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Monday, October 29, 2012

Have Mercy

Below is the message given at Oahe Manor Sunday, October 28, 2012.  The scripture used is Luke 18:9-14.

When I was young I used to wonder whether Jesus had a sense of humor and if so, what would have made him laugh.  Well, now that I’m older, and I think this story shows that, Jesus must have had a great sense of humor, and that he really loved the absurd.
Now, maybe this story doesn’t seem particularly funny to you at first, but let’s put it into contemporary terms.  The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their time, and were very highly thought of.  So, let’s imagine me as the Pharisee.  I come in here and I say, “Let us pray.”  And then I say, “God, I am so thankful to you that I’m so much better than all these other people here.  I mean, just look at them, God.  I’m better than him, I’m better than her, I’m better than him, I’m—well, I’m just plain better than all of them. You know, just think about it, God—I go on hospital visits, I read the Bible every day, I pray several times a day, I give a tremendous sermon every week.  When it comes down to it, it just doesn’t get any better than me, does it, God?  So I just thank you for making me so holy.  Amen.”

Now, obviously I’d never do that, and I don’t think the Pharisees really did it.  Jesus was clearly exaggerating in this story.  His audience would have thought this image of the Pharisee praying this way was funny.
Jesus was exaggerating to make a point.  And his point was just what our passage says:  that we’re not to trust that we are righteous and so regard others with contempt.  

None of us would ever pray like in my example, but still, we are prone to start feeling pretty righteous sometimes.  There are people right here that we tend to look down on, that we “regard with contempt”, as our scripture says.  There are times when we watch the news, and we see certain people and we think “Well, I’m a lot better than he or she is.”  Or, when we see certain groups of people and think “The group of people I belong to is a lot better than that group.”  We all have people, or groups of people, that we look down on, that we regard with contempt.  We feel like we’re more righteous than they are.  We wouldn’t come out and say it quite that way, but I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know that’s true.
The thing is that God does not look at things the way we do.  God does not compare us with each other.  God does not look at us and say, “he’s better than she is, and she’s better than he is, and this group is better than that group.”  That’s just not the way God works.  God looks at each one of us individually, and when God looks at us individually, what God sees in each one of us is a sinner.  God doesn’t say, well, you’re kind of a sinner, but you’re not as bad a sinner as this other person, so it’s okay.  God looks at each one of us and sees someone in need of repentance and forgiveness.

But we’re not always like the Pharisee, are we?  Part of the genius of Jesus’ stories is the way we can identify with so many characters at so many times.  Yes, we’re like the Pharisee sometimes, but there are also times when we’re like the tax collector.

While we certainly can feel self-righteous sometimes, there are other times when we know exactly who we are, and we know exactly what we are.  Sometimes, we feel like we’re totally worthless.  We feel like no one understands us, like there’s no one who cares.  We know we need forgiveness, but we don’t even feel like we can go to the Lord and ask for it.  We feel like we aren’t worthy of God’s love, or God’s forgiveness.  We feel so unworthy that we don’t even know if we can come to the Lord at all, because we don’t know if God would want anything to do with us.

And yet, we do come.  Just like the tax collector, we come.  We come, not because we think we deserve to, but because we just plain run out of anywhere else to go. We know there’s no one on earth we can turn to, so we turn to God.  We don’t come because we think we deserve it, we don’t come because we think we have any right to. We come because we’ve run out of any other options.  We don’t even necessarily expect anything to happen, but we come anyway, because we don’t have any other choice.
Like the tax collector, we come humbly, on our knees.  We come not asking for love or forgiveness, because we know we don’t deserve it.  We come asking for mercy.
            We ask for mercy, because mercy is the one thing God gives that has nothing to do with us.  Mercy, by definition, is not something we earn.  Mercy, by definition, is God giving us the opposite of what we deserve.  Mercy is God being kind to us when we don’t deserve kindness.  Mercy is God showing love to us even when we’re unlovable.  Mercy is God granting forgiveness to us when we’ve done things that don’t seem forgivable.
The tax collector knew he didn’t deserve anything from God.  That’s why he asked for mercy.  And look what Jesus says.  Jesus says that God gave him more than what he asked for.  God exalted this tax collector.  God raised this tax collector higher than he’d ever been, because he had come to God admitting who he truly was.
Two people.  One of them highly respected, the other despised.  One of them believed what everyone said he was, the other knew what he really was.
            We know which one we’re supposed to be like.  Now, we just have to do it.

Why? Why Not?

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, October 28, 2012.  The scripture used is Eccesiastes 2:1-26.

We are in the fourth week of our sermon series “Does God?”  We have looked at questions such as does God love us, does God care about us as individuals, and does God have a plan for each of our lives.  Today, we look at a little bit different question:  Does God want me to have fun and enjoy life?

Now, my first reaction to that question is that I sure hope so, because I have a lot of fun and I really do enjoy my life.  The reason we ask this question, though, is that a lot of people who are not Christians, and a lot of people who say they’re Christians but rarely if ever come to church, think the answer is no.  Also, some of them may think God wants them to have fun, but they think the church does not.

Even though I don’t agree with that, I can kind of understand why people look at it that way.  There’s nothing new about that viewpoint.  You can see it over and over again in the Old Testament.  Whenever a prophet appears in the Old Testament, it’s because the people have stopped obeying God and started doing whatever they wanted to do, just living for the moment and for their own pleasure. The prophet comes in and tells them they need to turn away from their pleasure and obey God.  What usually happens then?  The prophet is condemned, his words are ignored, and the people keep living for the moment, living the way they want to live.

We’ve talked about this before, but nobody likes to have someone else come in and tell them what they can and cannot do.  When we’re young, we don’t like our parents telling us what we can and cannot do.  When we get older, we don’t like our boss telling us what we can and cannot do.  We don’t like the government telling us what we can and cannot do.  And we sure don’t like the church telling us what we can and cannot do.

That’s how the church comes across to some people:  as someone who’s telling them what they can and cannot do.  In fact, most of them don’t even hear the “can” part; they just hear the church telling them what they cannot do.  They hear the church telling them not to smoke.  They hear the church telling them not to drink.  They hear the church telling them not to swear.  They hear the church telling them not to keep money for themselves.  They certainly hear the church telling them not to relax on Sunday morning, whether that relaxing consists of sleeping in or going hunting or fishing or just spending some time with the family.

