Monday, December 31, 2012

Theology of Food

Family and food are central to my Christmas celebration. It seems to begin in earnest with Thanksgiving, and there’s no let up until the New Year.

You would think that “eat, drink and be merry” (Ecclesiastes 8:15) is the only Bible verse I have committed to memory…and unwavering practice!

I’m not alone. I read last week that 65% of NorthCarolinians are overweight or obese. And I was confronted with a stark contradiction in a year-end fund raising appeal: One in five NC children face what we now call “food insecurity” and 170,000 of my fellow citizens receive emergency food aid each week. This paradox prompts a prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)

Generous Lord, that prayer has been amply answered during the holidays, and the bathroom scales concur.

The upside…

Those who prepare our family feasts remind me of your care and attention to detail. I appreciate their gift of hospitality, and I am grateful for your faithful provision.

The downside…

I consume far more food and drink than a body requires. Moderation and restraint are elusive. Self-discipline is a myth!

Holy Spirit, govern my choices in the pantry and at the table. Make me mindful of my choices for service and giving to organizations fighting hunger. Amen.

My blog posts about Durham Meals on Wheels, a favorite non-profit!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Interrupted

Almighty God

We weep, we ache over the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut.

The veneer of sentimentality has been painfully stripped from semi-automatic pistols and mental illness.

I will confess to blocking out the news of war, violent crime and traffic fatalities during Christmas, but this story has our hearts in a vise. It commands our full attention.

How clearly, how starkly we see this broken world as we grieve for the murdered first graders and their heroic faculty.

Oh yes, we need a Savior.
Oh yes, we long for a new creation.
It's impossible to elude those Advent themes this year.

Lord Christ, the slain children and teachers know your embrace, but please, dispatch your Spirit to their parents and families, to share and lift their heavy, heavy burden. Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Preparation: Humility

Lord Christ,

I anxiously await the grandeur and spectacle of Christmas: Handel and Bach, poinsettias and processions, candles and carols. Worthy is the lamb!

…but I notice a contrary tone in my Advent Bible readings. When I consider the primary characters, I’m getting a lesson in humility. (Luke 1)

There’s Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary. An aging couple, their eccentric son, the peasant carpenter and his teen bride. For most of her life, Elizabeth had borne the shame and disappointment of infertility. Putting it politely, Mary was faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

The real Christmas story is about unpretentious people…under duress…straining to comprehend God's plan…attempting to obey.

In this age of self and celebrity, Holy Spirit, prepare my heart with their witness of humility. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent - Preparing the Heart

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 33:14-15, KJV)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:1-3, NIV)

Lord Christ,

It seems to me that the Christmas season began even earlier this year - around Halloween!

We like to blame greedy retailers and the modern day plague of consumerism. I’m not so sure about that. Maybe we welcome the distraction from a true Advent.

The ancient prophets consistently called across the generations for repentance, justice and righteousness as they proclaimed the Messiah. We are called during Advent to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus, to make straight our path.

Am I willing to catalog my regrettable thoughts and actions, or lack of action for the cause of Christ?

What about justice? Where our society, government and business miss the mark, will I do anything about it?

Will I make time to consider what it means to live righteously, to model Kingdom values, to trust the Lord in all things, in the coming year?

…or will I charge off to the mall or another Holiday party. Will I confine my preparation to mixing drinks and wrapping gifts?

Holy Spirit, prepare my heart during advent for the coming of Christ, my savior, my Messiah. Amen.

Photo credit

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Put not your trust in rulers...

That’s the second verse of Psalm 146: Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of the earth, for there is no help in them. 

We chanted the Psalm in church on Sunday. The Lectionary selection was surprisingly appropriate as we recuperate from last week’s election and the 2012 campaign!

Lord of nations & history,

I’m kneeling in the debris of another American election campaign: the robocalls, talking heads and incessant TV ads. It was a feast of fear and a famine of truth.

…but my glass is half full!

Power is transferred peaceably. We may disagree about the outcome, but troops are not stationed in the streets. Our freedom - and this imperfect democracy - are blessings not shared across the globe. Thanks be to God!

Lord Christ, we talk a lot about hope in our elections: hope for change, for better times, for the nation’s better angels to prevail.

…but the new day and common purpose never quite materialize. In our day, the thirst for political power seems to trump public service.

