Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas



His parents were hungry, weary travelers…peasants…living under a corrupt government. He was born in a stable…a grotto…to a teenage mother. There was no medical care…not even a midwife. The birth announcement was made to shepherds.

And we call this the Christmas Miracle?

Yes, a miracle indeed: God has visited us in the person of Jesus.

But he came in humility. He worked through a devout, obedient couple. He connected with the poor and oppressed.

Claim the miracle this Christmas!


In our weakness…in our spiritual poverty…with a measure of trust and fidelity…God is present in our lives! Amen.

Top: Fresco by Botticelli, Florence, 1476


Merry Christmas!

I appreciate the cultural warriors who want to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Still, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Christian pugilism doesn’t seem appropriate to the season.

For my part, I have tried to be more intentional with a hearty, sincere Merry Christmas greeting rather than an acculturated Happy Holidays.

It’s impossible to remove the Christian underpinnings of this season. Dr. Joel Heck, in a Christmas devotional* entitled “Bring Religion into Everything” points out that the word holiday comes from holy day, and Santa Claus is named for a fourth century Christian bishop. An excerpt from Heck’s writing:

St. Paul invites us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1st Corinthians 10:31)

In order to do that, we have to bring religion into everything. To bring the Christian religion into everything, we have to bring Christ into everything. Let’s not be quiet about it. Let’s bring the Christmas spirit into all our giving, all our shopping, and all our serving. Let’s realize that all our eating and drinking, all our Christmas parties, and all our worshipping is from God and for God. He gives us the fixings, and then he comes to the party. Let’s notice his presence and celebrate it.

To that I offer another Amen! If we truly allow Jesus into every facet of our lives, popular culture will be unable to detach Christ from Christmas.

* - A Grand Miracle, Joel Heck

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve



Despite his generosity, Santa’s gifts won’t satisfy completely.

Despite his glowing red nose, Rudolph won’t light the way adequately.

But there is a gift that offers contentment, and there is a light for sufficient guidance:
Jesus Christ, God’s gift to mankind for peace and illumination.

Thanks be to God - for Jesus the Christ.
Amen.

Nativity scene by Federico Brandani, The Oratory of San Giuseppe (early 16th century), Urbino, Italy; photo: Melissa Habel

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ADVENT - Week IV


Church attendance will peak this week. Christmas brings families together and draws them to church - as Jesus draws near.

…just maybe, we will learn not to seek so much to be different for a season, but seek to be different for a lifetime. (Macrina Wiederkehr)

Now, let’s try a little Latin:

Adeste Fideles
Venite Adoremus Dominum

The grand worship at Christmastime reminds me of body surfing. (A distant memory.) Catch a wave at the right moment or position and you’re swept along in exhilarating fashion. That happens to me in church during corporate worship. It’s not something you can do solo. It requires an ocean of celebrants, choir, musicians and fellow believers. In the liturgy, in the music, in the architecture of the church, I ride a spiritual wave…swept along in exhilarating fashion.

I hope that happens to you this Christmas. May your worship soar. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Let's pray:



We give thanks, Eternal God, for Jesus, with this memorable line from the Christmas carol:

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
(O Little Town of Bethlehem)

That is the Christmas story: Jesus removes the barrier of sin between man and God, and we have fellowship with God. Not a vague sense of God, but a rapport with God.

We give thanks, Dear Father, for Immanuel, for “God with us.” As Jesus said to Phillip:

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
(John 14:9)

That is the Christmas story: We see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God. In Jesus we see what God is like and what God means for us to be. (William Barclay)

Thanks be to God - for Jesus. Amen.



Adeste Fideles: Come, faithful ones (O come all ye faithful)
Venite adoremus Dominum: Come, let us adore the Lord
Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ADVENT - Week III


St. Nicholas - Russian fresco - Patron Saint of Children

Dear God,

The Christmas gifts are piling up at my house. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but our largesse pales by comparison to your generosity. “You can’t out-give God.” John 3:16 sums that up:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

From the wonder of the Nativity to the miracle of Easter, you dispatched your Son to our broken, temporal domain. He offers us peace and eternal life.

...as well as a multitude of divine gifts:

Guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness. Contentment. Joy.

