Praying after the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage

Supreme Court picture from Christianity Today

In Trinity CRC’s morning prayers yesterday, I prayed about the decision made by the Supreme Court of the United States that makes same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states. This is how it went…

::– –::– –::

Lord, you know how we believe that same-sex marriage “is incompatible with obedience to [Your] will … as revealed in Scripture.” It seems we have failed at convincing our culture that your design for marriage is best. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision this week, some of us are tempted to go off and sulk in our holy corner. Or to dig in our heels and fight harder. Or to lash out in anger. Or to despair. Help us do better.

Help us focus on You, convinced that Your Kingdom will come in fullness and that there remains much vital work for Your church to do in society until that day.

Help us repent for refusing to give “loving support and encouragement” to persons with same‑sex attraction. Forgive us for when our homophobia repelled people away from the Gospel. Forgive us for our hypocrisy – when we passionately try to root out sexual sins while remaining relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, selfishness, and other sins.

Help us reach out to the gay community. Maybe now that they see the church as having lost on the issue of same-sex marriage, they won’t consider us as much of a threat and might be willing to build relationships with us. Give us the grace to welcome and even initiate those moments as opportunities to share the good and beautiful news of the Gospel like never before.

Acknowledgements:
This prayer is adapted from Mark Galli’s article at Christianity Today. Parts in “quotations marks” are from the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s position statement on homosexuality. I also found Steven Koster’s post at ThinkChristian helpful in reflecting on all this.

Praying to our heavenly Father on Father’s Day

Father and child graphic found via Google

With everyone thinking about their fathers today, I’m also going to think about my heavenly Father. One of the prayers in my daily prayer book this past week helped me appreciate afresh God the Father and today is a perfect day to pray it again…

::– –::– –::

Adopting God, thank You for being not only the all-knowing architect of space and history, but also my loving Father. You have made space in Your heart for me, and I am embraced as Your child. I praise You for the wonder that You have chosen me, that I have been brought in from the outside – acceptable, accepted, and loved in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  Philip F. Reinders

Praying for our children

Monica and I have been praying for our two children since before they were born. As spiritual or saintly as that may sound, the truth is a lot of those prayers were quick and generic. (Thankfully God still listens to those kinds of prayers, too!) Over time, we came across resources to help parents pray various specific things for their children over the course of a month. Each had parts we liked so we decided to custom make our own prayer calendar with our favorite pieces from the ones we had found.

Every day has a different prayer request ranging from their walk with Christ to their health to their relationships with others. There’s a bit of a pattern: Sundays tend to be about worship, Mondays about wise decision making, Tuesdays and Thursdays about growing in the fruit of the Spirit and other virtues, Saturdays about relationships, and Wednesdays and Fridays about a potpourri of things.

We laminated a copy and hung it up in our bathroom. Two decorative clothespins indicate the day we’re at (the photo below shows we’re on Wednesday in the third week). At breakfast each morning, we use that day’s idea in praying for and with our kids. Most are good prayer starters for Monica and I, too!

Prayers for Our Children calendar that hangs on our wall

We have found it helpful. If you’re interested in hanging up your own somewhere in your house or maybe putting it in your Bible, I created one with a “clipart family” you can download here. Feel free to glue a photo of your kids over top of the graphic I found!

I’d love for you to leave a comment if you download it and plan to use it… Let me know what you think and maybe what you would add in your prayers for your children!

Surprised by grace

Pastor Bobby and I just finished our series at Trinity CRC focusing especially on grace. Somewhere along the way I had hoped to share a story Pastor Bert Slofstra told years ago at Gateway Community CRC in Abbotsford BC. Sadly, it didn’t fit anywhere, so I’m sharing it here…

Grace graphic found via Google

A man was shopping in a superstore warehouse. He didn’t need much – just coffee and a loaf of bread – which is all he had in his hands when he got to the checkout counter. Standing in line, he noticed the woman behind him with a cart filled to overflowing: all kinds of groceries and clothes, even a new TV. He breathed a huge sigh of relief at being in line ahead of her!