Therefore, my hope is not in a party, its platform or candidates. I place my hope in you: your word, your promises, your power, your presence.

St. Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. (from Philippians 3:20) And the author of Hebrews writes: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (6:19)

Let us live as citizens of your Kingdom, first…and Americans, second. Then, our great hope will be realized! Amen.

Photo credit

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rich Fool...or Rich Toward God

Lord Christ, Luke is wearin' me down. I'm inclined to dismiss your parable of the rich fool. (Luke 12:13-21) Now, I'm wondering: Am I that guy?

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (v15)

The rich fool was successful, became obsessed with his wealth and turned to hoarding. I'm not that guy, right? Well...

I have ample resources, yet I always seem to want more. Retirement planning gnaws at me. Is this an update of the rich fool? Am I blinded to a consumer culture addiction?

I don't believe you oppose success or planning, but materialism subtly hardens the heart and pushes Kingdom priorities aside. I quickly forget the source of my blessings.

It's time to cultivate contentment, to build trust in your provision. Holy Spirit, intervene. Amen.

Artwork credit
Scripture Union, Learn Contentment

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Meek & Mild? Not!

Lord Christ, 

I've been unduly influenced by the famous hymn "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild." That was not your demeanor at dinner with the Pharisees in chapter eleven of Luke. (Luke 11:37-54)

It seems that you embarrassed the host and insulted the guests. There was nothing meek and mild about your six woes rebuke of the "greedy, wicked" church leaders: 

You keep meticulous account books...but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love. (v42, The Message)

You load people down with rules and regulations...but never lift even a finger to help. (v46)

Would I get the same verbal beat down if you came to my cookout?

Woe to your hypocrisy, double standards and discrimination. Woe to you seekers of status and comfort.  

Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and give generously to the poor... (v41)

Message received. Amen.

Artwork credit
Scripture Union, Polite Company?
Charles Wesley's Gentle Jesus, Meel & Mild

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nation Building

Sovereign Lord,

We hear much about nation building in the Middle East. Freedom and democracy are difficult to export. I shouldn’t be surprised. The Old Testament is a story of blessings squandered.

You did a lot of nation building, but that work always came undone. Empires rose. Empires fell. Great leaders and kings - inspired by you - did great things. But they lost their way, or their heirs strayed, and kingdoms collapsed amid intrigue, war and exile.

Lord Christ, you adjusted the strategy. It’s not about leaders or borders, national wealth or military might. It’s about hearts, anywhere and everywhere, hearts devoted to you. Surely, you control history, but it’s the human heart you seek.

I pledge my allegiance - my heart - to your teaching, to your authority, to your Kingdom.

Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near. (Luke 10:11) Amen.

Graphic credit

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Children & the Kingdom of God

…if we listen to Christian voices in the public square, there is far more passion about unborn children than the well-being of children once they are born.

I heard that bracing, prophetic voice on a Day1 podcast from the Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad of Union Theological Seminary in NYC. She was preaching on Mark 9:30-37 where Jesus interacts with children in his hometown…

He sat down and summoned the Twelve. "So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all." He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me - God who sent me." (v35-37, The Message) The subject comes up again in Mark 10: "Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom." (v14)

More excerpts from Lundblad’s sermon

Children in Mark are not symbols of holiness or innocence, but more often they are the victims of poverty and disease. Jesus brings the child from the margins into the very center. This child is not a symbol but a person, a little person easily overlooked, often unseen and unheard.

That day in Capernaum Jesus held a little child in his arms and brought the words of heaven down to earth. I can imagine Jesus whispering in the child's ear: "You are God's Beloved Child."

It’s a source of solace and pride that my three adult children work with children and young people. It’s a reason to pray as well...

Lord Christ,

Bless the work of my kids as they work with and for children.

They see the consequences of poverty, family dysfunction, bad choices, developmental gaps and disease.

Support them in their vocations: education, social development and public health.

…with compassion, perseverance, enthusiasm, creativity, wisdom and gracious spirits.

Work through them, Jesus, with your healing touch and trans-formational power.

for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 


My daughter, Lauren, standing before Christo de la Concordia, the world’s largest statue of Jesus, in Cochabamba, Boliva. It’s a lighthearted moment, but a most serious challenge: Imitate Christ.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Taste & See

Lord of the universe, Lord of humankind, 

It’s raining. My mood is overcast, too. Psalm 34 consoles... 