What they hear, basically, is the church telling them not to do an awful lot of the things they like to do.  They hear the church telling them not to do the things they have fun doing.  Because of that, the message a lot of people have gotten from the church is that God, or at least the God they find in church, does not want them to have any fun. God does not want them to enjoy life on earth.     
Now, there are certain things that, as Christians, we’re not supposed to do.  Christians do believe in moral and ethical standards, and that means we cannot always just live for momentary pleasure.  We cannot always just do whatever it is we want to do.  There is some truth in what people hear the church saying.
The thing is, though, there’s more to the message they don’t hear.  They hear the “what”, but they don’t hear the “why”.  They don’t understand why the church is telling them not to do things they have fun doing, and so they look at the church as being some sort of fun police, just out to make sure no one has a good time.  They think Christianity just involves following a bunch of rules, rules that keep us from doing what we want to do, and who wants to sign up for that?  And so, many people don’t think the church has anything to offer them.

What that tells me is that we in the church have not done a good enough job of communicating the “why”.  Because the truth is that Christianity does not involve following a bunch of rules.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.  That’s one of the things Jesus criticized the Pharisees for; they had become a bunch of rule-keepers, not reaching out to anyone, not showing love to anyone, but just worried about following the rules and thinking you could get to heaven based on how well you followed them.

That’s not what Christianity is about at all.  Christianity is about love.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest, which is just like the first, is to love the people whom God created—love your neighbor as yourself.  The apostle Paul wrote that it does not matter how well you speak or how smart you are or even how much you know about the Bible; if you don’t have love, you have nothing. Christianity is not based on following rules; Christianity is based on love.

So why do we hear about these rules so much?  I mean, we get how some of them are based on love.  Obviously, a religion based on love would be against murder and against stealing and things like that.  But what about the others? Why would God, and why would the Christian church, be opposed to us doing things that just seem to be fun and that don’t really seem to hurt anybody?  Why would God, and why would the Christian church, not want us to just go out and enjoy our lives on this earth in whatever way we want to as long as we’re not hurting anybody else?

There is a “why”.  There is a reason.  It’s based in love—God’s love for each one of us.  The reason God tells us not to do certain things, the reason God tells us not to just live for momentary pleasure, the reason God tells us not to do certain things even though they’d be fun and enjoyable and would not hurt anybody else, is that God knows we’ll be happier if we don’t do those things.  These “rules” we talk about in the church are not there to deny us a good time; they’re there to make our lives better.  It’s not that God is going to send us to hell if we don’t do everything exactly right; it’s that God knows we will live better, richer, fuller, happier lives if we don’t just live for momentary pleasure, but live the way God wants us to live.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes thought it might be wonderful to live for pleasure.  By tradition, the book of Ecclesiastes is said to have been written by King Solomon.  Solomon was the richest, most powerful person you could find.  He had more money, for his time, than Bill Gates has today.  He had more power than any king or president or ruler on earth.

You can see why, at the beginning of our reading, he says to himself, “come now, be merry; enjoy yourself to the full.”  He had everything anyone could ever want.  Why should he not sit back and enjoy it?

So he did.  Solomon decided he was going to look for meaning in life in every kind of earthly pleasure there was.  He spent his time enjoying humor and laughter.  He spent his time drinking.  He spent his time engaging in silliness and foolishness.  He spent his time building himself great houses and gardens and parks.  He spent his time acquiring money and possessions.  He spent his time with the fine arts, enjoying great choirs and orchestras.  He even tried spending his time in hard work.

He tried all these things, and yet none of these things gave his life any meaning. He enjoyed them, for a while, but ultimately, there was no meaning there.  It was all useless.  Chasing after earthly fun and enjoyment was like chasing after the wind.  We think we’re able to grasp it, but when we close our hand, there’s nothing there.  We spend all this time and energy chasing after pleasure, and in the end, all we’re left with is emptiness.

What was left?  Here is what Solomon concluded:  “So I decided that there was nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy his food and drink, and his job.  Then I realized that even this pleasure is from the hand of God.  For who can eat or enjoy apart from him?”
You know, when I look back at that list of things people hear the church telling them they cannot do, it strikes me than none of them are absolute prohibitions.  There’s nothing in the Bible that says we cannot smoke, other than the general statement that we should take care of our bodies.  I’m not suggesting that smoking is a good thing, but I don’t see anything that says it’s sinful.  There’s stuff in the Bible that says we should not get drunk, but there’s nothing that says all use of alcohol is sinful.  The statement that we should not take the Lord’s name in vain has more to do with taking vows to God seriously than it does with not using cuss words.  The Bible does not say that money and possessions are evil in and of themselves; it just says we should not worship them.
Even going to church, as important as that is, was never intended to be a burden. Honoring the Sabbath, and worshipping God, is something we do to help us.  It’s something we do to keep us close to God, to help us feel the love of God. As Jesus said, God did not create humans for the Sabbath.  God created the Sabbath for humans.  

That’s the “why” about all these so-called rules.  None of them exists to deny us a good time.  God did not tell us to live our lives in a certain way because God wanted to make it hard for us or punish us.  God is not sitting in heaven hoping to catch us doing something wrong.  

You see, these so-called rules are not rules at all.  They’re gifts, gifts from God. They exist not to keep us from enjoying our lives, but to help us enjoy our lives all the more.  They exist not to keep us from having fun, but to allow us to have even more fun, because the fun we have will give us satisfaction and give our lives meaning.

As Solomon found out, we cannot find true enjoyment in our lives apart from God.  Living in the way God wants us to live keeps us close to God.  The closer we can get to God, the more fun and enjoyment, and the more satisfaction and meaning, we can have in our lives.

Does God want us to have fun and enjoy life?  Yes, of course!  What kind of a God would create this incredible world and give it to us and then not want us to enjoy it? Of course God wants us to have fun and enjoy life.  God wants that so much for us that God told us the best way to do it.  These “rules” exist to keep us close to God.

God gave us rules for living because God loves us and wants us to be happy.  If we do our best to live the way God wants us to, we will stay close to God.  Then, we will have the fun and enjoyment that God wants each one of us to get out of life.

