Sunday, July 26, 2009


I was recently with a group of pastors for lunch and the youngest one of the group was sharing his heart with us. He said he was struggling with the fact that he was feeling like he didn’t pray enough. He believed he should be spending much more time in prayer. Now I have to admit that I have no idea what he really meant by that. Perhaps he prays for an hour a day and thinks he needs to pray longer. Or maybe he only prays once a week and thinks he needs to pray more often. We didn’t go into details. Nevertheless, a wave of old memories came flooding over me. I remember when I was in college and reading biographies of some of the great saints of the past; George Mueller, John Wesley, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jim Elliot. I was constantly feeling guilty about not praying enough. Some of these men spent hours in prayer every day and I thought that if I wanted God to bless me then I had to spend hours each day too.

But one day the question struck me…How much prayer is enough? If I pray for one hour shouldn’t I try to pray for two? And if I pray for two shouldn’t I try for three? Where does it stop? Thus began the fateful journey into questioning myself and my thinking. Why was I measuring myself against these men? Why do so many Christians tend to measure themselves and others? What is the measuring stick? Who decides which measure to use? What right do I have to measure the spirituality of other people? In fact, what right do I have to try to measure my own spirituality?

Measuring just didn’t work. I knew that deep down inside. I had been measured all my life by the people in my church. Apparently I measured up pretty well in their eyes because everyone expected me to amount to something. I was the kid that parents pointed to when they said to their sons, “Why can’t you be more like…?” The only thing was, they had no idea what was really going on inside me. They had no clue about what I did when they weren’t around with their measuring sticks. They didn’t know what I was thinking! Nevertheless, measuring had been bred into my spiritual DNA and now I was beginning to question that.

Why do so many Christian people measure themselves against other Christian people? Does it provide some sort of assurance that they are more spiritual than at least some other people? Is it simply a matter of spiritual pride? Do we have some sort of need to determine who is a good Christian and who isn’t? Of course measuring leads into one of the most dangerous forms of legalism. Those who do the measuring often end up making new rules about what qualifies as real spirituality. Remember the Pharisees. They thought if God required one fast day each year it would be better to fast twice. Eventually it became once a month. Then once a week. And finally, during the lifetime of Jesus, they boasted that they fasted two days a week! Apparently, they were really spiritual! And the same thing can be done with prayer. It can become a legalistic measuring stick that causes all kinds of people to worry that they are not spiritual because they don’t pray as much as so-and-so used to pray.

And so I began thinking about prayer and time and measuring. This introduction has gotten rather long so I’ll sign off and share my thinking on prayer next time. What has been your experience with spiritual measuring? Do you get what I’m talking about?

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Luke 10:38-42
Jesus and his disciples arrived in Bethany where they were offered hospitality at the home of Martha and Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I remember reading about Henry VIII’s progressions throughout England. He used to take these journeys and stop at the castles and great homes of his favored nobles. It was a great honor to have the king choose to visit your home. But when Henry travelled, he travelled with a huge entourage. Castle kitchens were overwhelmed with tons of various kinds of game and domestic meats. Mountains of vegetables were prepared. Hundreds of barrels of wine had to be brought in. There were countless trays of breads and pastries that had to be baked. The kitchen was working around the clock in order to ensure that everything was properly prepared for the king’s visit.

When Jesus visited he also travelled with an entourage, his apostles and the rest of his disciples. When he arrived in Bethany Martha acted as many women would. She shifted into high hospitality gear and started preparing all the things that had to be made. Jesus sat speaking to all the people who gathered around him. Martha hustled and bustled back and forth taking care of all the preparations while her sister, Mary, sat and listened to the Lord’s teaching. You can picture Martha scowling at her sister every time she passed her! Finally she had had enough of her lazy sister! She complained to Jesus, fully expecting him to prompt Mary to get up and help her. But Jesus surprised her. He told her that she was worrying about all the wrong things and that Mary had her priorities in place. Mary wanted to hear what Jesus said and Martha was concerned about preparations.

My wife is a Mary. As a pastor I have had many opportunities to offer hospitality to quite a few well-known pastors, speakers, authors, etc. My dear wife made it very clear to me before we even got married. She said, “I’ll be thrilled to have them in our home but I want you to know that we’ll be having hot dogs because I don’t want to miss out on anything! I’m not going to spend all my time in the kitchen while you guys sit and have great discussions!” I was very impressed by that. I kind of think that is what Jesus was trying to say to Martha. “Martha, Martha! Don’t you know we would all be happy with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Just put out the bread and the jars and come and sit down. We’ll be fine!”

How does this apply to church life? How does this apply to church planting? What can we learn from Martha, Mary, and Jesus? What are the things that cause us to be worried, upset, and distracted? What should we be doing instead of hustling around? And what constitutes hustling around? We need to find a way to sit at the feet of Jesus instead of running all our programs and strategizing ways to attract more people to those programs. I think we tend to get all caught up in the management of church activities and fail to invest our time in worship, praise, and prayer. Church planters and church plants get distracted with the numbers game; more and more people. By sitting at Jesus’ feet Mary learned about the important things. I wonder if we really know what the important things are?

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Luke 5:21-43

Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue. This officially made him an enemy of Jesus. I say “officially” because the Sanhedrin had sent their “official” investigative squad up to Capernaum to see what was going on with this Jesus, this healer, this caster out of demons. These “official” religion detectives observed what was happening and they said, He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons (Mark 3:22). So, since the “official” verdict was given, all synagogue officers were “officially” enemies of Jesus. Jerusalem had spoken. Jesus was “officially” demon-possessed and therefore an outcast. Jairus could have nothing to do with him or he too would become a “sinner” and an outcast.

But Jairus had a precious little daughter who was lying at home dying. He had done everything he could for her. Being a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was a man of means. He could have taken her to any doctor or all of the doctors. None of them could help her. So now his dear little girl was terminally ill and waiting only to die.

Jairus had seen Jesus do miracles. Jesus had cast an evil spirit out of a man right in his own synagogue (Luke 4). Many of Jairus’ acquaintances and neighbors had been healed by Jesus of all kinds of diseases and handicaps. Jairus knew beyond a doubt that Jesus was able to heal. The religion detectives had declared him demon-possessed. What was more important to him? His position as a synagogue ruler or his darling little girl? If he went to Jesus he would become persona non grata with the religious mafia in Jerusalem. If he didn’t go to Jesus his daughter would die. The decision was made. When Jairus saw that Jesus’ boat had landed down at the lake he followed the crowd down to meet Jesus and fell on his knees in front of him.

Jesus agreed to go to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter. As they walked the woman who had a twelve-year bleeding issue touched Jesus and brought the whole procession to a screeching halt. (I’ve always wondered about the fact that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old and the woman had a twelve-year condition!) The stop must have been murder for poor Jairus. He was already in way over his head and he was an important man, a man who was accustomed to having things go his way. I can almost see him standing there waiting for Jesus, wringing his hands, and shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other! He’s thinking, “Come on, Jesus! Let’s get going! My daughter is really sick!”

Before they were able to get started again some people came from Jairus’ house with the awful news that his daughter had died. There was no longer any need for Jesus to come. But Jesus heard their words and said, Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed. We know the rest of the story. Jesus went to the house and threw out the mourners (literal Greek from Mark’s account) and raised the little girl from the dead.

An “official” enemy of Jesus came to believe. We know he believed because his daughter was raised. Jesus willingly ministered to those who had opposed him. He was gracious and merciful and forgave. He lived out his own preaching, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Can we do the same?