When Your Prayers Seem to be Unheard

Provision

We’ve all asked God to intervene in our lives, haven’t we?

Some people ask for God’s help when they’re looking for a new job. Other people have asked God to help them win the lottery. I’m sure that we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve asked God for the gift of healing – either for ourselves, or for someone that we love. A woman told me that she once asked God to provide a parking place for her at a local shopping mall, so that she didn’t have to walk through the snow when she went there to finish her Christmas shopping.

Jesus once told a story about a widow who had been treated unfairly. She asked a judge to help her, but he didn’t. And so, she started going to the Courthouse to plead her case every time the judge came to work and every time he left the building at the end of the day. But, the widow didn’t stop there! She started following the judge home and beat on his door in the middle of the night. And the same thing happened night after night after night, until the judge (who really didn’t care about God or even about people) caved-in and granted her the justice that she sought.

Have you ever felt like you were beating on the doors of Heaven, but that God wasn’t listening to you?

Maybe you didn’t get the job that you asked God to provide? Maybe you didn’t win the lottery and couldn’t pay your mortgage? I remember a time in my life when I prayed and prayed and prayed for young man who had brain cancer – and he died. What if God does not provide a parking place for you at the shopping mall during the busy Holiday Season and you have to walk through the snow – just like everyone else?

Many of us think that prayer is about asking God to give us the things that we want; and, when we don’t get what we want, we get mad at God. “Where was God?” we sometimes say when bad things happen. “If I’ve prayed every day for a young man who had cancer and he died,” we might ask, “then what’s the use in praying at all?”

As I’ve journeyed through life and as I have matured as a Christian, I’ve come to see that prayer is about far more than asking God to give me something and, then, expecting it to miraculously happen. God builds our faith as we pray; and, sometimes, God gives us the strength we need to face things in life that we can’t change. God helps us to see things in different ways when we pray and God promises to journey with us even when things are going dreadfully wrong.

St. Paul once wrote (Romans 8:35-37): “What shall separate us from the love of God?” “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” And St. Paul answers that question by writing: “No! In all these things we are far more than conquerors!”

That’s living faith!

Faith is not about learning how to make our God jump through hoops. Faith is not about “doing something” to catch God’s attention; and, then, expecting God to bless you beyond your wildest dreams – even though that’s what the Prosperity Gospel proclaims.

God promises to journey with us through thick and thin. God promises to bless us with the gift of faith when we need it the most. God promises us that we will never be left all alone, and that God will never let go of our hand in the midst of a raging storm.

That’s the God that I meet and that I spend time with every day when I pray.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?

clerical collar pic

John 6:56-69

Why would anybody want to be a pastor?

Now, that might seem to be a really bizarre question for a pastor to be asking, but follow with me….

I was asked to preside at a worship service while I was in Chicago last week; but, when I learned that nobody had volunteered to play the piano for the service, I quickly asked if I could provide music for the service instead – because I wasn’t sure that I’d have time to change my clothes after the service and I didn’t want to fly into Pittsburgh dressed like a Roman Catholic priest.

I think that we all know that many churches are struggling to find volunteers and the financial resources that are needed to support life-giving ministries – and pastors often take the brunt of those changing realities in the Church by scrambling to fill-in the gaps and by juggling ministry priorities to meet available funding.

Pastors have to watch what they say in the pulpit these days because, if they preach God’s call to justice too loudly, people aren’t afraid to vote with their feet or to express their dissatisfaction by cutting their weekly offering.

And that brings us back to the theme of this week’s message: “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Jesus’ disciples had to make a big choice one day. They’d been following Jesus for some time, and they’d watched Jesus turn water into wine and heal the sick. They had heard Jesus tell people that they need to be “born again” and to be transformed into something that they simply aren’t by God’s power. Jesus had told people that He’s the “Bread of Life” and that He has the power to raise people up even to eternal life after life and death have done their worst. And Jesus told people to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, so that He would live inside of them.

But people didn’t like that.

“Who does this guy think He is?” they grumbled. “And what makes Jesus think that He can talk to US that way?” And we read: “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66)

Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown (Mark 6:4). Who wants to hear a message about self-sacrifice and sacrificial giving when the guy down the street is telling people that God’s going to give them a big house? Who wants to be told to “deny yourself and take up your Cross” (Luke 9:23) when the guy just down the road is telling people that God will give them whatever they want? Who wants to listen to a message that calls us to extend compassion and justice to the poor when many of us have been taught to believe that the poor are simply lazy? After all…. Jesus loves the little children, doesn’t He. And we extrapolate that to mean that Jesus loves us too – no matter what we do and no matter what choices we make – right?

And so, “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Perhaps, the answer is found in the words of St. Peter: “Lord,to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)

I’m a pastor because God calls me to stand beside people and to continue to point them toward the promise of eternity during difficult times. I’m a pastor because I find it incredibly life-giving to sit down on the floor with a banjo in my lap and tell little kids the story of Jesus and help them to understand that they’re more precious than gold. I’m a pastor because I believe that God’s called me to remind people that no matter where they have been and what they have done – Jesus died on the Cross and was raised from the dead to give them another chance and a cleaned slate. I don’t think that there’s any better way for me to spend my years on this earth than to spend them baptizing little babies and grown adults, placing my hands upon the heads of teenagers who have come forward to affirm their faith and blessing them, welcoming new mission-partners into the ministry of Christ’s Church, and working beside men and women of faith who want to leave fingerprints on the world and somehow make it into a better place.

“Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

What else would I do with my life, Lord? Is there really anything better that I could do with my life than spend my days pointing other people to the “Bread of Life” – Jesus – the Lord who challenges us to live lives of self-sacrifice, compassion toward others, and love for one other and for the world during a time when many are turning away from the One who has come into the world to bless all of God’s people with the gift of eternal life?

Striving for Justice and Peace

JusticeAndPeace

How would you define the word: “Fair”?

I suspect that we’d define the word “fair” in a lot of different ways. Some of us would say that it’s “fair” when good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. Some of us build our lives around the Protestant Work Ethic – believing that success and happiness in life (even eternal salvation) are based upon hard work, dedication, thrift and determination. Some who embrace the Prosperity Gospel believe that financial blessing and our physical well-being are the will of God; and that our faith, positive speech patterns, and donations to religious causes will eventually increase our material wealth.

I’ve learned that life isn’t always “fair.”

Is it “fair” when a young mother is killed in an automobile accident, or when a child dies from brain cancer? Is it “fair” that God equally sends rain upon the just and the unjust? Are poverty and homelessness “fair” in a society where some people amass tremendous fortunes; and is it “fair” when people lose their homes (and are forced into bankruptcy) because of an unexpected and undeserved illness that sent them to a hospital?

Many pastors are criticized for being too political every time they try to address an issue in society that exists because life isn’t “fair.” Whether we want to admit it or not, poverty is not God-ordained. Homelessness in America exists because people who live their lives in positions of power continue to create systems that ensure that some people will rise to the top (themselves) and others will never have that chance. Hunger isn’t being created by a lack of food – it’s caused by poor distribution and use of food (think about that the next time you throw food in the garbage). The Bible’s filled with condemnations that are directed at the powerful, and the Sacred Story speaks of a Great Day when God’s going to turn everything upside down. Mary once proclaimed that God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:53). Jesus once said that the poor, the mourning, the humble, the hungry and thirsty, and the persecuted are “blessed” in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, also, said that there’s no such thing as being a disciple without bearing the Cross; and, sometimes, bearing the Cross calls us, as God’s people, to live our lives of faith – “Striving for Justice and Peace”.

We can’t get around the fact that Jesus stirred people’s nests and stepped on people’s toes. Jesus spoke to the “wrong” kinds of people. He touched lepers. He lived among sinners and outcasts, and called religious leaders of His time (people who enjoyed their positions of power) “white-washed tombs.” Jesus was not afraid to be political. Jesus (and all of the prophets who lived before Him) spoke-out and condemned human-created systems that trap people in difficult positions that they cannot escape. And, Jesus also calls us (modern day disciples and followers of Christ) to take-up our Cross by putting skin in the game, by “Striving for Justice and Peace” in all the earth, and by speaking on behalf of those who don’t have a voice of their own – even when it costs us something like our reputation, or our job, or even our life.

This week, we’re called to remember that, when the Reign of God breaks into the world, the “way things are” is challenged by the “way things could be.” When the Reign of God breaks into the world, justice will roll down like mighty waters and righteousness will gush from the ground like an ever-flowing stream…!

Discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart. Bearing the Cross and “speaking to power” have never been easy. And yet, we must remember that we can’t be disciples of Christ without being filled with the passion-creating fire of the Holy Spirit that sends us into the world to change it – “Striving for Justice and Peace” in all the earth.

 

Is God Fair?

God's Love

We’ve all been told that God loves us.

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” – and we’ve learned to trust that God will do that. One of my friends on Facebook recently posted the words: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) My Hindu friends believe in “karma,” and many Christians have adopted the teachings of “karma” as a way of pointing toward divine justice. After all, “good people” go to Heaven and “bad people” go to Hell. Right?

But, what if I told you that God is NOT fair, and that we should be happy about that?

In this week’s message, “Is God Fair?”, we’re going to focus upon a story that Jesus told a long time ago and that we can still read in Matthew 20:1-16. It’s the story of a landowner who hires some people to pick his grapes. Some of the workers worked 12 hours in the scorching heat, and others only worked for 9 hours. Still others worked for 6 hours, and yet others only worked in the vineyard for 3 hours. And then, there were people who stood at the “One Day’s Work” office all day and only worked for 1 hour. And at the end of the day – when the whistle blows – the landowner calls all of the workers to come to the pay station and he pays them ALL the exact same amount of money!

And that’s not fair!

And, not surprisingly, the workers didn’t think that it was fair either! And they stuck out their lower lips and complained. They moaned and groaned until the landowner zapped them between the eyes with the most important words of the story: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:16) And, as we listen to these words, we’re invited to see God face-to-face.

Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” allows people to prosper and have nice things whether they’re sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning – or cheering for their kids at a soccer game. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” forgives people who have done things in life that I can’t imagine doing. Here, we see a God who “unfairly” chooses to step outside of the realm of karma and divine justice, and give people things that they clearly don’t deserve in any way.

And that’s not fair!

But, in all honesty, I have to admit that I like what this story tells me about God!

The landowner in this famous story challenges me to see the God who richly blesses me and who fills my life with good things even when I’m not always as good and deserving as other people. I see the God who sent His own Son into the world to die on the Cross because He wants me to go to Heaven – even though I don’t really deserve it. I’m clearly challenged to think about what I truly believe is “fair” – and, when it’s all said and done, I walk away celebrating the fact that God DOESN’T always give me exactly what I deserve. I don’t always sow good seeds. The “Law of Karma” sounds good – until you sit down and begin to count your mistakes and misdeeds. And then….

“Is God Fair?”

Jesus bluntly tells us that the answer to that question is clearly, “No!” And for that, we can rejoice and sing and praise the Lord!