Lord, I pray for time during this Christmas season to carefully unwrap each of those gifts, to ponder their significance, to fully consider my salvation, that I may join in Mary’s canticle:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:47)

Thanks be to God, Amen.


St. Nicholas relief - Amsterdam

St. Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving and became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch language.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

ADVENT - Week II


The season of Advent encompasses the past, our present and future. It is enveloped in expectancy, preparation and hope.

The Past: It’s as though we are members of Mary’s extended family, following her through the last four weeks of her pregnancy. There’s a sense of anticipation, a need to prepare, to get ready…to prepare head and heart.

The Present: Our Messiah arrived two thousand years ago, but Emanuel (“God with us”) is very much a present tense Savior - to save us from the broken parts of ourselves and the warped places of this planet, to save us for a relationship with our Creator.

The Future: As we assert during the Eucharist, “Christ will come again.” The things mentioned above are a work in progress - unfinished business - but a time will come when the brokenness is gone, when all is whole and perfect. The ultimate Christian hope. Yes, we are saved - saved for eternity!

Advent is a time to reflect on God’s global yet personal intervention that began with Mary and Joseph, to reflect on his intentions for and involvement in our lives today, to reflect on the wholeness of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:10, NIV)

My Christmas Bible study begins with John the Baptist’s proclamation: “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here.” (Matthew 3:2, The Message) Yes, that's a challenge, but it is very, very good news as well!

The Nativity ~ Gerard van Honthorst ~ 1622

Lord, I’m like a kid at Christmas. I want an Advent filled with Alleluias and angels “singing sweetly o’er the plain.” But I always encounter a few dark days. Stress at work. Family drama. What happened to the joy?

Maybe it’s part of the Advent protocol: We have to face the darkness before we can appreciate the Light of the World.
(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

Indeed, Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist, a voice crying in our wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” And so John came…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:3-4)

We have to face our flaws and failings before Christmas can come...face our need for a Savior before he can be born in our hearts. I heard a great sermon line: You have to wash your hands before you can hold the baby. *

So, Father, I wash my hands, confess my sin, profess my need of a Savior - and with gratitude and joy - I await the baby’s birth! Amen.


* - The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA, www.day1.net

Sunday, November 27, 2011

ADVENT - Week I


Happy New Year! The church year begins with Advent - the four-week period that concludes with Christmas. Traditionally, it was a time for prayer, fasting and penitence. (Today, we’re too busy for prayer, inclined to over-eat and penitence is not exactly top-of-mind.)

The dictionary defines advent (with a lower case a) as the coming or arrival of something extremely important. And that’s what Advent (with a capital A) is all about. The church lexicon is incarnation: the arrival of God on our planet in human form. We were visited by God!

As Paul wrote to the Colossians: (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God…God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. 

(from Colossians 1:15-19)

As John reports Jesus’ own words: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (from John 14:9)

Indeed, we were visited by God. It was a material, physical event - beginning with the birth of Jesus in the Bethlehem stable. The arrival of someone extremely important. It merits serious reflection over the next four weeks!





Lord, I’m ready for Advent!


Candles glow from every window.
1500 mini-bulbs twinkle on my shrubs.
...but I’m in need of illumination.

Help me, Lord, to answer St. Paul’s Advent wake-up call:
The hour has come…to wake up from your slumber…the night is nearly over; the day is almost here…put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

Help me, Lord, to stand in that light, to stand still and quiet in the light of Jesus Christ. To feel peace and joy. To notice the angels, shepherds and wise men that you put in my path each day.

Help me, Lord, to reflect that light, to share that light...as the Apostle John described it:
The true light that gives light to every man… (John 1:9)

Thank you, Lord, for our Savior, your Son,
Jesus the Christ. Jesus the light. 
Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mission Statement


Father, I have slowly - very slowly - come to realize that I’m here to serve. I was anticipating something more grandiose delivered in a vivid dream. However, I accept the assignment with gratitude. It has taken several decades. Finally, I have clarity.

My function is to assist my family, church family, work family and community. It’s a broad charge and I probably miss many opportunities. Selfishness impedes the mission (I prefer to be served) but I seek to discern your will and purpose in all things, to know when to lead, or support, or to leave it in your hands.