Friday, October 26, 2012


            Wanda and I do a lot of visiting, especially to the elderly, to shut-ins, and to people in the hospital.  We also go to a lot of community events:  concerts, high school games, etc., and try to make a point of talking to people, especially people connected to our churches, when we do.

            What’s remarkable to me is how much this is appreciated.  I mean, obviously, it’s always nice to have someone stop by for a visit, but people seem to especially appreciate it when the pastor, or the pastor’s wife, makes a point of talking to them.

            I started thinking about why that should be.  After all, it’s not like we’re anybody all that special.  We don’t have any special charm or wisdom or anything like that.  Yet, people seem to really appreciate it every time we stop to visit with them.

            I think the reason for that is that as the pastor, or as the pastor’s wife, we represent the church to people.  The church, in turn, represents God.  So, when we take the time to visit with people, we are acting as God’s representatives, showing people that God loves them.

            I don’t mean that to sound arrogant or boastful.  It’s actually quite humbling to me.  As I said above, this is something that happens as a result of the positions we hold, not because of anything special about us.  I believe God called me to be a pastor, but I don’t think God did that because I’m somehow better than anybody else.  God calls who God calls for God’s reasons.

            The thing is that pastors are not the only people who are called by God.  Everyone is called by God.  Not to be a pastor, necessarily, but to do something that will serve God.  It can be anything.  Any talent or ability we have, anything we have a passion for, can be used to serve God in some way if we seek God’s will and ask God to help us find a way to use that talent, ability, or passion in a way that serves God.

            By the same token, pastors and pastors’ wives are not the only people who are to act as God’s representatives.  Everyone who believes in God is to act as God’s representative.  Whoever we are, whatever we do, if we believe in God, we are to be God’s representative to everyone we see.

It’s a significant responsibility, and one we always need to remind ourselves about.  One of the reasons I wear shirts and sweaters with our parish’s logo on them is to constantly remind myself that I am a representative of the church and of God.  Whatever you wear, you are a representative of the church and of God, too.

So let’s try to remember that.  If we all live our lives as representatives of God, we can make a tremendous impact on our community and on our world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Service With a Smile

This is the message given at Oahe Manor on Sunday, October 21, 2012.  The Scripture is Mark 10:35-45.

There are a lot of things about Jesus that the Bible does not tell us.  We get some of his words, and some of his actions, but that’s it.  And while I’m sure the things the Bible tells us are the important things, and the things we really need to know, there are all kinds of other things I’d like to know.  

For example, I’d like to know what Jesus looked like.  Wouldn’t you?  I’d like to know what he sounded like.  I’d like to know what he was like during the times that are not mentioned in the Bible, when Jesus and the disciples were just walking down the road.  Did they have normal conversations, talking about the weather, and the crops, and so forth?  Did they tell jokes?  What would have made Jesus laugh?

One of the many things we don’t know is what sort of gestures Jesus made.  But I’ll bet I know one.  I’ll bet one of the things Jesus did a lot was this (facepalm).
I say that because there just seem to be so many times when the disciples just did not understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.  And one of those times comes in our scripture today.  After all the things Jesus has told them about humility and serving others and all that, here come James and John, and they ask Jesus if they can sit on either side of him when he comes into his glory.  When Jesus heard that, I just think he must have done this (facepalm).  He had to be thinking, “You guys just don’t get it all, do you?  After all this time, you still don’t have a clue.”
But we should not be too hard on James and John.  After all, they were products of their culture, and Jewish culture said that power and wealth and honor were evidence of God’s blessing.  In other words, if someone was rich and powerful, it meant that they had done right in God’s eyes, and God was blessing them accordingly.  The idea of humble service to God without any sort of reward was not one that would have made any sense to them or to anyone else at that time.
It’s not that different today.  Look at a poll of the most admired people sometime.  It’ll be a list of the richest and most powerful people in the world.  There’ll be the occasional exception—Mother Teresa used to get a lot of votes, for example—but that was the result of people saying what they thought they should say.  I mean, people may have admired Mother Teresa in the abstract, but there aren’t many of us who would actually go and live that life.  When it comes to being rich and powerful, however, most of us would take that in a minute, if we could have it.
That may be the natural thing for humans, but it’s not what God wants.  Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Now, as you probably understand, Jesus is not talking about slavery as it once existed in this country.  What Jesus is talking about is voluntary service to others.  Jesus is talking about choosing to live our lives in such a way that we are constantly looking for ways to do things for other people.
That’s not something that comes naturally to most of us.  We’ll do something for someone else once in a while, but there are a lot of times we don’t.  And there are plenty of times when we will do something for someone else, but we make sure the someone else knows what a sacrifice we’re making for them, so they’ll feel guilty about it and pay us back somehow.  Living to serve others, and doing so voluntarily, and in fact not just doing it voluntarily but joyfully, is not something we tend to be very good at.
We may not be good at it, but we need to get better.  And I think the way to do that is turn to God.  Because, as I said, living our lives in service to others is not something that comes naturally to us.  We’re trying to fight our own selfish desires, and we cannot do that on our own.  We need to get God’s help.
God wants to help us.  And God will give us the help we need.  But God is not going to force us into service.  God wants our service to be voluntary.  God wants our service to be done out of love, love for God and love for each other.
It’s understandable that most people admire the rich and powerful.  But when we, as Christians, do that, God must go like this (facepalm).  Because as Christians, we’re called not to be like most people.  As Christians, we’re called to show God’s love to everyone.  And the best way we can do that is through our voluntary, loving service to others.  

Let’s ask God to help us live our lives in service.  And then let’s go out and look for ways to give that service to everyone we meet.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Here's the Plan

Below is the text of the message in the Wheatland Parish Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012.  The scripture used is Jeremiah 29:4-14.

            We are in the third week of our sermon series titled, “Does God?”  The purpose of this sermon series is to answer some hard questions about life and God’s relevance to our lives.  This week we’re asking the question, “Does God have a plan for my life?”

            Now, I want you to notice how we’re asking the question here.  We’re not asking if God has some overall plan for the universe.  We’re not talking about the promise in Revelation that God will ultimately triumph over Satan and evil.  We’re asking if God has a specific plan for each individual.  We’re asking if God has a specific plan for your life and for my life.

