Does God Think Its A Little Weird How I Pray?

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I’ve been thinking about how small I’ve been praying lately. Do you ever think about such things? Have you ever wanted to know what the Israelites were praying for in those final moments as the powerful Egyptian army pursued them up against the shores of the Red Sea.?Here’s a few of my best guesses –

From Bob “God, please help us get out of this mess. We don’t deserve this.”

From Janet “Dear Father in Heaven, please somehow make them give up this pursuit and leave us alone once and for all. Why are they still after us?”

From Jack “Okay. It looks like we’re going to have to fight. Please help us to beat them once and for all and give us resolve to be stand up to them.”

From Amanda “Lord, this is a nightmare and I’m scared! Please help us asap! Where are you?”

From Charles “Why does this stuff keep happening to us? Why did you ever let them send us away? So we could die out here in the desert?”

From Julie “God, let it be quick and painless. Help some of us to escape!”

And finally from Moses “Lord. The Red Sea stands before me. Help me to raise my staff and part the sea. Let us pass safely through, and then drop the walls of water on our enemy and destroy the ones who seek to kill your people!”

Pause. Really? My money is on Moses prayer sounding more like this – “God. This is all still about that Egyptian I once killed, isn’t it? God, please punish only me, and not my friends.”

It’s funny, but when I pray I ask for things that probably are quite weird to God. For instance, if I was Jonah, I’d ask for a painless death in the belly of the big fish. Or if I was Daniel I’d pray for an escape clause to get me out of being sent to the lion’s den. And if I was the disciples, I’d probably beg God for the boat to get to shore, rather than patiently ask for Jesus to raise his hand and stop the storm. I guess you could say I want what seems best to me, even though my perspective is so very limited.

Maybe today you and I could begin to stretch out these prayers a little bit? Maybe instead of praying for God to give us courage, we could also ask him to completely remove fear from our lives once and for all. Maybe instead of asking God to change the toxic narrative that seems to erupt in our culture, we could ask God for the name of Jesus to be worshipped all across America. We could be at the beginnings of the greatest revival in the history of America, and not have a clue that all of this stuff is what had to take place to get us here. Imagine if our nation found all of their peace, love, and joy in Jesus? What kind of a culture would we become?

I’m quite sure the Israelites didn’t understand why Pharaoh hardened his heart and relentlessly pursued them. You and I have the advantage, however, of knowing the end of their story, and we get to cling to the powerful promises of God to deliver us and bring us hope. We get to live out our lives knowing he always has good plans for us no matter what army is chasing us down. And so, when the waters rise on both sides and we discover the clear path to freedom and peace, we know why and we catch another glimpse of why we should put all of our hope in Jesus.

The Vice-President Is Still Building a Zone

VP Mike Pence Swears In Dan Coats As Director Of National Intelligence

The Vice-President is suddenly under fire, and a lot of Americans are crying foul. Stemming from a 2002 interview with The Hill, Mike Pence spoke of the marital boundaries he has put in place, which he referred to directly as “building a zone around your marriage.” The content he was referring to was as follows:

“In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” This statement comes from Ashley Parker of the Washington Post in a profile piece on the Vice-President’s wife, Karen Pence.

To gain context and perspective, history serves us best in looking at similar other-gender issues between our elected officials. President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both provide the historical context of the highest office through statements or infidelity committed that is official public record.

“I’ve looked at a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do – and I have done it – and God forgives me for it,” Jimmy Carter told Playboy Magazine in an interview from November, 1976, the same month he was elected President of the United States. Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn were married in 1946, and will celebrate their 71st anniversary together this year.