To his surprise, when it was his turn to pay, the cashier invited him to draw a slip of paper out of a jar he hadn’t noticed when he first got in line. “It’s a store promotion,” the clerk told him. “Draw the winning slip and everything you’ve brought to the checkout is free.”

So he reached in and – wouldn’t you know it? – he pulled out the winning slip! Wow! Except, as he immediately realized, all he had was coffee and bread. What a shame. But in the same moment it took for that to register, he remembered the lady with the mountain of stuff behind him. And with no noticeable hesitation whatsoever he turned to her and announced: “Well, what do you know, honey? We won! Look!” he shouted as he waved the winning slip at her, “we don’t have to pay for any of this stuff!”

As she stared at him with a shocked look, he winked at her, which is when his suggestion sank in. And as natural as could be, she stepped up beside him, put her arm in his, smiled, and said, “Oh sweetheart, I can’t believe it. We really won! This is awesome.” A little later, in the parking lot, the lady consummated their temporary “marriage” with a hug, and then each went their own way. But what a great story this lady now had to tell her family and friends!

Now you may argue that what they did was pretty sneaky, that it wasn’t really right; you might even call it a clear case of fraud. He shouldn’t have lied and she shouldn’t have pretended. Then again, as you know if you’re familiar with Jesus’ story of the unfaithful steward, even a story with some sneaky characters in it can make a good point, can’t it?

Like the woman in the story, we too have been blessed with a surprise – much more so even than her. For while her debt might have been high, we can assume she could pay it. We cannot, however, even begin to pay our debt to our holy God – our debt created by our sin. But we’ve been given a wonderful gift: not at a checkout stand, but at the judgment seat of God. And not just of goods and groceries, but of grace and eternal life.

What grace looks like

I keep coming across thought-provoking pieces about grace that connect with our series at Trinity CRC. My colleague Jacob Boer’s reflections are especially helpful and inspiring. I’m posting them here with his kind permission.

Grace graphic found via Google

When I read through Scripture, grace shows up as the big theme in God’s relationship with us: forgiveness that we don’t deserve and cannot earn along with adoption into a world- and life-changing family. Yet as I read through Facebook, Christian magazines, and Christian blogs, I wonder why grace is so often missing in our relationships with the world around us and with each other in the Christian family. What worries me the most is how ungracious behaviour within the church is justified: “We’re in a culture war,” “We need to stand up for what is right and denounce evil,” “We need to protect the Christian faith which is under attack from government, society,” or whatever opponent you might choose to fit in here.

Strong language that separates people into “us” and “them” is used so often, especially in the debates concerning sexuality issues. The debate about gay and lesbian Christians in the church has seldom been grace-filled with a concern for those who are trying to figure out how to be gay and Christian. We’re slow to walk together in love. Then there is the area of politics where faith and politics get mixed together in strange and unhealthy and graceless ways where doubt is cast on an opponent’s faith simply because of the way they see how society might be better than it is now. Too often we create gods and demons rather than see people trying to figure out faith, God, church, and life. Where has the grace gone that invites people into a closer relationship with God, that models the love of neighbour and God?

I’m not saying we cannot believe in right and wrong: There are right and wrong ways of living according to the Bible; there are right and wrongs ways of relating to God. But I am saying we need to be much more humble and aware of our own brokenness and sin first and perhaps we will be more quick to offer grace as a starting point in a relationship rather than fear or anger. If our starting points are our differences, how can we get to the place where we recognize each other as image bearers of God, sons and daughters of the king, and the bride of the bridegroom?

Our example of how to speak and relate to each other, no matter our differences, is Jesus. His harshest words were for the “most righteous” because of their lack of grace. Jesus lived out grace by being among the disgraced and sinners, inviting them to follow him.

The story of the woman caught in adultery has asterisks around it because it’s not in the earliest manuscripts, but I believe the story made it into the Bible because it shows grace and how to address sin with grace. Jesus protects the woman from the most righteous of the righteous, picks her up from the ground, tells her he does not condemn her, and then says, “Now go and sin no more.” This is grace. May we learn to be more grace-filled followers of Jesus.

