guy had a troubled spirit and that God knew before the beginning of time that he would come to that exact moment in time chained in the torment of his soul. I truly believe that God lead us into the path of this guys life so that when his soul was crying out for peace and reconciliation that he was able to experience the grace and mercy that is the love of Jesus Christ. Whether he recognizes that the love of Christ was what he was experiencing as those tears ran down his cheeks or not, God sent his Son to the Cross so that at that moment, His radical love would be laid before this man’s feet. He had only to reach out and grasp it to gain a victory that completely overwhelms the small victory gained on that softball field. I don’t know that God really cared about the outcome of that ball game or not but I do know from scripture that he is concerned about the state of our soul and his spirit will intercede on our behalf when we can’t find the right words.
I have ran a little long today and my time is growing short so let me wrap up by leaving you with a last word and some scripture. I don’t know if this guys prayer was appropriate or not, heard or not, answered or not, but I do know that his soul was in anguish and crying out for peace. I know from his tears God responded to his cry by giving him the opportunity to experience the everlasting love of Christ. He did this by placing people around him that were witnesses to the transforming power contained in the blood of Christ. I don’t know if he fully grasped where these tears along with a peace and stirring of his spirit was from but I know that the next time someone prayers for their enemies to be overcome and confesses that they should love them instead of how they truly feel; I’ll be more merciful in my judgment of their prayer. If I am judged by my words and actions alone and not through His Spirit, then I have much to be held accountable for.

Here are some scriptures that I came across during my time in study on this.

1 Kings 8:38-40 (New International Version)
38 and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel—each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands toward this temple- 39 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men), 40 so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.

Psalm 86:11-17 (The Message) (A David Psalm)
11-17 Train me, GOD, to walk straight;
then I'll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I'll worship in joyful fear.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I've never kept secret what you're up to.
You've always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!
God, these bullies have reared their heads!
A gang of thugs is after me—
and they don't care a thing about you.
But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.
So look me in the eye and show kindness,
give your servant the strength to go on,
save your dear, dear child!
Make a show of how much you love me
so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed,
As you, GOD, gently and powerfully
put me back on my feet.

Luke 1:68-75
(New International Version)
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

a. Luke 1:69 Horn here symbolizes strength.

Romans 8:26 (The Message)
26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Finally… I would ask that you not do as I did and hold me in judgment for the words written above. I could very well be way off base on this one and I’m willing to accept that in order to write what I feel in my spirit. I’ve also decided to leave the question of this prayer in the hands of God as only He knows the true spirit in a man’s heart and the reality of right and wrong in a man’s prayer. I am simply going to defer this one to scripture.

Isaiah 55:8
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (English Standard Version)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The American Dream

I don’t mean to sound so un-American all the time but it just seems like the closer I draw to Christ, the more difficult it is for me to accept some of the ideals that I’ve been taught. One of these ideals is what we call the American dream. While on the surface this dream looks like the greatest opportunity for a successful life that we have, I’ve found that the pursuit of this dream sometimes interferes with my pursuit of the Kingdom of God.

In my opinion, the American Dream has become an excuse to pursue "more" without conscience of how our pursuit affects those around us. It affects our family, friends, neighbors, the Church, our relationships, and much much more. I've never read anything about this "American Dream" in scripture. I have only to look at the lives of Christ, Paul and the other in the Bible to realize that what I've been promised by our "Government" was never guaranteed by my Savior.

I think that we sometimes twist scripture so that we can justify our pursuit of more. We take verses like John 10:10 and qualify our compulsion to gather more stuff when in reality the abundant life that Christ promised has nothing to do with worldly wealth. I like the way the message paraphrases this verse.

John 10:10 (The Message)
6-10Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. "I'll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn't listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

Compare this to what comedian George Carlin said about abundance:

“Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table; everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”

The American dream has fostered the idea that we all need more stuff!

One thing I’ve discovered and over the last year is the fact that I am rich. I might not fit into “Americas” definition of rich because I don’t have enough stuff, but I am rich nonetheless. I am talking strictly about my monetary means. I’m not talking about an abundance of peace, joy, happiness, etc… I’m not making light of these things that Christ has given me but I also have great wealth compared to many others in this world. The American dream says that I should save, store and invest this wealth so that I can rise above the poverty that I see around me and by my rise to the top, I create opportunities for those around me to rise to the top also or at the very least, they can feed themselves with the crumbs that I have left over. The bible tells me the opposite. That I should go out and be among these people and “share my wealth” because my life is short and these things that I hang onto along with my own life will be gone in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus never rose above anything other than the grave; instead he lowered himself so that everyone may have the same opportunity that he does. That is, he sacrificed all that he had so that whosoever would believe in him would not perish but have life everlasting. Through his sacrifice and his death we have an opportunity to experience life in a real and eternal way. This opportunity, this “dream” calls for us to sacrifice because at the core of this dream is Jesus and Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that is incredibly and simply… love. Not money, things, family, friends, joy, happiness, wealth and prosperity but Love. The American dream says that if you want these things in your life, then you need to pursue wealth, prosperity and success. Jesus’ dream says the if you pursue a relationship with him and his kingdom, then you will not want for these things.

The american dreams states that I should get an education and earn infinite amounts of money so that I may gain great happiness and never want for anything. God's dream says that I go to college and out of my 20 dollar a week meal allowance, I use half to sponsor a child less fortunate than I am that I've never meet but have a burden in my heart for. (

The american dream says to use my talent and passion for basketball to pursue a multi-million dollar contract in the NBA. God’s dream says to use that talent and passion for basketball to start a ministry, at age 9, that would generate enough money to build a school and medical testing lab in Africa for children who have lost their parents to AIDS. (

The american dreams states that to rise above our servitude that we are to pursue the riches available to kings. God’s dream says that in order to be heirs in the kingdom we must first fall to our knees and wash the feet of those we love, even those who would later betray us. (The Bible - John 13)

The american dream is about personal success. God's dream is about personal sacrifice.