Former President Bill Clinton has admitted to extramarital affairs of some variety with Jennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, the second of which was an intern employed by his office during his Presidency.  Most of the world is also aware of the accusations made against Bill Clinton by Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Wiley, Dolly Kyle and also of the rumored affairs with Eleanor Mondale and Elizabeth Hurley, most while serving as President of the United States. From his original candidacy to the end of his last term, no single President has garnered more attention for admitted and potential sexual misconduct than former President Clinton. While parents found it necessary to explain new terms to their children during his Presidency, the media reported on most of these allegations, while investigation after investigation was paid for by the us, the tax payers. The concern was less about his sexual activity than actually who had direct access to the President and exactly what else were they given access to.

From all private and public accounts, Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, who have been married for thirty-two years, have a close marriage. Karen Pence has been cited by multiple sources as the quiet force behind the Vice-President, intricately involved in both his political positions past and present, and was a quiet, yet powerful force during the Trump/Pence Presidential Campaign.

Vice-President Mike Pence has shown wisdom setting up these boundaries, and frankly, the only people who don’t think so are the same folks who didn’t vote for him in the first place. In the days of rampant sexual addictions, and I think most Americans, regardless of faith, would agree sex addiction is a problem in our country, it is refreshing to encounter a couple who have done what it takes to ensure a strong marriage. Both men and women are falling victim to the false promises set by marital infidelity, whether it is with an actual person or the screen on your smartphone. Sexual addictions corrupt our views of the not only the opposite sex, but they annihilate our views of our own sexuality. Each week there are well over 1,000 sexual addiction meetings in the United States alone, according to the organization Sex Addicts Anonymous, and obviously most of the addicted are not seeking treatment. The narrative of sexual addictions in our country today has a colossal place in this discussion, as we see a steady erosion of the values Jesus taught us, which were quoted almost word for word by former President Jimmy Carter above.

Obviously, the private marriage boundaries of the Pence’s became public fodder when he was elected Vice-President, and they should be considered in the exact same light as we would consider former President Clinton’s. They are either a public matter, or a private matter. If we, as a country, are to rail against the Vice-President for “building a zone around your marriage”, we should also reconsider those who haven’t and what price our country has had to pay because of it.

Kudos to Mike Pence for protecting his marriage, setting the bar high for his family and country, and for once again choosing to honor Jesus above anything else this world has to offer. For his detractors, you remain where you always have been, unmoved by his wisdom as a man and by his loyalty to his bride. I pray somehow you will at least see a glimmer of the discernment this man has shown, and do what you can to protect your marriages.

For those who love Jesus, we should be grateful for the example our Vice-President has set, not only for those who respect him, but maybe even more for those who don’t. The more this story spreads, the more the faith of Mike Pence becomes known, and the Gospel of Jesus is made known throughout our nation. There is a reason why this story has teeth, and this moment in our history is no surprise to God, who uses all things to glorify his name and bring his love and goodness to his people.

The Evangelical Cultural Divide

Christian,

Today I see a large chasm in the cultural divide among Evangelicals, though some of you have publicly (and some not as publicly) have abandoned that term to describe your faith. To be blunt, on a daily basis I observe as those who either did or didn’t get their candidate elected attempt to leverage the scriptures to potentially one-up their political opponents into a theological and political submission. Far too many are copying and pasting and googling whatever they can to prove their candidate/party/ideology/choice-of-cereal is God’s best for America. For the record, I’m still hoping someone will bring back Waffelos. There’s no debate regarding Waffelos Cereal.

Then there are these “labels”. We all sit here and watch the new arm-chair quarterbacks attempt convict us with terms based on our color, income, or political affiliation, joyously cutting and pasting or writing paragraph after paragraph until they pound you into submission, or at least somehow explain how their “label” makes sense. Often, they lack the educational, research, and life-experience to make such claims, but we can cut and paste, can’t we? We can just google a verse and win the post, right? Are we winning? Wouldn’t Jesus want me to change your mind, and enlighten you?

During the election my blog saw more hits than ever. My post entitled “The Gospel Coalition vs. Donald Trump” (https://thadriley.wordpress.com/…/the-gospel-coalition-vs-d…) still gets more hits than any other thing I’ve ever written. From where we stood then and stand today as Evangelicals in America today, it makes sense (I know. Don’t call you an Evangelical).