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (v15)

But I’m fixated on the news: war in Syria, Iranian nukes, a murdered ambassador, Muslim protests, our very own deceit-filled politicians...

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (v7)

And today’s Eucharist was opportune...

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (v8)

Lord Christ, come close. Encamp in my head and heart. 

Deliver. Protect. Sustain. Amen. 

Graphic credit 
Bible study: Take the Taste Test

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Expressions of Faith

Father, forgive me.

I was uncomfortable in the restaurant. My server had ample piercings and tattoos. She was too chatty and familiar. But then - with great enthusiasm - she told me about her acceptance to seminary. 


That restaurant revelation punctuates my study of Acts. The first Christians had to get over themselves and their “chosen people” status. They had to reach beyond custom and tradition. Saint Peter was compelled to baptize “unclean” Gentiles. (Acts 8, 10) The founders of our faith had to abbreviate their rules and regulations…and rely on the Grace of God. (Acts 15)

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right…they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. 
(from Acts 10:34-47)

In what we call post-Christian America, what’s the complexion of your greater Kingdom? Am I clinging to the past or advancing that Kingdom, in attitude and action?

Holy Spirit, help me to see past the body art, the shocks of purple hair, the sagging pants and other fashion forward expressions that elude my appreciation. 

I will rely on the Grace of God. I will be surprised by the Grace of God. Amen.

Photo credit

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day | Work as Worship

Can your work be a channel of worship? Can your cubicle or kitchen be a place of ministry? Watch this clever video from RightNow Ministries...


From the PRAYERwerks archives:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Lord's Supper

A good many sermons are preached about Communion in August. The Lectionary specifies readings from the 6th chapter of John. Is Jesus' claim something symbolic and mystical...or is it physical? 

I am the bread of life (v35) …which a man may eat and not die (v50) …for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. (v55) 

And the Disciples said: This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? (v60)

Lord Christ, 

I had a breakthrough Sunday, 
about the bread and wine, 
about your body and blood. 

It wasn’t about transubstantiation, 
or other fine points of theology. 
It wasn’t about wine vs. grape juice, 
or bread vs. wafers. 

…but I finally got it: 

You are flesh and blood. 
You are a real presence. 

…and we need to be reminded, 
every week, every time we gather, 
of that which we can not see. 

You are flesh and blood. 
You are a real presence. 

I cannot see you, Jesus, 
or touch you, 
but you are present in my life.

I am blessed,
richly blessed,
that you see me, 
that you touch me. Amen.

Artwork credit

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

This is a Psalm? Really?

Father God, What am I to make of Psalm 109? King David pleads for retribution and vindication against his enemies: 

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. (v9-10)

I should resist those sentiments, right? What if I lived in a violent neighborhood or a war torn country or faced religious persecution. I just might be praying David’s prayer. Actually, his honesty and transparency are a worthy example: 

Sovereign LORD, help me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. (v21-22)

Lord Christ, you are the supreme example of suffering, of unjust and unwarranted misery. You are our salve for vengeance and payback. A contemporary theologian reminds me that you are "in the midst of human suffering, listening to every sigh, collecting every tear, resonating with the trembling of every fear-stricken heart." (Miroslav Volf)

I’m not besieged by enemies, but I am confounded by the injustice and suffering on this planet. At times I feel defeated by my own mistakes and burdens. 

Holy Spirit, give me King David’s candor before my God. Convey his trust and confidence. Out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. Amen. 

This prayer was inspired by Andy Bathgate’s Encounter with God Bible study on Psalm 109 for Scripture Union. He’s the CEO of SU/Scotland.

Artwork credit

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trifecta of Blessing

A few summer days on the coast…our full clan assembled…for a family wedding. An event that evokes gratitude: 

Creator God, I sense your presence on the beach. Your Spirit is revealed in the sun, the waves, the sand. Admittedly, I skipped the sun’s rising, but you were there in the sunsets and star filled evening sky. 

Lord Christ, I feel your Spirit in the warmth of family. I find it in the company of friends and their gift of hospitality. 

Thanks be to God for these expressions of your presence, love and care. Amen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lord of Creation

I don’t view Genesis as a science textbook. God is not trying to teach us biology or earth science, but his creative energy is the underpinning of science. That’s the first lesson of the Bible: God is the creator…of the universe…of you and me. 

