What I Don’t Know

Some may look at the title of this blog and decide they  have no time for such a long read. Another reason to pass on this post is that it is an unpost in some ways. Instead of sharing profound insights (have I ever?), I am telling folks what I don’t know. But if, like me, you have had a curious and troubled relationship with prayer, this might help. I have discovered that what I don’t know about prayer gives me more, not fewer, reasons to pray.

I don’t know what good petitionary prayer does. I have no doubt that it does good, but I am uncertain what that good is. It is easy to see how prayers of adoration, surrender, and confession help us to grow spiritually. But don’t petitionary prayers set us up for disappointment? Spiritually, don’t they do us more harm than good as we cope with prayers that go unanswered and seem unacknowledged? Isn’t it safer to expect less of God? Isn’t it better to keep our relationship based on what God has done for us on the cross through Christ and not on what He is doing in response to our prayers?

These questions make sense to me, but we face a huge problem. Jesus invites us to ask for things in prayer—even our daily bread. He commands us to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11:9-13). In Luke 18 we are told a parable about how we “ought to pray and not lose heart.” The parable is clearly urging us to believe that God responds to persevering petitionary prayer. We can’t abandon petitionary prayer without disobeying Jesus. We must keep asking.

Except sometimes, God doesn’t answer. Of course, some claim God always answers prayer, but sometimes says “No” or “Not yet” or “Not that way.” Perhaps, but we should not assume that an unanswered prayer is an automatic “No”. God is perfectly capable of making us hear His “No” and his “Wait”.

Here is where something I don’t know helps. I don’t know exactly how much my faith or lack of it determines answers to prayer. Jesus sometimes cites a person’s faith or the faith of friends (Luke 18:42) as the reason they are healed. Sometimes a lack of faith in the person praying or the people receiving is seen as limiting what God can do. Jesus, we are told, did few miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58).

But I don’t know how to sort out how my faith, the faith of those I pray for, and the faith of the community I live in all combine to hinder or help my prayers be answered. I don’t know, and suspect we can’t know. But we can do what faith does. We can obey and pray—and keep on praying even if we don’t get an answer. Sometimes faith is a gift. I have experienced this a handful of times. Most of the time, however, it is a muscle that gets stronger as it is exercised, and we exercise faith every time we pray. It is okay for us not to know how faith works in prayer as long we keep growing in faith.

Another thing I don’t know is God’s timing. I am sometimes haunted by thoughts of all the people like Anna and Simeon who had prayed for the Messiah, looked for the consolation of Israel, but died before Jesus was born. My father died without ever seeing real revival or a visitation of God on this little town of Myrtle Point. I have been praying for a saving move of God in Myrtle Point for over thirty years. I have only seen churches close and things get worse. I doubt that the corruption of the Pharisees and the oppression of the Romans made the time of Christ seem like prime time, but Simeon had been told he would see the Messiah before he died. I have a few “before you die” promises I cling to. But regarding most things, I have no sense of God’s timing. So I just pray.

Adding to the mystery of God’s timing is the possibility that prayers are like seeds. They may disappear into the ground and do nothing for years. Our blessings and intercession may plant a seed that others water. A seed upon which God’s truth will shine in days or years from now. A minor but important truth embedded in the parable of the sower is that he threw seed everywhere—not just on the good soil. So I pray.

I don’t have much grasp on when and how answers to prayers might be hindered by spiritual warfare. The prince of Persia delayed God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer.It is interesting that Daniel mourned and fasted the same amount of time that the prince of the Persia opposed Gabriel who was responding to Daniel’s prayer. Did Daniel’s prayer and fasting help Gabriel in some way? Daniel was heard the first day but prayed 21 days. How does this work? I don’t know, but Paul says our battle is not against flesh and blood but “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So I persevere in prayer for places and people.

