Friday, December 21, 2012

The Reason for the Season

So, it’s not an original thought to say the “reason for the season” is often an afterthought at Christmas (if we can even use that word at all). But witness the way people actually crave to ponder the meaning of the holidays (e.g. holy days) as in the most recent mob flash video (in California of all places) ( It’s as if the Spirit within yearns to slow down, to find enough quiet to worship the newborn king. To rediscover the Son.

For those of you who have read this blog before, you know that I struggle with prayer, and I struggle with prayer because I struggle with life itself. My prayer too often reflects my inner turmoil instead of the peace it longs to release.

So you also know I have been broken by the difficult relationship with my only son. I just want you to know this: I have rediscovered my son. I cannot explain it other than it’s the answer to my anguished call. There have been no icebreaking moments, at least not that I can identify, but he is allowing me back into his life and it just feels so good. His heart has softened and I am so thankful.

The other day he texted me with a photo of a storm front moving in over the Front Range of the Rockies. It felt so good. We were back to talking about the weather.

I also heard through God’s wonderfully mysterious grapevine that Philip Yancey will be speaking this weekend at a church in Newtown, Connecticut. The one who wrote the book on prayer is seeking our prayers as he tries to find the words that might bring comfort or reason to the insanity and immense sorrow of recent events there. Please join him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Someone wrote that "no good story ever starts with salad" meaning that most stupid, embarrassing and wish-it-would-never-have-happened events start with alcohol.

Today is Election Day 2012 and my daughter, an excellent blogger in her own right, challenged us to remember the teacher who had impacted us the most in American history or political science. For me it was Mr. Arnold, Bob Arnold, to be specific (I think) who taught a number of subjects at Golden High School back in the 60s. Mr. Arnold was a fiery red-head (aren't all red-heads fiery?) and somewhat ill-tempered if I recall and the class was a requirement for graduation, one I'd been putting off until my senior year, called Sociology. I hated Sociology. It was stupid. I already knew all this stuff. We argued about LBJ vs. Barry Goldwater. "In your heart, you know he's right...far right!" I was a right-wing, junior Republican, conservative, bomb 'em into oblivion kind of guy and he, Mr. Arnold, used to argue with me just to get me going, I think. In my final quarter I even got a C. Worst teacher I ever had. Stupid teacher!

By the following year I was a left-wing, draft-dodging, card-burning hippie who enjoyed the privilege of being able to imbibe in 3.2% malted beverages in more-than-ample quantities. On one of my visits to my hometown, on one such night of exercising that privilege in abundance with some other old mates, we drove to the school where I proceeded to lead the pack in breaking into the old temporary classroom where that stupid old teacher Mr. Arnold had his classroom. We turned over desks, dumped out textbooks to the floor, caused general mayhem and wrote "You're stupid, Mr. Arnold!" on the blackboard. I do remember being confused by the textbooks in the desks. Even back in those days, you took your textbooks with you. You didn't leave them in the desks.

Next week in the local paper the headline read, "Officials appalled by vandalism to special ed classroom." You know that feeling of dread mixed with shame that begins somewhere in your chest and begins its slow torturous climb up the neck, burning and reddening through your face until your head begins to throb and your mouth opens with a whisper, "Oh, ----!" It was one of those moments.

For those of you who know me, you know that my daughter Hannah was born with Down syndrome in 1976. I changed my career from regular education to the field of disabilities in 1982 and retired still in that field in 2009. I now am raising another daughter with cognitive disabilities. I've often wondered. Payback? Penance?

I'm sorry, Mr. Arnold. I was really stupid! But I voted today, Mr. Arnold. I've voted in every election since 1968. Thanks for challenging me, thanks for making me think, and thanks for the C. I deserved worse.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Keeping It Light

My dear childhood friend died a few weeks ago, not a young man at 65, but much too soon for those who loved him and shared in his life. For a number of years now he fought a brave battle with C. He never wanted to give Cancer a name. His wife asked me to speak at his memorial service, or to be more accurate, she hoped I would speak at his memorial service. They live in San Diego now and I live in South Carolina, so getting to our home town of Golden, Colorado would not be a quick, no-brain, inexpensive decision. But I knew Bobby would want me there; in fact I'm sure he would expect me to be there. This was one of those Nike moments: just do it.

There's no getting around it. Death is serious business. I was very close to it once myself after a heart attack, twelve minutes of CPR and seven jolts of electric shock. That was early 2008, just a few months before Bobby told me about his cancer. We talked about the fragility of life and its preciousness, our wives, our children, our grandchildren. Then last year when his cancer returned after a period of dormancy, he called to ask the number of another friend, a pastor with a healing ministry. Eventually, they met up in an I-25 truck stop in Loveland, Colorado, and there in front of a cafe full of truckers, Bobby bowed his head and asked Jesus to save him. He was ready now, booked and ticketed when necessary, for his eternal home. And then they joined in prayer for healing.

Bobby called me right away and told me he had trusted Christ as his savior, that he was born again and that he was healed from cancer. He called it by name. He said he was reading Psalm 91 each and every day. After that day we wrote back and forth a couple of times and talked on the phone a few more. At first Bobby said he felt better than he had in months but then the weight started falling off, his appetite declined and the doctor told him the cancer had spread. But he didn't waiver about his faith. He called me Brother.

So, was he healed? From The physical body, the shell, the corruptible flesh, it failed, as it always eventually does. But from the body of sin and death...Yes! By His stripes...yes. Forevermore. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!

"Death, where is thy sting? Where is thy victory?"

So when Bobby's wife wrote me about speaking at his memorial service, she said she hoped to "keep it light." She said it twice. I'm sure after watching her husband of more than 45 years in his final valiant days, after making arrangements, after the phone calls, after reading the cards, after it all, she is ready for some celebration, some laughs, some smiles, some hugs, some joy.

And me? I'm ready now too. That Bobby, he was a funny guy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Revelation 13:18
"This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

The first time I heard about 666 was in high school. My dad's cousin, whom I referred to at the time as a bible fanatic, had self-published numerous pamphlets and booklets on the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation, the impending Russian invasion of the Middle East and the coming oil crisis-- all pretty much a bummer for a young lad about ready to graduate. He, among others, believed that Social Security was mixed in somewhere and I began to envision a world I really hoped to avoid.

