Staying Thankful

Here’s the context for the meme verse: Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:15-18, NLT).

There are three dogs living in my house. Two belong to my daughter with whom we share the house. And one is mine. Half the time we walk the dogs together, but some days I walk them by myself. Our walks together are full of conversation and much laughter. When I walk alone, I occasionally talk to the dog, or myself. Sometimes I talk to God.

A friend of mine used to live in one of houses I pass often. She moved away this year. I miss her. A few walks ago as I walked past her old house I told God I missed her and asked for a special blessing to fill her heart. Without missing a beat, I felt God nudge me that I should let my friend know I thought of her and prayed for her.

That’s what Paul did here. Beyond that, he also listed what he would ask God for his friends. Consider his list: spiritual wisdom, growth in knowledge of God, understanding of the hope God offers to those who believe and follow.

The friends Paul prayed for “unceasingly” were seeking to walk in faith in a new way. Some were building on their Jewish roots, but others were building as they went. The things Paul asked of God represented how the Ephesian believers hearts and minds needed to be equipped for the persecution they faced for choosing to walk in a different way.

The world doesn’t understand our choice of following the way of Christ. Our friends need prayer for strength and wisdom.

One other thing jumps out at me from Paul’s prayer. Appreciation. It’s not a big thing, but expressing our gratitude for others can go a long way, and deliver a huge blessing. Today let’s make a point of telling someone how much they mean to us. Let’s thank God for them, and let them know we’re holding them in our prayers.

Answering the Call to Prayer

“That has to be the dumbest commercial.” My daughter was emphatic in her disgust.

“Which one this time?” was my response.

She went on to describe a fast food restaurant’s advertisement where people are engaged in some activity: a baseball game, a wedding, and a meeting at work. Then a gong sounds (the company’s identifying mark) and one of the characters immediately leaves what they were doing to find the nearest gong-sounding restaurant. The closing scene is that person chowing down on one their meals.

It does seem a bit contrived. But then I was reading in Robert Benson’s book, “Living Prayer.” In it he describes how the monks at the monastery drop what they’re doing when they hear the bell ring for prayer. The question he raises is, “When the bell rings, will you answer the bell?”

Monks ceasing their activity to go to prayer seems much more logical and natural than a person pulling into a fast food restaurant when the gong sounds. But what about you and me? What calls us to pray? If the Spirit were to move or nudge us to pray would we drop whatever we were doing?

I was reading a blog where someone was describing a trip to Egypt. While there, this writer was struck by how often people would pray, how many times a day there was a audible call to prayer, and many people responded. They wondered, as a result, what that would look like in America?

The apostle Paul left instructions that the fledgling church in Thessoalonica was to “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).” There are at least thirty-five other similar instructions in the Bible (according to my Google SEO). But how can that be a realistic expectation?

One way to attack the seemingly insurmountable instruction to always be at prayer would be to take a few meaningful steps in that direction. We could set a timer on our watch or phone to go off three times a day: start with morning, noon, and night. When those become a habit or second nature, we could begin to increase the number of times to four, then five, and stretch ourselves to six. Imagine praying as we awake, again at mid morning, then as we eat lunch, on then to middle afternoon, dinner, and when we go to bed. We might even be able to find a time to pause and prayer in the hours between dinner and bed—depending on whether you’re a night owl. This is not the kind of thing to attempt all at once, but slowly over time as we sense the Spirit wooing us.

I can almost sense resistance as this is being read. “We don’t have time for this.” “What would we find to pray about?” I find these things to be typical of busy people, but it really is a good question.

Book titles quite often catch my eye and last longer in my mind than the material between the cover. Bill Hybels wrote a book that falls into that category for me: “Too Busy Not to Pray.” Instead of looking for reasons to not pray, let’s just start doing it.

And the what is just as “easy” to address. Whatever you find. Scan the news on your phone and pick three things. Open a hymnal and pray the verses. Carry the prayer list from your church’s bulletin with you. Pray through your friends alphabetically: Monday for everyone who’s name begins with A, and on and on. Do a search on your favorite search engine for ways to pray. You’ll find lots of suggestions.

Now, with timers set, hearts committed, ears open, and armed with ideas for how to use the time, let me ask Benson’s question again: When the bell rings will you answer it?

