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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wild Things

2013-06-16 Wild Things

Father's Day

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Luke 11:2-4, 9-13

He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

   Your kingdom come.

3     Give us each day our daily bread.

4     And forgive us our sins,

       for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

   And do not bring us to the time of trial."

9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"


This little bit of scripture inspires me. It probably inspires you, too. It should be inspiring. It's the promise of "ask, seek, knock." Of course that's inspiring. Duh, preacher. That's the power of prayer.

But as much as this little piece of scripture inspires me, it also scares me. There be scorpions and snakes involved. Wild things. It scares me because whenever you or I say the words, "the power of prayer," - say it with me, the: "power of prayer," - which word do we say first? Power. That's what scares me. It's scary because I think we tend to like power more than prayer.

People like power more than prayer. Would you say that's a fair assessment? They like perks more than work? They like success more than sacrifice? Is that a fair read of other people?

That's the problem with other people: they're too much like us.

Whenever we have an opportunity for power, people's tendency - our tendency - is that we'll take it. We'll take the power, thank you very much, Jesus. The power of prayer is still power. And, everybody knows power in the wrong hands, or even too much power in the right hands, is a dangerous thing. Like a wild creature, power poisons those who get too close and too careless.

So when you're told that all you have to do is ask, seek, and knock, be careful with all that power.


"So I say to you," says Jesus, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."

Wow. Thanks.

The writer, Anne Lamott, says that all prayers pretty much boil down to three basic words: Help, Thanks, and Wow.

When I read what Jesus says about asking, seeking, and knocking, my assumption is that somebody's been praying, "Help!" Somebody's been knocking at the door that won't open. Somebody's been seeking in the dark corners for answers - asking, begging, praying, "Help!"

Is that what it sounds like to you? Somebody's in trouble. Somebody needs a rope thrown to them, needs a life jacket, a handsome fireman, a dog with a cask around its neck. Somebody needs healing, needs rescuing, needs relief. Somebody needs Help! for themselves or someone they love. That's what it sounds like to me.

Isn't that usually when we pray the most? In case of emergency, break silence. Get your hands on some power.


Last week was a hard week in the community of Lakemoor Hills. You who live beyond the shire may not have heard. Nature got confused.

Last week, our peaceful peninsula was invaded by a wild beast. We were raided and plundered, mildly terrorized: by a bear.

Did you see it? Did it come to any of your homes? I saw some video. And got sent pictures. And email. And phone calls. And personal warnings. No bird feeder was safe, no garbage can secure. We kept the Summer Rec kids indoors for a couple of days. Which was the right choice. It would have been hard to explain to a parent, "Well, we were playing that game where we tie a kid to the fence and cover him in honey.... Who knew?"

(Our attorneys want you to know there is no such game.)

Now that the bear has been relocated to a water park in Sevierville, he (or perhaps she - didn't check) is just part of neighborhood legend. But at the time, there were a lot of us, myself included, who were doing a lot of calling for help. We were powerless to do anything but call TWRA several times a day. And then wait. And watch. And wait more. Wait for the Rangers to save us. Which they did. None too soon. Took a few days. Not complaining.

That's the thing that's so frustrating about asking for help. It's not that it takes time for help to come. We know everybody's busy, especially God. It's not about the time; it's about the loss of power.

We make the painful confession of admitting we need help, that we're powerless to solve a situation, hand over the power, and then almost immediately, we want it back. As if we're praying, it's, "OK, God. I've transferred my power to you, given it over. Waiting. Still waiting. Watching for the Rangers. Show me some power."

It's not so much the waiting. It's the transaction. Whether it's God or TWRA or a doctor or the plumber, we feel like we've paid for their services by sacrificing our power. ("I give up. I need you. Happy now?") We've handed our power over to them ("Here you go, God"; and God's like, "Oh, thanks! I never could have done it without you!"). We hand over the power and now we expect a response. Timely, if possible. Progress updates when practical. Simple customer service. That's what we expect for forfeiting power. It's not so much a confession; it's more of a bargain, actually. A deal done with a wink and a handshake. (It's like, "OK, I'll surrender my power to you, God. And then, when you're done with with it, you'll give it back, right?")

That's not the power of prayer. That's a sideways prayer for power.

When Jesus talks about prayer, he doesn't talk about power. He talks about gifts. So if we want to handle prayer safely, maybe we should, too.


The other morning, the girls asked for eggs for breakfast. I fixed scorpions. And then they wanted fish for dinner. I made snakes.

I know what you're thinking. "No Father's Day presents for you!"

(If only they had asked for bear.)

Jesus said, "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." he said.

When Jesus talked about prayer, he talked about it as a gift. A free gift, with no strings attached. God isn't going to yank the gift of prayer back if we use it improperly. God just gives that bit of power away, as a gift.

