Tag Archives: Jesus

Praying with a Purpose: Why We Suck at Praying

I have to be the first to admit that my prayer life is rather sucky to say the least. Not only do I not pray as much as I ought to, but I don’t pray as deeply as I ought to either. There are a lot of reasons why. I’m busy. I’m lazy. I’d rather do something else. But I think part of why I suck at praying is because most of the time, I think of it in an incorrect way. Maybe I’m not as bad as others, but I know I’m not very good either way. And I’d like to change that.

First of all, what is the point of prayer? That’s kind of a deep question, so we will answer it in a few different ways. First, what are some problems with how we, as a Church and as individuals, view and/or portray prayer? Second, what makes good prayer? And third, some helpful tips that have been shared with me that I will pass on.

First, prayer is often seen as our grocery list that we take to God. It often consists of asking for persons x, y, z to be healed from whatever ailment, physical, emotional, spiritual, that they are facing. Or maybe asking for help with things in our own lives. While these aren’t necessarily bad, who said that the purpose of this life was to be healthy all the time and happy? Not Jesus, that’s for sure. Prayer for many of us is a monologue. We speak prayer, as if it was a language, to no one in particular and act like we are talking to God. We don’t actually expect a response. Of course there’s much more that can be said, but these are some of the main issues.

Second, good prayer really is easier than what we see above. Honesty is essential. I mentioned earlier that sometimes I just don’t feel like praying for whatever reason. Guess what!? It’s ok to tell God that in a prayer. He would prefer you to be honest that to fake pray or not pray at all. Maybe we should pray about stuff we really care about, even if it seems mundane to others. Again, honesty is something that God values. As to the grocery list issue, think of things this way: When we pray for someone to be healed, our goal shouldn’t be merely that they feel better because we don’t want them to feel bad. Rather, the purpose of healing is to glorify God. Rather than praying for a healing, pray that in that situation, God’s glory can be manifested to it’s greatest potential. But make sure you honestly mean that. As I mentioned, prayer speak is a major issue in the Church. We lift up these lofty prayers with words we never use except in a prayer. Why? To sound better? Prayer is supposed to be a dialogue, a conversation, not a speech. Pray like you would speak to your dad, because God is your heavenly dad (have you ever called your dad “father”? Speak to him like a friend).

Here’s a little list of some tips I was given on things that can help your prayer life:
-Posture your prayer: Kneeling, prostrate, walking in a place of solitude.
-Give your prayer an address: If write a letter, you write “To (insert name here),” who are you praying to? Master, Lord, Dad, Father, God…
-Check yourself for honesty: Do you mean what you are saying or just trying to prayer speak? He knows.
-Take time to be still: “Be still and know that I am God.”
-Let your passion for God rise to the surface: If you are excited, God likes to know that, especially when it relates to him.
-Confess
-Speak your heart cry to God: Genuine spiritual need where you struggle
-Ask that the conversation continue: This is an eternal dialogue.


Our Expectations of God: They May Be Off… Way Off

A short time ago I finished a book by Phillip Yancy called Disappointment With God. It was a great book, and one that I recommend to anybody, but particularly those who have/are in difficult times.

One of the main points of the book was to address why we can be disappointed with God, as the title may suggest. He does this by answering three questions: Is God unfair? Is He silent? Is He hidden? Instead of answering these questions and giving an explanation, as we so often do, he takes a different route. he addresses why we are asking these questions in the first place. In asking these things, we clearly have presuppositions in regards to how God should be and how He should act. If we think He is unfair, clearly we think He should be fair. If He is silent, clearly we think that He should speak. And if He is hidden, clearly we think that He should make his appearance known.

Typically, the answer to these questions revolve around philosophy and theology. using wordy responses and scripture references to show that He is fair, is not silent, and is not hidden. But to what use? For those experiencing things that raise these questions, they certainly seem to be legitimate questions. It’s more of a “Why is God not being fair now, why is He not speaking to me, and why do I not feel Him?” You can’t use the answers that we most often give to the original questions and expect people to say, “Oh, that makes sense. Ok. I’ll move on because that eases my pain.”

By addressing our presuppositions about God, we can see why His reality is not matching our expectations of how things should be.