I mostly figured 666 would not be "literal." But I worried a little when the license plates for my dad's red VW bug arrived--RA 666. And when one of my first checking accounts had 666 in the middle of the account number, I made the bank change it. I'm sure the banker thought I was nuts.

But now, today, as I was reviewing the stats for the number of "hits" my blog has received, you guessed it: 666 hits!

So, please, anyone, anybody! Read this post and get me out of a heap of trouble!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wrestling with God

I have been negligent in keeping up with the intent of this blog, to "continue" through Yancey's prayer journal notebook. After just returning from a monumental two-week Heritage Tour to China with Paula and the girls and with so much to say about that, I am forcing myself to come back to topic and wrestle with the topic of prayer again. In China, I prayed, I mean some very intensive prayers, like when JaneGrace was lost for 45 minutes in a city the size of Los Angeles, but the topic today is wrestling with God in prayer.

We know from Scripture that Jacob wrestled through the night with the Lord in what is described as a literal physical match of epic proportions and it ended in an apparent standoff, even though Jacob would walk with a limp from then on. So, if I catch the implication, one could spend the night in fervent prayer, wrestling with the Father who says elsewhere he wants to give us the desires of our hearts, and end up feeling like he hasn't heard a word you've said. Or he just wants to wrestle; he doesn't want to talk. Either way, I end up feeling beaten up in the process and hobble into the next event.

So it has been with my most recent wrestling match with God. Some months ago, I was nominated to become an elder at our church in South Carolina. Prior to moving from Colorado, I'd been an elder before. (See Lookout Below!) The review process has been extensive, from a series of meetings on church doctrine, biblical qualifications, and church history, to an indepth introspection. It's within that "introspection" that I've been wrestling with God. God, more than anyone else, knows who I am, my faults, my errors, my selfishness, my sinfulness (I wonder how long I could keep going here). He knows that people have always viewed me as a leader, from kindergarten through the job where I retired as executive director. It would seem only natural that I accept this calling to become an elder at our newly-adopted home church.

Except for this: I've been asking God for six months to show me that he wants me to do this. Since I can think of hundreds of reasons not to, I've been waiting for him to drop the trump card and clear up the matter once and for all. Yesterday the pastor asked one last time if I were ready to accept the position, and so I asked God one more time. Show me this is what you want me to do!


So I re-read the self-assessment that I was supposed to have submitted a few months ago, a self-assessment designed to help me determine 1) if this was the right season in my life, 2) that I was clearly hearing God's call and 3) that I met the qualifications for leadership in the Bible. When I mulled over the answers I'd written a few months ago and weighed it against the Great Silence, I sent an answer to the pastor that I would not be moving forward with the process.

I woke up with no regrets but, "Ouch!" My hip sure is sore this morning.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Someday You'll be a Blogger

Back in the 70s and early 80s, I taught English and journalism in a public school. Posed with the typical question from a reluctant student "Why do we have to learn this stuff? I'll never use it," just imagine if I'd answered, "Because someday you'll be blogging on your iPad or laptop, dude, and keeping up with all of these classmates here on your home page or texting your old girlfriends. Without this study of the king's English, your emails will be atrocious, and ur spelling will b bad."

Coming out of a period of "experimental, self-guided" education, it's a wonder anyone from that era ever learned to write at all. But many did, even some of my students. A number are now friends on Facebook and it's a pleasure to witness their various artistic endeavors from writing science fiction novels ( to photographing pets and turning them into portraits (

But, here, right now, I'd like to thank God for two writers who are very close to me--my daughter and my wife. Both have embarked as serious bloggers and each has a unique and singularly characteristic voice, both led by their Creator into their craft of weaving words. Please check them out:

Dear Owl by Paula Lowther
Telling a Good Story by Sarah Henderson

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hi, my name is Todd and I'm a blogaholic

I think I need to join Blogaholics Anonymous. I don't mean I'm addicted to blogging; I'm not and that's the problem. After four months of pretty consistent writing (as I had vowed to myself to do), I stopped. Instead of forcing myself to succumb to self-discipline as a writer, I conveniently placed the topical prayer journal on the shelf pretty much out of view where other books started being piled on top of it. The guilt, strong at first, began to subside after a few days but not the doubts. They remained.

Who's reading my blog anyway? Does anybody care? Aren't there millions of people out there in the blogosphere trying to satisfy their creative urges? I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said a thousand times or more. What a dolt I am!

You know the drill.

I do the same thing with my music. I'll write a song and the first day I say, "That's not half bad." By the third or fourth day, it begins to sound like all the other songs I've ever written and I say, "Who are you kiddin'? You trying to be Bob Dylan?" A few days later if I haven't written it down or done a crude recording, I've already forgotten the words, the chords or the tune...or all three.

I do the same thing with my family. I'll handle one crisis like an episode of "Father Knows Best." I'll think, wow, after some 40 years of parenting, I'm finally getting this down. Then I handle the next one like Archie Bunker. "Ah, gees Edith!"

So a month ago I hit the wall writing about prayer. What can I say that has not been said about it? Sermons have been preached about it, books, tapes, study guides, text books too. Heck! (when was the last time you saw the word heck?) There are whole seminary courses about prayer.

Sometimes I hit the wall praying too. I give up. I shut down. I stop trying. I start talking to myself. I'm not very positive. I go on and on, thought after thought, sigh upon sigh. Then I wonder if God is listening. Then I ask Him if He is listening? God, can you hear me now?

Is He smart or what?

Monday, April 30, 2012


"Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge." Yancey continues, "Deep down I believed that contact with God should be fulfilling and even transforming, yet I rarely found it so. I assumed I must be doing something wrong."

Deep to begin again writing about this subject of prayer. This question nails it pretty well for me although I tend to spend more time on the second half: Why I don't act the way God wants me to. In the work of Christ on the cross including his resurrection, which I believe despite my doubts, I am told that my "old man" has died and my "new man" is alive; that I have been transformed, changed, remade, born again. Many who challenge the Christian faith snicker at that last one, born again, at least in part because of the trivial way it has been used by some who profess it. Some who have professed it the loudest have ended up making a mockery of themselves and the faith, but nevertheless, that's what is supposed to happen.

