Thoughts and Prayers


photo from

“We send our thoughts and prayers to ___________ in the wake of ___________” Those words used to mean something at first. It used to mean that we cared about what happened. People would even change their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter to show their support. But then something happened. The thoughts and prayers started to sound like a rote response to tragic events. To the hearers of these words, they began to come up empty and then began to be received with disdain. I don’t tend to get political on this blog. This is where spirituality meets reality. But there’s something spiritual going on right now that as a follower of Jesus Christ, as the church (the body of Christ here on earth) we need to address.

Thoughts and prayers.

What does that mean? Thoughts and prayers. Some see it as sending warm good vibes towards someone in need. Recently actor Chris Pratt (Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy) posted on Twitter that he was sending thoughts and prayers to Kevin Smith who had a massive heart attack earlier this week. And there was a big backlash towards that. James Gunn, the writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy stood up to defend Pratt, tweeting that he appreciates it that people would send good vibes in their own way towards someone in pain. But he also tweeted that there was something more needed in the wake of tragic events. Gunn gave a call to action to go along with thoughts and prayers (you can read more about this here including his tweets).

This got me to thinking. How often do we offer thoughts and prayers to many situations and don’t allow ourselves to be used to answer the same said prayers. Prayer should lead to action. And this isn’t just from me.

In the book of Isaiah, God becomes angry with the people of Israel for how they treat the poor and yet still worship Him. The people would fast and pray to God and yet to nothing that God has called them to do. He tells them:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7

Jesus even speaks about being the answer to our prayers with the parable of the sheep and the goats in the Gospel of Matthew.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36

In the parable, when the people ask when they did all of this, the reply is simple:

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my job isn’t just to give thoughts and prayers, my job is to be active in my faith, to move forward in my faith, to not only be a voice for those who have no voice (Proverbs 31:1-9). Faith by itself is empty if it isn’t followed by action.

James says in his letter:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead…As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:14-16, 26

In other words, thoughts and prayers are nice, but if they are not followed by actual action of living out of your faith, then they are merely empty words.

As I’ve been following things in the news and things on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve noticed that as Christians, we have a spiritual problem. There’s something going on in the church today that needs to be addressed. Are we as followers of Jesus Christ truly living out what Jesus calls us to do or are we merely wishing people well in the face of tragedy.

What can you as a Christian, what can we as the church (the body of Christ itself here on earth) do during this time in our nation’s history? We are to act. We are to live out our thoughts and prayers, to be more than passive bystanders but active in our faith. Faith is a verb and should be lived out. Allow yourself to be the answer to  your prayers.


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Odd Ball Holiness

holy spirit


Recently, the church which I attend has started a few weeks back reading through the first couple of books of the Bible (Genesis to 2 Kings to be exact). Each week we are to read through a book of the Bible from the old Testament. So far we’ve read through (or were supposed to read through) Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus (we’re supposed to be on Numbers this week). To be honest, I’m still in Leviticus. It’s a tough one to get through. It can seem very tedious and boring at times. It can seem nonsensical at times. It can seem arbitrary at times even. Even subjective rather than objective.

Yet there’s a running theme throughout the whole book: Holiness. In fact that word “holy” itself (קָדֹושׁ kadosh in Hebrew) means to be different, to be set apart, to be distinct, to be other.

Nothing sums it up better than what God says in Leviticus 11:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:45

We are to be holy as God is holy. You see, God is holy. He is other. He is different than us. In fact, if I had a god that wasn’t different than me I wouldn’t want them as a god. Because of God’s holiness and differentness we need to be different and other as well. In order to approach God, we need to be in a state of holiness and differentness.

Now for the people of Israel this meant living differently. Living distinctly. Living in such a way that they showed the rest of the world that they were set a part, that they were different than all the other nations and people around them. In their distinctness they were to show that they were the people of God, the one true God.