To those in my sphere of influence, may I provide a modicum of wisdom and a measure of inspiration. I aspire to model Christian values and pursue Christian discipleship.

As I serve, assist and support, I will rely on your Holy Spirit. May I grow in your grace. Amen.


Photo credit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Self-Sabotage


I’m still reading Mark’s Gospel with Gerard Kelly’s guidance. Kelly is a founder of The Bless Network, a youth missions agency in Europe. And he writes Bible studies for Scripture Union:

What does it take, we wonder, for a human life truly to reflect the character of God? How can we aspire to the life of goodness, truth and love that God calls us to? The answer is that we must face up to the laziness and narcissism that corrupts our every effort. We must be willing to put to death those aspects of our selves that are destructive to our own lives and those of others. Jesus, incarnate God, has come to show what an obedient human life looks like. He is our supreme example.

I have borrowed some of Kelly’s thoughts and words for this prayer…


Father,

We are made in your image.
(Genesis 1:27) That’s encouraging, but can my life come close to reflecting your character? I’m like a seed that’s slow to germinate.

This timeless line from Morning Prayer sums it up:

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

St. Paul had a profound understanding of our propensity for self-sabotage:

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.
(Romans 7:18-19)

Lord Christ, help me resist every tendency and habit, any attitude or act that distorts your image.

Holy Spirit, help me to live honorably, serve graciously and love generously. Amen.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fuel for faith: DOUBT


I expect some resistance to that title. What fuels your faith? Worship? Study? Service? Nature?

Doubt doesn’t seem like the right answer.

...but consider the Gospel story known as “the healing of a boy with an evil spirit.” (Mark 9:14-32)
The child’s father exclaimed to Christ: I believe; help my unbelief! (RSV) I appreciate the paradox.

Gerard Kelly, writing for Scripture Union, contends that our doubts are not an enemy of faith “if we turn them into fuel for prayer.”

I will follow his lead:


Lord Christ,

I sense your grace with my doubts and confusion. You are most likely tolerating some misguided theology, too. I am grateful.

It resonates with me…

…that we read - in the Bible’s very first book - a description of Jacob wrestling with God.
(Genesis 32:24-30)

…that the disciples often missed the point of your teaching. (Matthew 15:16)

…that the father who sought your healing touch for his disabled child proclaimed, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

That’s me. Wrestling. Missing the point. Questioning.

But this doubt is fuel for my faith. Praise God for that!

I’m unable to master the Bible. Let the Bible master me.

I can’t seem to advance a tight and tidy apologetic. Let me advance the faith through worship and service, through conduct and character.

Some seekers walk away in frustration. They want a formula or indisputable evidence.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, that my heart and mind are fully engaged by the Kingdom’s mystery. Continue to fuel my faith. Amen.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Heaven Has No Fist


Rob Bell is my kind of evangelical. His 2011 book Love Wins has been controversial among conservative
 Christians. This gifted pastor and teacher has been accused of subverting Christian 
orthodoxy, of promoting a faith that's too easy and inclusive, a 
theology that's long on love and mercy, but far too short on hellfire and
 brimstone.



Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the book! 

Please watch the Rob Bell video and read about the book via this link to
 USA Today, and here's a favorite passage:

Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.

In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes.

Whatever the objections a person might have to this story…one has to admit that it is fitting, proper and Christian to long for it.

That gives us something to think about…something to pray about:





The heavens have no fist.



Great and gracious Lord, I treasure that line of Mary Oliver's poetry. 
It's my prayer for everyone raised on or depending upon a wrathful
 deity.



Still - as usual - I'm conflicted and confused.

 At times I do cheer for the fist. Pounding on injustice. With a death
grip on evil.



I'm thinking (and praying) that somehow, beyond my understanding, the 
sin is separated from the sinner. That the fist obliterates the damage 
done by evil thoughts, words and deeds.



It's the sin that’s thrown into Revelation's fiery lake of burning sulfur. While
 humanity is cleansed, reconciled and restored.



I'm convinced, Lord Christ, that you extend a loving hand. Behold, how the fist opens with invitation.* Amen.

* - The Fist from THIRST, Poems by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worship the Lord...with your MIND!


