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First Thoughts Blog

Godspeed Dick and Judie!

An era ends. I can’t believe it’s been a decade. Dick Gates is retiring January 31 and he and Judie are moving to Arizona to be near their family.

Now the rest of us pastors are going to have to work for a living!

Dick has been a visiting, praying, mission promoting machine. His absence will be felt. His shoes are impossible to fill.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the impact he has had on our church.

A decade ago, tensions between our services were real. They’re pretty much nonexistent now. Loving care of each and every member who is ill, grieving or in crisis goes a long way in creating unity.

A decade ago, we made some hard decisions about day care, denominations, service time changes, and a commitment to renovate our buildings. In a time when questions got asked, attendance dipped and my leadership could have been questioned, it wasn’t. A committed session joined a loyal pastoral staff. And none more loyal than Dick Gates.  He has always, always, always had my back. He never hesitated to tell me directly if he saw me making an errant turn. He never hesitated to follow decisions I made, even dumb ones, and no one could get him to utter a negative word. We got through that season and entered a time of great advancement. Dick’s passionate loyalty was key in that.

Under Dick’s leadership, global mission got re-energized even as it got more personalized.  It takes a globe-trotting pastor to keep the ties tight between a church and its missions around the world. Dick had the vision to invite Sameh Maurice here, and that ignited our partnership with Kasr El Dobara Church in Cairo, allowing us to see a dynamic influence for Christ through these partners. And that inspired new full time missionaries from our church to hit the field. Our mission conferences still grow in both excitement and attendance. Dick’s leadership has raised our profile in the world community of evangelical churches.

And he has taught us to love prayer.  Every week, between the 9 and 11 services, Dick and a team pray for people with particular needs. Every week, he leads prayer for our nation and community. Every week, he visits dozens of people, with his faithful beloved beside him, to pray for those facing surgeries, funerals or crises.

Talk to him ten minutes, and he will get you promising to pray for suffering Christians in the Middle East. Ten more minutes and you will be on a plane to do a mission trip!

Dick works with the joy of the Lord. His whistling and his laugh are heartiest in the early morning, and he refuses to let us be grumpy in the office.  We could never get him to give up the Buckeyes as his favorite football team, but we did teach him how to shoot pistols!

Soon, a search committee will seek an Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care, Prayer and Spiritual Growth. Whitney, who shares Dick’s vibrant passion for global as well as local mission, will add world mission to his full pastoral plate. Whitney will also help coordinate pastoral care until the new associate arrives. The church will go on, far better for this decade of wonderful, consecrated service. But oh, how we will miss Dick and Judie!

Dinner to Honor the Gates

The church will host a ticketed, catered dinner Sunday, January 17 at 5PM to honor (and maybe roast a wee bit) Dick and Judie. Tickets are $15 and limited to 300 people. Child care and children’s choir will be provided concurrently. Email Gerrit if you would like one of a limited number of complementary seats.

Global Mission Conference

Dick’s final weekend includes his favorite event: the annual missions conference.  Pastor Sameh Hannah from Cairo will be our speaker during Saturday morning sessions, Sunday services and a special Sunday evening prayer event. I can’t think of a better way to encourage Dick than to swell the house for this conference, especially for the prayer focus Sunday night. It means so much to him: we can bless him on his way by supporting this great event

It Happens All Over Again!

For centuries, the body of Christ has told and retold the story of Jesus’ life and work among us. Early on in our history, we developed a rhythm of highlighting the remembering of particularly significant Jesus-events throughout each year. Advent is a word that means “coming” and it marks the beginning of the church year. For four weeks we enter the story of the yearning of the world for rescue, the yearning of the people of God for a savior and the hope in the human heart that God has not left us alone. We anticipate being surprised anew that God showed his face in the baby in Bethlehem.

Christian remembering, of course, is not mere nostalgia. We remember what happened uniquely in history in such a way that the meaning of what happened becomes a fresh experience. We relive anticipation for a savior’s birth in such a way that we touch our longing right now for God to be at work in our world. We celebrate Jesus’ birth in such a way that we feel hope in the present moment. Year by year, the Holy Spirit makes historical events come alive in our hearts as we gather for worship. That’s what makes it such a joy to keep Christmas together!