God’s laws weren’t arbitrary. They all had meaning. They all had ways in which the people were allowed to be made holy and enter into His presence. They might seem odd to us, but they meant a lot during their day and age. God also created laws of living in such a way that it was a new ethos, a new ethic that was different from the nations around the people of Israel. Even women and slaves were given certain rights, rights that the rest of the nations didn’t have. Even foreigners living among the people of Israel were given rights (Leviticus 19:33-34). People were to show love to their neighbor and not hold grudges (Leviticus 19:18). This was all to live differently.

holy spirit2


As a follower of Jesus, the Law of God is fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 5:17). In Jesus we are made pure and holy when we invite Him into our hearts to allow us to live for Him. We still need to be made holy in order to approach God. And we can do this by doing some simple things.

In the Gospels, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. His response is priceless and simple:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And the second is this ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Mark 12:30-31

Sound familiar?

Love your neighbor as yourself stems from Leviticus 19:18. To love God with all of who you are stems from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The Law of God is summed up here.

Now,  how does this make it odd ball holiness?

Because it makes us different. It is different to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is different to give all of ourselves to someone else let alone a higher power than ourselves. What’s more is that the word for love here is a strong love, an unconditional love. A love that goes beyond boundaries. It is the same love God has for us. And so we are to love God with the same love he has for us and to love ourselves with the same love God loves us with and in doing so love our neighbors with that same type of love.

Odd. Strange. Weird.

Odd ball holiness is when we’re willing and wanting to step forward and act holy. Now, I’m not talking about being a holy roller, annoying Christian who has to say “Jeeee-zus” every other second. No. Not at all. The odd ball holiness is wrapped up in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. It means speaking up for those who have no voice (Proverbs 31:1-9). It means being willing to speak up when someone else is being treated wrongly, poorly, unjustly. It means to be willing to get dirty and be present with someone who is in the dirt themselves. It means to give your all to an invisible God who is immortal, God only wise.

It’s odd. It’s not normal. It’s different. And what makes it holy is when we do so in Jesus’ name in the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the Law of God, fulfilled through Jesus, is enacted in our lives, there is a new ethos in which we live by. We show we are different. And when we are different, we show that we truly live holy lives in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be odd. Be weird. Be different.


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My Happy Place

Do you have a happy place? A place where you go when hings aren’t right? A place you go when things just don’t make sense. A place you take yourself mentally when you can’t get there physically? What I’m talking about is the place to escape to when life does get tough. A place to retreat to for just a little while until things blow over that are hard. I have a happy place. It’s called Point Mugu.

It’s a place I’ve been to since I was a kid. I’ve gone off and on since the the 80’s. In high school and college, I would escape there whenever I could. When I left California for Michigan, I brought my girlfriend (who later became my wife) there when I came back home to visit. It became her happy.

Pt Mugu 1

Photo by Josh Benton

Pt Mugu Rock

Photo by Josh Benton

As you can see, it’s a beautiful place. It is a peaceful place. It is the happy place for many people.

When trouble strikes, when pain hits, when things are going every which way but loose, I wish I could just come and sit on the sands of this beach and listen to the waves just once more.

I did this last week when I visited family out in California. It wasn’t for happy reasons why I came out to visit. My uncle was sick and later passed away last week Tuesday (I wrote a little bit about it here). My family was feeling a lot of pain. I’m an emotional person in many ways. I needed a place to just be. It was close to sunset, and so I raced in my rental car towards Pt. Mugu, my happy place, to sit on the sands of the beach, listen to the waves, and watch the sun dip down below the horizon.

There’s another place I go hide when things aren’t going well. There’s a place I go to when things are bad, when things are hurting, when things are off joint.

King David wrote it well in Psalm 32 when he spoke of being in God’s presence:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7

That night, as I sat on the sand and sea shells which washed ashore, I heard the song of deliverance played by the orchestra of the waves. I sat on the shore of Pt. Mugu, looking at the islands in the background, seeing the last rays of the sun shine through the clouds making brush strokes of dark purple, orange, and yellow, and cried. It wasn’t a sobbing cry. It was a gentle cry. I was hearing the songs of deliverance surrounding me.

