Each generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus… we should discover more and more of who Jesus was and is, precisely in order to be equipped to engage with the world that he came to save. And this is a task for the whole church.
-N.T. Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, p. 31)
I’d like to share a conversation I had with my daughter, our oldest who is now a first grader, that took place two weeks ago. I was putting all three kids to bed and decided we would try something different to pray. I got us all in a circle and said we were going to pray for the person on our right. Then I showed the boys which direction was right.
The boys prayed silly prayers, imagine that, but when it was Addi’s turn she said she didn’t want to pray. Thinking she was just too nervous, I offered some encouraging, fatherly words that would surely convince her she could pray.
Then she said, “I can’t pray… I did too many bad things today.” That got my attention, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. Then she looked at me and said, “I want to feel clean inside.”
That floored me. Instantly, my heart was both full and broken. I was a mess of excitement and nerves. This was the kind of conversation starter pastors live for, and here was my little girl opening that door.
I pulled her over to me, sat her on my lap, and gave her a big hug. I said a couple of things to her, then realized we needed to be able to have a real conversation. So I put the boys to bed, grabbed my Bible, and we sat on Addi’s bed and talked.
I read 1 John 1:9 to her: “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I explained that to confess simply meant to admit to God she had done bad things, which she had done. I told her because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are clean on the inside. I desperately wanted her to understand that this is what grace is all about, that she didn’t need to do anything, that because of Jesus she is forgiven and clean.
She said she understood. I prayed, and she repeated what I said. I asked her if she understood what she had prayed, and again she said she understood.
I wonder how much she did understand. I wonder how deeply a six-year-old can grasp amazing grace. I’m not sure how deeply I grasp it! I constantly find myself slipping back into old ruts of approaching God based on what I’ve done lately rather than because of what Jesus Christ did for me 2,000 years ago.
And I remember when I was about Addi’s age I prayed the sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus over and over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I prayed it, but I know I had it memorized.
My constant fear was that I had not prayed all the right words, that I had left out a part, or that I had not been 100% sincere. Ironically, in my prayer asking Jesus to save me from the eternal fires of hell, my focus was completely on my own efforts to be saved. I did not get grace. My faith was pretty weak; I wasn’t able to simply trust in Christ alone.
From a developmental view, maybe I was unable to mentally and emotionally grasp the concept of grace at that young age. Maybe the same is true for my daughter. Less than a week ago, again at the end of the day, Addi said she did not want to pray. Then she said, “I think I need a new heart again.”
She felt bad for something that had happened earlier, and I love that she feels bad about being bad; I hope she never loses that! We had another conversation, and I explained how in a relationship it is important to say sorry when you recognize you’ve done something wrong. Then we prayed together.
I think her statement is also indicative that she doesn’t get grace yet. As we go on from here and have more conversations, this is what I want to try to bring down to her level: that she is saved by grace and that her “job” is to believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it really is.
As Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” Faith is believing that God’s grace is real and is for me. That’s what I want to be convinced of in the depths of my soul, and what I want for my kids as well.
I do believe that God is hearing the heartfelt cries of my little girl, and it pleases Him to extend His Son’s righteousness to her. She might not fully get it, but in Christ she is forgiven and clean. She is His.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter… Resurrection Sunday.
Lent is a season to reflect and prepare our hearts for Easter. Traditionally, many Christians fast (give up something) during Lent. Some give up chocolate, some give up TV; one of my friends gave up Facebook this year during Lent. Personally, I’m thinking about giving up broccoli… well, maybe that wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.
The intent in giving something up is 1) to be able to identify with Christ, who gave up everything for us; and 2) to take the time or energy that would normally be given to that thing and redirect it towards cultivating our relationship to Christ. To take our cravings for (you fill in the blank here) and replace it with a deeper hunger for the Lord.
Giving something up, and sticking to it, is tough and takes work. But so is having a good relationship with God. And in a strange way, when we give up something for God, that in turn helps us be more conscious of Him throughout our day and even grow closer to Him! Now that’s a double win.