So you won’t want to miss our special advent service, “The Silence and the Sound” on December 6. We’ll have just two services that morning, at 9 and 11. They will be identical as the worship team, choir and an orchestra combine for this rich, inspiring musical. I’ll have a short message preceding.

The Scriptures Behind the Carols

This Advent, we’ll look at four famous Christmas carols and the Bible passages that inspired them. Two of these carols are exceedingly well known: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Joy to the World." One is 16 centuries old: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." And the other is merely five hundred years old and only recently surging in popularity: "Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming" (listen to soprano Rene Fleming sing it on YouTube!).

At our 4 and 6 pm Christmas Eve services, the message is entitled “Ready to Eat!” Can you figure out what Christmas has to do with the British food chain called Pret a Manger?

Surging Forward: Session Grants

Last year when Dr. Robert Lewis led a men’s day with a focus on mission, he noted a particular role for a church like ours. We can provide the “jet fuel” for members launching out into ministry. Our worship and teaching inspire our members to open their lives to what God wants to do in and through them. Usually that means being available to our Lord right where we are in daily life. Sometimes it also means stepping out in new areas of service.

Our session (our board of elders) made grants totaling $55,000 to members and ministries connected to our church. We’re helping one of our young adults, Micah Webber, with seminary education. We’re providing computers for Buchanan Elementary School and the Abounding Love STARS after school program. We’re enabling new programs at Gaitway Therapeutic which member Shelly Rose leads. And after being inspired by the reports of Claire Wilson’s visit, we’re enabling Bethany Centre in Uganda to complete a vital multi-function building. We also approved beginning a scholarship for ministers in our denomination seeking to do residency training in how to plant new churches. The scholarship will be named in honor of our former pastor Russ Stevenson who has such a passion for starting new congregations. Your church is supplying jet fuel to ministries flying grace into our city and world!

Christmas Offering

Every year, we take up only one special offering. This is our Christmas offering for local ministry. Last year, we raised over $45,000 which was shared between the Christian Outreach Center and Gardere Community Christian School. This year, let’s bless even more this two fabulous ministries that are effecting long term transformation in our city.

If You Could, Would You…?

Go back in time that is.  Would you go back to some great day in your life to live it all over again?  To savor the time with someone now gone? To see the beauty all around you that you missed? To say what you really meant to say in that moment? Would you go back if you could?

In the movie About Time, the characters of both Tim and his father have that ability. They can go back to relive days in their past. By the end of the movie, though, Tim has all but given up this gift because he has trained himself to live each day as if it were a day he had chosen to relive. He begins to savor in the moment the extraordinariness in every ordinary day. What if we imagined, throughout the hours, “This is a moment to which I have returned in order to see the beauty, the poignancy, the wonder, the struggle, the life it offers?” 

That would be grateful living. Mindful living. That would be what Paul, long before people were making movies, meant when he said, “Give thanks in all things.” There is incredible power in giving thanks in the moment. In noting what is happening, whom you are seeing, what is being said, colors, sights, sounds, temperature.  We live in a world of wonders overflowing with the grace of God all the time. 

You can’t go back. But you can savor now. You can see every moment, even the hard ones, in a spirit of gratitude. You can realize the presence of God every hour.  It all begins with thanks.  Before another second passes. Thanks. Thank you God.

Please know that as we sit down to feast on Thanksgiving, Rhonda and I will give thanks for you, beloved congregation, and for all the joy of seeking to know and serve Christ Jesus together.

When a House Becomes a Home

I felt a holy awe during the dedication of the Habitat home; the church built with and for Marah Bowie and her family.  In less than a month, a concrete slab became a real home. Through the laying on of hands, that structure became a residence. Hands were laid upon that house with every swing of a hammer or swish of a brush. And hands were laid upon it in prayer, that this home will be a light which shines like a beacon showing the love of Jesus. That this home will be a place of peace and protection and nurture from which love can be launched into the world. More than 140 volunteers worked on the First Presbyterian Habitat house. Kudos to Whitney Alexander and Charles Courtney, who coordinated our efforts, and to Joe Willis and Hans Othmer, along with many others who led and served to make this a reality.  I’m so proud of you!

