Augustine | what to pray for

Some advice on what to pray for from Saint Augustine:

Stretch wide the net of your insatiable desires, greedy, and find something greater than God, find something more precious than God, find something better than God.  What won't you possess, when you possess him?  But all right, rake in to yourself gold, silver, as much as you can.  Cut out the neighbors; keep a tight grip on your estate by enlarging it, till you reach the ends of the earth.  Having bought up the whole earth, add the seven seas.  Let everything you can see be yours; let everything under the water which you can't see be yours.  When you've got all this, what will you have in fact, if you haven't got God?  

So if by having God a poor man is rich, and by not having God a rich man is a beggar, don't ask him for anything except himself.

(Sermon 105A, from Essential Sermons, New City Press)

Israel/Palestine pt 1 | Bethlehem, then and now

Bethlehem, like a lot of places in the Middle East today, feels conflicted.  There's a church there that was built in the 4th century, and not too far from it you'll find something that resembles an outdoor mall where local residents and tourists mix to buy plastic toys and jewelry and food.  An Arabic chant over loudspeakers calls Muslims to prayer as Christians head to that ancient church to pay homage to the place where Jesus was born.  The real conflict isn't just cultural, though.  It's political, too.  If you look closely at that church, you'll see its facade pocked by bullets that were shot during a siege of Palestinian militants by Israeli Defense Forces in 2002.  Elsewhere in the city you'll find a refugee camp where 13,000 displaced Palestinians are living today.  And every once in a while you'll run into a concrete wall with barbed wire and sniper towers, interrupted by checkpoints, reminding you that you're in a contested land.  

At first, it all seems contradictory to the idea of a Holy Site.  But the more we reflected on the story of Jesus, the more we remembered that this is exactly the kind of world He was born into.  Everything was up for grabs -- the land, the authority to lead the people, the idea of what God expected of His people, and the means by which He would bring about His Kingdom in the world.  It's not surprising that Jesus wept or got angry from time to time.  He wrapped Himself up in our circumstances and felt the weight of a world in conflict.  We spent some time with a man named Mitri Raheb who feels that same weight today.  

Dr. Raheb (in the middle of the picture) is from Bethlehem, born into family of Palestinian Christians who have lived in that city for generations.  He eventually made his way to Germany where he earned his doctorate before returning to Bethlehem to pastor the Lutheran church there.  A lot of the people in his community don't see much reason for hope in their circumstances.  Some of them have no freedom of movement beyond those concrete walls.  Some of them don't have enough food or water.  Many of them have no reason to believe they'll be able to live for a dream.  Some aid does come to the area, but this community is hurting for an identity and a future as much as it's hurting for its basic physical needs.  

 

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"whatever it takes" song available

Sometimes the ground crumbles beneath you.  You thought you knew who you were or what you were standing on, but then your identity gets shaken because of some disorienting moment that reinterprets your past or obscures your future.  

Sometimes the sky falls.  You were used to looking up to a God who seemed close at hand, who held everything together even when circumstances felt fragile.  But then you looked again and weren't so sure any of this really affirms the notion of that kind of God.  

I've been reading Moses' story and working with Ben, one of our video producers, on the story of a woman at our church to get ready to teach this weekend, and it amazes me how much we all have in common.  It doesn't seem to matter where we come from or when we live; sometimes reality seems too harsh and escape seems like the best option.  Sometimes our shortcomings make it hard to trust God to do His part.  

Several years ago, I was having a very hard time keeping my grip.  I felt like God had promised to see me through the hard stuff I was facing, but those promises seemed faint.  I went into the hospital, not really sure where this was headed, and I kept grasping for hope that seemed illusive.  The only thing I knew to do to keep my resolve was to sing something (I wrote in my last post that I pray better with songs than silence), so I wrote this song, "whatever it takes", and I've been returning to it this week as I think about all our stories and wonder what God might want to say to us in the next couple of days.  You can preview the song here, and if you'd like your own copy, head to the MY SONGS page to download audio or video.  

