Category: Matthew (Page 1 of 21)

More Than Prayers for Uvalde

Thoughts and prayers are good. But they are not enough. If all we offer are thoughts and prayers in the wake of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of 19 seven-to-eleven-year-old children and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, we are right to be criticized for our hypocrisy and have no one to blame but ourselves for turning people off to Christianity.

We have to offer something more than prayers. If all we do is pray, we’re not really Christians.

When we pray to God, we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body – his representatives, his ambassadors – on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is, “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU are the workers!

I think about the inspiring prayer at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle Paul prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the Christian’s prayer:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must offer more than prayers.

If I pray that young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

Which brings us to yesterday’s mass shooting, the 27th shooting at a school in the United States this year and the deadliest school shooting in our state. A Uvalde High School student bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday and murdered 19 second, third, and fourth graders and two teachers inside their classrooms. It is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless that community with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter and his family. But we’re not praying like Christians if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it seems hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. – it’s “our thing.” According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since they started tracking them four years ago. Think about that. A 40-year-old publication dedicated to education matters decided it needed to start keeping a tally on murdered school children. Only in America! There have been 212 mass shootings in this country this year. There are more than 400 million guns in the U.S., with 98% of them in civilian hands, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens. One-third of all the civilian guns in the whole world are in the United States. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang, “Handguns are made for killing; they ain’t no good for nothing else.” And we’ve got more of them here, by a long shot, than anywhere else in the world.

But Christians are a people of peace, not violence. Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Robb Elementary school yesterday and what keeps happening almost every day in this country?

I don’t mean these next two paragraphs as prescription, only for discussion and reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out last night, more than 90% of Americans favor increased background checks, but 50 senators refuse to bring HB8 to the floor for a vote because “they’re afraid of losing their power.” Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. The NRA convention is in Houston the day after tomorrow. Most of our Texas state-wide office holders will be there and a lot of them are featured speakers.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. Maybe you take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your truck. Maybe you stop posting and re-posting violent and divisive messages and memes on your social media. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Prayers are good. Of course. Always. But Christians must offer more than prayers.

Peace,

Allan

Three Premises

Those who do not love feel superior to everyone else.
Those who love feel equal to everyone else.
Those who love much gladly take the lower place.

Each one of us can identify his position somewhere along this spectrum, which comprises the three degrees of the spiritual life here on earth:

Death for those who do not love.
Life for those who love.
Holiness for those who love much.

The beatitude of the merciful relates. like all the beatitudes, to the realm of holiness and we have to admit that Jesus set his sights high when he had the courage and confidence to place this lofty ideal before us. It is the beatitude that he himself lived to the full, stooping, out of love, to the lowest place, even to the extent of being rejected as a common criminal, fit only to be hung on a stake.

~ Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

A Thanksgiving Prayer

At the end of Matthew 11, there’s a short little prayer of praise and thanksgiving from Jesus. Two short little sentences. It seems very spontaneous, like it just comes out of nowhere. It’s almost buried in the middle of a whole page of red letters, so it’s easy to miss. When people do studies on the prayers of Jesus, this one never gets mentioned.

But this prayer really doesn’t come out of nowhere. This is a specific setting, a particular time and place for Jesus. There is a reason this prayer is where it is. And it has a lot to teach us.

At the beginning of Matthew 11, John the Baptist has been thrown into prison and he questions the Messiahship of Jesus. Through his own followers, he asks Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” For John, things were worse for him now than before Jesus arrived. John is suffering and King Herod has even more power and control. You’re not getting the job done, Jesus. I’m in trouble for preaching truth and the political powers are getting away with murder. Jesus is misunderstood by John. Everything Jesus is working toward, the whole reason he came, who he is – John doesn’t see it yet.

At the same time, the fishing villages around Galilee where Jesus was raised and where he was now living and teaching, were ignoring him. The synagogue in Capernaum was Jesus’ home church. The text tells us that Jesus did more miracles in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum than in any other towns. But they were indifferent in their response. Jesus did not matter to them. So our Lord blisters the citizens of those villages, comparing them to Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom.

Verse 25 says, “At that time…” In the middle of all this. While Jesus was dealing with this. When Jesus was going through this. In this setting. In this time and place in his life. Jesus prayed praise and thanksgiving to God.

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” ~Matthew 11:25-26

Jesus says the wise and the learned don’t get it. He’s using irony in his prayer. I praise you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the smarty-pants and the know-it-alls. What God is doing through Jesus has nothing to do with worldly wisdom or worldly values or worldly knowledge – it comes from above. So those who are entrenched in the pursuits and goals of the world, those who identify with the ways and means of the world – they miss it. Jesus knows that. And he gives thanks to God. Jesus knows that misunderstandings and indifference are not reliable indicators of the presence of the Kingdom of God. And he praises the Lord.

