Dance

Five Minute Friday:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat on the prompt: “Dance” with no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..

Go:

I am not really given to dancing. Gracefulness is not a description I’d easily wear. At a guess I would probably look like a midget immitation of Peter Garrett if I tried to dance.

The closest I’ve come to being graceful was many years ago when I was a rock climber, control and concentration made something very difficult look easy to others. A faster moving version was skiing, an exhilarating experience of being in the mountains and flowing down their flanks.

Now my moves are less agile, a lot more puffing is involved now as I walk in the freedom of fresh air and only nature’s eyes watching. Still, in such places where no one is watching, my soul still exhalts in God and at least feels like I could dance.

Stop


Image: iStock

Praying is weird

Urban Prayer Booth
Please avoid the booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are religious in nature.

People who have conversations with someone that nobody else can see are not normal. They are usually sent to a psychologist and prescribed medication to control the hallucinations.

When we have a phone conversation, we hear a voice and can respond. When we pray we are talking to air. Only crazy people talk to themselves. How do we talk with a Spirit, with someone who doesn’t speak with an audible voice?
And if we believe that God can talk to us in prayer, how do we distinguish our thoughts from his thoughts? Prayer is confusing. (A Praying Life, p16)

I am conservative at heart, weirdness freaks me out.

As a Christian one of my fears has long been that I might turn into some odd religious nutter (and some of you will be thinking, “too late, you already are one”). Having seen some folks do extremely peculiar things (e.g., falling over, laughing hysterically, barking like dogs, chasing demons)  in the name of ‘worshipping’ God, this is perhaps a reasonable apprehension.

Why then, do something as odd as praying?

The exact reasons for undertaking such a peculiar activity may vary from person to person, but here are the reasons I can think of:

We are told to/God expect us to:

Paul gives us specific instructions to pray always, and Jesus simply assumed (knew) we will pray.

 Desperation:

As the saying goes, ‘there are no atheists in a fox hole’. When in extremis worries over being weird are superseded by the desperation of having no earthly help against our own disintegration.

I trust in God, even though prayer seems silly:

When my faith in who God is – His love, power, mercy and grace – is strong, it is easier to ‘get over’ the oddness of talking to the ceiling. If I am convinced God is listening, prayer seems rational.

It is part of our human nature to cry out to God:

I am not so sure of this one but mention it because this is a common thought in a lot of Christian books written prior to about 1960. The idea possibly stems from an assumption that all people have an awareness of God. In secular, post-postmodern NZ this is no longer a valid assumption.

Praying gives me peace:

Sometimes when I pray, a sense of peace and being ‘right with God’ washes over me. This is a pleasant experience and I’d love to have it more often. Whether this is a good motivation to pray is not my point today, it is simply one reason why I pray despite the oddness of prayer.

Praying makes stuff happen:

While this will not convince an atheist, something happens when I pray that would not happen if I didn’t. I can testify that God has answered at least some of my own prayers is very tangible ways. An example would be the many times my wife and I have prayed for my work and in over 20 years I have had many jobs yet God has ensured continuous employment for that entire time.

No doubt there are plenty of other reasons why Christians pray, but this should at least indicate that despite seeming to be an odd thing to do, praying to God is not as crazy as it may first appear to be!


Photo of prayer booth: iStock

Change is possible

Butterfly Metamorphosis

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

It is good to reflect upon what I have to be thankful for in Christ. This is where the very essence of all I have in life comes from and is the only unchanging thing in my life. As I travel along the convoluted path from cradle to grave everything will change, yet we like to convince ourselves that all we work and strive for will last and have ongoing significance.

No, we are like a vapour which blows away in the morning sun, a flower which blooms for only a few short days. The body I was born with has grown and changed dramatically, unfortunately it will continue to do so – by this stage of my life the change is generally degenerative! My mind and emotions have similarly grown and changed, there is no good reason to expect these to remain static either.

Yet some things remain stubbornly resistant to change; my sinfulness abides through all the ups and downs of life. If anything it becomes more problematic the longer I live. This is the very problem that Jesus has solved. In Christ I have redemption and sin is cancelled. The inclination to sin remains powerful but it’s ultimate power over me is broken. Now I have a choice, there is the option to live for God in Christ.


Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • My wise and insightful wife {955}
  • A favourite woollen jersey {963}
  • The smell of a pine forest {964}
  • An hour of peacefulness outside to simply be {967}
  • The child heart remains in me {971}

Image: iStock

Prayer – nice but not necessary?


I like praying, I am convinced that prayer achieves something that cannot be done any other way, but I am a lousy pray-er. An important priority for me is to become better at praying, whatever ‘better’ actually is in God’s eyes.

Last year I read A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller and was impressed by what he wrote, particularly how practical it seemed to be. In the process of reading the book I left numerous marks and notes of passages which I wanted to consider further. As I go back through looking at those notes I will write some posts about what I am learning.