I also don’t understand the cumulative effect of prayers. What if the prayers of Simeon and Anna were just the final touches on centuries of prayer? What if their prayers were combined with all those who prayed before them? I think we never know when prayers hit a critical mass that opens the door for God to act. What if my prayers for Myrtle Point stand on the shoulders of my father’s prayers? Cornelius was told by an angel that his prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial before God. This declaration suggests that the cumulative result of prayers and generosity to catch God’s attention. Of course, God does not need to be reminded of anything, yet he asks us to remind him of our needs—to build memorials of prayer. I don’t know how this works or the timing of it, but I know I want to do it. Daily I lay prayers before God for my family and community, brick by brick.

And what if my prayers now are woven together with the prayers of those who have gone before us. What unknown or unseen power might that give our prayers? I don’t know. But we are told Jesus is now at the right hand of God interceding for us, so I suspect my parents are doing the same. Once, only once, I sat on the hill in the cemetery with a hand on the headstones of my mother and father. I prayed for my four sons—and looked not at the headstones but at the sun setting in the west. I asked my prayers to be joined to the intercession of my mother and father. Although I think this idea is biblically sound, I have no idea how or when it works. But I pray.

I also don’t understand the legalities of prayer. Adam and Eve’s choosing to believe the serpent instead of God opened the door to all kinds of evil—that Satan now has legal right to do. So I think the reverse is always true. Our prayers that declare our faith in God’s Word and His loving character opens the door for the God’s kingdom to come and will be done. More prayers, as acts of faith and obedience, swings the door wider. Perhaps because I am a Westerner, I don’t understand the power of blessings and curses. But words matter, so I fill my prayers with blessings.

And related to this, I don’t know how our prayers impact those rebelling against God. But when we stand before God and intercede for them, I believe we give God legal grounds to thwart Satan’s plans to destroy them. We give God just cause to show mercy to those who have earned judgment. In Ezekiel 22:30 we are told God looked for, but could not find, someone to stand in the gap so that He would not have to destroy the rebellious and idolatrous Israel. Does this mean our intercession will result in God saving our rebellious sons and daughters? I don’t know. But it helps. For the sake of my sons, I have made noise, waved my hands, and cried out to God, “Lord, have mercy and let your lovingkindness fall upon them!” I want to be God’s Exhibit B for why they should be given mercy and grace. Jesus himself is Exhibit A.

But I still don’t know how to pray when love, fear, and loss shred my heart. How do I pray when my only prayers are tears, and I can barely breathe? And no matter how much I want to hear the comforting voice of God, all I hear is my pain, all I see is the emptiness of losing those I love? How do I pray with real faith for God to save the lives of those I love, when better Christians have prayed the same prayer and seen sons, wives, and husbands die. I don’t know. But Psalm 58:8 assures us that God “has taken account of my wandering; put my tears in Thy bottle.”

I do not know what God does with my bottle (kegs?) of tears. I know He has seen me, heard me, and has not left me alone. I know my tears are precious in His sight, and I keep coming into His presence in all my brokenness and with all that I do not know. Because like Job said after scores of unanswered questions, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

 So I pray.

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But You Love Jesus, Right?

Most Christians have been alerted to lies against the love of God. This lie lays siege to our faith on different fronts. Sometimes it attacks by insisting that God could never love someone as insignificant and mired in sin as we are. Other times it attacks us through tragedy and hardship that makes us wonder why a God of love doesn’t do more to help us. This lie, though common and persistent, is easily vanquished by a clear vision of Jesus Christ on the cross, taking our place, our shame, and our punishment. The revelation of God’s love in Christ is powerful and triumphant.

But there is another more subtle lie that can attack our faith. It is the accusation, whispered low and long, that we do not love Jesus. I believe this is the lie that Jesus destroyed when He asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Peter had denied Jesus three times. He then wept bitterly. When the angel speaks to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, he tells them to “tell the disciples and Peter” that they will see Jesus in Galilee. This might indicate that Peter was no longer considered a disciple or no longer considered himself a disciple.