When someone gives you a gift, what do you say? "Thank you." Of course you do. That's just good manners. But it's more than manners. "Thank you" when lifted up as a prayer, is the great balancer of power. When you say, "Thank you for this day and everything in it," even when everything in the day doesn't feel like such a great gift, you're telling God, "You're in charge; and I'm not." You're saying, "I really, really, really don't have that much power. And you know what, God? I'm OK with that. Actually, I'm kind of thankful."

It really is such a great relief. The fate of the universe does NOT rest on your shoulders. Thank you! To consciously, prayerfully surrender your claims to power, your illusions of power... It sets you free to do what you can in the day you've been given. And, as the prayer goes, to leave what you can't alone.

Praying, "Thank you!" balances us when we get carried away praying, "Help!" "Thank you for this day, God. Thank you for the daily bread of THIS day. And thank you that there are only 24 hours in it. Because otherwise, I'd never get any rest, and neither would you."

It's a great strength NOT to be all-powerful. Good thing God is, and not you. What a powerful gift to be able to pray that.


Jesus said, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Scorpions and snakes and bears, oh my. They're not very safe. They spend a lot of time consuming whatever they can sink their fangs or claws or pincers into -- and then defending themselves, which makes them even more dangerous. They're powerful creatures. And you can be one, too, if you choose to be.

Jesus says the gift of the Holy Spirit is free for the asking. The Holy Spirit IS the power to say, "Help!" It IS the power to say, "Thank you." It IS the power to say, "Wow." And the Holy Spirit is the kind of daily bread you can ask for again, and again, and again. No charge. No strings attached.

If God in heaven is so willing to give the power of the Spirit to you, how much more, then, can you share it as a good gift to your children, to your neighbors, to your world?

The power of prayer - the real power of prayer - is realizing that you've already got all the power you need. Enough for this day. Enough to share. Enough for whatever wild creatures come your way.


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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Music of Choice

The Music of Choice

This is a post by "Guest Blogger" and Choir Director, Scott Hood. These are Scott's thoughts about King Saul and the music of the shepherd-boy David (1 Samuel 16:14-23). Hint: It's not about the music.


It is tough.  Really it is.  Should I have fries or onion rings with my hamburger?  It is a choice that we all must face and it is decisions like this that shape our personality.  Of course, I am kidding.  But life truly is a multitude of choices and we face many choices every day.

Music has been a refuge for me; a place that I could hide from the rest of the world.  I guess another way to say that is a place where I could avoid decisions and choices.  To sit and listen to music that I love is the best way that I know to relax and feel better about everything and everyone around me.  King Saul had evil spirits that would torment him occasionally.  It was for this reason that he summoned a musician to play beautiful music for him in hopes of relieving him of his tormentors.  David was the perfect choice.  David was loved by many, including King Saul.  However, it was his music that touched King Saul in the greatest way.  We could leave the story at this point, but there is a much deeper angle to consider.

The music was beautiful and soothing but that doesn't always remove evil spirits (or other irritating things, either).  The choice to seek musicians or the choice to listen to the music isn't the primary objective. The choice to ALLOW the music to move us is the most important choice to make!  There are thousands of people with terrible physical problems that to listen to music as therapy.  Their problems don't go away; they are simply replaced with something that they choose to focus on.  Saul's choice to place the music above his evil spirits was paramount to his relief.  It wasn't about the music; it was about his mind.

It is clear to see that even in the best of circumstances our choices can determine our happiness or sadness.  There are many wonderful things, like music, that can move us all to a much happier place.  But we will never see that place unless we make the choice to visit there.  It is tough.  Really it is.

- Scott Hood

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Are Forgiven

You Are Forgiven

It's a core belief of the church. But it's the hardest to believe.

Celebrities - on Twitter, or pulled over for erratic driving, or caught on video saying stupid, ugly, racist things - run to their publicists and arrange for humble apologies as quickly as possible. And then the public judges: Was the apology really... sincere? It's not the apology that's judged; it's the sincerity. Did s/he appear sincere enough?

We preach forgiveness in church. We say it's freely given by Jesus. But is it freely received? There's this undercurrent that says, "Sure, Jesus forgives you, but you can't really have it unless you're really, really sincere." So, it's not free after all. Sincerity is the price.

It's circular logic. You're forgiven, but only if you receive it sincerely, so you have to go down in the basement and print some sincerity so you can buy what's free, and then you're worried if your sincerity is sincere or counterfeit, so the free forgiveness isn't real, either, so you ask for more forgiveness. And on, and on, and on you go, chasing your tail, wearing out.

And we wonder why people give up on church.

You are forgiven. Period. Accept it and move on. Turn your mistakes into lessons and thank God you've got the freedom to learn. Forgiveness has no price. We kill it the moment we judge our sincerity, or the sincerity of others. That's either the hardest thing in the world to accept, or the greatest.

Today, watch yourself for signs of judgment. Twinges of regret and resentment are two big clues. Then, when you feel yourself putting a price on forgiveness, smile. Laugh at yourself. Tell yourself, "You are forgiven." And so is that other person. Move on.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.


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