In this post I want to consider one of the things about us that can hinder prayer:

Self-sufficiency

One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick. (A Praying Life, p16)

I don’t pray as Jesus taught us – generally I am not overly anxious about having enough bread for the day (though anxiety over my debts is always present!). In my view it would be a stressful way to live having to pray for food each day or clothes to wear or the basics of survival. I know that many people do live like this, most not by choice. Relying on God does not have to mean an empty pantry; there is a lot more to faith than loaves and fishes.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

One benefit of having walked this Christian road for a good few years now is that I have seen some things which can only happen if God is at work. The transformation of a hard heart to love Christ is the sort of thing I mean. God is in the business of dealing with our hearts, our inner being, the very depths of self that nobody aside from God truly knows or understands. In these murky depths prayer becomes powerful and essential.

Similarly, there is a world outside of us which we are but dimly aware of at best. Whether you read Frank Paretti or not, there is a spiritual realm with beings other than ourselves who have power and agendas that influence our lives. This realm is important even though we cannot directly interact with it. Somehow, what goes on there affects what happens in the physical world and especially with respect to people’s faith and wellbeing.

From within and without all of us are affected by what we do not understand or control. Neither money, human power nor cleverness is useful in contending with these influences. None of us can make changes in the heart of another, only God can. For this we need to pray.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
(Genesis 11:4-6 ESV)

Views of others:


Image of the Tower of Babel by Marten van Valckenborch: Wikimedia commons

When good kids go bad

Over a year ago I first read a blog post written by a pastor who received a letter from a young  woman who grew up in a good Christian home and went to a Christian college. She describes how she ‘went off the rails’ at college despite being ‘a good Christian’ and that this is a common scenario.

Living in a university town and having worked on campus for many years I have seen plenty of students arrive here fresh-faced and reasonably tame, only to deteriorate into a drunken, debauched mess within months. Christian kids can find it especially hard at Otago as their peers party up and throw off parental restraints.

Very few Christians make it through their university years with faith intact. Some do, and they shine strikingly against the secular backdrop surrounding them. But unfortunately the attrition rate is huge. A shallow faith doesn’t last long in the pressure cooker of student life. Even those with deep, robust faith can find themselves stumbling.

There is no ‘easy-fix’ to this situation, it is an unavoidable trial of living in a secular nation and this is where we are called to live as salt and light. However, what has made this letter stick in my mind is what it highlights about the importance of a father’s faith and relationship with his kids:

Here are some excerpts from that letter:

… I found out when I went to college that I am not the only “good kid” who is or has struggled with or is still struggling with serious stuff. We struggle with issues like eating disorders, depression and suicide, cutting, pornography, gender identity, homosexuality, drugs, drinking, immorality, and the list could go on. We listen to “wild” music, we idolize pop culture’s heroes, we watch dirty sitcoms. We have no discrimination in our entertainment, dress, or any aspect of our lifestyle.

… the problems that are supposed to be bad kid’s problems belong to us too. Unfortunately, our parents and youth workers don’t know that we struggle with these things and they don’t know what to do with us when they find out. Quite frankly, I believe that if you grabbed the average Christian school teacher or youth worker and asked them, “What would you do if you found out that one of the kids you work with was a homosexual?” they wouldn’t know what to say.

… Our parents did not spend time teaching us to love God. Our parents put us in Sunday Schools since K4. Our parents took us to church every time the doors opened, and sent us to every youth activity. They made sure we went to good Christian colleges. They had us sing in the choir, help in the nursery, be ushers, go soulwinning. We did teen devotionals, and prayed over every meal. We did everything right. And they made sure that we did.

But they forgot about our hearts. …. Unfortunately, our fathers don’t have time for us. They put us where we are surrounded by the Bible. But they didn’t take time to show us that God was important enough to them to tell us personally about Him…

Many of us struggle with stuff that our parents have no idea about because they hardly know us.
Saddest Letter I’ve Ever Read by Cary Schmidt

My eldest child is not yet a teenager, so there remains time to deepen our relationship such that she can see for herself how my faith in Christ really works. Will I be brave enough to admit when I don’t have answers to her questions? Even tougher, will I allow her to see my struggles when I do not have answers to my own questions?

I’m not at all eager to face tough times, but maybe my children need to see me do so. They need to have seen me wrestle with hard decisions and choose to trust God. They need to see me weak and desperate yet clinging to Christ in all circumstances. As yet they are still a bit too young to understand the world of adults. What I don’t want is for them to be adults and still not understand it or have seen genuine Christian faith in action within the world they find themselves.

I would also like us to trust each other enough to be honest and share where we really are at. How will a child learn such honesty? Perhaps by seeing it in their parents’ relationship and by their father being brave enough to be open to them.