I grew up in churches that had all the answers. Heaven was up, hell was down, and we knew who was going in which direction. God created the world in six days - one hundred and forty-four hours. The Red Sea parted just like in the movie...

We reduced the mystery of the Unknowable God to Four Spiritual Laws that would fit on a post card and still leave room for "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." We didn't have room for questions, because we were certain of everything.

That’s from a wonderful Day1 sermon by The Rev. Dr. Brett Younger. He’s an associate professor of preaching at the McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta. It’s entitled Loving God with All Your Mind. An Episcopalian is recommending a Baptist’s preaching! It’s food for THOUGHT and something to pray about...


The first and greatest commandment:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Your words, Jesus. That same text in Deuteronomy specifies heart, soul and strength. You call us to engage the mind as well. So, why should we check our brains at the church door?

Over 200 years ago John Wesley suggested that reason should accompany our experience of Scripture. So, why would we park our IQ in the narthex?

I believe with all my heart and soul. Indeed, I feel your presence. And my mind is engaged. It is not a threat to faith.

The Bible frames your relationship with humanity. It’s packed with praise, admonition and teaching. And it contains gray areas, contradictions and paradox - to make us think!

Lord Christ, I’ve never been particularly good at memorizing Scripture, but I certainly enjoy thinking about it. I’m especially drawn to passages that elude my comprehension, the sections subject to interpretation. That’s why your Word is fresh every day, year after year.

Holy Spirit, fill our church with cerebral worship. Transform doubters to seekers, seekers to students and students to disciples...as we worship with heart, soul, strength and mind. Amen.

~ ~ ~ ~

Did you know that the title most often given to Jesus in the New Testament is not "Master" or "Lord," as you might expect, but "Teacher"? On a number of occasions, we read that the crowds were astonished, not by miracles, but by his teaching. When Jesus called disciples, he called them to be learners. The Greek word mathates, usually translated disciples, could just as easily be rendered students.

If we don't include our minds in our love for God, we end up worshipping simple ideas about God rather than humbling ourselves before the Infinite. When we think hard, we begin to realize the ways in which we might be wrong. We learn to factor in a lot of uncertainty. We ask harder questions.

The best teachers help us understand that God calls us to learn, because learning is one of the ways we find our way to the most meaningful life.
(The Rev. Dr. Brett Younger on Day1)


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Failure Is Not Fatal


This profound line from an Amy Grant song has stuck with me for 25 years:

…the more I try to be the best the more I get the worst.*

Christ-followers are not immune to failure. Some wounds are self-inflicted and some are just plain baffling.


It drives us to our knees (in prayer, that is), and in doing so, we gain the power to bounce back.


Father God,

I know a football coach, a man strong in his faith, whose season has imploded. I know a politician, a man strong in his faith, whose campaign has collapsed.

High achievers. People of faith. Facing failure. How do we sort this out?

~ ~ ~

Faith does not necessarily protect us from hubris. Holy Spirit, illuminate my blind spots.

We mistakenly bundle ego and aspirations with our faith. Holy Spirit, give me discernment.

A faithful life may prompt Divine correction. That’s an irony that can really sting. Holy Spirit, may I learn and grow from such pruning.

And then, bad stuff happens that defies explanation. Evil? Chance? Accident? Holy Spirit, prepare me for setbacks with perspective and endurance.

~ ~ ~

Lord Christ, I have learned that some degree of failure is inevitable. We are flawed. People with the mightiest faith are still sinners.

Faith may not shield us from failure, but it will soften the blow. It’s the trampoline we fall upon when we fail…and we bounce back!

We learn from these wounds, they heal and our trust in you grows.

St. Paul understood. He coped with flogging, mob violence, a shipwreck and imprisonment:

…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Roman 8:37-39)

Failure isn’t fatal. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reckless Extravagance


Lord Christ, the annual stewardship program has begun at my church. I’m reminded of the Gospel story about your anointing at Bethany.

Mary poured expensive perfume on your feet. It was probably worth a workman’s annual wage. She concluded the intimate ritual by wiping your feet with her hair.

An expression of devotion. An act of worship. But the onlookers saw it as reckless extravagance.

Pledge card in hand, I react like Mary’s critics. My mental calculator whirs as I count the cost. Am I holding too tightly to financial resources that really belong to you, to material blessings received from your gracious hand?

