Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘Prayer’

Hungry, Thirsty, Unknown, and Naked

Matthew 25:35-40 is a text social justice folks mention in hopes of mobilizing people who are apathetic about the needs of others.  These verses, I’ve observed, are quoted most often when talking about reaching into the heart of a broken city … a broken-hearted city like my own – Richmond, Virginia.

Take a look at the New Living Translation’s version:  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’   37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality?  Or naked and give you clothing?  39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’   40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

The words of Jesus.

Rarely are these words … His words … quoted in the context of judgment, but that is in fact what Christ was talking about.  Take a look:   31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty … etc.

Maybe the most startling statement Jesus makes when preaching this sermon is verse 46.  It certainly is to me:   46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

He talks about separating the “sheep and the goats.”   According to Jesus, when He comes to judge the world, the righteous (the sheep on His right) and the unrighteous (the goats in His left) will be assigned their place in eternity.

I gathered from reading Michael J. Wilkins’ commentary on Matthew the following:  Jesus had given some clues about the events that would accompany His return (24:4-35), and then He taught lessons about watching, waiting, and being prepared for His second coming (His “first coming” being His birth in Bethlehem, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection).  Those lessons (24:36-25:30) include the parable about the homeowner and the thief, the parable about 2 kinds of servants (faithful and unfaithful), the parable of the 10 virgins (prepared and unprepared), and the parable of the talants (productive and unproductive).

When Jesus talked about sheep and goats He was talking about followers of God verses people living independent of God.  He made clear there was a reward for followers and punishment for the independent.  What is really cool is the surprised reaction of the sheep – those who would be rewarded:  “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, being a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned” (the last two categories found in the other Gospels).

The Lord was referring to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God declares that true righteousness (right with God, right living, right motives) is displayed by caring for the needy.

But NEVER does Jesus in the New or God in the Old Testaments indicate that acts of mercy and kindness lead to salvation and eternal life!  Jesus was clear about that, and Paul made sure the people that received his letters were totally informed.  One example of Paul’s teaching is found in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9:   “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Jesus was very clear:  acts of mercy and kindness are evidences that the sheep are already righteous!  The surprise of the sheep indicates that these acts of mercy and kindness were not intentional meritorious acts to gain access and entrance to the Kingdom of God, but were evidence that the sheep belonged to the Kingdom.

In light of my previous blog (“It’s Time” – October 11, 2011), I’ve been thinking long and hard about the motivation behind acquiring a specially-equipped truck, with all the bells and whistles and amenities.  I’ve come to a point where I’m asking myself, “Does it need to be ‘perfect’ before I begin to do what God is calling me to do?  Does the step-van/food truck need to come first – before I’ll venture out into the unknown?”

So … would anyone in the Richmond area consider joining me in an experiment.  First, prayer – asking for God to lead us.  Second, doing some “prayer-trips” around the city, looking for the places where needy folks are currently NOT being served by those already involved in such projects and ministries.  I think then, thirdly, it will be time to put a few propane burners in the back of my pickup, some previously prepared soup that we can warm up when we’re on location, something to serve coffee, some good water, along with cups, bowls and spoons.

What say you?

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge - to Christ, Spiritual Maturity, and Hope to the World

The Bridge.  A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation.  By the way … I’m that new pastor.  I took the position in October, and it’s been great!  I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.

Maybe you noticed the logo caption.  We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus.  We will never change the message!  It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN!  And coming King!

While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”

Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money.  The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?”  Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”

The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out.  If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out.  If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead)  tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”

It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things!  I want to hang out with people like those I described above.  I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.

Sounds idealistic?  Sounds impossible?  I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge.  Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.

Give me some feedback!  What did I leave out of my vision.  That’s an honest question.  I want to know.

