Tag Archives: Mike McHargue

Why do we turn to stuff we hate instead of praying?

I had another apostle Paul moment when I was on my retreat this weekend. I was reading over some journal entries and noted that over and over again I wrote things like, “I turned to something other than you. I should have prayed, instead I did this. I woke up anxious, but I wish I had sat down with you instead of doing something else.”

I wish all my apostle Paul moments were like Jesus meeting him on the Damascus Road or like the time he was shipwrecked on Malta and bitten by a viper yet unharmed. (Don’t know that one?)

Instead, I’ve got the Apostle Paul moment from Romans 7 on my mind. He says, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me” (Romans 7:21-23).

When I know turning to God in prayer will be a source of healing and comfort, or at least will fend off responses that will hurt me or someone else, why don’t I do that? Many times I do do it. But why would I ever not?

I’ve got ruts

I was given a good answer while I was finishing a book I started some weeks ago, Finding God in the Waves. It helped me remember my ruts. I have some mind/heart/soul ruts that make some of my reactions pretty-much automatic, so automatic they just feel like “me.” These ingrained patterns are psychological and spiritual, sin-ridden. The society keeps saying everyone should just get used to what they are as if they chose it. But that is deeply unsatisfying, and Paul doesn’t think it is realistic. Anyone who really thinks their choice is the center of life is probably on the edge of despair or madness. I choose what I don’t want all the time.

The other day the Leadership Team Core was wondering why there is an increase in teen suicide – part of  the reason could be that teens are left alone with their choices. I understand the pull to avoid and numb and detach from the demands to choose who I am. It is hard to endure. My prayer ruts are pretty deep, but I still have the vestiges of what sin did to me. My automatic avoidance mechanisms can keep me from choosing what I want. Get me anxious, afraid, despairing, or something and those old, automatic attempts at self-preservation tend to kick in, if I am not looking. I can sink pretty far before Jesus pulls me out.

I get pushed into ruts

It is not just the sin at work in me, however, it is also the sin at work on me that gets me into a rut. We have some reaction ruts in our brains and habits, but we can get forced into ruts by systemic issues, too. A list of influences came to mind as I was thought of myself and others with whom I had spoken. These things could also kick off our automatic reactions: Lies from the President. The titans of industry who caused the last recession (from which many have not recovered) flexing their muscles. Machines and the machines’ secretaries that never quite work right (Google Drive Crashed last Thursday and almost upended the Hub). Then Harvey bangs up against Texas and causes a ripple of fear and despair throughout the country. Then here comes Irma.

When I wished my sister in Oregon a happy birthday, she told me she was watching  smoke from her window from wildfires caused by lightning strikes. Come to find out, the West is on fire, check out the map. Most of the country is breathing smoke. Montana is a disaster. One fire near my sister started July 11, has consumed 177,693.00 acres and is only 5.00% contained! Sometimes we wonder why people don’t say hi to us on the sidewalk — I think a lot of them are trying to endure what is beating down on them!

Romans 7 leads to Romans 8

The good part about having a Romans 7 moment with Paul is that it leads to a Romans 8 moment.

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death (Romans 7:24-8:2).

When we fall into our ruts or are pushed into them by outside forces, we need help! It would be nice if I accessed all the power I have in the Spirit. But I have been known to detour. For instance, on the way to my retreat, I decided I wanted Wawa. I consciously told myself, “Wawa is a waste of time and calories,” but I pictured the bag and bottle I liked and turned off the road in Plymouth Meeting. Sure enough, I got lost, like I always do, in Plymouth Meeting. My phone was turned to “no tolls” (I discovered later) so I couldn’t even find my way back to the turnpike. I eventually ran by a Wawa and got my false comfort, but what I mostly got was a lesson in what runs me around. What do you turn to when you are having a feeling (or are just angry or anxious and don’t know what you feel yet)? Other detours I heard about last week include: screens, drugs, porn, making something too-perfect (like dinner), exercise, manicuring my playlist, games, decorating the house. Most of these things are OK in moderation. They are just things we tend to turn to when we don’t turn to God. They are destinations at the end of a rut, our ineffectual means to halt intolerable feelings.

You can decide how Romans 7 works in you. You probably know the tried and true ways to Romans 8 like I do. The spiritual disciplines make a difference. Back to my most recent favorite book. Mike McHargue, the Evangelical turned atheist who is now back at faith, says that the good news about prayer is that those predisposed to spiritual experiences and those who are not can both benefit from all forms of prayer. Prayer is the place to get some new ruts.

Both kinds of people will get stronger with exercise, [It’s] possible for anyone to increase her or his propensity toward spiritual experiences. Through consistent meditative practice, each of us has the potential to make our brain more spiritual—even to the point of increasing the probability that we will experience something truly mystical….The practice is what matters. Plenty of skeptics meditate for the mental and physical health benefits, and if feeling closer to God or confronting doubt is important to you, prayer is going to be more effective than just about anything else you can do. Prayer might not help you solve the mystery of God rationally, but it may help you encounter God.