David says later in Psalm 34:

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

I know I don’t need Pt. Mugu to enter into the presence of God. This might sound corny, but all I need is Jesus. It is through Jesus that I can enter into the presence of God. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that I am led to do so. Through the Holy Spirit dwelling in me, I myself am able to be in the presence of God daily. I am able to take refuge in Him, hide in Him, find my comfort in Him (a comfort of body and soul in life and in death). He is night tied down to any one location like Pt. Mugu is. He is not tied down anywhere. Instead He is approachable from anywhere.

You can’t tie down God.

You can enter into His presence daily.

You can find refuge and hide in Him daily.

When things are tough, when things are bad, when things feel like they’re going every which way but loose, you can enter into your happy place. That’s what it’s there for. But that happy place (real or imagined) is tied down to one place and one place only. God isn’t. And He’s greater, more powerful than any of the waves that washed onto shore that night. He’s greater than the whole Pacific Ocean itself. He was, He is, and He will always be. And in that assurance you can take refuge, you can find a hiding place when things are topsy turvy in life. I know I do.


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The Dream of a City


From wiki commons

Last week I had a very vivid dream. It was a dream of a place I long to go. In this dream, I was driving with others in a large passenger van through the worst parts of some unknown city. It didn’t feel safe nor the way the city was supposed to be. Soon we left the unsafeness of it all and came to a unassuming cabin in the woods. As we entered the cabin, I saw just how luxurious it was on the inside (it was bigger on the inside). All you could ever want was inside this cabin. You could pretty much live there forever and be content. Some people stayed there and not go any further; others decided it wasn’t for them and left.

I wasn’t content there. Something in me screamed that there was something more out there. Something bigger. Something grander. Something…other. And so, in the morning, I exited through the back door of the cabin and entered into a huge park. Green grass (wonderfully kept mowed) as far as I could see. The wind blew gently on my face, I could smell the sweetness in the air. I was a peace…somewhat. I wanted more. I needed more. In the distance I saw a city. A huge city smack dab in the middle of the park.

I ran to it.

As I got closer, I could see that there was something sticking up over the skyscrapers, something big and green. I ran by the banks of a river as I came closer to the city. The city was huge and beautiful. Not dirty, not scary, not unsafe. It was peaceful. I walked through the city streets, marveling at the beauty (that’s the only word I can think of to describe it) of the place. The architecture, the art work, the murals, the…everything.


And as I entered into the middle of the city, there was a giant tree. The river I had ran along the banks of was in the middle of the city and the tree was at its banks. The tree was ginormous. Bigger than big, taller than any redwood tree I had ever seen. The leaves were green, the fruit big and bright.

I looked around me. The tree was in the middle of a plaza, a city square. There children played and the elderly sat on the park benches, canes in hand, talking with one another as the children played. I marveled at the peace I saw, the peace I felt, the peace that was ever present.

And then the dream was gone. I don’t remember waking up. I don’t remember the dream ending nor beginning. I just remember the dream.

I do remember these words though:

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived–the things God has prepared for those who love him–these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God has prepared.

I don’t know fully what the dream meant. It could have easily been my mind processing life events. At that time last week, my uncle lay dying in a hospital bed. I had read scripture with him over the phone and prayed with him. My mind could have easily been processing things for me. It could have been more. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this: As human beings we started off in a garden and we will one day live in a city.


From Getty images

My uncle passed yesterday morning. He taught me about rock ‘n roll. He taught me about the things not of this realm, the spiritual things, the spiritual battles that are being fought. We spoke a lot about that with one another. The last thing he said to me was “See you in heaven, bro.” The last words I spoke to him as I was at his bedside the other night was “see you on the other side.”


It’s not a place that’s out there, that’s ethereal and untouchable. It will one day be a place on earth. The heavens and earth will be made as if new again, no more dying, no more cancer, no more pain, no more curse. Like it was in the beginning.

We started off, we human beings, in a garden. In a garden filled with so many things, and Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. But that relationship was tarnished by sin, by Adam. And in that moment, life was changed. Sin entered the world–murder, mayhem, reality TV shows–and it wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.

God has promised something bigger, something greater. As I reflect more on that dream I had last week, I reflect more on what heaven will be like one day. And I want to reflect that here and now in my life. The new city, the city with the tree of life in the middle of it all, will be a place of redemption, of restoration, of justice, and of peace. It will be the place where once again we walk with our God in the cool of the day.