I offer some prayers about creation and nature. CLICK HERE.

Graphic credit

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Praying with America

When we view the blessings with which our country has been favored, those which we now enjoy, and the means which we possess of handing them down unimpaired to our latest posterity, our attention is irresistibly drawn to the source from whence they flow.

Let us then unite in offering our most grateful acknowledgments for these blessings to the Divine Author of All Good.

James Monroe, 
5th U.S. President
Message to Congress, 1818

I am re-posting these Independence Day prayers from 2009. Click here. And I offer this prayer For our Country from the Book of Common Prayer. I'm challenged to put aside my cynicism, savor the archaic language and pray with deliberation, line by line...

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our 
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove 
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
 Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
 pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
 from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
 our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes 
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue 
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust 
the authority of government, that there may be justice and 
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
 may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
 and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
 all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer
Prayers for National Life, page 820

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Praying with Paul

It's a struggle for me to be contemporary, but I have managed to update the design of PRAYERwerks. Now, I'm taking a break, and I present my version of summer reruns

This post is a reprise of prayers that have some basis in the the writings of St. Paul. CLICK HERE for the portfolio, and scroll through nineteen prayers written over the past three years.

Artwork credit

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Before the Ark or at the Alter

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering…gold, silver and bronze…blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen…spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense…then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (from Exodus 25:1-8) 

Great and Holy God, 

Worship lite is not your standard! 

Sacrificial giving. Painstaking attention to detail. Meticulous craftsmanship. That's how you spelled it out for Moses in Exodus. 

The Ark, the Tabernacle, priestly garments - they represent and evoke your presence. (Exodus 25-28)

I will meet with you and give you all my commands… (from Exodus 25:22)

In a grand cathedral or a clapboard country church we gather for praise, confession and intercession. Yes, my thoughts wander. I can be caught yawning, but worship compels our full attention and participation. You are near. Your presence fills the space. The details matter - the details of our lives - and we listen for your instructions.  Amen.

Artwork credit

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Radical Forgiveness

The news here has been dominated by two stories, the Senator John Edwards political corruption trial and the horrific Taft murder case. Coincidentally - or Providentially - I watched the George Clooney film, The Descendants. It’s a complex story about family wounds, betrayal and forgiveness - the heavy lifting kind of forgiveness. All of this prompts yet another prayer about forgiveness. 

Gracious, Forgiving, Healing God, 

I see families tested so severely by infidelity, treachery, even violence. 

Of course, they seek and deserve justice, but there’s only one answer to the test. Forgiveness. 

We prefer the multiple-choice version. Anger. Retribution. Hatred. Resentment. Any satisfaction from those responses is fleeting and failure is certain. 

Lord Christ, where wanton selfishness has injured, close the wound with Divinely inspired selflessness. It’s easier prayed for than accomplished - heavy, heavy lifting - but we have your example and Spirit. 

You conducted a ministry of healing and forgiveness. Theologically and physically, your blood was spilled for the forgiveness of our sins. Your dying words were about forgiveness. 

It is so often our last resort, but it’s the singular, appropriate response. 

Amen! …to forgiveness.

Graphic credit

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Breath of God

Is the Holy Spirit resident in your life or president of your life? I call that The Pentecost Question, posed by Rikk Watts in my Scripture Union Bible study last Sunday. 

Lord Christ, 

How can I connect with your Spirit?

I’m convinced that regular Bible study releases or unlocks the Holy Spirit. I feel it in nature and worship. I find it in caring people and service. 

Still, my glass seems half-empty. 

In Acts, the Spirit comes powerfully upon your Disciples with wind and fire, even linguistic gifts. 

St. Paul is more real about the surreal. In Romans, we are groaning, hoping and waiting - in our weakness - for something we can’t see. 

…but I want a cup that runneth over! 

Our Book of Common Prayer talks about being enlightened and strengthened for your service; about growing in the likeness of Christ; about love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors and with all creation. 

I pray for an infusion of your Holy Spirit - in the words of a hymn from two centuries ago:

Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do. Amen. 

The Book of Common Prayer, pages 251, 853
Breath on me, Breath of God, #508, The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
Artwork credit

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Speak less. Listen more.