It’s a question that really gets to the heart of the matter.  As we talked last week, it’s one thing to say that God will take care of the world in general.  It’s an entirely different thing to say that God actually has a specific plan for me.  That’s saying that somehow, out of all the seven billion people on this earth and all the billions that have been on earth in the past and will be on the earth in the future, there is some specific thing or things that I’m supposed to do; that God has something particularly in mind for me, personally; that each one of us has some specific place within God’s grand plan for the salvation of the world.

In looking at that question, I want to give you a warning early on:  I’m going to be talking a lot about myself today.  I hope that won’t bother anybody—I really do try not to do that too often.  The thing is that when I think about today’s topic, the main thing that gives me confidence that God has a plan for my life is not seeing what the Bible has to say about it, as great and important as that is. We’ll talk about our scripture reading, too, but the main thing that gives me confidence that God has a plan for my life is when I look back at turning points in my life and see how God was guiding me and influencing my decisions, even when I did not know it at the time.

I think most of us have those turning points, those times when we make decisions that will influence the rest of our lives.  Sometimes we realize that’s what’s going on, sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we think we’re just muddling along, doing the best we can, and it’s only in retrospect that we see how God was involved in what was happening.

That’s happened to me several times.  As you know, I came to the ministry fairly late in life.  I was forty-seven when Wanda and I decided that I would go to seminary and become a pastor.  People sometimes ask me if I regret that it took me so long to come to ministry.  The answer is no.  I really believe that all the things I did before I went to seminary were God’s will.  They were a necessary part of the process.  God was using those things to teach me things, to give me some life experience, to give me skills that would help me in ministry.

When I graduated from law school, it took me quite a while to find a job.  I was unemployed for a few months, got a temporary job with a law firm in Mitchell, lost it, and was unemployed for a couple more months.  Then, all of a sudden, I had two job offers, one with the state of South Dakota in Pierre, the other with a private practice in Laurens, Iowa.

I knew at the time that it was an important decision, but I did not realize how important it would be.  I had no idea what was going to happen as a result of it.  I thought I was just choosing between jobs. 

I cannot tell you exactly why I chose to go to Pierre.  When I got the offers, I prayed about it, went to bed, and the next morning woke up with a definite sense that going to Pierre was the right decision.  It was just a feeling I had.  Now, though, I know where that feeling came from.  It had to come from God.

There’s obviously no way for me to know what would’ve happened to me if I’d gone to Laurens.  What I know is that when I went to Pierre, things happened that changed me.  I joined a community theater group, which did a couple of things for me. For one, it got me used to doing things like standing up in front of a group of people and talking.  More importantly, though, it put me in close contact with a group of diverse people.  In getting to know these people, and in becoming close to them, I realized that there are lots of ways to look at life, and that someone can look at life completely differently from the way I look at it and still be a good person.  I got a lot broader outlook on life and became a lot more understanding of people.

I had no idea all that would happen when I joined the community theater group.  A friend asked me to go, and I just thought it might be kind of a fun thing to do.  God was involved in that, even though I did not know it.

Most important of all, though, when I went to Pierre, I met this wonderful woman named Wanda.  God was involved in that, too.  First, God got me to Pierre in the first place.  Then, God worked it out that Wanda and I would work in the same building. Then, when that still did not get us together, God worked it out that Wanda would move into the apartment building next to mine, an apartment building that shared a garage area so that, finally, we had to meet and get acquainted.  It’s hard for me to even imagine what my life would be like if Wanda was not in it.  I know that I would not be where I am now without her.  Without my knowing it, God was working in my life to put this incredible woman in it.

After Wanda and I had been married a couple of years, I got a call from a lawyer named Casey Bridgman in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, asking if I’d be interested in moving there and working with him.  This call came from out of the blue.  Wanda and I were happy in Pierre, and were not particularly looking to move.  The more we thought about it and prayed about it, though, the more it just seemed right.  Again, there was nothing we can specifically point to for why we thought it was right; it was just a feeling. Again, that was a feeling that had to come from God, whether we knew it or not.

And again, when we moved to Wessington Springs, things happened that changed us.  I did things as a lawyer that I never would have done had I stayed in Pierre, such as conducting jury trials and arguing in front of the State Supreme Court.  Also, as a lawyer in a small town, I got involved in the lives of lots of people.  I began to realize the things that we all have in common, the struggles we all have in life, the things we all go through.  I got so much more of an understanding of people, and how we really are not all that different in what we deal with and what we want out of life.

Most importantly, though, I got much more deeply involved in the church in Wessington Springs.  I’d always been involved to some extent, but there I got much more involved.  I served on committees.  I chaired the administrative council.  I was the lay leader.  I became a lay speaker.  We started visiting shut-ins.  Gradually, through all that, Wanda and I both started to realize that things like that were the things that were giving us satisfaction in life.  Our jobs had become just things we had to do to pay the bills. Ministry was what God was actually leading us to do.

Once again, we had no idea all that was going to happen when we decided to move to Wessington Springs.  We thought we were just making a decision about jobs.  Instead, God was taking us farther down the path that led to ministry.

There are lots of other things I could point to in my life, times when God was working even though I did not know it.  The point, though, is that God has been active in my life for a long time.  Even before I was born, God was doing things that led me to be who I am.  God was doing that even when I did not realize it.  Even when I was unemployed, even when I was depressed, even when I was lonely, even when I wondered where God was, God had a plan for me, and God was guiding me and influencing me.

I’m not saying all this because I’m anything special.  In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m saying it because I’m not anything special at all.  There’s no reason God would care any more about me than God cares about you.  If God is doing these things in my life, God is doing things in your life, too.  That’s true even if you don’t realize it.  That’s true no matter what you’re going through right now.  Even if you’re depressed, even if you’re lonely, even if you’re wondering where God is, God has a plan for your life and is guiding you and influencing your life.

In our scripture reading for today—I told you I’d get to it—the people of Israel were being taken away from Jerusalem.  Israel had been taken over by Babylon.  The people of Israel did not understand what was going on.  They were God’s chosen people. God had promised to take care of them.  Now, they were being taken away, forcibly removed from the land God had promised them.  They wondered where God was, if God was even there at all, or if God had simply abandoned them.