What I Believe About God

I attended a meeting not long ago and heard a speaker say, as the general premise of the talk, that she had figured out how to get God to heal anyone, anytime.  She wasn’t talking about coercing God or artfully manipulating Him to do whatever we would want Him to do, especially in the area of healing.  She wasn’t that dumb.  Rather, her main point was that everything we need to know about healing, and getting people healed, is in God’s Word – the Bible.  All we needed to do was pray a certain way, believe a certain way, and He’d come through.  He would have to, you see, because He “had promised us He would heal anyone who believed, and would respond favorably to anyone who prayed in faith.”

But she doesn’t know what to do, think or say when “God” doesn’t heal someone, other than to just keep praying.  (That is, until death ends the process, of course.)  Others who believe in healing today, and have the formulas that “work,” will explain that when a person isn’t healed someone is at fault – either the person praying or the person that is sick.  What they are unintentionally or intentionally saying, depending on the person, is that they’ve got God figured out.  They know how He operates.  He’s totally predictable … that He responds a certain way in a certain situation every time that situation occurs.

Well … that’s what people say who have either (a) never read the Bible, (b) have read only the “interesting” parts of the Bible, (c) [ the most likely option] have approached reading the Bible with a certain pre-judgment (or prejudice, if you will).  Oh, and there is an option (d) and it is:  people have heard and then bought into teaching from teachers who live option “c” – teachers who themselves bought into the teaching of someone … who bought into the teaching of someone … etc., etc.

Their God is only as big as their understanding of Him … and that tends to be SMALL.

Let me tell you about my God.

He’s smarter than me.  I’m limited in my understanding of Him.  I can’t figure Him out … BUT … it doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I like it.  (If I could figure Him out I might think He is weak, or lacking intelligence … way too small to be worshipped as the great “I AM.”)

God tells me a lot about Himself … but again, more than I can fully understand … and He keeps me curious.  I want to know more about Him.

Put another way, His BIGNESS makes Him God … and for me, I like that.  I want a BIG God.  I want a God that can do infinitely more than I can, so much so that I wouldn’t want His job because I couldn’t do His job.  (I certainly don’t think I’m up for it.  I believe the position of GOD is filled.)

God’s Word, while totally true, is complex because it’s from Him – the One who is infinite in wisdom and knowledge.  It’s written to me and for me – the one who is finite and not all-knowing.  That means that there are parts of the Bible I won’t “get” … and there are parts that no one will get.  (If I could get it all, or if anyone else could understand it all … well, we’d have to be God’s equal, right?)  That said, there are times when children will get Him better than we do.

I believe God is the consummate, perfect LOVER.  He never holds grudges, never lies, alway understands, and is totally accepting … but … He’s not stupid.  He loves with His eyes wide open.  We can’t fool Him.  There’s not a place dark enough that we can hide our true feelings toward Him from Him.

Because God loves me He wants me to know Him better and better, and because He loves me He will reveal more and more about Himself to me in language I can understand.  (But that still means I won’t ever FULLY understand Him, or His ways.)

I believe God is beyond generous.  Because He’s so giving He always wills and wants to give me what is good for me; He said so.  He will not withhold good things from me.  At the same time, He WILL withhold what is NOT good for me.  He said so – He said don’t even ask for those things because He’s not listening.  Therefore,I should never try to lay a guilt trip on Him.  As hard as we might try, we can’t make Him feel guilty for not answering our every prayer in the way we dictate it to Him.  I also believe you and I can’t come up with formulas that make Him do anything He doesn’t want to do … even if we beg … or fast … or cut ourselves … or make promises concerning what we will do for Him in the future.  I can never force Him to do anything.  He is the greater, I am the lesser.  So if I think or believe something … ANYTHING … that doesn’t mean He has to believe it, too.

I believe God is HOLY.  That means He can never sin, just as light and darkness can’t mix.  He can’t sin against me, or against anyone in the whole world.  So … if anything bad happens to me – my stocks tank, I’m shipwreck, I am stoned (and I’m not talking about “pot” here), all my goods confiscated, I get really sick, or even die … it’s not His “fault.”  He is perfect.  Pure.  Right every time.  Good every time.  Kind every time.  Because He knows everything and I don’t, He knows when it’s time to pull the plug – my days are numbered … BY HIM.  You can’t sing, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” and believe otherwise.