See a Real, Live Methodist!

Right in our church! Yes, we have a treat in store. The community Thanksgiving service will be held at our church this year. 6 pm, Sunday night, November 22. The guest preacher is Brady Whitton, pastor of First Methodist. He’s a dynamic speaker and a fine leader, and I look forward to welcoming him, and you, to worship that night. A grateful community will give thanks together. 

Mission Grants

The session continues to put the gifts of our people into play through carefully researched partnerships in our city and around the world. In September, the session made the final grants from the mission funds accumulated through our previous capital campaign. More than $100,000 was distributed to vital, gospel-driven ministries at Angola prison, Buchanan Elementary, Young Life, Campus Crusade, Smiles Foundation in Romania, the Magruders in Kenya, Kasr El Dobara Church in Cairo, the Veritas Forum at LSU, Manners of the Heart, Open Air Ministries to the homeless and more. We have a heart for our city and so we share the heart of Christ in every way we can!

Doctrine Into Life

How Theology Can Shape Ministry
In the Local Congregation

Doctrine Into Life is a course for pastors enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program at Reformed Seminary. The notes on this website, though, might be helpful for anyone interested in why theology matters to the life of the church. My sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed was foundational preparation for teaching the course.  Those sermons are all available under the Resources section of the FPC website.  The power points for those sermons are here. The material in this “web section” is rather eclectic.  It explores the sources of the Creed, the teachings of John Calvin on union with Christ, the theological vision of George Herbert, and a number of the Biblical images that run throughout the pages of Scripture by which the whole story of our redemption may be told. 

-Gerrit Scott Dawson
Senior Pastor
First Presbyterian Church

 

Daily Schedule

Exercises

Presentations

Posted in: Doctrine Into Life

Why Not Me?

I want what you have. It’s supposed to belong to me. You don’t deserve it anyway. You won’t even appreciate it. You’ve got what’s mine and I hate you for it. I’ll scratch your eyes out for it. Ever feel that way?

You see the girl you adore kiss another guy by the lockers. You want to go at him, right there. You watch the rich kid show off the spoils from another shopping spree and everything you own suddenly seems ready for the thrift shop. You burn inside. Your parents look at your brother’s report card and praise him for being so smart. They turn to you and smile sympathetically. Not every one can have all the gifts he has. If looks could kill, your brother wouldn’t make it out of the room.

Jealousy is a powerful, overwhelming emotion. We’ve been plagued with it from the beginning. Cain and Abel were brothers with different jobs. Cain tilled the ground and grew crops. Abel kept the flocks of sheep and cattle. One day, they both brought gifts to the Lord. Cain brought some of his harvest from the fields. Abel brought an offering of the firstborn of his flock. At first sight, this seems normal enough, each one bringing something from his work. But the story from Genesis 4 tells us that God was pleased with Abel’s offering while having no regard for Cain’s. We are never really told why one was better than another.We do read that Cain was furious with jealousy, and his face fell into gloom.

The Lord spoke to Cain, saying in effect “Why are you so mad? If you do what is right, you’ll be accepted. But if not, be careful, because sin is lurking right at your door. It desires to own you, but you must overcome it.”

God knew exactly how jealousy works. It threatens to possess us. If we aren’t careful, it will take over and lead us into doing the worst things possible.

Cain, of course, didn’t heed the warning. He lured Abel into a field, then savagely attacked him. Still in a rage, Cain at first tried denying that he had killed his brother. God asked him where Abel was and Cain replied, “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“His blood cries out to me from the ground,” said the Lord.

When Cain came out of his jealous fit, he realized the curse he had brought down on himself. His whole life was ruined by his envious rage.