God spoke to the people through Jeremiah.  God said, “I know you don’t understand.  I know you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s going to be okay.  This is all part of the plan.  I know it’s hard to believe that, but trust me.  Do the best you can in the place you’re going.  Make it the best place you can.  When the time is right, I’ll bring you back.  This is all part of the plan.  Everything will work out if you just trust me, do your best, and don’t give up.”

I know almost everyone here is going through a tough time in one way or another. There are lots of people in this parish dealing with health issues.  Others are dealing with family issues.  Others are dealing with other issues, many of which I probably don’t know about.

When we go through those things, it’s hard to understand what’s going on and why.  We wonder where God is, if God is even there at all, or whether God has simply abandoned us.  When we go through those things, God says to us, “I know you don’t understand.  I know you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s going to be okay.  This is all part of the plan.  I know it’s hard to believe that, but trust me.  Do the best you can in the place you are.  Make it the best place you can.  When the time is right, I’ll be there. This is all part of the plan.  Everything will work out if you just trust me, do your best, and don’t give up.”

God has a plan for your life.  God is at work in your life right now, guiding you, influencing you.  That’s happening whether you know it or not.  You may not know it for a long time, but there is something going on in your life right now that, sometime in the future, you’ll be able to look back at and say, “That’s where God was working.  That’s how God was guiding me along the plan for my life.”

            God does have a plan for each of our lives.  God has a plan for your life, and God has a plan for my life.  If we can trust that, even when we cannot see what the plan is, and if we just keep doing our best in the situation we’re in, God will guide us.  And someday, we’ll understand how those things that happened were all just part of the plan

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Race Is On

            I went to a couple of cross-country meets recently.  For those of you not familiar with cross-country, it’s not exactly a great spectator sport.

            The beginning is fine.  You get to watch all the runners take off and go the first little way.  Then, though, they go out of sight, and you have to make a choice.  If you’re energetic and ambitious, you half-jog, half-run to a point around a curve so you can see them when they come by there.  If you’re, well, me, you walk casually to the end and watch them finish.

            Watching them finish is interesting, and not just if it’s a close race.  Each runner looks different.  Some of them finish looking almost as fresh as when they started.  They run some more to cool down.  Others struggle to get to the finish line and almost collapse, completely spent, when they get there.

            I admire all the runners, really.  They’re doing something I could not do and frankly would not have any desire to do.  I suppose, in theory, that you could pay me enough to learn how to run that far, but the sum would have to be fairly high.

            The ones I admire most, though, are the ones that finish last or nearly last.  These are runners who know, when the race starts, that they have absolutely no chance of winning.  Not only that, they know that they have no chance of ever winning anything, ever.  Yet, they’re still out there.  They still keep trying.

            Think about that.  They’re not only out there on the day of the race.  They’re out there every day.  They practice hard, sometimes just as hard as the runners near the front.  They go out there and run day after day, week after week.  They keep working, and keep trying, knowing that there is no chance that they will ever win.

Why do they do it?  Well, obviously, they must take some satisfaction from it.  Some of them may enjoy being part of a team.  Some of them may want to stay in shape for other sports.  Some of them may find satisfaction in doing their best and trying to improve, even if they will never win.  Some of them may just enjoy running.  I’m sure there are lots of motivations for them.  Still, it says something about a person who will do all that work and do the best they can when they know that no one else will ever reward them for it.

It seems to me that our service to God is supposed to be like that.  God does not necessarily ask us to win, at least not as our society would define winning.  God asks us to do our best.  God asks us to do it day after day, week after week.  God asks us to do this whether we can see any chance of “winning” or not.

And there is satisfaction we can take from it.  We can know that we’ve helped other people, even if it’s just a few.  We can know that we’ve done our best.  We can just enjoy serving God and serving others.  God does want us to enjoy that, you know. 

So let’s do our best to serve God and serve others.  And when we get discouraged, let’s remember those cross-country runners who finish last.  Let’s keep working, and keep trying.  We may or may not be rewarded for that on earth, but we will be in heaven.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One On One

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish on October 14, 2012.  The scripture used is 1 John 4:7-21.

            This is the second week of our series called “Does God…?”  We’re looking at just who God is and how God does things.  This week, our question is “Does God care about me?”  Not does God care about humanity generally, but does God care about me, and about you, as an individual.
It’s an important question.  I mean, think about who God is.  This is the almighty, all-powerful God we’re talking about.  This is the God who just had to speak a word and the entire universe was created.  This is a God who is bigger and greater and stronger and more powerful than anything we could ever imagine.
Now think about who we are.  We’re small, puny, tiny.  Isaiah says we’re like grasshoppers compared to God.  Could you care about a grasshopper?  A grasshopper’s a pest, right?  There are an awful lot of us grasshoppers, too, over seven billion at the last estimate.  Even if God wants to, can God even keep track of that many of us, let alone care about us as individuals?
Some people would say no.  One of the most prominent among them is the famous physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.  A couple of years ago, he flatly said that it would be impossible for God to care about seven billion individuals.  In fact, he used that as proof of the non-existence of God.  Dr. Hawking said about the way Christians view God, “They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship.  When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”
It’s obviously not just Dr. Hawking who thinks that way.  There are millions of people who claim to have a belief in God, but who don’t think God takes any active interest in human life.  It’s often referred to as the Watchmaker Theory:  God created the universe in much the same way a human would make an old-fashioned watch.  God then “wound up” the universe, so to speak, and then let it go, to tick on its own.  God may be observing what happens, but God does not take any action to influence it.  God has left us to our own devices, to sink or swim on our own.
The Bible does not endorse that theory, of course.  The Bible regularly shows God taking an active interest in human affairs and taking action to influence them.  Even so, when we read the Old Testament, it’s hard to find much that leads us to believe God actually cares about you and me individually and personally.
The Ten Commandments are great, but they say nothing about love or caring or anything like that.  There’s a lot in the Old Testament that shows God caring about the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, but that’s a promise to Israel as a nation, not as individuals.  There are a few select leaders who seem to achieve a personal relationship with God, but that kind of personal relationship does not seem to have been available to most people.
That’s the reason the priests made all the ritual offerings and sacrifices we read about in the Old Testament.  Common people did not have individual access to God, so they needed the priest to go to God for them.  God was thought of as being God of the big picture.  God would take care of the people of Israel generally, but God did not necessarily take care of individual people.
That’s one of the reasons so many people had a hard time accepting Jesus as their Savior.  The idea that God would take human form, that it was possible to have a direct, one-on-one relationship with God, was not the way most people thought about God at that time.  It did not make sense to them. 