I’m going to be giving it my best effort. Will you?

In the Midst of the Storm

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I came out to the patio to write. I swept the patio. I fussed around the table. I decided to work on worship music for tomorrow’s online service.

I was doing everything but writing.

I pulled up the song, “Fear No More by building 429.” I found something to write about. I love this song. It fits my current situation. The lyrics of the song contain an image of Jesus holding us in a storm not of our own choosing. “This isn’t what I planned…” Chaos is all around but Jesus is with us in the storm.

As I listened my mind drifted to the passage where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat and a strong storm happens. Mark records Peter’s recollection: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-40, NIV)

Jesus is not holding the disciples when the storm crashes in on them, and they are terrified they are going to die.

Jesus is there. He’s been there all along. He has the power to still the storm around them…and within them. Their fear brought them to Jesus, but not for an answer. They came accusing him of not caring. They are angry because while they’re consumed with and by their fear Jesus is curled up, cozy on a cushion. They are infuriated at his selfishness: this is no time to sleep, man! Do something for us. NOW!

In Mark’s account, Jesus rebuked the storm. What an object lesson. Storm, be at peace. Be still. Jesus may have addressed the storm, but his message was for the disciples. And it’s for us also.

Do you feel like there’s a storm all around you? Are the walls closing in? Do you fear for your life…or your way of living?

Here’s my confession: I’ve been really mad at God. Life was going pretty sweetly for me. I was achieving goals. I was about to start my D.Min (or finish it). Nelson was finally getting some of his medical issues addressed. We were happy. It was sort of like a Sunday boat ride on the lake on a wonderful summer day. Weather perfect. Floating along. Cozy. Relaxed. Happy.

Then bam. And nothing was comfortable. I couldn’t find happy anywhere on my radar. Ripped from the familiar. Life as I knew it…as I wanted it…was gone.

And this isn’t the first time in my life. I don’t want to re-rehearse the litany of what I saw as injustices perpetrated by God upon me. Why give it to me just to yank it away?

Selah. (Period of reflective silence.)

Job: shall we take the good and not the bad?

Paul: I have learned whatever situation I am in to find contentment.

Jesus: I’m right here. Be at peace. Be still.

Paul again: God puts us right where he wants us. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Me: okay. I will trust that you are with me—even in the storm. I may not be in school for my D.Min, but I have a lot to learn. Right here. Right now. (That’s my prayer, so Amen.)

Wednesday’s Word: BRAVERY!

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I have spent most of my life in the shadow of the Cowardly Lion of “Wizard of Oz” fame. He was afraid of everything. He spent most of the movie working himself into a state of anxiety over all the things that could go wrong.

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I get him. This is my “me too.”

Yesterday, I got a call that a family wanted me to come to the hospital to pray. The hospital is in Cleveland—somewhere I’d never been before—and the sky was threatening to dump a deluge of hurricane proportions. In my heart I was ready to run out the door, but in my mind I was seeing all the things that could go wrong.

I asked a few trusted friends to pray for me, keyed the location into my phone, and with fear and trembling walked out the door.

I don’t consider myself brave. I have to draw on other resources: God, the prayers of friends, the encouragement of my husband to do the things I would otherwise shrink back from.

Courage is not the absence of fear. According to Dorothy Bernard: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

Many times in the movie, when the Lion wanted to run, his friends would lock arms and walk beside him into the fearfulness of the moment. God promises to never leave us or forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5ff). So there’s One who is always on our side, and at our side.

But don’t discount the friends who either by their presence or encouraging words will go with us as well.

When the situation calls for bravery you cannot muster on your own, who will you call on to help get you through?

And by the way, the hospital visit was great! There were only occasional droplets of rain. I found the hospital with no problem (parking was a little trickier, but accomplished). The family was a joy to be with. And I came home blessed and encouraged.

 

Sermon Seeds: Praying Submissively

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Submitting. Not a popular word or concept. It draws pictures in the mind of quitting and weakness, failure and loss. To modern sensibilities, submission is archaic and dangerous. Many couples have responded so strongly against the concept, they remove it from their marriage vows.