So when I don't feel transformed, changed, remade or born again, I assume it's me, not God. And since God does not change, I'm the one who needs adjusting. But how? In the book Birthright by David Needham, he challenges the reader to look at infinity. As we've all done at one time or another, venture out on a moonless, clear night and stare deeply into the cosmos, not just to pick out the Big Dipper but to begin to imagine the breadth, depth, height and heart of God Almighty. Stay in that moment until you know you simply cannot comprehend it all, or in all honesty, even a little. In our ultimate smallness and finiteness, we see His enormity and endlessness, and for the briefest of moments, as more questions and doubts flood our consciousness, we get it. He did this. He IS this. And as small as I am, He cares for me.

(View this in full-screen with as much amplitude possible)
Opening Scene from the movie Contact

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why Pray?

Yancey writes: If I had to answer the question "Why pray?" in one sentence, it would be "Because Jesus did."

Actually Mr. Yancey, "Because Jesus did" is not a complete sentence. It's a dependent clause...but I digress.

WWJD? During the last decade we've all seen this question on t-shirts or discussed on talk shows. What would Jesus do? Seems like Jesus--son of God and lamb of God, creator, sustainer, mediator, advocate and very God of very God--thought it was very important to pray when he was co-mingled for a brief time directly with humanity. Some of his prayers were instructive, like the one we call the Lord's prayer. Sometimes it was intercessory as in John 17:20 where he says “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." He prayed in a solitary place in Mark 1:35. He spoke directly to his Father in John 17:1 that he might be "glorified" and in that glorify the Father. But the prayer he spoke that I identify with the most is from Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Emphasis added.)

I don't mean to be disrespectful but Jesus really had to be tuned into his Father. In some cosmic mystery, they were One and yet separate. Many believe that separation was even total for a brief time when he cried out from the cross “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Why have you forsaken me? suggesting even Jesus must have felt abandoned, out of his Father's will and alone.

Of course, nothing I've endured in this life comes close to the Cross. In fact those words look silly to me as I write them. More than silly...ludicrous. But I have felt abandoned, out of my Father's will and alone--alone with my cup of trials, guilt and shame. And in those greatest moments of despair when I am most alone and at the end of my "self," I've pleaded with Him to take my cup from me, suspecting in my heart that He may not and instead ask of me to take up His cross and follow Him.

Thank you for the Cross, thank you for the Cross, 
Lord, thank you for the price you paid.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

God, You know...

How would you finish this sentence? "Prayer is not a matter of giving God information about our needs. Instead, prayer is ________________________."

Yes, that's it. Prayer IS. Really, it's that simple. Remember back in elementary school (grammar school for us really old ones) when you first learned about "is"? "Is" is the present tense "state of being." State of being? Talk about a definition being more confusing than the word itself. Maybe Bill Clinton had it right. "That depends on what you happen to believe 'is' is" or something like that.

Prayer offers the same kind of Bill Clinton-ish conundrum for me. It may be easier to define what it is not rather than what it is.  I've read before from Philip Yancey where he says, "Prayer is not a matter of giving God new information." I can even see him saying that with a little grin and modest chiding mixed in.  How silly we humans are. In our attempt to bare our souls to the one who made our souls, we act like we're on a long distance phone call talking about the weather rather than speaking to and expecting to hear from the One who already knows our darkest secrets, deepest pain and illusive dreams. In Matthew 6:8 Jesus says, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." But James says in James 4:2, "You have not because you ask not." We're told elsewhere to pray without ceasing and in another place that even our groans can be taken as prayer.

When I hear about a new school shooting or how a Nigerian immigrant was murdered on the streets of Charlotte by her pimp boyfriend, how else can I respond? I groan, sometimes audibly, sometimes silently. I don't need words. God knows. I'm just finding out. He's known all along. He's writing the drama; I am merely a player learning my lines...or forgetting my lines...or mixing up my lines.

So I am back to the beginning. Prayer IS. A state of being. Our constancy with him. Our recognition of his direction at all times. Our willingness to respond to his ever-present prompts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Constant Sorrow

Mention some experiences with prayer that remain disappointing or frustrating to you.

When I began this challenge of mine, to follow a prayer journaling guide, I vowed to answer each question and not skip. The purpose was to build discipline as a writer. But I wanted to skip this one. In fact as of last night I was determined to dodge this one and had already turned a page or two in the guide to see if the next questions might unlock something less unsettling. But the truth is, now is the time to share this disappointment which I call, after the song, My Constant Sorrow.

Last summer I received a long, long email from my son, a grown man with a family of his own. In this email he enumerated a long, long list of my failures as a father, some going back to when he was very, very young and some as recent as my last email to him. At the end of this long, long list, he gave me three ways to respond, and then explained how if I chose any of the three, I would be wrong. I was being disowned by my own son, my only son. I was being divorced from his family. He didn't have the time, energy or need to work on our relationship. He was through.

As one might imagine, this was devastating news. It's not that there wasn't some truth in his list of charges, but taken as an entirety, it certainly was not a fair picture of me as a father. I felt falsely accused even as I felt shame, remorse and sadness for those items which were in fact, or in his perception, true. Why have you forsaken me?

In the beginning I'm sure I prayed everyday--for my son, his wife, their marriage, their children, my grandchildren, to soften their hearts, that they know and show the Lord's forgiveness, that they know joy but mostly that they not forsake me in their lives. I waited for some sign, an email, a phone message or even a text. Over the next eight months the silence has continued. I've sent emails with no reply, gifts with no acknowledgment, and prayers seemingly with no results.

Lord, my son is a follower of yours. He says he has learned to deal with his anger but his words were so filled with rage. He seems unable to forgive. He is unwilling to even talk. Mine is a prayer without ceasing yet has no reply. A constant sorrow.

Last year my father died. What I miss the most is the sound of his voice. In the same year, I seem to have lost my son. What I miss most is the sound of his voice. God, I miss them both.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A High Priest Forever

Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

What are some weaknesses in your own life, for which you need Christ's mercy and grace?

Is this another trick question, Mr. Yancey? Are you really asking me to pinpoint some personal weaknesses that need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Is there a blog long enough or a band width wide enough? OK, you said "some," not "all." So I'll pick three: being a husband, being a father and being a leader.

My daughter asked me the other day whether God was really sitting on a throne all the time, which is a really significant and thoughtful question when you think about it. I attempted to answer, thinking about the pictures we have in our minds of, say, King Henry sitting there majestically as a conqueror or two stroll in from the outer reaches of the territory with some bag of riches or golden ring to fling at the base of the throne. The King is holding court; he is receiving visitors and he is settling debts. But obviously, the king doesn't sit on his throne all day long. He'd need a break. After all, a king, especially like King Henry, had many more personal things on his mind. That's what is so amazing about this scripture from Hebrews. We may come to His throne of grace confidently and on our time-table, not His. At our beck and call, He waits, ready to open court and mount His throne to hear our weary cries for mercy, ready to settle our debts (forgive our sins) and dispense His grace.