Even if they could conceive of God wanting a direct relationship with individuals, they’d have expected God to go to the top people, the priests, the Pharisees, people like that.  That’s not what Jesus did.  Instead, he spent time with the common people, or even to the outcasts, the lowest people in society.  It did not make sense to them that God would want a one-on-one relationship with people like that.

One of the greatest and most important things about the story of Jesus is that Jesus was God living on the earth, having a direct, personal, one-on-one relationship with human beings.  Not just the privileged few, but all human beings, including the common people and even the lowest of the low.  All of Jesus’ life involved God having that personal relationship with people on earth.  Not only that, but because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, each of us can still have that personal relationship with God if we accept Jesus as our Savior.

That’s incredible, you know?  It seems amazing to me every time I think about it.  God, this being that is beyond my comprehension, wants to have a person relationship with me, as weak and sinful and inadequate as I am.  There’s no logic that explains that.  There’s no good reason I can think of for God to want that relationship.  The only reason there can possibly be is love.  God wants that relationship with each one of us, as weak and sinful and inadequate as we all are, just because God loves us.

There’s a phrase our scripture used twice today.  I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, but I don’t know that we always really think about it.  The phrase is this:  “God is love.”

“God is love.”  Think about that.  It’s not “God loves.”  It’s not “God has love.”  It’s not “God feels love.”  It’s “God is love.”

Love is an intrinsic part of who God is.  Love exists because God exists.  God could not exist without loving, any more than you and I can exist without breathing.  God does not stop and think about loving us, any more than you and I stop and think about taking our next breath.  God just does it.  God loves us because that’s who God is.  The almighty, all-powerful God is also the all-loving God.

Our scripture also says, “love is from God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  Because God is love, and we are created in God’s image, we, too, have the ability to love.  We don’t have that ability without God; in fact, our scripture says, “whoever does not love does not know God.”  Without God, there is no love.  Love exists because God exists.

That’s true whether we know it or not.  It’s true whether we’re aware of it or not.  There are people who don’t believe in God who are still able to love.  Why?  Because God is living in them, whether they realize it or not.  Our scripture says, “Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

That’s amazing, really.  God loves each one of us so much that God will live in people who do not even acknowledge God’s existence.  Even when we’re apathetic, even when we resist, even when we actively try to fight God, God still keeps working on us and working in us.  God never gives up on us, because God loves us.

Our scripture says, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”  When we show love to someone, in that moment, we are as close to God as we can ever get.  When we truly show love, when we do something for someone with no plan of getting anything in return and without it even occurring to us that we might get something in return, we act in as much of a God-like way as it’s possible for us to act.  And if we can get to the point where doing that comes naturally to us, where we do it without even thinking about it, then God’s love truly has been perfected in us.

Our scripture closes by saying, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”  That’s the other thing we get from that one-on-one relationship with God.  We don’t have to live in fear of God, because we know God loves us.

In Old Testament times, people feared God.  The psalms and the proverbs even say that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  That’s why following all those Jewish laws was considered so important.  People were afraid that if they did something wrong, God would punish them.

That idea does not show up in the New Testament.  Why?  Because we know what they did not know in Old Testament times.  We know that Jesus is God, and that God is love, and that where there is love there can be no fear.  When the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, when we have a personal relationship with God, we no longer have to live in fear of punishment.

            Now, obviously, that does not mean we’re free to do anything we want.  What it does mean is that we’re free to live as God wants us to live.  We don’t have to constantly look over our shoulders.  We don’t have to worry that God’s watching our every move, waiting for us to step out of line.  Instead, we’re free to go out and show God’s love to people everywhere and at all times.  We don’t have to live in fear.  We don’t have to worry about following all the technical rules.  The only rule we have is God’s rule, and that’s love:  love of God and love of each other.

            There is nothing we can ever do or say or think or feel that will keep God from loving us.  God always loves us.  God loves you, and God loves me.  God is love.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

That's Silly

            There’s a preschool in the same building as my church office.  I love to watch and listen to the kids at recess.  Preschool kids have such a joy of living.  They don’t care whether they look silly or sound silly.  They’re just having fun, taking pleasure out of being alive.

            I go to high school volleyball games.  One of my favorite parts is watching the high school boys in the stands.  They dress in silly costumes, they come up with silly cheers.  They take so much joy in being there.  They don’t care whether they look silly or sound silly.  They’re just having fun, taking pleasure out of being alive.

            Somehow, when we become adults, it seems like we lose some of that.  We lose our ability to be silly.  We start to become all somber and serious and responsible.

            Obviously, as adults, we do have responsibilities that kids don’t have.  We have jobs, we have debts, we have kids of our own to raise.  We have to do certain things at certain times in certain places, and there can be serious consequences if we don’t.  There is clearly a need for responsible adults in this world.  Besides, no one wants to see a fifty-year-old acting like a fifteen-year-old.

            Still, I think sometimes we become so somber and serious and responsible that we lose our sense of joy.  We get afraid to do things that we’d really enjoy, because we start worrying about whether we’ll look silly or sound silly.  We stop having fun.  We stop taking pleasure out of being alive.

            That’s too bad.  Being alive is a gift from God.  It’s a gift God wants us to enjoy.  Yes, of course, we have to be serious and responsible sometimes.  But it’s important that we not become so serious and so responsible that we forget to enjoy the incredible gift of life God has given us.

            A human life is short.  When you get to my age (fifty-three), or even several years before that, you realize that the odds are you’ve already lived over half of it.  It’s too short for us not to enjoy the incredible gift of live God has given us every time we can.

            So, if you can, have some fun today.  In fact, find some joy in living.  Don’t worry about whether you look silly or sound silly.  Just have fun.  Take pleasure out of being alive today.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Unanswered Prayers

Below is the message given Sunday, October 7, 2012, in the Wheatland Parish.  The scriptures used are Mark 11:12-14, 19-25 and Luke 11:5-13.