Jealousy can do that. In a moment, it can seize us and lead us to ruin relationships. We can’t stop the feeling of jealousy when it arises. But our story gives us some cluse about what to do with those feelings. First of all, we can name them. I am angry because I am so jealous I could kill. Yes, I recognize you, you sin of jealous rage lurking around my door! But you can’t have me.” Second, we deny jealousy its full expression by remembering “I am my brother’s keeper. We belong to each other. I can’t just obliterate you, much as I’d like. We’re connected. We each belong to God and so we matter to each other. You really aren’t the problem, but my jealousy is.” And third, we can hold hard to God’s words to Cain, “If you do right, you will be accepted.” I’m not going to give in and have a fit that will make everything worse. I’m going to entrust myself to God, do what is right, and hang on till the wave of jealousy passes. And then we pray like crazy that God will see us through.

Posted in: Devotionals

All Bottled Up

I grew up with a German Shepherd who had a conscience. She loved to get in the trash; we scolded her every time she did. When our family would go out, the dog was often left alone in the house. The temptation to rummage through the garbage would overwhelm her. We would arrive home to find a trail of cans and half-eaten wrappers leading straight to a dog who was trying very hard to melt into the floor. The guilt overwhelmed her and she crouched as low as she could go, awaiting our judgement. She was miserable! Her remorse made it hard to go through the required lecture: "You were bad! You went in the garbage!" But what joy for all of us when at last the release came: "But you’re still our dog. Good dog! Come here and see me!" Being restored to the family sent her into leaps and wags of happiness.

Guilt is that way. Keep it quiet, stuffed away, and it drags you down towards despair. Confess, ask forgiveness, make what changes you can, and life returns. The relief is like the feeling you get when someone you’ve been carrying on your shoulders for ten minutes jumps off. You feel like you can float.

In Psalm 32, King David deals with what happened when he tried to avoid dealing with his sin. "When I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer" (Ps. 32: 3-4, NRSV). He never tells us just what sin he was holding back. But we know David had once committed adultery and then murder to cover it up (see 2 Samuel 11), and the consequences of those foolish, cruel actions rippled down the remaining decades of his life. So he knew about sin, and about trying not to deal with it. The result even has physical consequences. Refusing to come before God with our sin can suck the very life out of us. Bottling up our guilt wastes us. We just get mashed down in soul and body.

Though he still had to face the real-life results of his actions, David learned how much better it is to do that with a clean conscience and a restored soul. He went on to pray, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Ps 32: 5). He found the release of coming clean before a God who has a bountiful forgiveness just waiting for us (see Ps 130).

The apostle John tells us that "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Denying what’s going on in our lives cuts us off from God and a life of truth. But, "if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1: 8-9). Unconfessed sin weighs down many Christians. We may well stuff down the truth for so long that we no longer remember when or how we got disconnected from God. If you ever feel depressed in your spiritual life, take some time to do some honest soul searching before God. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal any areas of your life in which confession is needed. This isn’t always easy, but remember that our loving God longs to pour the release and the relief of forgiveness into our lives.

Next Day Stretch

Psalm 139: 23-24 says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." That’s a daring prayer! Consider taking some time today to come before God. You may well want to get on your knees. Pray, "Search me O God! Show me any sins I need to confess. Show me any secret sins I have long denied." Listen for what the Holy Spirit brings to mind. You might then go on to consider the primary relationships in your life to examine if there are things to confess—things we have both done and left undone. Bring all this before God, consider what actions you may need to take to make amends, and then claim the forgiveness God has secured for us in Jesus Christ. Hold hard to what John wrote, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but from the sins of the whole world" (I John 2: 1-2).

Posted in: Devotionals

Doing Faith

In high school, I was involved in a Christian group called Campus Life. Our director, Jim Green, used to tell the greatest stories. I remember one about the tight rope walker at Niagra Falls. This acrobat had somehow stretched a cable across the top of the raging waters. He climbed to the top of his rickety ladder, and stood on one end of the tight rope, holding his pole. “Who believes I can walk across this rope and return?” The crowd cheered. One slip would send him tumbling into the torrent, soon to crash hundreds of feet over the falls. But they believed in his skills.

So the lithe little man scampered easily across the thin cable over the falls, then returned to great applause. Quickly, he scurried down the ladder, grabbed a small bicylec with a basket on it, and climbed back up with the bike. “Who believes I can ride across the falls on this bicycle?” he asked.