Undeserved and unreserved

Pastor Bobby and I are working through a series at Trinity CRC focusing on grace. This past week in his daily e-devotions, Dale Vander Veen wrote on the subject and captured what Bobby and I are trying to convey in our messages – especially his Quote for the Day. I’m posting it here with Dale’s kind permission.

Grace graphic found via Google

For forty-three years (1971-2014) McDonald’s periodically told the world, “You deserve a break today.” Those words were rated the top advertising jingle of the twentieth century. Last year McDonald’s dropped their exclusive rights to the iconic slogan. What McDonald’s really wanted was for me to give them a break by buying their merchandise. In fact, several times when their sales dropped, they brushed off the slogan and used it again.

I choked a bit on the deserve part of the message. I couldn’t escape the word, because I couldn’t escape the feeling. And I couldn’t escape the feeling, because I couldn’t escape the truth. I do not deserve a break. I am undeserving. That doesn’t make me unique. I’m not trying to impress anyone with my humility. No one is deserving. Feel free to say to yourself, “I’m undeserving, too.” Much better than “You deserve a break today” would be the prayer, “Lord, give me a break today.” And the emphasis is on give, for I could never earn a break from God.

Some Jewish elders told Jesus that a Gentile centurion “deserves to have you do this” (heal his servant). Why? “Because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” The centurion, however, had his theology and hence his self-understanding right. He sent word to Jesus, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”

I, too, love God’s kingdom and I, too, occasionally help build his church, but that doesn’t make me deserving. I have found, however, that when I feel the most undeserving, I am probably the closest to grace, for what is grace but “God’s undeserved favor?”

Lord, thank you for giving me a break today – and every day.

Verse for the day:
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)

Phrase for the day:
Grace – undeserved, yet unreserved

Quote for the day:
”Grace is dispensed sovereignly and freely by God. It is truly grace, with no mixture of human merit of any kind. This is the manifest work of the tender mercy of God, who stoops to rescue his children from sin and death and who, as he did in the initial work of creation, takes pieces of clay that are spiritually lifeless and breathes into them the breath that quickens them.”
R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown

…With the prayer that today you will feel the quickening breath of God’s tender mercy and undeserved favor.

Contact Dale Vander Veen to receive his free, biblical, inspiring
daily devotional emails:
dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net.

Participating, not initiating

Graphic of two people in conversation found via GoogleWhen it comes to sharing the Good News, I’m tempted to think that I’m the one who’s supposed to make people interested in Jesus and matters of faith. Believing that, however, betrays how I think I’m more important than I really am! Yes, God uses me and you to do important work in his Kingdom, but he’s always a step ahead of us – getting us ready and preparing situations for our arrival on the scene. That is, we’re not supposed to initiate getting someone interested in Jesus; we’re called to participate in how God is already at work in that person’s life.

The apostle Paul opens his letter to the Philippians with thanksgiving to God for the church of Philippi and then says this: “[I am] confident of this, that he [that is, God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” It wasn’t Paul who began the process of the Philippians becoming partners with him in sharing the Gospel; it was God who got the ball rolling. The same remains true for us in our encounters with people who are not yet Christians: The Holy Spirit who guides our words and actions is also nudging and warming the heart of the individual who doesn’t know Jesus yet and is waiting for us to introduce him.

Knowing this is very liberating. Instead of worrying about how to convincingly show and tell someone about Jesus, we can first listen to what’s going on in his or her life. Something they figure is a coincidence or has no meaning might actually be God at work – it’s just that they need us to gently help them recognize it! Or maybe the answer to something that is perplexing them can be found in the Bible – it’s just that they need us to winsomely point it out! What’s more, something as simple as our interest in them might be what the Holy Spirit uses to help them see that God is interested in them, too.

Talking about faith with people who do not walk with Jesus is daunting. But I find courage in knowing that in those special moments where God is leading me to give witness to him, God is going before me, preparing both me and the other person.

I wrote this a few weeks ago for “Grace Encounters,”
the newsletter of
Trinity CRC’s Outreach Team.