Holy Spirit, with your help, I aspire to giving that truly reflects my relationship with Jesus. I aspire to reckless extravagance in service to the Lord I love. Amen.



Credit for the theme of reckless extravagance, from Mark 14:1-11, goes to Annabel Robinson, writing for Scripture Union USA’s Encounter with God, 2/13/11. She’s Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Regina in Canada.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Behold Thy Gracious Hand! Work...


Certainly, there are days when work is a four-letter word, but ideally, it’s an expression of our service to God and ministry in the marketplace (to borrow a thought from Father Thomas Keating.)

I return to The Book of Common Prayer and its Contemporary Collects for inspiration on the subject of work:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
 shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your
 people where they work; make those who carry on the industries
 and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give 
to us all a pride in what we do...



Father, my career interest developed in childhood, and I've been blessed to pursue it for forty years. There have been twists and turns, for sure. I've survived ownership changes, family relocation, downsizings, recessions and several of my own very big mistakes. I've logged twenty-eight years with my current employer and a variety of challenging assignments. Behold thy gracious hand!



I have worked for leaders who were ahead of the curve, faithful to their employees, dedicated to their families and communities. They have been inspiring and worthy role models. Behold thy gracious hand!



Lord Christ, I've been blessed with work. I've been blessed by work. Holy Spirit, help me as I strive to bless others through my work:



...guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
 for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
 our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
 other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
 of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns 
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Behold Thy Gracious Hand! Family...


Another prayer of gratitude for God’s gracious hand - upon my family. Again, I draw on The Book of Common Prayer. Do you find the language outdated or uplifting?

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary 
in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in
 which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride
 of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance,
 patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those
 who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the
 hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the
 children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among
 us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one 
to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father God, family is a fragile ecosystem. Thankfully, mine isn’t auditioning for a reality show. Yes, there are worries and challenges, but that’s for another prayer. This is about gratitude!

For my wife (and partner) of thirty-three years. For our grown children who care for and support one another. For parents who have enjoyed long lives and good health. For Aunts, Uncles and Cousins who stay in touch.

When we’re reunited at holidays it’s a true joy, one of those thin places where heaven and earth intersect. My cup runneth over!

The Prayer Book’s archaic language calls us to companionship, mutual trust, interdependence and belonging - a definition of family.

I pray for that constant affection in my marriage…

So knit our wills together in your will, and our spirits in your Spirit, that we may live together in love and peace all the days of our life.

I pray for that fervent charity among my children…

Into your hands, O God, we place our children. Support them in their successes and in their failures, in their joys and in their sorrows. As they grow in age, may they grow in grace, and in the knowledge of their Savior Jesus Christ.

I pray that we will be kindly affectioned one to another. Amen.


The Book of Common Prayer:
- Prayers and Thanksgivings, For Families
- Thanksgiving for a Child


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Behold Thy Gracious Hand! Nature...


Great God, I’ve posted over one hundred prayers to this blog. Observing, pondering, making requests, but there hasn’t been enough praise and gratitude. We Episcopalians lean on our Prayer Book and liturgy:

O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Book of Common Prayer, For Joy in God’s Creation

Father, I’ve seen your gracious hand in my summer travels. Some of your best work is done with mountains: the Blue Ridge in North Carolina, the Rockies in Utah and the Sandia in New Mexico. What a blessing!

In my own backyard, the hyperactive birds and squirrels entertain. The blue hydrangea and red hibiscus amaze. A full moon on a clear night turns the pine straw to white. That’s always stunning.

And I can’t forget my favorite creature, our joyful Springer Spaniel, Grace. She has been a wonderful gift, a reminder of your far greater gift that bears the same name.

I rejoice in the whole of creation.
May I learn to serve you with gladness.
Amen.

Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Revisiting 9-11


Holy Spirit, I’m in need of inspiration. Lift my spirit.

The 9-11 observance was not cathartic for me. The replay was painful.

My church held a moving service. I was drained.

It’s an emotional stew of bad religion, hatred, mass murder, destruction and war. A horrible day and a decade of collateral damage

I have read the retrospectives and the opposing viewpoints. I am unable to sort out events of the past ten years with the certitude of pundits and politicians.