Not only did Jesus include the concept in his paradigm of prayer (Lead us not into temptation), but when he looked out with compassion on the oppressed crowd, he invited them to take on his yoke and learn from him. His call to the disciples was an invitation to follow him. And then he told them that to follow him meant being willing to take up their cross daily and walk his way.

Submitting to a higher authority, following as he leads, learning his way, is woven into everything it means to carry his name, to be his.

So it should not be surprising to us that submission is linked inheritantly to submission. After all, we are asking someone else for something. In that action we are admitting we don’t have all the answers, direction, resources needed and are dependent upon another.

God has lead his people from the beginning: in the garden he walked with Adam and Eve; in the wilderness he led the nation to the Promise Land—using a cloud and a pillar of fire; and Jesus was always pointing his followers to a new way of living and believing.

The old hymn puts it well: Lord, I would place my hand in Thine, nor ever murmur nor repine; content, whatever lot I see, since ‘tis my God that leadeth me (Joseph Gilmore, “He Leadeth Me).

Hopefully Devoted: How much love?

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The trial of a serial killer has captured the attention of most of the people in my little town. Finding an impartial jury has not been easy. Opinions are expressed in the morning coffee gatherings, in the papers, and on the regional news.

I met recently with a group who were close to one of the victims. Very early into our meetng, one of people spoke up: “I have a question. Do I have to pray for that guy?”

Easy answer: no.

But I’m not into easy answers.

I helped my questioning friend to tease out what she was really wanting to ask. She was somewhat resistant—seeking to hide the truth she was trying to avoid. But we finally got there. “Do I have to forgive him?”

What followed was an honest discussion about forgiveness. No one was comfortable…needing to forgive can do that.

As we were wrapping up our meeting, a new question surfaced: Do I have to like him?

Even easier answer: no!

Scripture says nothing about liking someone. I don’t think we’re wired to like everyone.

But we have to care about them. We have to love them.

Loving someone…caring for them…praying for them doesn’t mean we have to like them—and we certainly don’t have to like or condone what they did.

Perhaps the only thing we can pray for them is that they will find the strength to face the consequences of their actions.

If I did something horribly wrong I would hope someone prayed that much for me.

Message Meme: Praying Together

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Last week we considered Jesus’ instruction to pray privately. He was concerned with the potential people possess to try to impress others with with their praying prowess, or maybe even their fear to pray in front of others for fear of judgement.

While many take that instruction and use it to denounce corporate prayer, a cursory read of the Bible would prove something quite different.

Jesus, when asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, gives them what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. And the prayer is an instruction to them in the plural: when all y’all pray, pray this way…Our Father.

The prayer is not a self-centered crowd cry of, “Mine, mine, mine, mine.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, when the ragtag group of believers was stuck together in the Upper Room, they filled their time with prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us they “joined together constantly in prayer.”

Praying alone solidifies our relationship with God. Praying together strengthens and grows us for our mission and ministry to the world.

We’re in this…together.

Hopefully Devoted: Praying Specifics

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Do you ever wonder if God gets bored with our prayers?

I know I do.

A confession like that from a pastor might sound odd. But it’s true.

If my prayers are all fluff and stuff, lacking substance or direction: what’s the point?

They begin to sound as meaningful as Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah wah wah wah.”

Jesus had an encounter with a blind man. He looked at the blind man and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51ff)

The man didn’t hem and haw. He didn’t talk around the issue. He didn’t try to butter Jesus up to get him to do “whatever.”

To Jesus’ direct question, the man replied directly, “I want to see.” And that’s just what he got.

God doesn’t want us to hem and haw, dance around the issue, or butter him up.

God speaks us to directly because he loves us.

Why would we do any less?

Do No Harm

First, do no harm.

Quick! Where’s that from?

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Hippocratic Oath? That’s what I thought.

Nope. After doing a little online reading, I found it’s not in the original Greek version. There’s a phrase in the Latin that might come close. It is believed the phrase came into acceptance somewhere in the 17th century.

Why does this matter? What drove me to even look?

I’m glad you asked.

Yesterday, on my drive to visit some folks who are completing a drug rehab program, I had a heart to heart with God.