So, back to my weaknesses:
As a husband, I do not often "love my wife as Christ loved the church." I wish I did but this is one to lay at the base of the throne and ask God's mercy. Jesus was willing to lay down his very life for those he loved; I often cannot even say "I'm sorry."

As a father, I "exasperate my children," which I'm not supposed to do. My anger can snap to attention as fast as Gomer Pyle. Raising children, as I have now attempted for nearly 40 years, needs His grace, His provision. I cannot do it alone.

As a leader, I have not always led with integrity. I've let personal idols get in the way and have not sought the voice of God but relied on my own God-given talents, thinking they were really mine.

But I love the way God works. Just yesterday I pulled out the words to a song I'd written recently and began to apply a new chord sequence. I had written the lyrics almost verbatim from Hebrews 6 and had titled it A High Priest Forever and then today this writing assignment. Hmmm.

Thank you, Father.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Thanks for the Sloppy Joes

Why does prayer rank so high on surveys of theoretical importance and so low on surveys of actual satisfaction?

We were sitting around the dinner table the other night getting ready to enjoy our evening meal together (he said euphemistically) when I asked my youngest daughter to pray. She began reluctantly, "God, thanks...for our family...and thanks...for the food. Amen." Then I said something I wish I hadn't, "You were just petitioning the creator of the universe, the One who sustains all things. Do you really think that prayer got His attention?" My question got no answer nor should it have. It was a lousy question and I need to tell her I'm sorry.

Like my prayers are better? Like I choose better words or because mine are longer? What I was failing to recognize in my daughter's prayer was that already at her young age, there's a disconnect between that "theoretical importance" and the "actual satisfaction." She's wondering, probably, does it really matter? Is it real? Does He hear this or any other prayer? Even if He hears me, will it make any difference? Won't we eat the sloppy joes and won't they taste good even if we don't thank Him? Did He really provide the sloppy joes?

OK, those are not my daughter's questions. I am attributing my doubts to her, but I think they may reflect some of the discontent many people experience with prayer. Prayer should matter. Jesus said, "Pray like this" and then gave us the Lord's prayer. Paul said to "pray without ceasing." Jesus also warned about praying like hypocrites.  I am pretty good with words normally and so is my daughter. As a 12-year-old she reads and writes way beyond her years. But she struggles with prayer just like I do.

Heavenly Father, Abba, 
Can you help reduce the gap between how we know we should pray and how we actually do? Instead of doing all the talking, might we learn to listen more? Please help us so our words don't get in the way.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Breaking Bread

Yancey writes, "The word company, as in "keeping company with God," simply means "with bread," and comes from the ancient and universal tradition of hospitality. We connect with others by inviting them into our homes, by breaking bread and sharing everyday life.

Take some time to reflect on what is working and what isn't in your efforts to "keep company" with God. How can you invite God into your life and yourself into God's? Write in the form of a prayer, if you like.

When I invite someone to my home, I prepare, I think in advance, I try to see my home through the eyes of a visitor. Lord, help me to prepare myself for You. Let me view myself with "visitor eyes."

When I attend a meeting, I anticipate who will be there and what might be accomplished by our time together. Lord, help me to come away from our meetings together refreshed and with new purpose. Help me discover Your agenda.

When I invite someone to take a walk with me, I am looking for quiet company, just a time to stroll and take the conversation in many directions. Lord, help me to walk with You when the path You choose is different from my own.

When I plan a meal, I anticipate what the others breaking bread together with me will enjoy and I try to please them. Help me to bring You joy, as silly as that sounds.

When I anticipate a difficult conversation, I plan my words carefully and recognize that even my best intentions may go array. Help me to trust You when I am misunderstood by others.

As the song says, "Let me feel Your presence."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blind Faith

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 

Describe your faith. Has it changed over the years?

It's pretty common these days among Christ-followers (which is in itself a way to distance us from narrow-minded evangelical fundamentalists who know everything) to entertain periods of doubt. In fact to say you are absolutely sure about something is to invite an argument. Doubting is normal, many say, natural. Yet Hebrews 11:1 seems to present the principle that faith and certainty are synonymous, that even the word hope means sure expectation, not maybe. It all seems to hinge on that last clause: what we do not see. That's the rub. We say it's hard to believe in things we cannot see.

Some who would say they are not religious in any way seem to have faith. The person who would ridicule biblical creationism in favor of an evolutionary model has great faith that the "science" of evolution is true, that if we only had enough "time" we could "see" the evidence.

If God is the one who spoke creation into existence with a single word, could His spirit impregnate a virgin? If He holds the subatomic particles together, could He stiffen the H2O molecules for a few brief moments so that His Son might demonstrate his power and walk on water? I guess it takes a little faith to believe that.

We know a sperm cell must penetrate an egg cell for fertilization to begin. We can watch the cells begin to grow and then somehow ascertain the DNA make-up and even mess around with the results. But why fertilization begins...why life? We need some faith to answer that.

We can go outside on the deck on a dark moonless night to look at stars and the light impacting the back of our eyeballs is millions of years old. It least that's what they tell us. Few of us earthbound humans have seen the original. It takes some faith to believe that.

When we die, our flesh begins to decay at a much greater speed than when each cell was being fed by the complex interaction of organ and agent. The process is irreversible and life that was there is gone, over, kaput. Life has left the building. But we can't really document just what made life start way back then when cell met cell; why is it so difficult for some to believe there is life after death?

A good scientist will tell you there are more questions than answers. And when questions outnumber answers, is faith the answer?

Do dogs need answers...dolphins? What drives men and women and their need to know why? Some say it is intelligence that makes humans different than animals. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's faith.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Satisfaction Guaranteed

What are some of the most satisfying experiences with prayer? What made them so satisfying?