Again, the audience roared their belief in the acrobat. He did not disappoint. In just a few minutes he had ridden from the U.S. side to the Canadian side of the falls on a rope on a bicycle! The people were in a frenzy of excitement.

“Now. Who believes I can ride across the falls on this bike with a person in the basket?”

Cheers of faith in this man’s talent filled the air. “You can do it! We believe you can do it!”

The acrobat didn’t say another word for a few moments. He let the crowd fall into silence. “Then which of you will climb into the basket?”

No one said a word. Not one hand went up.

He asked again, “If you believe in me, who will climb up and ride in the basket?”

Several awkward moments followed. The previously giddy crowd was dumbfounded. Belief in this man’s abilities was one thing when he was taking all the risk, but to actually ride in the basket?

Finally the acrobat spoke. “You believe nothing. Not one of you has faith. All your cheers were just empty praise.” He packed his equipment and left.

When he had finished telling us the story, our director asked us, “Now what kind of faith do you have? Is it just belief? Or is it belief that goes as far as doing something?”

Reading through the gospels, we see that Jesus expected this kind of faith as well. Of course he wanted people to believe in him, to trust him as the Messiah and come to know him as the Son of God. But real belief often has an action part.

For instance, Jesus noticed the faith of the men who brought a paralyzed friend to him (Mark 2: 1-12). But what does faith mean in this story? These men didn’t recite the Apostle’s Creed or say anything at all to Jesus about their beliefs. What they did was to bring a friend who couldn’t walk on his own to Jesus. When they arrived at the house, the crowd was so thick that they couldn’t get in. So they climbed up on the roof the house, and began to dig! They scrapped through the hard clay, pushed back the mat of branches, and created an opening between the beams. Then, they lowered their friend on his mat through the hole, right down in front of Jesus! Faith meant digging through somebody’s roof and interupting Jesus in his teaching in order to get their friend to the one who could heal him. Obviously they believed Jesus was someone special, sent from God with healing power—their beliefs were so strong that they went past words and into actions.

That always challenges me. I talk a lot about what I believe about Jesus. But do I show my faith by my actions? If this story were set today, maybe it would mean that you and some others decided to pick up a friend from school going through a hard time and take her to a youth group where you know she’ll be loved and cared for. It might mean calling her, and telling her you’re coming even if she doesn’t feel like it, and working ahead to make sure the group embraces her. Real faith that Christ Jesus still works through his body, the church, might mean working hard to make your friend who feels on the outside of God’s love and grace, feel brought in to a circle of people who will care. That’s the way she’ll come to believe in who Jesus is—by our actions as well as our words.

So, as the tight rope walker might ask, what kind of faith do you have?

Next Day Stretch

Write down a definition of faith. Does it include action? Write down some lines about faith that include what you are doing that shows you are truly “faithing.” Ponder where in your family, school or church life you might be called to show faith in Christ by what you do for someone else.

Posted in: Devotionals

Doubt Away!

The biggest doubters make the strongest believers. That was certainly the case with one of Jesus’ disciples. The Bible calls him Thomas, but history has given him a second name, forever pasted to him-- Doubting Thomas. As it turns out, the guy known for not believing actually made the boldest confession about who Jesus is in the entire Bible. As we explore his story, maybe you’ll see yourself, and be encouraged. Doubts can lead to great faith.

On Easter morning, the risen Jesus met Mary in the garden. She ran and told the other disciples. But they had trouble believing the report that a man they had seen beaten, crucified, wrapped up in heavy burial cloths, and then sealed away in a tomb was now up and walking around. That doesn’t happen. So most of them just stayed inside, with the doors locked, grieving for Jesus.

Then, that evening, Jesus appeared inside the room. He showed them his wounds.. He really was alive again! The disciples’ sadness turned to joy. But Thomas had not been in the room when Jesus appeared. The other disciples told him the story, but he wasn’t buying it. He wanted proof. “Unless I see the marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, I will not believe it.”

Does that seem reasonable to you? After all, if Jesus is so great, why doesn’t he just show himself to me? Why doesn’t he just write his love across the sky for everyone to see if he really wants all people to know him? And while we’re at it, if Jesus is so loving, why is there so much suffering he doesn’t stop and sickness he doesn’t heal? If he’s real, I want to put my hands on him.