At first I was trying to anticipate conversations and how I would respond. Okay, I confess I think these kinds of thing through for all kinds of encounters. I’m an old Girl Scout: I tried to always be prepared.

But the rehearsals in my mind were going nowhere.

So I stopped—talking not driving.

And I confessed how foolish I felt and I asked God what I needed to do.

Yes, I’m a trained pastor (two different Masters degrees for that) and a trained counselor (Masters degree and all kinds of continuing education), but we’re facing a giant of an enemy in this heroin epidemic.

This must be how David felt when he faced Goliath. (Okay, go ahead think current Pepsi commercials. See video below if you’re unfamiliar.)

God, I don’t know what to say. I want to offer your kind of lasting, life-changing, life-giving help. How do I do that?

 I know, not a very eloquent prayer—didn’t even say Amen at the end.

But God heard. And God spoke: Do No Harm.

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This is a huge request for an ESFP with ADD. I am not like my introverted friends who think and then overthink and maybe think some more before they open their mouths to speak. I think out loud. Words tumble out of my mouth faster than I can check them.

How do I do that?

Here’s what I did:

I listened. A challenging thing for an ESFP with ADD.

Listening requires intentional focus. Trust me: this requires more energy than a 30 minute workout at CURVES.

But I did it.

And I shared what I knew to be true.

This included some of my own struggle, but also a couple of my foundation scripture promises and fundamental counseling truths.

I’m not sure if we slayed the giant…but we did some serious damage. I left those appointments whoopin’ and hollerin’ for Jesus.

These were divine appointments and I was just along for the ride.

Check back for the next post where I’ll share one of those fundamental counseling truths.  (How’s that for a teaser?!)

 

**ESFP is a Myers-Brigs Trait Inventory designation (MBTI). When I take the inventory I identify as an Extrovert who takes in my surroundings through my Senses, makes judgments through my Feelings, and organizes Perceptively (which is kind of like no organization at all—think scattered).

If you want to check out the test just google it. You can take it online and receive your information.

**ADD is a psychiatric identification, Attention Deficit Disorder. My brain typically runs in scatter mode. I act before thinking. I get overwhelmed by too many instructions. I am highly distracted…squirrel!

 

 

Teach Us To Pray

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Tomorrow morning I will be starting a series of messages on the Lord’s Prayer. When you pray “our Father” what are you saying, believing, doing?

The first thing I notice is the corporate nature of the prayer. We aren’t in this world alone.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he could have given them a theological dissertation based on familiar principles. But he didn’t. Instead he gave them the essential components of prayer.

And he starts with our Father—not simply Father. There are definitely times to get alone with God, but when the group came to Jesus, and the group asked to be taught how to pray, Jesus addressed their corporate need to pray.

I encountered a situation recently that drove this point home for me.

How many times when a friend or acquaintance shares a need, have you told them you would pray for them? You are sincere in your intention to pray, but life gets in the way and that opportunity for intercession is lost.

I don’t get many people coming to my door these days. So I was a bit surprised when the dogs began barking in their “oh boy, there’s someone at the door” way. With the reluctance that comes from dreading the annoyance of one more salesman, I went to the door.

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The woman at my door was quick to assure me she was not there to sell me anything. She gave me her name, told me she was from the women’s abuse shelter. She added that their group had the permission of the Sheriff and Chief of Police to be going door to door.

I apologized for not inviting her in, but my dogs are big and overly friendly. She seemed okay having the door between us. I introduced myself as the pastor of a local church that makes a point of regularly supporting the shelter.

We chatted and she was about to leave my door. This would be that moment when we say those words that roll off our tongues almost without thought: I’ll be praying for you.

But I couldn’t say them. Because I knew, with a knowing that comes from the Spirit, I needed to say, “Can I pray with you now?”

So I did. And her eyes got big. She put her hand on the screen and I put mine up to hers and we had a wonderfully blessed moment of connected prayer.

And then she was gone. But she will stay with me. Her name and face come to mind often and I pray, like Paul, as often as I remember her.

Now, I’m not telling you that story because I’m anything special. I’m telling you to encourage you to not miss those kinds of moments, those kinds of blessings—that kind of power.

The question that needs our response seems to be: how will we be open to the opportunities of corporate and connected prayer?

How can I pray with you today?

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