Here goes the olde English major in me again. "Satisfying" is one of those words that everyone knows but when I began to attach it to prayer, I just started shaking my head like "I don't know..." So I looked it up in Webster's online dictionary and here's what is says:

Definition of SATISFY

transitive verb
1 a : to carry out the terms of (as a contract) : discharge b : to meet a financial obligation to
2 : to make reparation to (an injured party) : indemnify
3 a : to make happy : please b : to gratify to the full : appease
4 a : convince b : to put an end to (doubt or uncertainty) : dispel
5a : to conform to (as specifications) : be adequate to (an end in view) b : to make true by fulfilling a condition <values that satisfy an equation> <satisfy a hypothesis>
intransitive verb
: to be adequate : suffice; also : please
As I looked at each definition, it reminded me of the Lord's Prayer. Forgive those who sin against you. But the definition that would best describe the most satisfying prayer would be 4 a : convince b : to put an end to (doubt or uncertainty) : dispel 
It's been rare. I could almost count them out on one hand, but there have been some moments in prayer, usually at my most distraught moments, that I've heard His voice. Only a word, maybe two. My doubt ends, I am convinced and my uncertainty is dispelled. It's such a great moment. 
Why are those moments so rare? I think it's because I keep it together most of the time, relying on my own resources, my own abilities, and my own cognitive and emotional tools to weave my way through this life. But in those moments when all my tools have failed and I'm at the end of my "self," I can pray with honesty, "Lord, I don't know what to do!" Then, maybe then, He answers. He satisfies. He satisfies.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Real Jesus

In Philip Yancey's prayer journal Keeping Company with God, he gives two biblical descriptions of Jesus as Messiah, one from Isaiah as suffering servant and the other from Revelation as king of glory.  

We are asked to list some of the differences in the contrasting portrayals and how prayer might help in reminding us of the "unseen" world.

I apologize but again I don't seem to be able to address these questions directly. It's not because they are not good questions; it's that these questions don't lead toward answers for me but rather, more questions. Without beating a dead horse, it comes back to this "trinity" thing, a word that attempts to tightly and neatly define each member of the Godhead. But before someone begins to think I might be teetering on heresy, let me say I believe that Jesus Christ, as God's only son, suffered and died as the ultimate sacrificial atonement for the sins of mankind, mine in particular. I believe somehow he was present when this all began, the Alpha and the Omega. The creator. The sustain-er. In Him all matter and energy are somehow held together when they should be flying apart. I believe all that.

But there was also the Jesus of the gospels, a man somehow, with a human mother and brothers and sisters. He's the one we learned to "color" in Sunday school and the one we saw depicted on flannel boards. He loved children and lambs. And then very mean people killed him.

So when we pray "in Jesus' name," do we picture the being with the blazing eyes of Revelation? Or is it the man of sorrows in Isaiah? Or the brown-haired, blue-eyed one with a bunch of children looking up adoringly?

I am taken back sometimes when I hear someone talk so casually of Jesus. "Jesus told me..." or "I just asked Jesus..."--you catch my drift. I want to interrupt, "Which Jesus? The creator of the universe? The one who inhabits eternity and holds the keys? The angry one who seemed especially upset with religious hypocrites like you and me? Or the one who willingly in some mysterious way took my sin and shame as his own and endured the death penalty that was meant for me?" Perhaps if we spent a little more time and thought on this Jesus instead of the one who punctuates the end of our prayers, we might spend a little less time on ourselves.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lookout Below!

Yancey writes: when I wrote about prayer I began with us, the pray-ers, rather than God, the one to whom we pray, because so many of us who pray come to the work awkwardly, self-consciously, as raw beginners. In attempting this strange act, we think of ourselves more than we think of God.

Do you ever feel as if you get in your own way when you're trying to pray? What keeps you from being authentic and vulnerable--naked--before God?

Our former church in Colorado was not too long ago one of those rapidly growing churches with an energetic, though enigmatic, senior pastor who could keep you spellbound by his sermons filled with "his-story." The slogan or tagline was A Real Church in an Unreal World. We used words like authentic, raw and vulnerable, and even now and then the pastor's message might talk about being naked before God, like David when he danced. Even longer ago, when I was a Baptist we would "pray through" an issue, "bathe it with prayer," "cover it with prayer," "take it to the Lord in prayer." In my earliest Episcopal days, prayers were read and we memorized them and then recited them in rhythm with the other pray-ers hardly conscious at all of the meaning behind the words. So by the time I got to the Real Church in an Unreal World, I was so darned happy to be there, on my way to the New Testament promised land. Two Sunday services became three, and then Saturday night was added. Soon the cute little building without a mortgage overlooking the Continental Divide was bursting at the proverbial seams. So we built an even bigger Real Church for the Unreal World next to the Interstate "Where the World Drives By" and church leaders banked on the idea that the pastor with superlative gifting in communicating Jesus would continue to fill the chairs and the coffers and help pay off what was left over after the capital funds drive.

Can anyone guess what happened next? Can you imagine what got Real and what got Unreal? Without going into detail that would be beneficial for no one, the pastor took some positions that were considered outside the conventional doctrinal stance within the denomination. Given the chance to retract some of those views, the pastor felt obligated to the truth as he saw it and would not retract in the areas of most concern to the denomination. Long story short: pastor lost his ordination, church leaders decided to stay with denomination and the church essentially split, if you can call the space shuttle Challenger disaster a split. Some followed the pastor to a new church down the mountain, some stayed urging those who had left to return, and others just left, gone who-knows-where. Just a week ago, the remnant church turned over the keys of its mega structure to its creditors and moved into a child care center up the road, not unlike the church's humble beginnings.

And here's my point--we prayed, oh, we prayed. Heart-felt, gut-wrenching, tear-dripping prayer. Sometimes the entire prayer team would meet in the room below the one where the leaders were meeting to take on the next problem. Our Wednesday night Living Stones Services were Spirit-filled and emotionally raw, no holds back and we petitioned our God in Heaven to bless our church, those who were leaving the church and even those who followed the pastor to begin a church in the city.

I had joined the team of elders shortly before the dismantling began. I had come on board with nary a clue of the impending doom. I was having a martini on the upper deck of the Titanic when someone suggested it might be getting a little colder. For the next three and a half years, I prayed alone, I prayed in groups, I prayed with denominational leaders, I prayed with christian leaders like Mr. Yancey himself because it was his church too. We prayed for clarity, wisdom, new leadership, resources, for Jesus to continue to reveal himself. We prayed--it was raw, authentic and we were vulnerable and naked, and God answered: He was not afraid and He was not surprised. Why does the pot say to the potter, why did you make me this way? The building has been lost to creditors, many have lost jobs, small groups were dismantled one or two at a time, but the praying was raw, authentic, real. And many now have returned into the shelter of His perfect Will, but that Will appears to be following a map of His own choosing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fertilizer or Weed Treatment?