My retreat helped. Today, I am more aware of the Spirit, less consumed by my challenges and my failure to meet them, more available to my creativity, and more empowered to be creative after Irma is finished with us. I hope these few moments with my blog contributed to development of new ruts in you, too. Why not spend a couple of minutes praying right now? Seriously, why not?

Is the movement finally starting? Keep praying and pushing.

When Donald Trump was elected, I hoped it was the final straw to break the power of delusion choking so many people here in the last days of the Empire. There is some evidence this week that my hope was not in vain. The Spirit of God is moving among us and in our region and people are waking up. Things are happening that remind me of the stories I have heard about Jesus appearing to Muslims in places where it is illegal to even entertain the thought of becoming a Christian. People who can’t trust and are afraid to think are meeting Jesus personally in ways that change them forever.

Movement: the Spirit poured out
Acts 2:17

The movement of the Spirit in our church never really ground to a halt, but it seemed to slow so much, we began to wonder if we were missing something or doing something wrong. Our “flywheel” was slowing down and we realized we had better get behind it and do some pushing so the engine of our mission would get back to speed. We have been doing that and things are changing.

But there is only so much pushing one can do. The movement of the Spirit in a group or society is a mystery that is more about prayer than technique. So I have been praying for us and praying for our region, country and the whole desperate world. And I am not alone. Many of us have been drawn to pray and we have even started groups to do it together.

Evidence keeps popping up that something is starting. I almost don’t want to talk about it, lest I be wrong. But it is hard not to appreciate the possibility.

Cell mates of all kinds

For instance, my pastor, Rachel, could not contain herself last week and had to share the good things happening  in our cells:

  • She visited our Spanish-speaking cell and sensed the presence of God so strongly it made her “choke back tears.” The members were opening up about their lives, sharing real struggles and then praying for each other and reading the Bible together. For some of them, it was all brand new.
  • At her own cell, her host “shared a growing sense that Someone is leading her into a future that she doesn’t know yet, and she is actually excited about that, because she’s discovering that God has better things in store for her than she had for herself. She’s being surprised by hope.”
  • Then on her walk home, she ran into three of Jimmy & Zoe’s cell mates who looked like something good had just happened to them. They had just prayed with two friends who asked to receive Christ right there in their meeting.

A deluded millennial

About the same time, I was looking around YouTube for this video when I ran into this one by Steve Bancarz. I understand about zero why anyone would listen to a YouTube personality or how they get a following. But here is this guy who apparently made a living selling “new age” philosophies through his website. Then he had this remarkable experience with Jesus, gave it all up, and started his new internet business: debunking his old one.

I almost never get through a fifteen minute video, but this one intrigued me. When it was done, I felt it might be a scam. But evangelical outlets like Christian Post and Charisma have been telling the story too. His experience is like ones reported by Muslims, in which Jesus came to him and convinced him to change. I think his fundamentalist connections are serving him well as he gets over his drug use. It should be interesting to see how he moves on. Is this how Jesus is going to penetrate the despairing, enslaved, avoidant and cynical millennials?

A burned out evangelical

Movement from outside and in
Ocean waves and brain waves

Finally, I have been reading an “earth” book I keep recommending to people who don’t have faith, or who are interested in the new atheist arguments: Finding God in the Waves. It is about a Christian who lost his faith but who also had a life changing experience with God at the beach one night. He became “Science Mike” on the podcast from the group known as the  Liturgists  who say, “We create art and experiences for the spiritually homeless and frustrated.” (I have not listened their podcast, I admit).  Gungor is also a “Liturgist;” you can click his name and get a ticket to hear him on August 1 at 1125 S. Broad.

In Finding God in the Waves, Mike describes how science convinced him faith is not only possible, but preferable. Here is a quote about what he found most convincing:

“Trying to describe God is a lot like trying to describe falling in love. And that’s a serious problem for people who doubt that God is real…The unbelieving brain has no God construct, no neurological model for processing spiritual ideas and experiences in a way that feels real. This is why Bible stories and arguments for God’s existence will always sound like nonsense to a skeptic. For the unbeliever, God is truly absent from his or her brain. …

[Unlike how Christians tend to view solutions to doubt] neurotheology treats doubt as a neurological condition and would instead encourage people to imagine any God they can accept, and then pray or meditate on that God, in order to reorient the person’s neurobiological image of God back toward the experiential parts of the brain.…This insight was the most significant turning point in my return to God. I now knew I had to stop trying to perfect my knowledge of God and instead shift toward activities that would help me cultivate a healthy neurological image of God – secure in the knowledge that this network would help me connect with God and live a peaceful, helpful life.” 

It all amazes me. The desperate immigrants and illegals, the millions who are deluded by spirituality without Jesus, the science-laden who think their disciplines exclude the possibility of God, all of them popped up in my own experience with a story about Jesus coming to them in a way they never expected. And now they are joined around our own table in an odd way, celebrating the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Pray and push. Move with the movement. I can tell you are doing it, so all I can say is that I am with you as you pray and push. I am with you as we celebrate how Jesus transforms people who never expected to meet Him.