I feel deep appreciation, however, for the bravery and sacrifice of public safety workers, as we revisit that day. The same holds true for our soldiers, past and present tense. A great price has been paid to restore our security. I am profoundly thankful that our country has not been attacked yet again.

Their courage. Their service and sacrifice. For our security. In gratitude, I discover inspiration. Amen.



A Reflection on 9-11

On 9/11/01 my day began with a weekly Bible study at the downtown Durham YMCA. We had a big debate on the inherent depravity of humanity. Our leader, who had fundamentalist leanings, was pressing hard on the depravity issue, and I was holding out for just a shred of goodness. We declared a theological tie, and I departed for breakfast at the Marriott. An awful irony was unfolding…

An hour later I was in my office at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Our General Manager called, and he asked if I was watching television. The World Trade Center was ablaze. Another plane hit, and I watched the towers collapse on my tiny office television. Horiffic. Reality trumps sci-fi in unimaginable fashion.

Returning to routine, I did a Meals-on-Wheels route during lunch. A ninety-three year old widow didn’t know about the terrorist attack. She hadn’t turned on the TV, preferring to talk about her cats and collard greens.

I was compelled to go by our home that afternoon. I wanted to see my wife and daughter. We checked in with the other children and our parents. That contact was especially consoling. It was important to hear their voices, to say “I love you.”

My wife and I took a walk after dinner. We live near the airport. With all planes grounded, it was eerily quite. It was a crisp, clear night. The sky was filled with stars. I thought about the terrorist attack and that Bible study conversation about mankind’s wickedness. I resolved to hold tightly to God’s love and providence.

Two days later we collected for the Red Cross on the street in front of the ballpark in Durham. We passed out miniature American flags. $60,000 was contributed in only a day.

The next evening, we hosted a community worship service at the ballpark. A diverse crowd of four thousand attended. It was almost two ours of preachin’ and prayin’.

Looking back at my journal notes, I’m encouraged at the community’s immediate response to that nightmare of a day. The outpouring of financial support. The solidarity in worship.

Generosity and solidarity are not highlights of our national mood at present, but still, I’m holding tightly to God’s love and providence. That’s my definition of Christian hope, the antidote to fear.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Labor Day




Father,

How can I make my work an offering to you?

We have St. Paul’s advice to the Colossians:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… (Col 3:23)

...but so often there’s a barrier between worship and work. How can I find harmony between the two?

Martin Luther said "we are priests at our own tasks."

Mold me, Lord, into your priest at home, at work, at church and in the community.

Put your Holy Spirit to work on me...at work. Amen.


Other thoughts on the intersection of faith and work:

Work is not just for profit or to feed the family. Work becomes an expression of your ministry, of your service to God, so that you bring Christ and your experience of God into the marketplace. Not by proselytizing, but by just being you. By the way you treat other people and by the great Christian virtues of forgiveness and compassion. (Father Thomas Keating, Searching for God in America)

Remember for whom you work: Whether you work for a private company, the government, a large corporation, or yourself, the true disciple understands that he or she ultimately is working for God in that place. (Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God)

You may never know the impact you're having on someone who's looking up to you because of your character, your life's work, your family life, or maybe just because of your friendship...you have a platform of importance in the lives of those you touch...use it wisely and in an uncommon way. (Tony Dungy, Uncommon)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hope Floats



Lord, the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene along the east coast brings to mind the movie title Hope Floats.

I pray that hope floats atop the floodwaters, destruction and debris.

I’m fortunate - a mere armchair observer - but the TV news reports are discouraging.

It’s a grating wake up call. Our independence, security and prosperity - apart from you - can be fleeting.

I am reminded of St. Paul’s report from Asia when he talked of the despair he felt “beyond our ability to endure.”

Yet he wrote of his survival to the Corinthians:
…this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…on him we have set our hope…as you help us by your prayers.” (from 2nd Corinthians 1:8-22)

We pray, Lord Christ, for an outpouring of practical assistance and spiritual support for the people along our coast. We pray for their fortitude. We pray for their restoration.

As Paul promised: Set your seal of ownership on them and put your spirit in their hearts. Amen.