The powerful and unstoppable energies of the Kingdom of God are always moving. Always growing. Always surging. Just beneath the surface. All around us. Huge rivers of prayer and faith and hope and praise and forgiveness and salvation and holiness flow right by us every day. In every single nook and cranny, hidden in the shadows, overlooked in the crowds, drowned out by the noise, it’s there. It’s always there. We just don’t always see it. Or experience it.

So, when Lazarus is in the tomb. When Paul is on a sinking ship. When Peter is confronted near the enemy’s fire. When the Samaritan woman is by herself at the well. When the broken man is living among the dead outside his community. When nobody will help the crippled guy into the healing waters. When Silas is arrested. When the apostle is sent to exile on a prison island. When the crowds are shouting “Crucify him.” When Jesus is hanging on a government cross. Our God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17).

When the doctor gives his diagnosis. When the marriage counselor says, “I’m sorry, but I’ve done all I know how to do.” When the pink slip shows up in your box. When your children have gone off the rails. When your best friends leave your church. When you have been completely misunderstood. When you’ve been hurt by that same person, again. I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

Peace,

Allan

Just Say the Word

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed.” ~Matthew 8:8

The commander in the Roman army is probably stationed at a garrison just east of Capernaum. He has total control over the one hundred men in his company. He tells them when to come and go. They don’t sneeze without his permission. Not only that, he controls all the Jews in the land the Roman Empire is occupying. With just a word, this commander can order any Tom, Dick, or Larry to carry his backpack or dig a ditch. Or carry the cross of a condemned criminal.

This centurion understands power. And he says to Jesus, “Just say the word.”

Lord, just as easily as I tell Private Ted to clean his shield or mop the floor or drop and give me twenty – that easy! – you just say the word and my servant will be healed. I know that whatever you say, it happens. You just say the word and the forces that have paralyzed my servant will let him go.

“‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.” ~Matthew 8:13

You and I can know in our hearts that there’s no catch with Jesus. There’s no trick. There’s no limit to the goodness of Christ’s intentions or his  power to carry them out. It’s not like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown the moment he finally commits – never! You can trust God in Christ to fix everything that’s broken in your life and to make right everything that’s gone wrong.

Look at the power of Jesus. He heals this paralyzed servant from a distance. He doesn’t have to touch him, he doesn’t even have to see him. From way downtown! Bang! And it’s so matter of fact. He gave the word. And the servant was healed. Well, yeah.

Jesus, I believe. Just say the word.

The reality in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is that he is almighty, he is powerful, and he alone has both the authority and the power to heal and forgive, to reconcile and protect, to save. He alone also has the great desire. And the boundless love. He willingly went to the cross to make that ultimate reality true for anything and everything that might be broken in your life today.

Jesus, just say the word.

And he did.

In the garden. “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”

From the cross. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

“It is finished.”

Now, there’s a word.

Peace,

Allan

Pay Attention to the Present

The main thing with the pandemic has been, and still is, the uncertainty. We don’t know anything. For more than a year now we have collectively felt like we’re on the brink of… what? We don’t know! Something significant, we think. We feel like it’s big and it’s going to leave a mark. But there’s still so much – even today – uncertainty.

Should I get the shot? How long will my immunity last? What is my city going to look like on the other side of this? What kind of church are we going to have? What about the variants? What about the economy? How much longer do we need to wear masks? Are we going to go through this every winter? Was the whole thing blown out of proportion? Or should we have done even more? We don’t know! And the stress of the uncertainty is unsettling.

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:9

Many times I’ve asked people who are going through a major life thing, “What is God doing with this right now?” You’re putting your mom in a nursing home, you’re pregnant with twins, you’ve been diagnosed with cancer – your life as you know it is changing. What do you think God is doing?

This is what I hear: “I haven’t thought about it.”

You haven’t thought about it? Well, for pity’s sake, you need to start thinking about it!

God has not abandoned you. He’s not on vacation somewhere and can’t see you right now. The Lord is near. He’s in this with you. Pay attention to what he’s doing. Don’t go through a major thing in your life and not be transformed by him. Be aware. Be on the lookout.

When something really great happens to you, think about how God is shaping you in that. You know that every good and perfect gift comes from him. You know the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to him. So you’re just the manager of this gift from God. How is he wanting you to manage it? Pay attention.

When something really awful happens to you, think about how God is forming you in that. You that God is working in all things for your good. You know his strength is made perfect in your weakness. So this is an opportunity for growth and witness. How is God wanting you to mature? How is he wanting you to testify? Pay attention.