Jesus warned to watch out for the teachers of the law. What modern parallels come to mind?

It's pretty easy, living in Fort Mill SC under the shadows of the decaying PTL tower (remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker?) to identify fallen religious leaders as hypocrites. In Mark 12, it says these "teachers of the law" often "for a show make lengthy prayers." Elsewhere Jesus says to retreat to a private room to pray, presumably in contrast to those who make pretentious public prayer.

I am very self-conscious when I pray out loud, especially in public. When I'm self-conscious I cannot be very God-conscious. When Jesus warned against lengthy prayers for show, it must mean there's a third type--people-consciousness--to be concerned about. That must be the worst kind because he is not warning against being self-conscious but for making a "show" of it. Some seem gifted for public prayer. The words flow like water cascading from clear pool to clear pool over rounded rocks. But Jesus wasn't warning against praying like those leaders; he was warning about the teachers themselves, that pretentious prayer might be a sign or signal there is something deeply disturbing about their message.

This week during a neighborhood bible study, as we discussed the topic of grace, someone brought up Jesus' teaching about the sheep and goats. Wasn't that proof there is something more than grace, something like law? Today as I was preparing to fertilize my lawn, I thought I had better double-check something. Should I fertilize first or treat for weeds? Most answers recommended fertilizing first to stimulate the growth even though that might mean jump-starting the weeds as well as the fescue. Then, the advice continued, after a week or so apply the poison to kill the weeds. I wished I'd had that illustration in mind when we were discussing law and grace in the bible study. Grace first, then law. Fertilize--give life--first. Kill the weeds--apply the law--second. The order is important.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Big Picture

Have you experienced times when you were able to see your own circumstances as one small part of a much bigger picture? How do you think prayer can be a gateway to this kind of "big picture" perspective?

When I was a boy living in the post-WWII era during the advent of television, one of the first TV shows I remember was called The Big Picture, a sort-of crude documentary by current standards which revisited the war with countless shots of bombs dropping from air crafts and big guns firing tracers into the night. It was very vivid despite the grain and the picture on the black and white 21" console television set. To me, the TV itself was "the big picture" so I'm pretty sure I never understood the dramatic significance of the title.

And now, as one of seven billion humans inhabiting our little blue ball, I'm pretty sure I still don't understand the BIG picture--that all of time and space hinges on a wooden cross on a rocky hill in an ancient country during a very brief moment of the time-space continuum. Seven billion of us each thinking we must matter more than the other ones, that our blink-of-an-eye existences have some significance to the One who spoke everything from nothing. At least that's the way we act.

So can my quiet words spoken only in my amoeba brain find their way through all of that? Heavenly Father, you tell us that it can. You tell us that we matter. You tell us that each of us, like a toddler bumping into the coffee table over and over again, that we can seek you and that you are delighted with us and that we are forgiven. Of course you offer glimpses of the Big Picture in other ways--starry nights, oceans, atoms, light-years, the Wonder of it All--but most of us cannot entertain those thoughts for long before we must retreat back into our much smaller, more shallow, but somewhat manageable existences. I hope this does not seem too existential. God, you are so big but still choose to inhabit my heart. Why?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Red Thread

"Prayer encompasses the epiphanies that happen during the day: turning a corner on a ski trail and seeing a gray fox skitter away, watching the pink alpenglow on the mountains as the sun sets, meeting an old friend at the grocery store. By incorporating those experiences into my prayers, I prolong and savor them so that they do not fall too quickly into my memory bank, or out of it." from Keeping Company with God
Twelve years ago today somewhere on the outskirts of Nanning, Guangxi, China, where the poorest of the poor live, a baby girl was born to a mother who for unknown reasons was unable to keep her. Four days later the orphaned baby was discovered in a box next to a deserted stand on the side of a road and taken to the social welfare institute in the city. That same day, March 7, 2000, I applied for my first passport so that I might travel with my wife Paula to pick up our adopted daughter, still unknown to us that day but known and chosen by you, Heavenly Father.

We had already chosen her name, JaneGrace, in memory of my mother and Paula's aunt. Six weeks later, on April 17, my mother's birthday, we received our long-awaited call that Chinese adoption officials had "matched" our American family with their Chinese daughter, complete with faxed pictures as an infant and a toddler. She was beautiful. She still is.

Father, you tell us that we have been "known" from before time, before creation, and it was as if we had known JaneGrace, too. She had been prepared for us and we for her, chosen in you and by you before the beginning of time. We are forever thankful. And bless her birth-parents this day.

 The Chinese have an old saying, the legend of the red thread.
Chinese folklore says that there are invisible red threads that connect a newborn child's spirit to all the people who will be important in the child's life.
As the child grows, the threads shorten, drawing closer those people
who are destined to be together.
The threads are said to never break or fray, binding families and friends forever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When Words Fail

Yancey writes, "My prayers falter, of course. Sometimes I feel at a loss, and must turn to Psalms or a book of prayers written by others, simply asking God to make them my prayers, because I have no words of my own. Jesus himself prayed the words of psalms in times of stress."

Question: What fits for you, when you are longing to reach God but find yourself at a loss for words?

I find it somewhat ironic (and ironic may not be the most exact word to use here but whatever) that someone who writes words for a living, and is pretty darned good at it, would at times be at a loss for words, just like me, when it comes to prayer. I guess there is reassurance in that. But the question also has a built-in condition, that I am "longing to reach God" in those instances where words just don't flow. I have friends whom I respect that would meet such a situation by "speaking in tongues" but at least up until now, God has not gifted me in that way. Do I "long to reach God?" Not nearly enough.

The suggestion to go to a book of prayers written by others takes me back to my childhood church experience where as a good Episcopalian, I recited verbatim many passages from the prayer book, and it's from there that phrases like "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" still leap from my brain when reading Philippians 4:7 regardless of the version I am reading. Growing up as an Episcopalian, there were only two kinds of prayer, at least for me--the ones said kneeling beside the bed at night and the ones read aloud during church services, mostly by the priest. So the prayer book to me never became personal and even today I would be unlikely to go there. I actually tried recently, at the suggestion of a friend, but it just reminded me of being an Episcopalian.