So think about it. What could you give up during this season of Lent?
Did this give you chills? I have to be honest, the first time I watched it I started to tear up. Something about a huge mass of people singing “and He shall reign forever and ever” in a shopping mall just kinda stirs up the old emotions.
Did you notice how some people sang differently than others? There were 650 choristers singing and while they were all singing “properly,” there seemed to be various levels of enthusiasm and engagement. If you need to watch it again, do so. Look for three types of singers:
1) those just singing the way they would to any choral piece of music,
2) those for whom the words of the song seem to have some significance and meaning,
3) and those who actually seem to be worshipping God in the middle of the shopping mall!
Which gets me thinking: when you sing in church, which of the three types of singers am I most like? Why is it sometimes so hard to be engaged in praising God when we’re singing praise songs to God?
Why is it difficult for so many of us to show any emotion as we sing? Is it because we care too much about what people around us will think of us? Do we realize what that says about where God fits on our “People We Want to Impress List?”
In the video, I wish they hadn’t held up signs at the end that read this was a “random act of culture.” Is that all it was? Just a really pretty song for us to enjoy?
To me it was more like a bold and highly choreographed act of worship of the one, true God who deserves all our attention, devotion, and adoration.
Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can worship God as we shop, as we study, as we play, and as we talk with our friends. And we can worship God (and show it!) as we sing.
Thousands of years ago, many people’s ideas of God were very primitive. They worshiped sticks and stones, earth and water, the sun and the moon. Now thanks to science we know how silly they were, and we are much more “advanced.”
But many people today still have an odd concept of God. They worship vending machines and butlers. What I mean is that the way that they interact with God is the same as you would a vending machine or a butler. They don’t usually want much to do with God, and they definitely don’t want God interfering with their lives. But if they have a real need or problem, then they cry out to God to fix everything or clean up their mess.
If you think about it, treating God like a vending machine is as silly as believing some stick is God.
What do your typical interactions with God look like? Are you always asking Him for things? Do you constantly expect Him to meet your needs and take care of you, and yet if you’re honest you treat Him as if He was just a lowly servant?
Do you respect God? Do you fear God? Do you see yourself as His servant and your purpose on this earth is to make things better for Him? Do you live for Him, or do you just act like He lives for you?
I think we’re still pretty primitive… we’re full of backwards thinking. We live as if we’re God, and God is our creation that we get to boss around. How messed up is that?
Let me leave you with an even deeper thought… if our concept of God doesn’t line up with who the Bible reveals God to truly be, then do we know (or have a real relationship with) the one true God? Is God your God? Or have you made yourself God?
We live in a “Guarantee” society. When we purchase big ticket items, they often come with guarantees. If we become unsatisfied or if the product breaks, the company will take care of it. They’ve got us covered, and this gives us a sense of security.
For most of the “big ticket items” related to our American life we can purchase insurance, which is also a type of guarantee. We can get car insurance, boat insurance, renters or homeowners insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, and of course life insurance. We can even get our money federally insured, so if someone would steal it out of a bank, the government will replace it.
Having insurance gives us security that even in a worse case scenario, things will be taken care of. We’ve got ourselves protected; all the bases are covered; we think we’re safe, but in a sense we’ve only surrounded ourselves with bubble wrap.
We develop this false sense of security and safety. We insulate ourselves and try to remove ourselves from anything that might cause us to worry, because we want to be able to relax and enjoy life. But in the process we forget how truly short life is, and we become distracted and don’t prioritize the really important things in life.
No one knows how long they have on this earth. While we think that we will be here for a long time, there is no guarantee that we will be here a week from now, or even ten minutes from now. Research has shown that 10 out of 10 people die… it’s only a matter of time.
So why do we live as if we have forever? Why do we waste our days away in trivial pursuits? To quote Annie Dillard: “How we live our days … is how we live our lives.” Why do we keep putting off the most important things when this life is but a breath?
Do you realize that you could die today… that it’s honestly a real possibility? Are you ready if your time is now? Are you ready to stop playing games with God? Are you ready to start living?