Hope to see you at GCC this weekend!

Whatever it Takes from Jason Miller on Vimeo.

 

listen.

Tonight I wrapped up teaching one of our September offerings for Journey Bible Classes.  Afterwards, one of the guys in the class asked what steps he should take if he thinks he might teach some day.  Among other things, I said this:

Be the best listener you can be. A teacher earns the right to speak by listening well.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who thought they knew what you were going to say, and so they kept completing your sentences, only to find out that they were wrong each time?  It’s a frustrating experience, right?  I think we do this as teachers.

First, we do it to the Bible.  If we grew up in Church or have had any kind of Biblical training, it can be difficult to let the Bible speak for itself.  We keep finishing its sentences, expecting any verse that begins with “the Gospel” to end with a reference to what some people call “substitutionary atonement”.  We assume that any given verse in our Bibles is trying to answer the question, “How do I get to heaven when I die?” when very little of it may really have been written for that purpose.  We turn to the Gospel of Luke and, because we’ve already read Matthew, expect the Beatitudes to speak to purely spiritual realities (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Matthew).  We’re unable to hear the very physical sense of earthly poverty that Jesus is speaking to in Luke when He says, “Blessed are the poor”.  It all amounts to very poor listening skills.  And a teacher earns the right to speak by listening well. 

But we also do it to the people we’re addressing.  I imagine most of us have sat through a sermon and thought of the preacher, “this guy has obviously not had a real conversation with anyone in this room! No one is asking the questions he’s answering.”  I’m the chief of sinners on this front.  Every gifting carries with it a unique liability, and preachers are no different.  We’re wired with a passion to speak the truth, but if we’re not careful, we roll over people like a bulldozer with all of our right answers and leave them worse off than they were before we spoke.  I shudder to think of how often I’ve done this to an individual or a crowd.     

Daniel Boorstin is one of my favorite historians.  He wrote, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”  I would push back slightly and say that knowledge is not all illusion, but he makes a good point.  The more we think we know, the less we listen.  At least I think that’s what he’s trying to say. 

To listen is to seek to understand, and so listening is an act of love.  I’ve had the ongoing privilege of working as an understudy to a few incredible teachers.  Mark Beeson, Rob Wegner, Mark Waltz, and Bob Laurent exhibit a love for the people they teach that convicts me deeply and challenges me to be a better man.  I wish every one of you could know how seriously these men believe that to teach is to carry a sobering responsibility on one’s shoulders.  They ooze with pastors’ hearts as they prepare and deliver.  They listen and love well.  I want the same to be true of me.  And whether you’re teaching in a church or school or just opening your mouth occasionally to speak to your friends, I hope you’ll listen well, too.               

ready for a good story...

In just a couple of days, we'll jump back into Journey Bible Classes at GCC.  We spent the summer as a church giving our energy to summer camps for youth, family travel, mission trips, and all the other ways that we take advantage of the different rhythm of summer break, so this will be our first Wednesday night since May that we've gathered for Journey.  Today I'm studying for the class I'll be teaching, but I'm also taking some time to remember why we study and teach.  

I read this on Erwin McManus's website today and was moved by it:

"Preaching must be more than moving toward doctrinal soundness, more than simply calling people toward life application. Preaching must elevate the stories of God that draw a picture of what life can be like for everyone."

THAT is what gets my heart beating fast.  God is up to something much bigger than doctrinal statements.  It's not that doctrine doesn't matter, but it's possible to have every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed, without learning to see the world as God sees it, brimming with possibility.  He invites us to lean into His vast resources as we grieve the reality of sin and move from death to life.  This kind of stuff is bigger than checking 'bible study' off of our religious to-do list.  

It's one thing for us to have private moments of revelation as we read Scripture and try to understand.  It's another thing altogether when we collectively encounter the Story of God's interaction with the world He loves in a way that gives birth to new dreams, fresh vision, and greater hope for what's ahead for His Church.  That's my prayer for our Wednesday nights together.  I hope I'll see you there!