So, it’s on my heart more than ever just to share this. Stop. And let’s restart. Let’s get off of social media and sit face to face with someone of the other persuasion BEFORE we denounce their beliefs and opinions. Let’s befriend those who think differently than we do, and find out what makes them tick. Let’s dig in deep with Jesus, share our testimonies, and become the church once again. Not conservative. Not liberal. Just the sons and daughters of God the Father, hell-bent on keeping folks out of hell. Let’s be honest and take feedback in stride, knowing we don’t have all the answers, and are willing to listen to an opposing view.

My mission (besides finishing this book I’ve spent 15 months on that almost brought me to tears today because I’ve written and deleted the same chapter four times in four months – I am proud though I only binge ate 14 white cheddar cheezits from the emotional wreck I was) – my mission is to leverage my blog/writing to unite Christians into a narrative of peace, diversity, humility, and great listening skills. I will attempt to coordinate a meeting later this year between the top Evangelical leaders in our country and have them share their hearts, and begin a new story of peace and moving us out of the toxic political narrative we find ourselves in. Some of you are those leaders. And others I will have to get in front of. I think they will listen.

I’ll keep you updated as it happens. On this, the book, if Waffelos make a comeback, and my attempts to resist of white cheddar cheezits.

I am praying deeply for healing, a new narrative, and that those who love Jesus will see that unity in Jesus’ name means something.

Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Tears in the Coffee Shop

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Writing my way deep into Chapter 17 of the book and there’s this young couple sitting at a table not so far from me in this coffee shop. As Explosions in the Sky streams through my red headphones from Pandora, with barely glancing eyes I noticed her hand moved quickly to wipe away some tears which look like they came before she was ready. Maybe it didn’t matter why she started to cry. Maybe you and I don’t need to assume the reasons, but she did her best to hold back those tears, while people around her chewed on bagels and drank their chocolate raspberry coffee.

 

“Doug!” the young man hollers from  behind the counter. Doug’s egg and bacon wrap is ready, and an older man steps quickly to the counter to pick up his breakfast.

 

I forgot to wear it today. Every Tuesday I sit here in my “God Loves You” shirt, but not today. Just a denim button up was all I had to offer the world in this moment, substituting a message of hope for a little warmer clothing. Still, I could do something, couldn’t I?

 

A thought hits me. I grabbed my iPad and started searching for an image, for something. It’s the first one that popped up on my google search, so I adjusted my display to last as long as possible. With some sudden weird flutters in my stomach, I gently placed my iPad against the back of my laptop, facing the rest of the world around me.

 

An hour later, and after some more random tears, she and the man stood, and with a quick kiss goodbye, he opened the door and was gone. Sitting back down at that table, I caught her glance a few times at my iPad, while I kept my eyes glued as best I could on the throws of my latest work. We all have a story, and whatever her story was, it wasn’t really any of my business, but maybe just a little bit. I could only offer one thing, I could offer three words of encouragement, and three words this world most assuredly needs right now.

 

After about ten more minutes, she gently scooped up her purse, slipped on her coat, glanced one final time my iPad, and she’s gone. Maybe it didn’t mean anything for her, but I remember a time when I clung to those words, when I cried out to God for them to mean something in the tragedy around me. Whether its tears or laughter, I think it’s exactly what we need, and maybe somehow this might have brought a little hope to her today. I know it means something to me. Those three words. Nothing more. Nothing less. And its everything.

 

“God loves you.”

 

The Church of the Broken, Divorced, Vagabonds, and Everyone Else

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Philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”

It was early 2014, and these scars were still unfamiliar to me, but there they were, right on me in full view. Losses had piled on deep and heavy, and, to quote Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, I felt “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Just a few years earlier we had purchased my dream house, but now the memories of all that had happened in the past twelve months made this home feel cold and empty. I was alone, me and the kids were alone, and our entire world had been flipped upside down. I remember spending so many days hiding my troubles from my children, hoping the past year hadn’t broken them as much as it had broken me.