Contemporary worship overdoses on words and songs, with little space for silence. We think it’s all about us addressing God…it should be about God addressing us. If we speak or sing too much we crowd him out. 

I was confronted by that commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, from Derek Tidball, a Baptist minister in the UK, writing for Scripture Union. It's wise counsel for an improved prayer life: 

Lord Christ, 

Are these prayers or a form of self-expression - with the emphasis on self? 

Am I focused on my words - or you? 

Am I inclined to talk too much - and listen to little? 

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. 
Go near to listen...   Do not be quick with your mouth…let your words be few. (Ecclesiates 5:1-3)

I’m lifting my fingers from the keyboard - creating a space to listen.


Photo credit:
Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville NC (a space for listening to God)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The WORLD in Prayer

My daughter, Lauren, is in Bolivia for a couple of weeks. Protests and strikes have foiled some of her travel plans, and that gives the folks something to be anxious about. All of a sudden, we’re paying close attention to current events in another hemisphere. Note to self: I live a very insular life.

Dear Lord, I’m reading about protests, marches, counter-marches, blockades and strikes in La Paz, Bolivia, as Lauren travels in that country. I pray for her safety and for the wise leadership of her group. I pray for the people and leaders of that troubled country - the poorest in South America - where most people live on two thousand dollars a year.

I’m suddenly aware of my blessings…and myopia. I don’t think a lot about the global south. Life is good in my all-American cul-de-sac.

Our priest e-mails a weekly link to the World in Prayer website. I should engage. After all, I’m a promoter of prayer. Today, I borrow their words and join the world in prayer:

We remember...
- those who were killed by two deadly explosions in Damascus, Syria
- victims of the Russian plane crash in the mountains in Indonesia
- the children and families victimized by a sexual exploitation ring in Manchester, UK
- the seventeen employees killed in a fire while they slept in a department store in the Philippines

We lift up the members of our human family around the world - for those who are afflicted or suffering, for those who need healing, for those who require bread or shelter, for those who live in violent homes and communities, for those who are grieving, and for those whose needs are known to you alone.

Touch us with your healing peace and gentle embrace that we may walk in your ways - bringing dignity, justice and peace to all corners of your world. All of this we pray in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

World in Prayer website
Image credit

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Grip of Fear

I’m disappointed - forlorn is a better description - that the Marriage Amendment was added to the North Carolina constitution by a majority of voters on Tuesday. It was an unfortunate collision of religion, politics and mores - fueled by fear - fear of God, fear of gays and fear of change.

Proponents claimed they were protecting marriage, but no one offered an amendment making divorce more difficult. No one suggested criminalizing infidelity. No, the preferred solution for protecting marriage seems to be aimed at denying committed gay couples a marriage license. Obviously, this controversy is about uneasiness with or fear of homosexuality.

I know what the Bible says about the subject, but I would challenge you to read Romans 1:29-31 (where St. Paul condemns homosexuality among promiscuous Gentiles.) Insert the name of a gay person you know. Is the Apostle writing about your gay coworker, friend or family member? I don’t know any gay people that fit his description. 

And consider the meaning of Acts 10 where the Spirit of God intervenes to upend Old Testament teaching.

This is one of those hard places in the Bible where - per John Wesley - we might apply the whole of Scripture, reason, tradition and our experience of life and faith.

Admittedly, I am perplexed by this issue, but I refuse to come down on the side of fear!

Great & Merciful God,

We are forever in the grip of fear - fear over money, health, relationships.

Politicians and marketers are especially good at pushing our fear buttons. Preachers will do it, too. Fear can motivate, but it’s equally crippling.

We read this passage from 1st John last Sunday in church:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Lord Christ, that degree of perfection seems out of reach - very much so with people of different cultures, countries, lifestyles, views and faiths.

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

The words of St. John convict. God of love, cast out my fear(s). Amen.

Image credit

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Church

I’m a member of Church of the Good Shepherd, an Episcopal parish in downtown Raleigh NC. 

CGS was founded in 1874, and our current sanctuary was built in 1914. A rich history!

...but the congregation is a diverse flock, engaged in urban ministry and very much alive with young families and their children. 

Come for a visit!

Patient & Gracious God,

When I was a surly teenager church was so tedious. What’s with these old hymns, the same routine every week, the uncomfortable pews?