There is so much more to write, bu I’m close to 900 words already. No eye has seen no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him. But what he has prepared is more awesome than I could ever dream.

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The Short Twilight of the Heart

Ventura sunset

Picture by Monty Ives

There are times in one’s spiritual journey where things go dark. It’s as if God, whom you’ve been seeking, can’t be found. St. John of the Cross writes about this in his poem The Dark Night. It has later been called the dark night of the soul. St. John of the Cross talks about how in the darkness, one can’t sense God, see God, even know God (who, he says, is unknowable to begin with). Things have gone dark. In one’s spiritual journey there will be a dark night of the soul. I know, I’ve experienced it myself.

It’s a hard time. It’s a depressing time. It’s a time where, when God had felt so close and so real, He now feels so distant and hard to hold on to. If not for the tethering line of the Holy Spirit holding close, one might feel completely abandoned by God.

The rock group Barlow Girl writes sings about this in their song “Never Alone“:

You told me to call/Said you’d be there/And though I haven’ seen you/Are you still there?/I cried out with no reply/And I can’t feel you by my side/So I’ll hold on to what I know/You’re here and I’m never alone.”

This is the dark night of the soul. This is where there is the feeling of distance from God. This is the feeling Jesus felt on the cross where He cries out in the words of Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1, Mark 15:34

The psalm continues

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Psalm 22:1

The short twilight of the heart is like this but different. In the dark night of the soul, one feels completely detached from God, that there is nothing–only dark. That there is no words, no direction, nada, zilch–save for the tethering of the Holy Spirit and the promises of God made long ago.

The short twilight of the heart is a different thing. There is light. Just enough light to make out shapes, figures, shadows, images. There is God’s presence, just enough to feel warm, like the sun just setting over the Pacific ocean, you can see it, feel the warmth, but know that the wind will soon come over the ocean and create a breeze. In the short twilight of the hear, God’s voice is heard but heard vaguely. It is heard but in low murmurs like overhearing a conversation in the other room. You know someone is speaking but you just can’t make it out.

The soul longs for God. The heart is the seat of where Jesus has His throne for His followers. The soul yearns for God, the heart is the place where our whole self resides. The soul clings to God, the heart is what God wants changed. It is the heart that is restless until it finds rest in God (per St. Augustine). And so the short twilight of the heart is where God is present yet isn’t fully. Just like the sunset there is light but there is also darkness.

catholic heart


During the short twilight of the heart, there is muddied visions, unsure direction, a desire for clarity. The light can be seen. God is present. Jesus is king and reigns in your heart as savior, Lord, and friend. Yet the heart still desires for something, there is still a mild restlessness that can’t be explained.

There is that short twilight of the soul for many believers who just don’t know how to explain their place in their spiritual journey. There is a spot in one’s faith walk where words can’t express just what it means to see the light but only dimly. To see the light but only make out shadows. To hear God’s words but only in murmurs and vague blessings.

There are no signs and wonders in the short twilight of the heart. There are only squinting of the eyes to see if something is a blessings or not. While on the mountain tops we see it all so clearly. We see God at work in every moment. We see God moving in everything. In the valleys of life, in the dark night of the soul, we don’t see a blasted thing and are frightened and worried. In the short twilight of the soul, we don’ know. We just don’t know.

But I do know this: It is short. And as the sun sets at night, it will rise in the morning. There is darkness there but it is short because there is also light, a bright light that does require squinting to make sure that the promises are assured. All God has promised is “yes” in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20). This is what makes the twilight so short, because of that “yes” in Jesus.

Hold on to the promises. In your spiritual journey, when words can’t express what you are experiencing, know that the Holy Spirit is a work, praying for you in groans that only God can understand (Romans 8:26). There is light, it isn’t at the end of the tunnel because you’re no in a tunnel but looking at the world with the light of twilight. Shadows will be there, but there is light that causes the shadows to be cast. Words will be heard vaguely and in murmurs, but God is still speaking. Wait. And it will be short. A short twilight of the heart.