I had once been this happy-go-lucky guy, walking around Dayton, Ohio with a big, silly grin on my face. As a single father, I remember feeling more awkward than ever, like there was something wrong with me. There wasn’t. But everything still felt…off.

I had played by all the “rules” of this life, so how could divorce and all this craziness happen to me? The more I asked myself this question, the more questions I got. Sometime it just all felt pretty hopeless, but there was always that sliver of hope hanging out there. And here’s why –

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message).

Jesus. When life was throwing some wild haymakers at my head, Jesus was standing strong, in word and deed. You see, it was through the scriptures, in verses like these, I was able to secure my hope that God continued to have my back. He led me to a new church, a place where I could breathe and rest. I found comfort in the weekly messages from the Pastor, and encouraging conversations with my friends. I felt more alive in worship than I had in a long time, while becoming far more rock solid in my identity, which is the identity of being a child of God.

And today, I kind of feel like the church needs me, and needs my story of love and rescue.  They certainly don’t need the Thad Riley of 2013 who was pretty judgmental, with appearing to have most of his ducks lined up in a row. They need the once, twice, and at least three times broken Thad Riley, the guy who knows how much he doesn’t know and wants to be a friend to those who need some encouragement and a little of God’s love in their life. So yeah, I feel like I have much stronger role in my church today than I did before I got that “Scarlet D” emblazoned on my chest.

By the way, we kind of need you, too. And we WANT you. Right here. With us. On Sunday mornings. In church. I’d say it’s the perfect place for you. We have room for you. In our row actually. You see our row at church is filled with some pretty interesting folks, to say the least. It’s got divorced people, and people who’ve lost a lot in this life. There’s folks who are still thinking someone is going to start judging them for their past or their current life, but it has happened yet, so maybe this is a different place. We’ve got single dad’s, single mom’s, and some of the most interesting characters this side of the Mississippi. Does anybody but me say things like this in New England? Maybe not so much.

So, why not? I mean seriously, what do you have to lose? The truth is, you have everything to gain. The church, you see, it’s this place where your world collides with the story of Jesus, the one who did everything he possibly could to rescue you. It’s a place of encouragement and eternal optimists, who believe in things like hope and forgiveness and God’s love. It’s not a place of judging and raining on people’s parade. The church is part of what I call home, you might say. It’s one of the best parts of my life.

I hope you’ll think about. We’d love to have you this Sunday at 9 a.m. at Bethany Church in Raymond. What do you really have to lose anyway? We even have a free breakfast! How about this – I’ll save a couple of seats and just think about it. And if you think I wrote this for you, guess what? I did.

About Life

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A letter about life written to my two oldest kids, but maybe others can find some encouragement, instruction, and peace within its lines.

 

Max and Kaitlin,

Good morning. I’m sitting in that big red chair, watching the flames in the fireplace shoot up and down. I have no clue who invented gas fireplaces, but I like them! It’s so much easier than the wood one your grandparents had when I was growing up. Popo and I used to cut down trees in our forest and chop the wood by hand. I wonder if I ever told you that before? One day, when I was sitting on the top of our woodpile, Popo took a big swing with an axe, and shot a big chunk of wood back in his face, breaking his glasses and giving him a big cut right off his left eye. He ran inside to wash off the blood, and tape up his glasses. It wasn’t near as bad as the time six years later when he fell off a ladder and dislocated a bunch of the knuckles on his left hand. There was a whole lot of blood and he had to drive himself to the ER, while I sat in the passenger seat staring at those horrible, unforgettable knuckles. I offered to drive my dad to the ER if he couldn’t, and I didn’t get much more than weird look and a head shake. Can you imagine having Josh or Summer drive you to the ER while you’re dealing with bloodied, dislocated knuckles? And I was a year younger than them.