Photos: foxnews.com and wral.com

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

BIG GOD & little me


As I write this prayer, we have experienced a rare earthquake on the
 east coast, and a hurricane is headed in our direction. The BIG GOD theme is on point.






Father, this is my take on original sin. A literal interpretation of
 Genesis is not required. It seems obvious to me:

We are flawed, both people and planet. The software and hardware have 
bugs. That’s your construct, and it's beyond my
 understanding.



The upside: You are in control. That is my interpretation of Scripture.
 It is my personal experience.



Despite appearances, evil does not have the upper hand. Hitler, Mao and
 Milosevic did not have the last word in their time. African genocide and
 21st century terrorism are our generational plagues, but they will pass.




Creation groans for the promised melding of heaven and earth when the
 imperfections are removed.



While we wait, we must depend on you. Self-sufficiency is misguided.



While we wait, we must be at work for you. Selfish pursuits are misdirected.



Big flaws. Big job. Big hope. BIG GOD.

 Amen.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Canaanite Woman


Are you still so dull?

Jesus put that question to his disciples in the 15th chapter of Matthew when they missed the point of his teaching. These men left their jobs and families to follow Jesus. Clearly, they were committed, but they didn’t always grasp the purpose of their mission.

There are two more examples of that in Matthew 15:21-39. Do we sometimes miss Jesus’ message? Are we so dull?


Lord Christ, I was puzzled about your encounter with the Canaanite woman. She implored you to heal her daughter.

Taken literally, you were rude to her. There must be more to the story because the woman professed belief, persisted with her request and the child was healed!

Were you baiting your disciples? Drawing attention to their inattention, to their prejudice?

The story unfolds…

You continue your healing ministry among the lame, maimed, blind and mute. The miracles reach a crescendo as you feed over four thousand people from a picnic basket.

Again, your disciples are running low on empathy and faith, while you teach a lesson in abundance.

Do I set my sights too low? Do obstacles overwhelm me? Do I exclude others from your grace?

Teach me your lessons, Jesus, in…

Belief. Persistence. Compassion. High expectations.
Even miracles. Amen.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Aunt Liz


Great God, I’m compelled to organize my thoughts about the death of Aunt Liz. This isn’t news to you. For sure, she is in your company.

Her life of ninety-two years is worthy of honor and celebration. I thank you that her passing came during sleep. You allowed a graceful end to a grace filled life.

Liz had meticulously planned her funeral, consistent with her bookkeeper’s demeanor. She wanted the focus to be on you, Lord Christ, not on her. That’s how she lived - selflessly.

Widowed early in life, she devoted herself to work (thirty-five years with the United Methodist Church) her own church, family and friends. Always worrying over others. Always tending to their needs. I often thought she was taken advantage of, a viewpoint she never shared.

Liz was a bookkeeper for ministers, but she had her own larger ministry. Thank you for her life, her light, her example. Aunt Liz was a Kingdom person doing Kingdom work.

Holy Spirit, put me on the path that Aunt Liz walked. Amen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spiritual Candy & the Cup of Suffering


A challenging question was posed in my Scripture Union Bible study by Roger Pooley, a teacher at Keele University in the UK. He was writing about Psalm 145, and asked: What is it we want from God? Spiritual candy? Or something more profoundly nourishing?


Father, I’m content to munch on spiritual candy. It’s not junk food. It’s Ghirardelli. Inspiring music, a strong sermon, insightful teaching, a testimony that motivates. Pass the bowl. And thank you for the encouragement.

Lord Christ, I’m reluctant to accept your cup of suffering. To bear another’s burden, to be discomforted, to stand up or stand out for my faith. That’s not my preferred fare, but I do know it’s the best form of spiritual nourishment.

While I don’t wish it on anyone, my own faith has grown stronger when the anxiety level was highest, when the fear of falling was intense. It has been the low times, the scary times, where your presence was palpable, where trust was taught and learned.

King David captures an absolute truth:
The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down…the LORD is near to all who call on him…he hears their cry and saves them...the LORD watches over all who love him…

(from Psalm 145:14-20)

Holy Spirit, I pray for recurring bursts of inspiration and wisdom to appreciate the times of testing. Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

At the finish line


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
(1st Corinthians 9:24)



I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2nd Timothy 4:7)


Lord Christ, St. Paul coaches us up and cheers us on to the finish line. There’s an Olympic refrain, but I’ve noticed something significant during a decade of nursing home visits. Most of us don’t sprint to the finish line and break the tape. Most of us don’t get to finish on our own terms.