During a crisis or a major transition, we can get locked in on the wrong things. We can ask the wrong questions. That’s what Jesus is addressing in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. What will I eat and drink? What will I wear? What if I get sick? How do we make up the money we’ve lost? What are we never going to get back? All of that is legitimate. Those are fair questions and real things we’re all dealing with. But Jesus brings our attention to a godly focus when he says:

“Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” ~Matthew 6:33

No matter your present circumstances, you’ve got to be awake to God’s Kingdom and God’s will and his work in those circumstances because if you’re not, you’re going to be eaten up with anxiety. If you’re not viewing your present situation in light of God’s love for you and his power and will to work all things together for your good and the good of his everlasting Kingdom, you’re going to be paralyzed with worry and fear.

If we care about what kind of people we’re going to be on the other side of this pandemic, we have to care deeply about the kind of people we’re becoming every single day DURING the pandemic. We’re not going to be faithful Kingdom-seekers on this side of it if we’re not paying attention to what God is doing in our lives right now.

The question is not “What?” What if this happens? What if that happens?

The question is not “How?” How am I going to do this? How is this going to work out?

The question is “Who?” Who’s making it happen? Who’s working it out?

Your Father. The Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth who loves you and who is right there with you in the middle of your situation.

When life happens – when a pandemic changes everything – you can wring your hands and say, “I don’t know!” Or you can lift your hands and say, “God knows! I’m not going to rely on myself in this, I’m relying on God!”

Peace,

Allan

Closer Than You Think

You are familiar with the warning etched into the bottom of the passenger’s side-view mirror on your car: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This authoritative statement is located on the passenger’s side-view mirror, but not the driver’s side. Why?

Your driver’s side-view mirror is just a standard flat-surface mirror. Your eyes are less than 18-inches away from that mirror and there’s hardly any angle. You can see almost everything behind you on that side through that mirror. But a normal mirror doesn’t work on the passenger’s side. The driver’s eyes are at least six feet away from that mirror and the angle is extremely sharp. A flat mirror would only allow you to see a tiny sliver of what is behind you on that side. So those mirrors are convex in shape. To compensate for the increased distance between you and the mirror and the severe angle, the passenger’s side mirror bulges out in the middle and curves away toward the sides to give you a wider view. You can see much more with the wider angle, but it comes at a price. The wider focal point compresses the image so it makes the objects appear to be smaller and farther away than they really are. Hence, the warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you are reminded that what you are seeing on that side is a lot bigger and a lot closer than you think. That’s what the warning is all about. This thing in the mirror is closer than it looks. It will impact you sooner than you think. You need to act on this, and your response is important. Time is short. The gap is small. It’s closer than it appears to be.

There is a similar warning for us  in the Bible. It should probably be heard or read as a comfort.

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” ~Romans 13:11-12

It feels like night. It has for a while. We were told at the end of March that we only needed 15-days. If we shut everything down for 15-days, we can flatten the curve and avoid any real crisis. Fifteen days and we’ll be good.

That was nine months ago. And we’re not good. I’m not good. Are you? I feel like I’m in a fog. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure anybody really knows.

We have a vaccine now, praise the Lord. It seems like a miracle we’ve received the vaccines so quickly and we should be thanking God for this answer to our prayers. But most health officials are saying the darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead. And now a new strain? It feels like nobody knows what to do and nobody knows when it’s going to be over.

Our salvation seems like a smaller thing in the face of all the suffering and loss that surrounds us. The dawn of a new day feels a long way off in the suffocating darkness of the present.

We all have questions as we head into the new year. When will the coronavirus crisis end? How will the vaccines work? Is 2021 going to be better than 2020, or will it just be more of the same? Will handshakes and hugs ever be normalized again? What about my own peace of mind? My own sense of well-being? Lots of questions.

Romans 13 reminds us of what the Bible affirms for us over and over again: that we belong to a God who does his very best work in the dark and his deliverance is always closer than you think.

What we see right now can throw us off. You know, it is possible to focus too much on the coronavirus and develop a distorted view. We can pay too much attention to the experts. We can watch too much news and get sucked into a false narrative. We can scroll through too much Facebook, we can read too many emails and websites, we can easily lose sight. Our salvation can seem much smaller than it really is. And farther away. The presence and power of our God can appear to be smaller and farther away.

We need an authoritative statement on the fronts of all our phones and etched into the bottom of all our screens: God’s presence and power is closer than it appears! God’s rescue is closer than you think!

New life always begins in the dark. A seed in the ground. A baby in the womb. Jesus in the tomb. A church in a pandemic. A Christian in despair. We can believe the night is nearly over and the day is almost here. You can have faith in the middle of your fears. You can be calm and certain through your anxieties. You can experience true life even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Because we know what the prophet Micah knows: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” And we know what our Lord has promised: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Which is closer than you think.

Peace,

Allan

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