Pastor Schmidt has also posted a couple of responses to the letter, with a very good one addressed to parents here.

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6 ESV)

A thousand thousand reasons to live

Purakanui

Last Monday afternoon our little family made the most of all having the day off together on a glorious sunny day and went for a picnic. We have all been hanging out for such times together, this is our favourite way to unwind and relax as a family. The kids loved it, the dogs loved it, and the parents loved it. My heart rejoiced, God is good to me.

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me … (Isaiah 8:18 ESV)

All week I have mulled over what to write with our picnic in mind. Nothing has quite ‘clicked’ so this post has sat simmering in the recesses of my mind. So I’m simply going to leave you with a quote from a novel I read recently:

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead p227)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

943) My wife turning our partly renovated cottage into a cosy home.
944) Putting a ‘Thomas’ puzzle back together for a wee boy who is sad at brokenness.
945) Our Queen remaining honourable for 60 years.
946) Family picnic on a glorious sunny winter afternoon.
947) A handful of wild flowers from mum.
948) Wild passionfruit.
949) Squeaky swings.
950) My new reading glasses.
951) John Kirwin being knighted.
952) A frown from my wife reminding me I am being lazy.
953) Warming frozen fingers by the fire.

Expecting God to answer

This week’s 5 minute Friday topic is expectation:

Go

whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
(Matthew 21:22 ESV)

Cute little boy gets a birthday gift from his father. White background.I should expect answers when I pray. It would be a lie to say I always do.

Perhaps this is why I pray non-specific prayers in front of my kids, prayers which could be answered by imperceptible progress so it is harder to say definitively whether the answer has been given or not?

Why such difficulty in believing that God will give me what I ask for in prayer? Logically I know it doesn’t depend upon how well I pray, whether I select the right words, or even if I get the theology exactly correct. God, the big powerful One, He gives the answers – it all depends on Him, not me.

Jesus told us what we need in order to receive what we ask for: faith.

Faith, the same stuff which got me saved. I have no problem trusting God for my salvation, my ever-present weakness helps me to be always trusting in Christ not myself. Surely this is what He was saying about praying, ask in faith based on who Jesus is and have an expectation that He who knows all I need and ask for will give it to me.

Stop

Check out this great blog post about this very topic:  Why do healings and stuff happen there and not here?


Image: iStock

Poems attach us to one another

I am not a huge poetry fan. I’d like to be, poetry is a sophisticated art and appreciating the art form is a good step in becoming a better writer. Beyond that, poetry at it’s best can touch upon what it means to be human and this I am interested in. This is well expressed in a blog post I read today:

… Since that moment, I’ve believed very deeply that poetry’s sole purpose is to attach us to one another, and I’ve lived by poetry’s guidance to allow that kind of connection to grow in my life. If a poem isn’t reaching out its hand, then I get bored and move on.

I want poems of the bystander trying to make sense of the world. I want poems of rich experience written by women and men unable to turn away from what they must see and what they must say. I want poems that awaken me. If the poem is too detached or too ecstatic, I bristle—they’re fallacies of human emotion. I want the poem that gives life by being true to life.   (Dave Harrity at tweetspeak poetry)

Pray for your kids – gentleness

Boy with Down Syndrome

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17 ESV)

When God makes a person wise they will also become gentle. This is a robust gentleness, able to be fair and considerate, merciful rather than inflexible.

Being gentle comes from the heart, whether expressed by delicate hands or a labourer’s strength. Fine, dainty hands may be gentle of touch even while the owner of those hands shows harshness of heart by what is spoken.

Whereas a clumsy, ham-fisted person may be truly wise and gentle hearted, dealing kindly with others in both word and deed. I pray that my kids will be like this, showing gentleness and fairness to others.


Download the prayer prompts:

Image: iStockphoto

Faith, not sight

The Friday phenomenon, 5 minute Friday in which I uses today’s prompt of see to set me off writing for 5 minutes. Join the link up over at The Gypsy Mama and read what others have written too.
Go:

for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV)

I have already written about the importance of eyesight, both physical and spiritual. Yet there can be times – perhaps extended times – when sight is useless to us. The road ahead is enshrouded in mist and fog. Darkness keeps me from seeing what may be before me.

In these times I have no choice but to trust God, to walk in faith. Being honest, I don’t like that, even if it is good for me. I prefer to be able to see, to know what lies ahead.

But even if I could see the road ahead fully, would I make better choices? Knowing my own fears and weaknesses I am certain I would turn back if I knew whatever difficulties await me.

In this I take courage from Paul stating that he walked by faith rather than by sight. The context is that he is groaning and feeling burdened by this life, longing for glory and being home with Jesus. Yet he continues to walk in obedience.

Lord Jesus, please strengthen me to also walk in obedience.

Stop

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:4-9 ESV)


Image: iStock