            Today we start a new sermon series.  It’s called “Does God?”, and it’s going to look at just who God is and what God does.  Today, the question we’re going to look at is “Does God answer prayers?”

            Now, most of us would probably say, “Well, of course God answers prayers.”  That’s the answer Jesus seemed to give in our reading from Mark for today, too.  When we think about it, though, the answer is a little more complicated than that.

            The thing is that I’ve had lots of times in my life when I prayed for things that did not happen.  I’ll bet you have, too.  When I was a kid, I prayed that the Minnesota Vikings would win the Super Bowl.  That did not happen.  In fact, it’s forty-some years later and it still has not happened.  Maybe this year.

            As I got older, I prayed for lots of things.  Some of they happened, some of them did not.  When I was in law school, I prayed that I would do well enough to graduate and become a lawyer.  I did.  On the other hand, when I was in law school, I also prayed that a young woman I was dating would marry me.  She did not.

            It continues.  When Wanda’s grandmother was very ill, several years ago, I prayed that she would recover.  She did.  A year later, she became very ill again, and again I prayed that she would recover.  She did not.  It seems like, when I look at my prayer life, the record has been that I win some and I lose some.  I suspect it’s probably the same for you, too.

            Now at this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Well, look, saying that God answers prayers is not the same as saying we’re going to get everything we want.”  That’s true, of course.  It’s true for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes it’s just not possible for God to give everyone everything they want.  For example, if I pray for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl this year, and someone else prays for the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl this year, obviously we cannot both get what we want, because there’s no way both of them can win the Super Bowl this year.

           Other times, the reason we don’t get what we want is because God knows better than we do.  I am much happier and much better off for the fact that I’m married to Wanda rather than the woman I hoped to marry all those years ago.  Sometimes, too, the reason we don’t get what we want is that we’re praying to stop the inevitable.  I would never have been ready for Wanda’s grandma to die, no matter when it happened.  Since she clearly could not live forever, there was going to have to come some point at which things did not go the way I was praying for them to go.

            Asking God to give us things or to do things for us is not the only reason to pray, of course, but it’s a legitimate one.  People did it in the Bible all the time.  In fact, Jesus himself encouraged it.  In our reading from Mark for today, Jesus said, “Have faith in God…Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and you do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

            The thing is, how do we square that with what we just said about prayer, that God sometimes does not give us what we want?  I mean, the Bible tells us Jesus actually said this, so I don’t think we can just dismiss it.  But how does that statement relate to our experience with God in answering our prayers?

            Well, Jesus did throw in a couple of things that may shed some light on this.  For one thing, he said that we have to not doubt, but believe that what we’re asking for will, in fact, come about.  It could be, then, that sometimes, when we pray, we don’t have enough belief that God will do what we ask.  I don’t think that really answers the question, though.  There have been times when I had a very strong belief that God would do what I asked, because it seemed so right and so good, and it still did not happen.  So there has to be more to it than that.

            It’s the same thing for when Jesus said, “Have faith in God.”  That seems to have been the key to the Old Testament understanding of prayer.  That’s what we heard in our reading from Jeremiah, that if people honor God and live the way they’re supposed to live, God will answer their prayers and take care of them. 

            It’s been said that, if we truly have faith, what we pray for will be in accordance with God’s will, and so it will be done.  There is some support for that.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Thy will be done.”  When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he told God what he’d like to have happen—that a way be found to bring about salvation for us that did not require him to suffer and die—but he also prayed, “Thy will be done.”  Praying for God’s will to be done can never be a bad thing to do.

            On the other hand, does it change anything to pray that way?  It did not change anything for Jesus.  Do we even expect anything to change when we pray that way?  I mean, it seems like if we pray, “Thy will be done,” all we’re doing is praying for God to do what God’s going to do anyway.  What’s the point of that?  It’s not like God needs our permission to do things.  If God’s going to do something anyway, it really does not matter whether we pray for it or not, does it?

            I especially think of this when I pray for healing of people who are ill.  It seems like if God’s going to heal someone, then God will do that whether I pray for God to or not.  It’s not like God’s sitting in heaven waiting to see if I pray for someone to be healed, and if I do, God heals them, and if not, well, too bad for them.  Yet, I do pray for God to heal people.  I must think it makes some kind of difference, somehow, or I would not do it.  Still, I don’t know if my praying in that situation is a logical response to what’s happening, or if it’s something I do just so I can feel like I’ve done something.

            In thinking about this question, I thought about our reading from Luke.  This comes right after Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus went on to tell the disciples more about prayer.  Listen to this again:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

            Maybe that’s the way to resolve this.  As Jesus says here and other times, we are God’s children.  We’re very small children, really, compared to God.  We ask God for things, the way little kids ask for things.  Sometimes we demand, or beg, or try to make deals with God to get the things we want, the way little kids do.  Sometimes we don’t understand why we cannot have what we want, the way little kids cannot understand why they cannot have what they want.  Sometimes we even get mad at God when we don’t get what we want, the way little kids get mad when they don’t get what they want.

            God does not give us everything we want any more than good parents give their kids everything they want.  God does give us everything we need, though.

            In fact, God does more than that.  After all, loving parents don’t just give their kids the bare necessities and nothing more.  If they can afford to, loving parents will sometimes give their kids what they ask for, just because they love them.  In that same way, God sometimes gives us the things we ask for, even if we don’t need them, just because God loves us.

            And sometimes, God gives us even more.  Sometimes, God gives us something we never asked for, something we did not even know enough to ask for, just because God knows it will make us happy, just like loving parents sometimes give their children extra gifts they think the kids will like.  God does that not because we deserve these extra gifts, but because God loves us.

            So, should we pray?  Yes, we should.  Should we expect God to answer our prayers?  Yes, I think we should.  Most of all, though, we should trust God.  We should have faith in God.  We should not doubt that God has our best interests at heart, even if we don’t understand what God’s doing sometimes.  God knows how to give good gifts to God’s children.  God won’t give us everything we want, but what God does give us will be good.  If we trust that, we will see our prayers answered.  Not necessarily in the way we want or expect, but in the way that’s best.