If there are a few things that we can learn from the Bible and human history, they are that God has tried multiple methods of trying to reach out to us, and most have failed. This is not to say that God failed, but rather that we failed Him. He even knew they would fail, but tried anyway. For example, He led the Israelites out of Egypt, into a desert where He fed them every day in a miraculous way, “resided” in a tent and could be felt, and then led them into the Promised Land despite heavy opposition. Did the people continuously praise Him and act according to His will? Not by any means. They complained about the food they were provided, they doubted that they could take the Promised Land despite the fact that they had seen Him part a sea and cause the Plagues. He then tried prophets instead of interacting personally, and what happened? They were killed and hated. Then came the kings, who also failed. And finally the success of Christ. But if He knew that Christ was the answer all along, why try these other, pointless options, destined to fail?

I think He did it to show us that they fail. He wanted to be able to say, when people asked why He wasn’t making Himself clear as day, or not speaking directly to them, that it doesn’t work and that He has tried it before. He is able to say that He has spoken to people and they didn’t listen. In fact, He came down Himself as a person, a human, and we killed Him. Fortunately for us, that was the whole plan. But it still showed us that God is there, and that He does care, and that we need to trust Him.

Jesus suffered not only for us, but also with us. God wanted to be able to say, “I know the pain that you feel. I know what emotional and physical pain as a human is like. I have been there, and I made it through, so can you. Follow my example.” What a God we have that He would exhaust all options so that we could have no excuse, and then He suffered in our place and can say that and mean that, and we can know that in the end, God wins.


On the other side of the road…

I recently listened to a sermon on the Good Samaritan… something we talk about far too often it may seem, something we all think we know about. It’s typically told in order for us to see that everybody we come across is a “neighbor” and what it means to be a good Christian is to help out those in need, no matter who they are or their relation to us. And that’s not a bad message. But this focuses solely on what the Good Samaritan did, and I think, after hearing this particular sermon, that there is more to the story.

No, I’m not saying don’t walk alone on dangerous roads because you might get jumped, though that is true. Rather, it’s much more general. Something I had never thought about were the people who passed the man in need of help. They were good people too, well-respected people with important things to do. Not just that, but if they helped this man, they probably could not do their important things since they would be ritually unclean, and performing rituals was their job. You see, we had a priest and a Levite. Men of the temple. They had Godly business to attend to. It wasn’t as though they merely didn’t want to help, maybe they did but had other obligations. And not just selfish obligations, but stuff that served God…

A friend needs to talk, but we have prior obligations, it would be rude to ditch the other thing for your friend, though, since that came first. And a true friend would understand this and not want to interrupt your prior event. You have a softball game Saturday night, a playoff game, and someone from church asks if you can teach a class because they won’t be able to be there. If you don’t go to the game, your team will have to forfeit because they won’t have enough players. You have to politely, yet regretfully, decline because your team is counting on you.

These scenarios are have quite a bit in common. These aren’t just excuses, these are real reasons, legitimate. We are torn, but in the end stick with the plan. Deviating would be too risky, and it would disappoint too many people.

But yet these are the things that Jesus was criticizing, right? He was showing how Godly people, who were trying to be Godly, had their priorities messed up. We aren’t told what this Samaritan was doing, or where he was heading. I wish we were, because I have a feeling he had somewhere important to be too. And he put that on hold, and attended to this man.

How often have we done this? I wish I could say more. I am guilty of it, and I’m sure you are too at some time or another. We have things that we think are important, and yet Jesus is telling us that we have our priorities messed up.

We are walking on the other side of the road.

Part of this is about avoiding the issue to begin with. When we see something that will be trying or difficult, we often make our way around it, trying to pay it as little attention as possible as not to force us to actually make a decision. That way, we don’t feel bad, and can rationalize that we just didn’t see it or it was out of the way. This seems to me to be what the priest and Levite did. They recognized something that was going to call them to act, to make a decision, yet they avoided it, but for God’s sake.