Peter had every reason to doubt his love for Jesus. Didn’t his denial of Jesus and cursing show how little he loved Jesus? Hadn’t he foolishly boasted that although others would deny Christ, he never would. When Jesus comes to the disciples in Galilee, he asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?”

Oswald Chambers argues that these questions by Jesus awakened Peter “to the fact that in the real true center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus.” Each time Peter answers, “Yes” and adds that Jesus knows that he loves Him. It is clear Jesus was not seeking information about Peter’s love. Each question by Jesus pierces  heart of Peter and reveals to him how much he loves Jesus. The lie against Peter’s own love for Jesus is shattered; Peter is restored and called to be a shepherd of God’s lambs.

Over the years I have seen Christians drift, run, and jump away from Christ. Sometimes their own failures and denials of Christ have caused them to forget how much they love Jesus. Other times the failures and the hypocrisy of church people have persuaded them. In bitter reaction to wounds from the church, it is easy to forget how much we love Jesus. Sometimes left or right-wing politics eclipses our love.

Even the label “Christian” can be a burden when used by those who are hateful and cruel. However, the Holy Spirit still challenges us like Jesus challenged Peter and reminds us of how much we love the Jesus of the gospels—the resurrected Christ who still asks us to love and feed his sheep.

At different times I have wanted to grab my sons, shake them (gently), and insist, “But you love Jesus!” We are often blind to our own heart. Rebellion against parents and church, or a plunge into hedonism often demands that we forget our love for Jesus. Sadly, lying to ourselves about our love for Jesus frees us to become slaves of sin.

Even after all this Peter still has a question about what God’s plan is for one of the other disciples, probably John. Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” In a time when Christians on the right, left, and bewildered middle are all waving flags and asking questions about each other, it is good to leave our questions and follow Jesus.

I say to all my brothers and sisters of various religious and political tribes, to those who wander and are (or aren’t) lost, to those rejected or just dejected, to the prodigal and the bitter elder brother, “But you love Jesus, right?”

When Peter sees the resurrected Christ on the shore fixing breakfast for the disciples, he hears John declare that it is “the Lord.” Peter’s flings himself into the sea and makes his way to Jesus. The revelation of how much we love Jesus should move us like it did Peter.

We should throw ourselves at Jesus.

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Israel First

For several years now, I have been praying for Israel first. I start and end my prayers with thanksgiving, praise, and adoration, but when I present my petitionary prayers, I begin with Israel.

I pray for Israel to be delivered from all her enemies and for Jerusalem to be made a praise in all the earth. I suspect some of my prayers for Jerusalem are also a prayer for the New Jerusalem, but I let God sort all that out.

I also pray for the gospel to be proclaimed in Israel with words, lives, and the work of the Holy Spirit. I pray for Yeshua (Jesus) to be exalted as Messiah. I ask God to gift Israel with pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and apostles. Honestly, I ask this without knowing exactly what that should look like.

I pray for the land. I have been fascinated with Deuteronomy 11:12 where God promises to take Israel to the land “that the Lord your God cares for.” God, for some reason, has loved this land even before settling His people in it. God declares that his eyes are constantly upon it throughout the year. Therefore, I pray for God to bless the land with rain, natural resources, plentiful harvests, and wise stewardship.

This is probably my eccentricity, but I pray for certain streets: Dizengoff Street and Ben Gurion Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. I pray for Yeshua to enter the lives of people on these streets. One night in the 80’s I was briefly lost on Dizengoff Street. I had wandered into a big shopping center through one door, got turned around, and then came out a different exit on a different street. I walked in the direction of the brightest lights and found my way back to Dizengoff Street, Ben Gurion Boulevard, and then my hotel. So today, I pray for the light of Jesus to shine brightly on these streets.