A week later, Jesus again appeared inside a room with locked doors. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he looked right at Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe!”

Thomas received just what he asked for—a personal appearance by the risen Christ. It’s interesting that we never know whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. John’s gospel doesn’t tell us. We just hear Thomas cry out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus blew away his doubts with his presence.

What does this mean for our doubts? Should we hold out until Jesus shows up one night in our room? It could be a long wait. We get a clue, though, from Jesus. He told Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It’s as if Jesus turned to a camera and spoke to all of us in the coming years who would have to believe without seeing. Our link to Jesus is through Doubting Thomas who became Believing Thomas.

Thomas is our man on the scene. He represents all of us who will never have a direct, physical encounter with Jesus in this lifetime. So when Jesus came to Thomas, it’s as if he said, “O.K. I’m going to show myself to this one guy who wasn’t there, so you can all know that what my witnesses say is the truth. I’m really who I say I am.”

It’s OK to doubt. In fact, getting to know God means lots of questions. We hold these up to God boldly. Then we make sure we’re like Thomas—we don’t get stuck in our doubts but are ready to cry out when Jesus makes himself real to us, “My Lord and my God!”

Posted in: Devotionals

Just Don’t Ask about Our Prayer Life!

Family prayer time. Eeew. Kinda creepy. Is it necessary? Does anybody do it? Well, we do. But, I embarrassed to say, not as much as we could. Still, prayer provides an important, invisible tie between us as a family.

No, we don’t heft a thirty pound Bible down from the shelf, chain the kids to their chairs, and blab for 45 minutes until everyone is in a spiritual stupor. In fact, we don’t do nearly as much praying together as we used to, nor nearly as much as I’d like. But I believe prayer is nevertheless a key part of our life as a family.

Why don’t we pray together more? First, everyone is increasingly scattered. When all the kids were under ten, their parents controlled their schedules. We could enforce a time together for reading the Bible and praying. Now in the days when all four are between 11 and 20, simply being together in one room is something of a miracle.

But that’s not the worst impediment to praying as a family. Praying is very intimate. In the years where our kids are becoming their own people, they often guard most of their emotions from their parents. The boys, in particular, don’t want to let out too much information about anything. Prayer, if it is not just superficial, requires a voicing of matters of the soul. Praising God requires expressing the ardor of the heart. That can be embarassing. Even my wife and I have had to work hard to be able to pray aloud together. It has taken years to be able to do it, and most of the time we pray independently of each other. For families, then, a prayer and worship time can be difficult.

So what does our family do? We always pray before meals. Even in restaurants. It’s a habit now to acknowledge God as the source of all good gifts. We try to take turns offering these prayers of blessing so that everyone has a chance to be the voice of the family. Each night, my youngest and I still say our prayers together. And it pleases me to see our 15 year old reading his Bible before bed. He’s making faith his own. Even if we’re not praying together, there is an acknowledgement between us that we’re both praying.

We pray aloud, too, whenever we’re going out of town, for travelling mercies and protection on the house. Everyone loves to remind me of the one trip we didn’t pray, because my wife and I were having a spat. Forty-five mintues into the trip, the van hissed, spewed, and ground to a halt! No, I don’t think God was punishing us, but I did learn a lesson about how we all feel more complete when those trips start with acknowledging God and our need for protection.

We pray with our children in particular times, too. When they are struggling with relationships, or teachers, one of us may put a hand on a shoulder and say a prayer. We remind our kids that we’ll be praying for them on days when we know they have a lot of stress. And there are still times when we do gather together and pray as a family—on Christmas Eve, or in a time of crisis. Prayer is there for us, underlying our whole lives.

Still, I miss the days when we prayed more. The daily readings and prayers during Advent. Family Bible study. Memorizing passages together. Hearing my son at age 7 recite all 66 books of the Bible in under two minutes! I miss hearing a little voice say, “Thank you for dis beautiful day. Thank you for Gegus.” [that would be “Jesus” in toddler speak] Of course, I miss all the ways we were so close before the teen years came and the drive for independence grew so strong. But I suspect that one day even some of that spiritual intimacy will return at a different stage of life.