Unfortunately, sinning makes me pray. Call it what you will--screwing up, being selfish, greedy, lustful (I could make a very long list here.) When I sin and I know it, I feel bad and then I usually pray. Of course it's a selfish prayer because it's all about me. But at least it's a start.  

Father God, help me to pray, to long for you, to finds words fitting your glory, to know you more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Better is One Day

How lovely is your dwelling place,
   LORD Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
   for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
   for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
   LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
   they are ever praising you.

Psalm 84:1-4

After reading this passage aloud, slowly and thoughtfully, take some time to let it sink down into your mind and heart. What words or images linger with you?

The thought of reading out loud brings back a flood of memories, mostly bad. "Who wants to read the next paragraph? Todd?" Was I raising my hand? I don't think so. Sure I can read every word but when everyone is listening, I'll forget. I'll flub up. I can almost smell my grade school.

But there really is something to reading a passage like this aloud, especially if you are by yourself. Unless you are a lifeless drone, you have to give it some life as if it were a Shakespearean soliloquy. How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! That's easy to read silently, but reading it out loud, you've got to believe it or it sounds as phony as cardboard cheese. My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD. Do we wake up every morning thinking this or is it pretty foreign, like French?

My heart and my flesh cry out. I have come to know a young and very talented singer-song writer who leads worship where we attend Sundays. The opening verse to his song My Portion Forever is very similar--My flesh and my heart may fail me, but you're the strength of my soul. You're my portion forever.

So again, I am taken to a song. Most of us relate much better to songs than to poetry. Psalms seem more like poetry than music, but I think that's because of the way most of us first heard them. Now there are many songs written from the Psalms. Down a little further in Psalm 84 is the line Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.  

So better is one day, better is one day, better is one day...than thousands elsewhere. Words and images that linger with you. Songs from the Psalms do that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Stopping Time

Artists often speak of their creative experience as something where they can even "lose control," giving themselves to beauty, or truth, out of their pure love of it.

Question: Have you ever had the sense of "losing yourself" while doing something you love--such as an outdoor activity, listening to music, making a meal for friends, or creating something artistic? How could such experiences become a form of prayer for you?

Time marches on. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. So does Fleetwood Mac. Remember? Clinton's inauguration? Can't you still see Bill and Hillary on the dance floor?

I've already written about poetic inspiration a few posts ago so I won't travel that highway again. But "losing yourself" in some activity as a form of prayer?

I lived most of my life in the Colorado mountains so I have witnessed the rugged natural beauty of the Creator. On a hike through wildflowers in the crisp thin air of an alpine trail, time does seem to stop. In fact at altitude it can take forever to walk a mile. But the world with its worry and fast pace is long gone, dissolved into a place that for a brief time really seems not to matter. I've often wondered what someone thought when they climbed back into their car and turned on the radio on 9/11 after a trek to the top of a 14er, a crash landing on the peace of God which passes all understanding.

But for me, the creative act closest to prayer--closest to worship--is the performance, to be inside a song, a part among many, the rhythm, the harmony, in tune and on pitch, and the song could go on forever and it wouldn't matter. An hour passes in a moment. Time stands still.

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

Today's Question: What moments can you recall when you felt a deep sense of gratitude? Did it give you a longing for Someone to thank?

This one of those tricky questions. As I start to ponder thankfulness, I start with the obvious, like the birth of my children and grandchildren, the adoption of my Chinese daughters, the provision God has made for me each day. Here's the tricky part. As I begin to stretch, it's hard to find one single thing or person in my life that I am not thankful for. My grandmother Katherine who instilled in me a love of music. My brother Willie who for 65 years has been my big brother with all the emotional stability that brings. My dad Arthur who showed me the reality of how Christ can change a life. My mom, Jane, who instilled in me the pursuit of ideas and worth of writing. My dad's second wife Doris who cared for and loved my dad and family for almost half of his 93 years. My wife, my friend. My animals, all forty-one of them. Shall I go on?

What about all the misfortune that's come my way? My mistakes? My blunders? My failures? Yes, I've learned that I need to be thankful for those as well because, as trite as it sounds, they build character and perseverance. I've learned that if I am experiencing pray-er's block, I can start thanking Him. For my daily bread. For breath. For love.

When my daughter Sarah was about four, she learned a song If I Were a Butterfly. The chorus went like this:
You gave me a heart, 
You gave me a smile,
You gave me Christ Jesus and You made me Your child, 
But I just thank you, Father, for making me me.

So I just thank you, Father, for making me me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I'm a Whi-i-i-ner

Today's question: Are there ways of weaving prayer into your life that you have found particularly satisfying in the past?

Today's note: We can invite God into our lives and ourselves into God's. When we do that, putting ourselves on a personal footing with God, so to speak, relationship heats up and a potential for extraordinary friendship stirs to life. For God is a Person, too, and though a person unlike ourselves, One who surely fulfills more of what that word means, not less.

I am beginning to think I sound like a whiner. Anyone remember the bit on Saturday Night Live called the Whiners. "I'm a Whi-i-i-ner."

What does the question mean by "satisfying?" Satisfying to whom? To me? To Him? On the human level, how could anything I do be satisfying to God. On the spiritual level, He is "delighted" with me with or without prayer. The question must mean satisfying to me. So the answer is No, I have never found a consistent way to pray that has satisfied me. I always feel tongue-tied, even in private. If words begin to come, the thoughts don't. I've used the alphabet before, heading down A, B, C, praying for people with last names starting A, B, C but I would rarely get to D before succumbing to other thoughts or real distractions. I've tried to "pray without ceasing," but then I stop. I heard someone preach on that verse before saying to maintain an "attitude of prayer" or a consciousness of God's closeness. But when Jesus asked his disciples to pray, I don't think he meant maintain an attitude of prayer. Then there are the so-called prayer warriors. Talk about feeling inadequate. Attend a prayer meeting with prayer warriors.

To learn more about myself and prayer is the reason I am writing this. I hope by writing words down I might come to a better understanding of prayer. I hope God hears my written words as well as my spoken ones.

Then there's the subject of God as a person. When Jesus walked on this planet, I understand that he was a person, in that he was human, a God-man. In evangelical circles it follows that a person needs a "personal relationship" with Jesus. I understand that Jesus died for my sins and that as the son of God, he and he alone could have done that. He is God, he is spirit and truth, the word of God, light, and in Christ all the atoms and subatomic particles in the universe are held together. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity," goes the old song. Why am I having so much trouble getting this. Maybe that's also why personal prayer seems sometimes odd and strange to me. I am talking to the One who created the wind.
Numbers 23:9
God is not human, that he should lie,
   not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
   Does he promise and not fulfill?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writer's Block

Romans 8:26-27--New International Version (NIV)

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Today's Question: Have I faced confusing situations where I did not know how or what to pray?