Praying for Israel first has enriched my walk with God. First, it has changed my hermeneutics, my approach to Scripture. I more easily see that so many of God’s promises are first to Israel in the Old Testament, but also the new. When I see the many promises of God’s faithfulness in the Psalms and prophets, I first thank God for his faithfulness to Israel. I then give thanks that the God of Israel is faithful to me today.

Second, praying for Israel first keeps me humble. It reminds me that the gospel first came to the Jews and that I am a wild olive branch grafted into the root stock of Israel. It helps me heed Paul’s warning not to be arrogant toward the Jews to whom believers in Yeshua owe so much (Romans 11:20). It vaccinates me against the virus of anti-Semitism that has too often infected the Christian faith. It saves me from the errors and arrogance of Replacement Theology that usurps all God’s promises to the Jews and applies them only to the Church.

Third, praying for Israel enlarges my heart. When I pray for Israel, my heart becomes invested in the purposes of God beyond my own needs and concerns. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I sometimes enter God’s deep love for Israel and His desire for Israel to know His Son. Sharing God’s heart for Israel, if only for a moment, draws me closer to Him.

I am not suggesting this is how everyone must order their prayers. It has, however, been a helpful habit. I believe the promise that those who bless Israel, God will bless, but I have not made praying for Israel into a lucky charm that will force God to bless me. Humility and a larger heart are blessings enough.

It is also a blessing to love what God loves. God still loves Israel and the Jews. His gifts and calling are irrevocable. He will keep His promise to make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth. God is not done with Israel and the Jews.  We are children of the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac. We should faithfully pray for family.

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Death (and Life) by Suffocation

I wish I had paid more attention to a section of Perelandra when I was a kid growing up in the church. Perelandra is the second book in C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. In it the hero, Ransom, is transported to an unfallen world where he fights a demonized character seeking to make this world fall like earth had. The novel needs more story and less philosophy, but one part struck me as profound.

In Chapter Six, Ransom complains about a kind of presence on the planet that he at first found intolerable. He describes it as feeling there is “no room.” He says whenever he felt like asserting his independence “the very air seemed too crowded to breathe.”

As a church kid, I sometimes felt suffocated. Sometimes all the rules felt like a lead blanket crushing my spirit. The pressure to conform, to be a good little church kid, was stifling. Legalism and judgmentalism sucked the air out of the room. Church tradition could render the gospel as dull as dirt.

I did find solutions as a teenager. First, I read the Bible for myself and tried to do it. Second, I met some Jesus freaks who were former drug addicts and joyously in love with Jesus and not embarrassed to say so. In fact, I was embarrassed that I was so timid about sharing Jesus. Third, I watched my parents live out their faith in hard places with difficult people.

C. S. Lewis, however, is not talking about this kind of churchy suffocation. He explains:

But when you gave in to the thing, gave yourself up to it, there was no burden to be borne. It became not a load but a medium, a sort of splendour as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well. Taken the wrong way, it suffocated; taken the right way, it made terrestrial life seem, by comparison, a vacuum.

A completely different solution is needed for this kind of suffocation: surrender. Perelandra was unfallen and crowded with the presence of God. And taken the wrong way or refused, God’s presence could be oppressive. But surrendered to the presence was life itself.

As a church kid, I experienced both kinds of suffocation. I sometimes accused the good kind of being the bad kind. At times I resisted the voice and presence of God and wanted nothing more than to get out of that stupid meeting. I would say to myself, “I hate church and all the stuffy church people.” To be honest, with only a few exceptions, most of the people were not stuffy or phony. Many were just small-town folks with silly double-knit suits and bad haircuts trying as best they could to follow Jesus.

Around age sixteen I gave into the good kind of suffocation and began taking deep gulps of God’s Spirit. It was wonderful. I led Bible studies at the high school and helped start a coffee house that ministered to teens and street people in our small town. In the years since then, I have encountered both kinds of suffocation again and again. But I have learned to say yes to one kind and no to the other. I have discovered that saying yes to God’s presence and Spirit cracks the other kind of suffocation wide-open. That too is a delight.