I believe God is more concerned about me – the real, down-deep-inside-me me – than my comfort.  That means things I may not like could be good.  Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong, or bad.  God can’t be bad.  My circumstances could be, but He is never or could ever be bad.  That also means that something bad happening in my life might ultimately bring about something good … something unanticipated.

God is tough.  He is the same God – in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He didn’t come to His senses in the New Testament.  Jesus doesn’t represent “His good side” while Jehovah represents “His bad side.”  He does not have a split personality.  He is not a child killer in the Old Testament and a child resurrector in the New.  He is Job’s God.  He’s is Peter and John’s, too.  He hasn’t changed.  Everything He did in the Old and New Testament, whether we understand it or agree with it, was good because He is good.  In other words, He had His reasons for whatever He did … and He was HOLY while He did what He did.  Got it?

I believe God healed people in the Old and New Testaments … and He DIDN’T heal people in the Old and New Testaments – for His own reasons.  Again, some of those reasons He has never explained.  Some He has.  That said … even if I’m not healed, not protected, not always safe, not wealthy, not comfortable, not IN on His plan or plans … I try not to care.   It’s hard, but I’m better at it today than yesterday.  Because I trust Him.  I trust His judgment.

I trust Him.  And I love Him.  I can’t wrap my arms or my mind around Him, but I love Him – passionately.  During some tender moments He and I share it’s all I can do not to cry – I’m so filled with emotion.  I go ahead and cry eventually.  And He likes it, and thinks it’s masculine.  

So … that’s my God – my best attempt today to put what I believe about him down on paper, or in a blog post.  I don’t want to live without Him just because I don’t understand all of His ways.  I want Him, even if He keeps me wondering.  He is wonder-filled and wonderful.

Oh, and I do pray!  I do ask.  I ask BIG.  I have great faith.  I’ve seen miracles.  Real, honest to goodness miracles.   And when He doesn’t answer in the way I pray I just keep praying – with an open mind and an open heart.

He is God.  I am not.  And that is a good thing.

A Simple Prayer

I received this lovely (and enlightening story) in the mail this week and I had to share it with you, my friends.  With all the stuff that’s going on in the world … the struggle for peace in the Middle East, the ongoing Iraqi and Afghani conflicts, tension in our country concerning the outcome of the ’08 election, etc. … it’s good to know there are still simple solutions to marital strife – like the one suggested in this story:

A man and woman had been married for more than 60 years. They had shared everything. They had talked about everything. They had kept no secrets from each other except that the little old woman had a shoe box in the top of  her closet that she had cautioned her husband never to open or ask her about.  

For all of these  years, he had never thought about the box, but one day the little old woman got very sick and the doctor said she would not recover .

In trying to sort out their affairs, the little old man took down the shoe box and took it to his wife’s bedside.

She agreed that it was time that he should know what was in the box.  When he opened it, he found two crocheted dolls and a stack of money totaling $95,000.

He asked her about the contents.  ‘When we were to be married,’ she said, ‘my grandmother told me the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue.  She told me that if I ever got angry with you, I should just keep quiet and crochet a doll.’

The little old man was so moved; he had to fight back tears.  Only two precious dolls were in the box.  She had only been angry with him two times in all those years of living and loving.  He almost burst with happiness.

‘Honey,’ he said, ‘that explains the doll, but what about all of this money?  Where did it come from?’

‘Oh,’ she said,  ‘that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.’

 A Prayer:

Dear Lord,

I pray for Wisdom to understand my man, Love to forgive him, And Patience for his moods; Because Lord, if I pray for Strength, I’ll beat him to death, because I don’t know how to crochet.

April 2008 Update – Dancing With The Healer

Vicki QuallsFor all those who have been following the progress of my writing “The Vicki Book,” I have some news.  I’m really close to finishing the “creative stage” of the process.  Soon I’ll be entering the dreaded “editing stage,” where everything I’ve written is on the block.