Those are my most vivid memories of accidents I saw my dad experience as a kid. You can’t do anything about flying wood and sometimes ladders aren’t as sturdy as they look. Neither of those things were dad’s fault, but they both messed him up pretty good. Life happens, right? Some things you just can’t prevent.

And some things you can. I watched first hand as your grandfather drifted more and more away from the best things EVER in this world. I did not sit idle, either. As that eleven year old kid, I remember pleading with him to stop drinking so much wine. He just gave me that same look he did when he didn’t let me drive him to the ER. This time he should have listened to me. Dad allowed the foundational truths in his life to erode over a period of about three years, and by within five, he had zero interest in his spiritual growth, being part of a church, or encouraging his family in their love for God. It was no accident, it was simply his choice.

You see, our relationship with God is always a choice. If you fall off of a ladder, totally a “life happens” thing. If you drift away from a relationship with God because “life happens”, that’s on you. And you will be judged by God for your choices. There are specific reasons why the scriptures tell us to “fear the Lord”, but too often in today’s Christianity it’s been replaced by a good looking, young, Bernie Sanders version of Jesus and not much more.

The drift. That’s we’ll call this, and it’s exactly what dad allowed t0 happen to him. He didn’t build and maintain a strong foundation in his life, but made excuses and then sat there as the most important things in his life drifted away. The drift.

To build and maintain a strong foundation, you need to be proactive. It’s really not hard; it just takes a love for God and a commitment. People say they’re a Christian all the time or they’ll tell me “I believe what you do”, but their live don’t make any sense if that were true. 71% of Americans say they Christians, but we see that obviously isn’t the case. They haven’t built a strong foundation.

Here are a few specifics on how you both can build a strong foundation in your lives. I’ll be as detailed as possible, which will allow you to live in between the lines. Here goes –

  1. Wake up every day to something good spiritually. This could be one Psalm, a worship song, five minutes in prayer or maybe you do a whole devotional at this time. You choose! But having just a few positive impacting moments with Jesus to start your day can make your days start so much better.
  2. Read at least one chapter in the bible each day. If you read 3-4 everyday, you’ll read the entire bible in one year. I was 22 years old when I read through the bible in one year, and I’ve done it 3 more times since. If you feel bogged down or heavy, just a Psalm might be enough, but try to make it meaningful. Block out the world around you for a few minutes and you’ll be on the right track.
  3. Prayer – it’s impossible to have a relationship with anyone if you aren’t communicating. The more time you spend in prayer, the stronger your relationship with God will be. You may want to spend a few minutes in a quiet place on your knees, or be like Moses and get on your face. Remember, you are communicating with a massive and Holy God, but he loves you, so it’s good. Sometimes, when I wasn’t sure how to pray, I find a Psalm that feels right, and pray that as my prayer. A lot of folks pray off of lists, and that’s a great way to go, maybe even the best. It’s not a check off list, though. This is all about communicating with the God of all creation.
  4. Church – you need a solid base of Christians around you. Not some jokers who are religious or some folks who have excellent behavior, but you need people who actually love Jesus in your life. Those religious jokers will leave you feeling heavy and burdened, and the good people offer little but a high moralistic perspective. Find a legit group of other Christians who are actively pursuing Jesus and stick with them. This was the biggest thing that went downhill in your grandpa’s life and it went fast. He gave up on the church and didn’t see it for how great it was.
  5. You should always try to be reading one good book that encourages on your Christian walk. They are free for you because we all share the kindle, and Melanie and I can always help with recommendations. We own some really great books.

You are both old enough to figure this out, but you can’t do it alone. You’ve always got me, and don’t ever underestimate Melanie. She is brilliant and strong and would help you all if you ever need it. But we aren’t enough, so stay on point 4, the church. Don’t minimize that point, ever.