It is not just church kids that need to be honest about which kind of suffocation we are resisting. All the political strife in the church has given many reasons to walk away from faith in Jesus. But we desperately need to be honest about whether we are walking away from the phoniness of religion and legalism or the unbearable presence of God pressing us to forgive others, love others (even church people), and surrender to the love and will of God.

Covid-19 and the isolation it has imposed may tempt us to practice our faith free from the mess of fellowship and church. Living free of the problems and opinions of other church people can be invigorating for a while. But there is a presence of God that we will only experience as we gather as the body of Christ, a temple of living stones filled with God’s Spirit.  

It is a suffocating Presence if resisted, but “breathable gold” for those who surrender.

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Do Dat Again!

“Do dat again!” is often the joyous plea of my Ari, my four-year grandson. It may be in response to me catching him and giving him “an uggy kiss” or chasing him while singing, Teckla says, a wrong version of “Papa Shark.” A few days ago, Teckla and I took Ari and his parents to see the Festival of Lights over in Roseburg. He loved driving through the park and seeing all the lights. As soon as we got home, he said, “Let’s do dat again!”

Although it is commonly observed that children help us rediscover the wonder in the world, we seldom dig deeper into the miracle of vision and joy embodied in their love of repetition. Children, however, repeat things not out of dullness or because they are stuck in a rut. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy argues, rightly I think, that a child’s love of repetition is from an excess of life:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. The always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until nearly dead.

Indeed, Ari’s eyes and face glow with joy and energy when he cries, “Do Dat Again!” He loves a game long after I have grown weary or bored.

We saw this love of repetition in our sons when they were growing up. Anything we did two Christmases or camping trips in a row became a tradition they demanded we observe. Teckla and I were happy to oblige. We knew that traditions gave them security in a world awash with change and loss. One way to look at all the feast days and fasting days of the Old Testament is God giving His people good things to repeat that would help them know His goodness and stay anchored in His truth. Just as Israel’s traditions defined them as a people, our traditions defined us as a family.

There is something holy in the refusal to be bored with simple joys. A child is not bored because while playing the game, the pleasure of the game itself is everything. Winning the game has not yet become the only goal. There is no consciousness of how the game might win them admiration or whether they look cool while playing. Many parents have seen the sad moment when their child abandons a game or toy because of an older child mocked them for playing a “little kid’s game.” It is a kind of fall from grace—from grace of pure play.

Chesterton suggests that whole world expresses God’s love of repetition. Instead of seeing the regularity of nature as evidence of impersonal materialist world, Chesterton says it is evidence of Gods delight:

But perhaps God is strong enough to exalt in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. . . . It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Being a grandfather has helped me grow younger. I play more—even when no child is around. Children rejoice in simple things because they are seeing them for the first time; I rejoice because I may be seeing them for the last time.

Ari, however, is already learning an important truth about some kinds of repetition. Some pleasures are destroyed by our desire to repeat them. Sometimes when playing hide-and-seek, Ari is delighted when I hide in a new and unexpected place—under a pile of blankets on the couch. He is so delighted that he exclaims, “Hide there again!” I do, but this hiding place is no longer new or surprising.

Many pleasures, as C. S. Lewis points out, are best not repeated. Our insistence on repeatable pleasures leads to addiction and slavery to fleshly sins. In Out of the Silent Planet by Lewis, the earthling (Ransom) is told that a “pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered” and that many pleasures need not be repeated because a pleasure consists of the anticipation, experience, and memory. There is world of difference between a childlike delight in repetition and childish demand that pleasures be repeated—it is a difference between heaven and hell.

 Even the love of tradition can lead to misery if we demand our present experiences live up to our past. Those with lovely childhood memories of Christmas can become vexed and depressed with the failure of Christmas to live up to those golden memories. One of our family’s best Christmas memories is one spent at an orphanage in Tijuana. A childlike love of repetition needs to be joined to a child-like willingness to find goodness in what is new and different. God’s faithfulness is unchanging and his mercies new every morning.   