Answer: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Most writers I've known and many I've read report a common condition. Writer's block, where even the threat of a pending deadline does not unlock the flow of words to the written page. I'm sure many people face "prayer's block" as well, but Romans tells us not to worry, that the God who has mined the depths of our hearts will share His mind and offer in sounds unintelligible and inaudible to anyone else the exact right prayer that fits securely in the center of God's will. The right prayer at the right time in the right way. Could we ask for anything more?

To me, it's always been intriguing that the opposite of writer's block is something called inspiration. Inspired. Breathed into. Mouth-to-mouth. In college English class it was called poetic inspiration and writers would describe it as if the words were being written by someone else, that poetry flowed as easily as breathing in and out. In some cases the writer would report that in addition to the words, even the very ideas had been inspired. As if they had lost control. I've experienced something close to this as a song-writer. On some songs I've struggled for years, never finding the right words for the music or vice-verse. Then on those few occasions, the song has come fast and furiously as being born on the wings of wind, words and song from somewhere else but channeled through my mind to the page. It's awesome. Truly. Fun. Freeing. To quote the old chief from Little Big Man, "My heart soars like a hawk!"

Occasionally, a prayer will come the same way, with a life of its own, and even though the words are floating across my mind, they seem inspired by Someone else. It's awesome. Fun. Freeing.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for those times. The rest of the time, I welcome your groans.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Desiring God

I just watched a segment on the Today show that used the terms "Mama's Boy" and "Daddy's Girl". The commentator said the first one implied weakness and dependence while the other implied strength and opportunity. In our culture our God in heaven is mostly thought of as this huge father figure, with power and awesomeness, being able both to forgive and to judge. We think of Him less as a mother. But at least for me, that's what I seek from Him, a mother's love. The comfort of being able to crawl into His arms after making a huge mistake and know that, as tears are wiped away, that everything is going to be all right, that as I face an uncertain future, He will be there no matter what. My mom died when I was in my early 20s and I was in a period of rebellion at the time. One of the last things she said to me was "Why don't you cut your hair?" It wasn't really a question and at that point, I felt judgment. But I knew based on my experience of those prior 20 years, she loved me anyway and that as sick as she was, nothing would ever separate me from her love. Weakness and dependence supposedly describe a "Mama's Boy." Heavenly Father, maker of all, I want to be your Mama's Boy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Psalm 151

If I could write my own psalm about prayer...

"In Jesus' name" is so quickly tacked onto a prayer, sometimes all as one word, injezuzname, or highly syncopated "in JESus name." Like in Jesus' name is like some cosmic postage stamp without which no prayer will get past the ceiling.

I often feel so inadequate, my heavenly Father, when it comes to talking directly to You, especially in front of someone else. At the same time I can be so critical of others, I mean, when someone states the obvious like "Lord, you are so good," and yet You are so good. Or someone will pray with a formula as if it's said a certain way, You will be obligated to answer in some predetermined way. Yet You do act in a predetermined way, just not my way or any other human's way.

Your way. Yahweh. It's all about learning Your way. So much of what I do interferes with learning Your way.

But this name thing: hallowed be Your name. Holy is Your name. Your name is Wonderful, Marvelous, King of Glory, Immanuel, Lord, Jesus. And yet Your name was once unspoken, so majestic and mighty and beyond human wisdom that to utter it meant death. Yet Your name is who You are and You are close, inside, where language is unspoken, where words are not necessary. Lord, let me hear Your voice. Let me know Your name.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Expectations and Frustrations

I've learned from reading Philip Yancey that he rarely states things as purely black or white, so his first prayer journal suggestion does not surprise me. He suggests starting with my past experience with prayer, my expectations, even my frustrations, in essence establishing a benchmark as I pursue this journaling. I suppose, like many, I think prayer has let me down. As a child I learned to pray like many children "Now I lay me down to sleep," graduating to "Our Father who art in heaven" some time in elementary school. For me, real prayer started when the priest in our church ran off with another woman after counseling her through the convalescence and death of her husband. Father Mosher had left his wife and four children, and somehow I thought God would want to reverse this travesty. As one of the priest's acolytes I had witnessed the birth (figuratively) of three of his four children. What kind of priest would do this? What kind of man? I prayed fervently night after night that he would return to his family. Around the same time I prayed often that my dad would stop drinking. At that age I really expected that God was listening and that He would respond. These were cut-and-dried requests in my opinion. So as time went on, a divorce was granted and the priest moved to another state, his wife and family moved away and my dad continued to get drunk. I think I must have gone back to the Lord's prayer after that, which wasn't much different than the lifeless "grace" said around the dinner table on Sunday afternoons after church. Later, in college, I prayed often for "Jesus to come into my heart" because that's what had happened to my dad and he had quit alcohol right on the spot after 20 or 30 years of drinking. These prayers are something I need to explore more fully but suffice it to say, they did not work any better than the one to bring a father back to his wife and children. One night in my own drunkenness, I angrily told God that if Jesus wouldn't come into my heart, then I'd invite the devil in. And boy, did he ever...

Philip Yancey

When we lived in Colorado, we were fortunate to attend the same church as Philip Yancey, the acclaimed Christian writer. On a couple of occasions we were able to meet, share experiences and talk about life and spiritual living. Meeting him and knowing his physical voice has made reading his books more of a personal experience. When I read the pages of his books recounting an experience, I can hear his inflection, see the smirk on his face and read into it the subtleties of my personal knowledge of him. I appreciate him as a writer all the more.

Isn't that the way it should be with you, Lord, that when we read your Word we should see you face to face--to hear your intention, see the smirk on your face and understand the subtleties of my personal walk with you? In fact it should be better but I have to say that it's not. So, as of today, I have decided to apply a little personal discipline to that effort of knowing you better. Using the prayer journal "Keeping Company with God" as a guide, I am going to write my responses here for better or worse. I am not going to edit much, trying to keep the prayer thought flowing and in that way know you better. Thanks for giving me the life opportunity to meet Philip and know his voice. It will forever be in my head.