I think there are 3 points being made here. The first is direct, and that is that everybody is our neighbor, since that was the original question that was to be answered. But I think there was a point to the people and situation that we often miss not being in the culture. Anybody listening would have known that the priest and Levite were on their way to the temple. They had duties to fulfill that the people counted on. So Jesus was flipping this on it’s head. It seems clear that this is a point since Jesus makes it other places as well. People are more important than “godliness.” I’ve heard something similar before, “business is not godliness.” People are more important than doing “things,” even if “important.” People are what God is after anyways, not a clean church, not a great sermon, not an well-said prayer. These things mean nothing if not intended to bring people to God.

The preacher emphasized this. He called us not to “walk on the other side of the road.” Calling us not to avoid stuff if at all possible, and to rationalize our actions.

How often do you walk on the other side of the road? At work? At school? Even at home? Can you say that you have dropped what you were doing, though seemingly important, to help someone in need?

If yes, keep up the good work. If no, work on it. It’s important. People matter more to God than anything else, it should be the same for us as well.


Great discussion: Check it out!

If you want to join in on a great discussion, and in turn make following the posts where we already have multiple topics even more convoluted and difficult to keep track of, check it out over at Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God-Dialogue with Michael (re: Heaven and Hell). The original post was here:A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom-Everyone Is Going to Heaven. So check it out and join this discussion.

These are both blogs by Mike Gantt, cool guy, has a great name(like me), and always gives a good discussion and thought provoking posts.


Dating of Gospels and Acts: Response to Frontline-From Jesus to Christ

So I was quite confused when watching PBS Frontline on “From Jesus to Christ” and how the scholars they had on the production dated the Gospels. They had them all at the very earliest AFTER the destruction of the temple, and said they were all decades apart. So if I do the math, Mark is around 71ish, Matthew 85, Luke 95, John into the second Century, and Acts I guess would also be second century. To me, and hopefully to you, this is absolutely absurd. None of the Gospels nor Acts mentions the temple being destroyed. John, who is typically dated after the destruction of the temple even by more conservative dating, is much more figurative and loose than the others, so maybe that is not so surprising. But when it comes to Luke, who mentions reigns of governors and such, and deaths of seemingly minor martyrs, why would he fail to include something as catastrophic to Jews as the temple being torn down?

The people of the program seemed to be reading way too much into Mark, as they said that his Gospel was actually an answer to the fall of Jerusalem. I find this to be odd, since he never mentions the fall, as one might want to say what they were answering in such a work.

So how about my idea of the dating and how I think it went down, which maybe you should take with a grain of salt, but it seems pretty logical to me, and much more plausible than the dates that this program laid out.

Acts: Before Paul and Peters deaths, which were mid-60s. The entire book of Acts pretty much follows Paul’s life, chronicling many of his journeys, as well as his trial and his trip to Rome. Yet the book seems to end rather abruptly, as it does not mention the verdict nor the sentencing that Paul received, which we know to be beheading. Now this would seem extremely strange had Acts been written in the 90s or the second century, or even the 70s or 80s for that matter. Why include so many details into Paul’s life and leave out his death? As for Peter, we hear of Stephen’s martyrdom, as well as other seemingly minor figures compared to one of the main apostles, so why would the martyrdom of Peter not be mentioned. Another interesting part of that is the story usually associated with Peter, that he was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy of Jesus death. So I say around 63 or so, since it includes Paul’s initial trial and his trip to Rome to stand trial there, but nothing more.

Luke: Before Acts. This is pretty obvious, as I know of nobody who says Luke was written after Acts. The typical dating is about a decade before, but lets play nice and say 5 years, which would put Luke around 58.

Matthew: Before Luke. Sticking with the seemingly consensus order, Matthew comes before Luke but after Mark. Again, often placed, as seen in frontline, a decade preceding Luke, but again we will say 5 years, placing this Gospel around 53.

Mark: The earliest Gospel by most accounts. We will again use our 5 year formula, placing it in the late 40s, maybe 48 or so.

John: Difficult to date John, given its much more abstract and yet concrete writings. Much more up front than the others about Christ’s divinity, which makes sense if Jerusalem has fallen and such claims would not result in such consequences as death somehow or another by Jewish law-keepers, much like Jesus. So I am comfortable saying after the destruction of the temple, and I like to be nice, so we can say around 85 for John.

Paul’s letter: Often dated in the 50s or late 40s, this would seem highly unlikely if Mark was written in the late 40s. So I think we can pretty safely say, given our dating of the other Gospels, that Paul’s first letter was written in the mid to late 30s, given his many journeys and the timescale he himself gives and that Luke gives in Acts.