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Watch Me, Pa!

“Watch me, Pa!,” is the frequent cry of my four-year old grandson, Ari. Occasionally, this makes sense because he really is doing something new or dangerous, but often he really isn’t doing much at all. And sometimes I am pretty sure he is asking me to watch before he even knows what he is going to do.

Teckla and I have done a lot of watching over the years: piano recitals, soccer games, track meets, wrestling tournaments, football games, concerts. Our four boys kept us busy watching. Whatever failures we may have had as parents, we watched.

I might be guilty of pointing out the obvious here. We all know kids try to make their parents proud. But I think, the cry to be seen comes from something rooted more deeply in our humanity. To be watched is not to be alone. We long to live a life that is seen.

When both parents have died, an odd loneliness comes. While going through some dark and difficult times this last year, I have felt their absence keenly. I have no one older than I who is watching, no one with the investment of love that Mom and Dad had. My tears and laughter are my own. Even though I have brothers and sisters who faithfully pray for us and Teckla is a wonderful source of strength, faith, and love, I miss having a parent watching me.  My mom often thanked God for His “watch-care” over us. I don’t know if that is a word, or just one she coined, but I miss her and my father’s watchcare over me. 

In this loss and sorrow, I have been helped by Paul and David, both of whom lived their lives before the eyes of God. A few times, I suspect, David wished God wasn’t watching. Even when David cried out, “Where are you, Lord?” he ends up putting all his trust in God. David lived and prayed like someone seen by God. Even when slandered and rejected by believers, Paul stood boldly as someone seen and judged by God. He knew nothing escaped His Father’s notice.  

I have answered the call to watch. I am still praying daily over all my sons and their families. Watching my grandchildren grow is a joy.

And I, of course, am not alone. God is with me. His watchcare surrounds me. No matter the content of my prayers, the cry of my heart to God is always, “Watch me, Pa!” And He does.

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Every Man an Addict

With his pants around his ankles and hands clutching his chest, he staggered down the sidewalk along Highway 101 in Coos Bay. Driving home from the college, I often see the homeless and the addicts that camp in the woods or sleep under the bridges. With disgust I mumbled, “Tweaker” to myself and kept driving.

 Almost immediately, what I had just done crashed in on me. First, came the realization that the man was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone loved and perhaps mourned by others. Someone loved by God. Next, came shame for the way I had dropped the word, “Tweaker” on the guy. I used it the way racists use the n-word. It was full of superiority and dismissal.

We have used words of dismissal like this for a long time: drunk, wino, junky, acid freak, pothead, crackhead,  tweaker. Using these words are easy for me because I don’t really get addiction. I am one of those annoying people who will say, “Just stop.” I don’t smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs, so I don’t get it. Why don’t people make those they love more important than their addiction?

I have some understanding that addiction changes the brain chemistry, and until one has really felt that change, one can’t understand how hard it is to quit. This is probably why so many drug counselors are former addicts. Yet, I have friends, family, and even members of my Sunday School class who struggle with addiction. I live in a community ravaged by alcoholism and drug addiction. I can’t love Myrtle Point as God loves it unless I love addicts.

To my surprise it has been Paul’s letter to the Romans that has helped the most. In chapter seven, Paul describes what sounds like the life of an addict:

For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  . . . For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. . . .For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:16, 19, 22-23)

Addicts know, I suspect, what it is like to be a prisoner of their body. They know the war between their body and what they know is right. In chapter six Paul asserted that everyone who sins has become a slave to sin.

I may not get chemical addiction, but I get sin and slavery to sin. I get wanting to walk in holiness but having my emotions and desires war against me. With Paul, and all addicts, I can declare, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I have walked in the chains of sins and felt the shame of my inability to “just say no” to sin. I have made my sin more important than those I love—more important than the Savior I love. But it is not just me.  According to Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We have all been addicts of sin.