Friday, October 5, 2012

No Politics, Please

            You may have noticed that I don’t discuss politics on this blog.  With the election about a month away, I thought it might be a good time to tell you why.

            There are a variety of reasons.  For one thing, I have no qualifications in that area.  I’m not an expert on domestic policy, foreign policy, or anything else.  My opinion may be no worse than anybody else’s, but there’s no reason to think it’s any better, either.  For me to write about politics would take me away from writing about things I (supposedly) know about.

            Even if I thought my opinions on politics were worth sharing, there’s probably not much chance they would persuade anyone.  It’s not like anyone’s waiting to hear what Jeff Adel thinks about politics before they decide how they’re going to vote.  Nor should you.  We all have the ability to find out the facts and reach our own conclusions.

            Here’s the main reason I don’t write about politics, though.  I am interested in political issues, but as a pastor, I’m much more interested in salvation issues.  As I wrote last week, I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in my life.  These people come from any and all sides of the political spectrum.  I know people who are socialists, liberals, moderates, conservatives, libertarians, and everything else.

            Here’s the thing.  I’ve known people who, at least as far as I can tell, are sincere, loving Christians in all of those categories and others.  I’ve known plenty of people with whom I am in complete and total disagreement with on politics who I firmly believe will be going to heaven.  There’s no correlation that I can see between one’s politics and one’s faith.

            And here’s the other thing.  If I, as a pastor, discuss politics, I lose some of the ability to minister to people who disagree with me.  I lose some of the ability to bring God’s word to those who don’t agree with my political views.  It does not make reaching those people impossible, but it does make it more difficult.

            This is true if I discuss politics anywhere, but it’s especially true if I do so from the pulpit.  I believe that if I mention politics in a sermon, anyone who disagrees with me will not hear anything else I say in that sermon, and will be on their guard for similar things in the next several sermons I preach.  That’s not a good situation for a pastor to be in.

            And here’s one more thing.  When I read the Bible, I see lots of times when Jesus was invited to take stands on the political issues of the day.  He did not do so.  Instead, he would turn the question back on the questioner, or he would give an illustration, or he would tell a story.  The point of what he said was never what stand someone should take on a political issue.  The point was always, “Here is how you should live.”

            That’s the point.  Our faith is not shown by how we vote.  Our faith is shown by how we live.  Yes, there should be congruence between our religious beliefs and our political beliefs, but we need to be careful to let our faith inform our politics, rather than the other way around.

            I also want to say that I am aware that there are pastors who do let their politics be known, sometimes from the pulpit.  I know they have reasons for doing so.  Nothing I’ve written today should be taken as criticism of them.  This is intended as an explanation of my own position, not as a standard that everyone should be required to follow.

            So, pay attention to what’s going on, pray, and make the best decisions you can, about politics and everything else.  Remember, though, that no matter how the election turns out, our real Leader will not change.  God will still be in control and Jesus will still be our Savior.  No election will ever be able to change that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Thy Will Be Done

Below is the message given at Oahe Manor Sunday, September 30.  The scripture is James 5:13-16.

There’s an old saying that “there are no atheists in foxholes.”  The point of the saying, of course, is that even though some people may ignore God or even claim to believe God does not exist, when it really comes right down to it, when we’re actually in a crisis and have to take the possibility of death seriously, everyone will call on God, because there’s no one else to call on.  They will use God as their solution of last resort.

Even those of us who are Christians, though, tend to use God that way sometimes.  It can be easy, when things are going well, for us to start taking God for granted.  We know God is there, and we know God loves us, and so it can be tempting, sometimes, to just leave it at that.  We go on about our business and leave God in the background.  Then, when things start to go wrong, we try to fix them ourselves, or we look to others to fix them for us.  It’s only when a crisis comes, when things are completely out of control and we have nowhere else to turn, that we turn back to God and ask God for help.  It can be easy for us to use God as our solution of last resort, too.

What our scripture points out, though, is that God is not supposed to be our solution of last resort.  God is supposed to be our first resort, our last resort, and every resort in between.  No matter what our situation is, whether it’s good, bad or in the middle, we need to turn to God.

James talks about what we should do when we’re suffering.  He talks about what we should do when we’re cheerful.  He talks about what we should do when we’re sick.  The reason James talks about those things is that those are examples of all the things we go through in the course of our lives.  We all have times when we suffer.  We all have times when we’re cheerful.  We all have times when we’re sick.  In these and all the other times in our lives, no matter what happens, we need to turn to God.

It’s important to recognize something, though.  When James tells us to turn to the Lord in all circumstances, he is not saying that God will do whatever we want.  James is not trying to say that God is our servant or that we can control God.  Our prayers will only be effective if we submit to God’s control and pray in accordance with God’s will.

That’s why James does not just refer to prayer.  He does not say prayer will save the sick, he says the prayer of faith will save the sick.  He does not say prayer is powerful and effective, he says the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  Prayer is a very powerful thing, but only when we pray with the right attitude, an attitude of submission to God.

So, does that mean that if we pray for someone who is sick, and they don’t recover, that it’s because our faith was not strong enough or that we’re not righteous enough?  No.  What it may mean, though, is that we’ve lost our focus.  It may mean that we’re focusing too much on praying for what we want, and not praying enough for God’s will to be done.

I know this is a lot easier than it sounds.  Most of us here have loved ones who are in need of healing.  Some of us are in need of healing ourselves.  If we’re not, we have been in the past, and we will be again in the future.  When we’re sick, we want to get better.  When someone we love is sick, we want them to get better.  And when we’re convinced of how good the person who’s sick is, it’s hard for us to see how God’s will could be for anything other than healing. 

It’s really hard, when we or someone we love is suffering, to put aside what we want and pray for God’s will to be done.  But that’s what we need to do.  It’s what Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knew all the suffering he was about to face.  He knew he was going to die a very painful death, and he did not want to do it.  We’re told how hard Jesus prayed, so hard that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.  But in the end, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

It’s okay to pray for what we want.  After all, God knows what we want even before we ask for it.  But in those prayers, we always have to remember to pray that God’s will be done.  As James tells us, that is always the prayer of the righteous   And the prayer of the righteous is always both powerful and effective.