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An Impoverished New Year



It’s 2018. Yippee! (please read that “yippee” in a dead pan voice). Not being cynical, (though it is the nature of my generation) but we only went from December 31 to January 1. We do the same thing every 30 or so days. Nothing is truly different or magical about shifting from December 31 to January 1. We make resolutions. We want to see changes. But come February, we’re back to the same old same old from the previous year (yes, I’m sounding cynical again). So what’s different. Not much unless you look at this coming year differently. Not with resolutions of the will or body but a shift in the heart.

I’ve been reading through a daily devotional called A Guide to Prayer for all Who Walk with God. This morning’s section had this prayer which struck me for this coming new year. It read

Extravagant God, in your love you have assumed our human impoverishment. May we become empty enough to receive he riches of life you offer us in the community of those who call you Lord. Amen.” (pg 54)

In my own cynicism, I wonder how much I’ve been willing to truly accept the impoverishment of God for me. Sometime back, I wrote about the Kinetic Church, a church based upon Philippians 2:1-11. Jesus Christ emptied himself and had the attitude of a servant, a slave, one without authority or power, impoverished, and was obedient to even dying on the cross. He emptied himself because power wasn’t something He felt He should grasp, but instead, gave completely of Himself. And the community who call Him Lord should do the same.

Are you ready this year to empty yourself? Are you ready this year to be part of a community, to encourage your community, to be one that empties itself to an impoverished state in order to be obedient to God? Are you willing to empty yourself in such a way that you become a passionate follower of Jesus, seeking ways to empty yourself to change lives and communities?

This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus–to empty yourself into an impoverished state that allows you to truly do justice, mercy, compassion. Once we who are part of the community that calls Jesus Lord are willing and do empty ourselves into an impoverished state can we truly live to be passionate followers of Jesus.

And you might be reading this and may not be a follower of Jesus. Okay. That’s fine. Keep reading. There’s something amazing when you empty yourself for others. There’s something wonderful about giving completely of yourself. This, in truth, is being Christlike in what you do.

Christians are called, told, commanded, to be like Jesus in every way, including emptying of ourselves for others. As Jesus gave of Himself, as Jesus gave of who He was, we too are to become impoverished like Him. As He loved, so we too much love. As He gave, we too must give. As He welcomed, so we too much welcome. As He emptied Himself for us, so we too must do the same.

For 2018, let this year be different. Let this year be the year in which you empty yourself as Jesus did. Let this year be the year that you become impoverished as Jesus did, giving of Himself. Let 2018 be a year where there is a shift in your heart. Not a resolution of body and mind but a shift of heart and soul. Let 2018 be a year of impoverished serving as a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.

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The Bells of Heaven

This morning for family devotions, we read from Jesus Calling. Sarah Young wrote simply at first “I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.” These, she says, are heaven’s bells. And when we quiet our mind, we can hear it clearly. How often do we truly stop and listen for heaven’s bells? Have often are you just in the moment and listening in prayer?

Being still in our day and age is hard. The rock group Skillet calls it the American Noise. This American noise is the ringing of cell phones, the honking of cars, the constant chatter we hear of background static that’s always there. There’s always something going on. We’re always busy. We are always having something in the background making noise. There is no quiet with the American noise. They say to let love cut through this noise. The bells of heaven ring out the love of God. And when we are still and quiet, we can hear these bells.

We read about this in the Psalms

Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

We read about this in the Prophets

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands” Zephaniah 2:3

And later in Zephaniah

The LORD your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over  you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

And we read in Isaiah

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.” Isaiah 28:23

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:12-14

We read about this in the Gospels

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus in John 15:5

Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus in Luke 11:28

And on top of a mountain with Jesus, Peter, James, and John “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9:7

And in the Letters

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:26

In one way or another, all throughout Scripture, you can read about listening for heaven’s bells.

Are you listening for heaven’s bells? Are you quieting your mind for even a moment to listen for the simple words of Jesus “I am with you.” Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with us, even to the end of the age. He will never leave us. In fact He will walk with us along life’s narrow way.

Take time today and quiet your mind. Let the love of heaven ring the bells and cut through the American noise we have all around us. We have busyness all around us. Look for the quiet to hear the bells of heaven.

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