Paul begins chapter eight with good news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for the sinner, whether a church kid or an addict, or a church kid that became an addict. In Jesus we find love, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a new life powered by God’s grace and Spirit. We should all get this. Addicts are not alone.

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When you read large hunks of Scripture regularly, you see major themes that you might miss during five-minute devotionals. This last year I have been clinging to God’s word like a guy lost at sea. During this time, I keep encountering a set of words I really don’t like: endurance, perseverance, patience, and steadfastness. Jesus uses them a lot. Paul fills his epistles with them. Today’s verse was Hebrews 10:36 which declares, “For you have need of endurance.”

The Greek word for endurance, hupomone, in one form or another appears dozens of times in the New Testament. It is sometimes translated perseverance and steadfastness. The hupo prefix is a preposition that means under, beneath, or beside. The mone part means to stay. The word expresses endurance as staying faithful under persecution or under a burden.

I am a little embarrassed that in all my years of Bible study, I have never done a word study on this hupomone, a word used so many times. More alarming to me is how familiar I am with a word used only once, in Romans 8:37: hupernikomen. Here we have a huper (over) instead of a hupo (under). Paul gloriously declares that we overwhelmingly conquer everything that might separate us from the love of Christ. We are more than conquerors!

It is probably right that this word appears on T-shirts and that we can get Christian fitness clothes with it. I like the word too. However, again and again God’s word exhorts us to persevere, endure, patiently wait, and remain steadfast. There is a lot of hupomone. We get hammered with it, but it doesn’t get on T-shirts.

Let’s admit it. It is hard to get excited about perseverance. We Americans like winning and winning quickly. We prefer football to cross-country—my apologies to my son who ran cross-country. It is hard to whip a crowd into a frenzy of patient endurance. We want to win and win now.

In writing about the American West, William Styron said that in the west there are boomers and stickers. Boomers are those who move from town to town looking for better fishing, logging, and mining. The stickers grow roots and cultivate the land. Sometimes Christians can be more like boomers bouncing from church to church in search of “the anointing” or the church where they “can be fed.”

The older I get, the more I appreciate hupomone and the stickers. I have seen anointed charismatic leaders who had a lot of flash but weren’t stickers. I like the leaders who have never cheated on their wives or stolen from the offering plate. The pastors who never get fed up and get out.

And let’s admit it. We often want to get out from under stuff. We long to escape—to be free of the burden of people needing us. Lots of people will encourage you to care for yourself, avoid toxic people, push away the folks that betray you, and not let anyone use you. Then there is Jesus who with eyes wide open washed the feet of Judas and loved him to the end. Then there is Paul who poured himself out in ministry even to those who challenged his authority and questioned his love. There are mothers and fathers who love and serve their sons and daughters even when they plunge into sin. They stay under the burden of love day after day, praying with broken hearts and tear-streaked faces.

I believe we are called to be more than conquers, to be hupernikomen. We are called to be overcomers, but I believe the under comes before the over. We stay steadfast under injustice, disappointment, and the heavy burden of love. We stay where God calls us and we endure. We discover love never fails if we never fail to love. We stay under until seated with Christ over all things.    

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The Leaky Pool

Our swimming pool leaks, badly. It is an in-ground pool, fifteen by thirty with a vinyl liner that has been replaced multiple times over the years. We are losing at least an inch of water each day. The end where it is leaking is about seven feet deep. I have tried to apply different patches to no avail; it is hard to hold my breath long enough to get a patch to stick. The bottom of the deep end is badly wrinkled, and the vinyl is brittle. This liner is done, but replacing it is expensive, more than we can afford right now.