These “conservatively” liberal dates, I say this because it would be very easy to stick with the general liberal framework of a decade between each piece, end up putting Paul’s writings within 10 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is pretty significant. However, I do find it plausible that some version of Mark was floating around in some areas as early as the early 40s and that Paul didn’t hear about it due to geographical restrictions, and similar concepts can be applied to the other gospels as well.

Where does this leave us? First letters in regards to what is now orthodox Christianity are written within 5-10 years of Jesus death, which means Paul was preaching before this, which means the hymns and such that he quotes are earlier than the beginning of his ministry, which would put these within a year or two of Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension. So in contrast to the liberal frontline idea that there were many ideas of Jesus and many Christianities rising in different regions that wouldn’t be “set straight” until the second or third centuries, we see a unified Christianity from the outset, and while some were saying other things, Paul, the apostles, and the original disciples were correcting these as they came about, and not simply corrected at some council in the third century.

So not only is this important in dispelling the myth of there being many versions of Christianity that were quite unique, it also gives credence to the historicity of the New Testament writings as they inch closer to the dates of what they are giving accounts of.

More to come on the Frontline special, and here is the link to watch it.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/watch/


Why I’m not a Muslim… They can’t be right.

Jesus is pretty much the most polarizing figure in all of human history. Nearly everybody knows about Him, what His followers say He said, and what He claimed to have done. Most people know more about Jesus than any other religious figure like the Buddha, or Zoroaster, or Muhammad. This, to me, seems to attest to something, though what that something is is up for debate.

But in spite of what we are told about Jesus, what are the possibilities of who He really was given our knowledge of Him? I would say we have three options. One, He was who He said He is, viz. God in the flesh, the Son part of the Trinity, the Messiah, and that He did miracles to show God’s glory, including defeating death for our salvation. Two, He was a lunatic that was off his rocker. He made claims, as many have, to be a god, yet like the others, failed to show it. Finally, He could have been the devil, or some demon, who wanted to lead people away from God, doing miracles in the name of the devil, rather than God. Interestingly, the Christians take the first view, many atheists take the second, and often Jews take the third. But notice, the Muslim view, and the popular view are not options! That is, that He was a good moral teacher, with good advice on how to live in harmony with others and how to be a good person, yet that He wasn’t who He said He was.

And that’s the problem. If we accept His moral sayings and life advice, which we find in the Bible, we must accept His other claims as well, which is that He is God, the Messiah, our Savior, etc. I don’t see anyway around this. Even the Jews seem to attest that He made such claims, since they denied His claims and said He was the devil or at least a demon working for the devil. You can’t say He was a great prophet, yet not accept His claims to divinity. You can’t say He was a good teacher, because He taught that He was the only way to heaven, and that He was God.

This is why I could never be a Muslim in the orthodox way. It is also why I could never be the naïve atheist and say that He had some good things to say but that He wasn’t really claiming to be divine. He did not leave those options open to us, and He did not mean to. He wanted to be polarizing, where you were on His side or against it, 100% either way. You can’t accept part of Him and leave the rest.

Where does that leave me? Well, a Christian right now, and probably forever. But I will never be an orthodox Muslim, or follower of the moral Jesus but not the God Jesus. Those options aren’t on the menu, and for some reason, people keep trying to order them anyway.


What will the end of the world look like?

No clue,
But this is an overview of some of the main views that Christians hold to the Second Coming and associated events. I am sympathetic towards amillennialism since it seems like some of what the Olivet Discourse speaks of seems to have happened, like the temple’s destruction, major wars, etc. But I don’t like how that view really ignores the place of the nation of Israel, which seems to play a prominent role somehow according to Paul in Romans 11. Having said that, maybe some sort of historic premillennial, with no rapture, but the “millennium” not necessarily a literal 1000 years. Though I am not sure what happens at the end of this period, other than the Final Judgment. I have no clue when the New Heaven and New Jerusalem begin (whether Christians are taken before the millennium to this place, or if they are simply in some “holding” area until this period ends). So I am definitely open to anything, that can be supported biblically at least.

So here it is in the Papers and other Documents page.