The devil will try to make these things feel heavy and burdensome, but literally this is about thirty minutes a day, outside of the church stuff, which is a lot of fun anyway. And you will be in CONTROL of your life. Unless you’d rather be controlled by your circumstances or even the evil one, this is the path you need to pursue. This is my best counsel on how you can live a blessed life in God’s love and grace, and it also outlines the choices you need to make to protect yourself from the enemy.

My entire life I have had the shadow cast by my dad hanging over me, until about ten years ago. You see, I finally realized that I wouldn’t be like him one day, forsaking everything I believed in for another life. I understood I had built a strong foundation, and it was God’s love, grace, and that strong foundation that kept me following God no matter what life threw at me.

So, this is it. This is my best effort to set you up for your future, keep you close to God, and to protect you from the enemy, the devil, the one who seeks to destroy all of your life.

Love you,

Dad

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread”

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Bilbo Baggins from the Fellowship of the Ring

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Two years ago we took a journey on our winter break, to celebrate our new love and life together. Our honeymoon ventured us to the Island of Roatan, Honduras, but something felt different about this trip from the moment we stepped on the plane. Having just finished Eugene Cho’s book “Overrated” on the flight over, we were looking for more than just a typical Caribbean adventure. Within hours we were eating dinner in the home of two missionaries, our now dear friends Bob and Debi Cowan. They didn’t know us from Adam, but God had plans a million years ago to bring the four of us together. It was a week like I’d never dreamed, and we came back refreshed and ready to conquer the world. God challenged us on those three foot long docks of the Sea Dancer, and within days Melanie took a new role at work, and I made the announcement I was leaving the wireless industry after twelve years. These moments in Roatan created the vision for the future of our family of eight, and we have truly never looked back.

Last year’s story landed us on the Island of Culebra, and took us to a place of much needed respite and adventure. We snorkeled with frighteningly massive rays and sea turtles aplenty swam by. We rested on the beaches of Flamenco, Zoni, and Tamarindo as we swam, snorkeled, rested, wrote, and read. We ate at Zaco’s Taco’s and had the best crème cheese breakfast pastry I have ever had the pure joy of indulging. We visited the coolest little, big store on the planet called Milka, which is like their Walmart in a building smaller than the average 7-11. They truly have everything you could need. We hiked, studied the culture and history of the island, and took pictures by the tank our country left sitting on the shores of Flamenco Beach. Frankly, it was weird. During the days of the World Wars our country used this island as a testing ground, recklessly shooting off high powered weapons, and risking the lives of the people who call this island home. Still, the beautiful people of Culebra love their visitors, and have a sweet and simple way about them. It’s like visiting a small town in Tennessee, only it’s an island in paradise. I read two great books that week, The Year of Living Like Jesus by one of my heroes in this life, the late Ed Dobson, and Whatever the Cost by my friend David Benham, and his brother Jason. Both books led me, instructed me and ministered to my soul. The highlight of the week, was the quiet moments I spent with the human I admire most, my best friend Melanie Jean. If there was ever a gift to our world, it is her, and I still have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t admire her. It was an amazing week with the best person I know.

Saturday takes us on another adventure, heading back to Culebra yet again. This will be an exciting time to refresh, rest and re-energize ourselves. We are spending one night in Old San Juan, and then it’s off to Culebra the next day. The book I was supposed to read while there, Scary Close by Donald Miller, was too good and I finished it before this trip even begins. I’ll keep my ears open for something, and if you know of any great books I should read, please comment below. My favorites are always Christian books, the ones with real stories from real people, from authors in the realm of Miller, Goff, Niequest, and Ed Dobson. Anything inspiring will probably work.

But there’s something else. I can’t explain it, but I feel God’s leading in a certain direction, so I will be doing something a little different each day while I’m sitting in the sand, diving into the waves, and walking the through the open streets of Culebra. I will blog about it daily, and keep myself accountable to be part of a story God is already creating inside of me and on this island. Who knows where this adventure will lead us this year, but we are grateful for the time we have and the journey we are taking.

More soon!