This is all depressing, especially during a hot summer when we are staying home a lot. It is not a fancy swimming pool and came with the house when my parents bought the place in the sixties. It is a pain to keep clean and chlorinated. It has sucked up hours of labor over the years. Yet, the thought of losing it pains me. Letting it dry to a green puddle in a deep hole seems terrible.

My response initially was to surrender and let sun and leak empty the pool. But instead, I have run water into the pool for several hours each day. I have seen that when I can’t have the best, I sometimes grab the worst. I do this in anger and discouragement. The cost of the water doesn’t really compare to the cost of a camping trip we can’t take this summer. I run water into the pool and water table.

The bottom of the pool looks terrible—wrinkled and green with algae that can’t be cleaned off. The wrinkles are spreading. Clearly this is its end. Nonetheless, Teckla and I have gone swimming with our grandson dozens of times this summer. We mostly stay in the shallow end which we have kept clean. Ari, our grandson, has had a blast and is getting good at dogpaddling around. I hope we are making good memories for him. I have told Teckla that any day I go swimming with Ari is a good day. His laughter is everything. And as a fitting crown to the summer, we had a young boy get baptized in the pool in August.

So we have lived with a leaking pool and the most temporary of solutions. We are squeezing as much fun out of this summer as we can. Even if the pool is filled in because we can’t afford a new liner, we have grabbed some golden memories. We have redeemed the time.

We have not rejected what is good because we can’t have what is best.

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Nudge, Nudge

Along many Oregon beaches creeks run across the salt and pepper sand into the ocean. Recently, my grandson, Ari, and I were floating his toy boat on the small stream at the Kitchen Beach in Bandon. In most places it was only four or five inches deep as it carved its way to the crashing surf. The red and blue boat would float a little way and then ground out on the sand along edge. Ari or I would nudge it back into the rippling current and it would bob along happily until the current left it grounded again. We kept nudging it seaward.

I’ve read a couple volumes of systematic theology on the Holy Spirit, but I think this experience has given the best understanding of what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit. This says more about me than the value of the books I read. And it is probably God’s commentary on my experience, not my insight, that is instructive. You can judge.

First, walking in the Spirit is more than obedience. The boat was always in the stream bed, even when twirling in an eddy or aground in the shallows. The biblical images that express the Holy Spirit are wind and water, things that move and flow. Obedience is essential; it keeps us in the stream bed of God’s will as revealed in His Word. But walking in the Spirit is more. It means moving in the current, not stuck in the shallows.

Second, it is important to discern where the current is strongest. The river boat captains about which Mark Twain wrote knew every snag, sand bar, and rapid. They knew where the current was strongest. They could read the waters. For us this means sensing what gives God delight. On the beach, I looked for where the ripples of the current caught the sun. The beauty revealed the current. There was glory in the light. It took a lot of nudges to get the boat down the creek and into the ocean.

Third, only nudges were needed because I was fully committed to the stream and its direction. Graciously, God sometimes nudges us back into the current of His Spirit, but I suspect God wants us to be more than plastic boats. Like experienced riverboat pilots, we should learn to avoid the snags and sandbars; we should steer ourselves into the current of the Spirit throughout the day. The current, like God’s grace, does most the work.

For me this means nudging my thoughts and emotions into what God’s Word declares. It means choosing to hope when things look hopeless. It means choosing kindness over bitterness. Compassion instead of judgment. When I nudge my heart and my mind toward the truth, I soon feel the current of God’s Spirit.

I have gotten better at discerning when I am stuck or swirling in an eddy. Time spent in God’s Word has made it easier to make course corrections. Daily time in God’s Word has helped me quickly identify the lies and the compromises that I need to avoid. It is easier to swing back into the current of His Spirit when steering by His Word.

There is joy in the current. Being grounded in the shallows is both boring and depressing. We were created and redeemed to flow with the Spirit of God. We were made to move and feel the wind in our face. Prying ourselves out of mudflats steals our joy.

It feels like grace when the current catches the boat and moves it toward the roar of the ocean, one nudge at a time.


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