I’d like to ask my blog readers for some input.  Please comment on the process I’m going to outline below – one that I believe I’ll follow in order to bring the book-writing to its proper conclusion.

Before I share that process I want to thank Caroline Eitzen-Cocciardi AGAIN for her encouragement to “stay in your creative mind, Lowell,” and not give in to the temptation to constantly go back to what I had already written and edit it (which I had done, time and again until she gave me her wise counsel).

I shared last month that my goal was to have the manuscript done before I went on vacation to Maui.  I didn’t make it.  Plain and simple.  But the goal helped push me like never before.  Now, I’ve set another goal – one that I think I will make.  I’m working on the last 75 pages of Vicki’s journal.  I’ve been able to do about 10 a day (on a good day).  Given that, I’m inside two weeks of coming to the end of the creative stage.  Then, I’ll read the manuscript from start to finish, trying to find any grammar/spelling mistakes, typos, and breakdowns in the flow of the story.  That’s probably another week or two.  Then, the gutsy part.

My intention is to share the manuscript with several close friends who have a writer’s background.  Some are published authors.  Others are journalism majors and masters.  One or two of my pastor-buddies will be asked to look over the theological content, and a few readers will be people who lived through much of what Vicki wrote about – family and friends.  I’ll be asking all these folks if they would evaluate my style, the flow of the story/book, and its content.

Whew!

Like I said at the start, anyone out there in the internet world is welcome to comment on the process I’ve outlined above.

And for those who have been praying for me and the book … please continue to do so.  I’ve seen that when I’VE been in prayer and close communion with the Lord, the process of writing the book becomes mystical and supernatural, and in turn, I’m able to produce much more than normally possible.

I could use some encouragement right now.  I’m tired.  I feel emotionally spent at the end of every day.  Thank God for Becky!  She’s been such a supporter and helper.  I can’t think of a day when she hasn’t been there for me.  But most of the time she’s been a single (lone) voice.  Is there anyone out there who could join her?

Well, back to writing the book.

By the way, the blogging has rarely (I can’t say never) interrupted my writing the book.  Actually, blogging has served to break tension, relieve emotions, and strangely – rest my mind.  Blogging has been like having a conversation with a friend who’s only purpose has been to listen as I vent or wade through issues that distract me.

Love to all.

Pray for Eliot Spitzer

12spitzer_600.jpgEliot Spitzer, 48, the Democratic governor of New York, a married father of three teenage daughters, and “Client #9” in a prostitution ring, made clear that his political career is over.  He is quitting as governor effective Monday.

“In the past few days, I’ve begun to atone for my private failings to my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family,” he said.  “The remorse I feel will always be with me.”

Let’s no throw stones, but pray for Spitzer instead!  “There, but for the grace of God …”

His wife and girls need our prayers, too. 

(Photo by Narayan Mahon for The New York Times)

Dancing with Patrick Swayze

I’m praying for Patrick Swayze, and not because it might be the hip thing to do, or the right thing to say.  I’m really praying for him. 

Swayze has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  It’s fast and its deadly, and having gone through a cancer battle with my late wife, I know just a little about how that diagnosis can rock your world.

swayze-ghostx-large.jpgI feel like I know him.  Some of the movies Swayze starred in are among my favorites:  Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, Road House, Ghost, and Point Break.

Patrick, this is my prayer for you … or something like it:

“Lord Jesus, if You speak the word, Patrick will be healed.  I’m asking You to do just that … speak the word that Patrick is free and clear of cancer, and that You are giving him a life extension.  And in the process of healing him, let Patrick know – if he doesn’t already – that he not only needs You to heal his disease but that he also needs a ‘Savior.’  The biggest ‘cancer’ we, the human race have, is sin, and You died on the Cross to pay our sin debt.  Let Patrick come to believe that You are who You say You are, and that He can trust You.  And I’m also praying, Lord, for his wife – Lisa.  Lord Jesus, draw her into Your arms like a loving father would lift up a child after she has fallen down.  And please do all this because we’re asking, and You said we could … in Your name.  Amen.”