We may limp or crawl to the finish line. We could be in a wheel chair, hospital bed or alone at home.

Holy Spirit, help me to build up my spiritual muscles. Indeed, they need to be in top form as my other parts begin to wear out or fail.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:4)

Father, my confidence is not in my running ability. It’s in your abiding care. Amen.

Photo credit: Race of Grace

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Turning the other cheek


From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-45)

An Eye for an Eye

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.


Lord Christ, you set the bar high with turn the other cheek and love your enemies. I’m stretching, grasping, but it seems out of reach.

I don’t believe you’re recruiting Christian doormats or punching bags. This is a call to reign in the impulses for retaliation and vengeance, to consider the collateral damage of striking back. Are we peacemakers or pugilists?

In business, we might turn the other cheek if the legal fees are prohibitive, but it’s not our default response.

In sports, there’s always payback. It’s clubhouse etiquette.

And politics, that’s blood sport: two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth.

With me, I’m afraid it’s a practiced hypocrisy. I can appear to turn the other cheek as I fold in a little sarcasm. I’m very good with a subtle verbal punch.

The Message speaks for you, Jesus:

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
(Matthew 5:48)

Holy Spirit, help me learn to forgive as God forgives, to love as God loves.* I’m inclined toward combat; create in me a peacemaker’s heart. Amen.


* - William Barclay

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

At the well with Jesus


Lord Christ, there’s a powerful line from your encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Returning to her village she exclaims:

He told me everything I’ve ever done.
(John 4:39)

It’s the same for us. You know our mistakes and misdeeds, our guilt or lack thereof, our wounds and our burdens.

I’m conflicted. There’s a longing for Divine intimacy with the wounds and burdens, but I go into hiding over the mistakes and guilt…as though you might not notice. Psalm 139 reminds me otherwise:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely...
(Psalm 139:1-4)

Jesus, you know me inside-out. Forgive the mistakes. Remove the guilt. Heal the wounds. Lift the burdens. And use me as an agent of your grace. Amen.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Law & Love


Dear God, early in our journey I was looking for rules and order. (It
 probably had a lot to do with being a young parent!)

 I discovered that through Bible study.

But I always found refuge. I always felt love.



And both represent Biblical truth: your law and your love.





Father, early in our journey I used my interpretation of your rules as a 
cudgel - not to nudge others, but to judge others. And I lacked a corresponding inclination to share your love. Signs of an immature faith. 





Lord Christ, you have taught me that the Bible's high standards must be
 tempered with love and mercy. Your methods were teaching, healing,
 service, and ultimately, sacrifice. You did not travel Palestine as an 
enforcer. The "fruits of the Spirit" are not stridency, harshness or a 
closed mind.



St. Paul famously lists them:

...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
 gentleness and self-control.
(Galatians 5:22-23)



The Message amplifies:

...things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We
 develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the
 heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and 
people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to 
force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. 


Holy Spirit, I am challenged to take this beyond sentiment or ethical
 concept…to work out the implications in every detail of my life.* Signs of a maturing faith, I pray. Amen.






* - from
The Message translation, Galatians 5:25

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dropped Calls


St. Paul writing to the Colossians:

…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (3:12)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…
(3:15)


Lord, I’m rarely overcome with road rage (Thanks be to God!) but dropped cell phone calls usually provoke an oath.

Lots of dropped calls.
Lots of oaths.

Yes, it’s in the privacy of my car - in that isolation chamber on wheels - but I don’t want to be that flailing, frustrated guy with the animated, red face. It’s just a few degrees short of road rage.

Lord Christ, St. Paul taught Timothy that your patience was unlimited, endless.
(1 Timothy 1:16) That’s the standard.

Holy Spirit, intervene in that millisecond where the synapses take paths of anger or patience. I need to work on my “unflappability.” I’ll practice in the car and try to apply it upon disembarking.

…and thank you, Lord: with you there’s never a dropped call. Amen.