Family prayer is not easy. If your family isn’t used to it, you might have a hard time getting it started. But there are little ways to get started. Offering to pray before a meal, asking your parents to pray for you during the time you have a test, or letting your Mom or Dad know that you’ll be praying for them during the day can help open your family to experience more the invisible ties of love that come from prayer.

Next Day Stretch

This week, volunteer for the blessing before dinner. Ask a sister, brother or parent if there is anything you can be praying about for them. Invite a family member to pray for something in your life. Family prayer is hard to get going, but try experimenting by taking a tiny risk this week.

Posted in: Devotionals

Hanging Out with Jesus

So do you think Hilary Duff or Leo Di Caprio have an easy time making friends? At first you think, “Sure, everybody wants to be with people like that.” But then you think a little more. Would all that “Oh wow it’s Lizzie McGuire!” get in the way of really being friends? Can anybody just pal around with Leo without thinking, “Hey, Catch Me if You Can, I’m with the King of the World who didn’t really die on Titanic and he looks great. Leo, let’s ditch The Man with the Iron Mask and hit The Beach together.” Yeah, it would be more than a little weird.

If it’s hard for a movie star to have friends without stardom getting in the way, I wonder how it was for Jesus. He had disciples and he had enemies, he had people who worshipped him and people who followed him and people who wanted him dead. But what about just plain friends? Did his being the Son of God get in the way of that?

The people who seem closest to being just plain old friends with Jesus are Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We know that Jesus went to their house for dinner more than once (see Luke 10: 38 and John 12: 2). When Lazarus fell ill, Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11: 2). That word “love” in the original language of the New Testament, meant the kind of love between friends, or between parents and children—love that is for one’s own kind. Jesus loved Lazarus like a good friend. That means it wasn’t all Jesus giving to Lazarus like a master with a disciple. Lazarus contributed something in the friendship. Jesus got something out of it. They had things in common; it was a two-way relationship.

We don’t get many details about their friendship. But I imagine that the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha was a place where Jesus could relax. There wasn’t so much pressure. They didn’t just want to take from Jesus. They wanted to give. Maybe they laughed a lot together. Maybe they listened to his concerns and encouraged him. Maybe they just talked about the weather and village life. Their home was a break from angry Pharisees and the crowds. They were friends. The whole “star-power” quality of Jesus did not get in the way of just being normal together. That must have been precious to Jesus.

In Revelation, we hear Jesus say that he stands at the door, knocking. “If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (3: 20). Eating together was a big deal in Bible times. It still is now. When we’re with friends, we go get ice cream together, or stop for a burger, or go to each other’s homes for dinner. During lunch at school, you look for your friends. It’s a time of companionship. Jesus, I believe, wants to be so familiar and close with us that it’s as if we eat together with him. He wants us to hang out with him, just being who we are in his presence, and letting him speak to us of his love and will for us.

This makes me feel that Jesus wants to be our friend as well as our Lord and Savior. He wants to be so much a part of our lives, that his presence seems normal—so normal that we can just be ourselves in front of him.

At first, this thought may be a little scary. What if Jesus is mad at me about my sins and stuff? Do I really want to pal around with him? But when we realize how much he loves us, how patient he is as he works in our lives, and how totally forgiving he is, we can relax. Jesus is here now, right where you are. He is there reading with you. He is looking at you with eyes full of love. Take a minute, right now, just to talk to him as you would a close friend. Just tell him what’s going on. Be with your Lord who is also your friend.

Next Day Stretch

Here are two ways to work on your friendship with Jesus. 1) Get a picnic lunch, and go to a favorite, quiet place. Invite Jesus to come with you, to eat with you. As you munch, imagine him with you (he really is!). Talk with him about whatever is on your heart. Ask him to reply, and listen quietly for his presence. 2) At night, try on this old, old prayer: I am lying down this night with Christ, and he is lying down with me. Imagine Jesus there with you, like a friend spending the night. Take some time just to chat with him as you fall asleep.

Posted in: Devotionals