You were indeed patient and gracious - because forty years later - it’s a joy to be in church!

Those ancient hymns and our timeless liturgy connect the faithful across generations. The pews are still uncomfortable, but the ninety-eight year old benches creak with tradition and history. That’s comforting. Today, I find order and harmony (neither of which seemed crucial when I was sixteen!)

Praise God! Worship is inspiring and uplifting. I am a witness to your presence at Church of the Good Shepherd.

…with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Way. The Truth. The Life.

Doubting Thomas - let’s call him Questioning Tom - has captured my imagination lately.

How can we know the way? Thomas, the Disciple, puts that question directly to Jesus in John 14, and Jesus offers a profound response: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:6-7)

That commanding passage has been used to exclude people of different faiths from the Kingdom of God, but in other verses, Jesus talks about his Father’s house with many rooms and his other sheep. Therefore, I’m content to take this as a personal challenge to better know God. We can strive to radiate our faith or we can be stingy with it. I choose the former!

This prayer was inspired by Scripture Union writer Mary Evans and William Barclay's commentary on the passage.

Lord Christ,

You are my way, my truth, my life.

The Way: The way to God. My path. My guide. I’m prone to stray. Take my hand and lead me. Help me to stay on your course.

The Truth: The truth about God. In teaching and example. A reflection of the Father’s character. Help me to replicate your humility, mercy, healing and sacrificial love.

The Life: The life in God. A purposeful life. The experience of my Creator’s powerful presence and the promise of eternal life. Help me to harvest the fruits of your Spirit - peace, patience, self-control, generosity, perseverance, honesty and hope.

Jesus, reveal your way, your truth, your life - a life lived in and for the Lord. Amen.

Many rooms - John 14:2 
Other sheep - John 10:16
Image credit

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doubting Thomas

My Lord, My God,

Very appropriate! St. John’s Doubting Thomas story was the Gospel reading last Sunday. After the Easter celebration, my own need for verification creeps in. The doubt of Thomas resonates:

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands…I will not believe it. (John 20:25)

Lord Christ, your life was a succession of reality bending events: the virgin birth, water to wine, feeding the multitudes, walking on water, healings, raising the dead, your own resurrection.

…but 1st century journalism doesn't necessarily engender faith and belief. Verification really occurs in the heart. Your words, Jesus:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe. (John 20:29)

Much is made about faith as a decision. Are you saved? Do you believe X, Y or Z?

…but I thank you for the blessing of faith. It has crept up on me. It didn't happen in a flash. It has enveloped me over the years. It’s clearly a result of your grace. And that is verifiable in my life. My Lord and my God, I believe! Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

No Fear Resurrection People

Father God,

Our tradition presents Easter as a pardon - a pardon from sin and death.

The mistakes and missteps of your Resurrection People are pardoned. And Christ-followers are pardoned from death - granted eternal life.

Our tradition is inclined to stir up some anxiety, too, around the shame of sin and our fear of death.

Lord Christ, I most gratefully accept the pardon. I readily confess that it is undeserved, but let me share this Good News with your grace. Use me to dial back the fear.

Your Easter words to the women at the tomb:

Do not be afraid. (Matthew 28:10)

We are offered everlasting life. Resurrection People need not fear death.

Mistakes and missteps don’t block a relationship with our Creator. Christ-followers need not fear God.

Holy Spirit, stir up in me a joy-filled, no fear faith. Amen.

This prayer was inspired by a Sojourners blog post from Pastor Tripp Hudgins.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Week

Lord Christ,

Holy Week merits deep contemplation, but it’s overwhelming.

Things of eternal import should be overwhelming.

Fluttering palms and loud hosannas. The Passover meal. Your confrontation in the temple. Anointing and plotting. Foot washing. Parables, prophecy and prayers. The arrest. The inquisition. Your crucifixion. The burial. Denials and the despair of your followers.

The triumphal entry at Jerusalem rapidly devolves into a murder sanctioned by both church and state. A life of only three decades, a ministry of only three years, it all comes apart so quickly.

God does not respond to the prayers of those standing beneath the cross. The hoped for Messiah does not lead a revolt against the government.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it…
This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.

After the supper he took the cup…
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
(Luke 22:1-20)

Jesus, you offered a flesh and blood sacrifice. God did intervene.

Your lifeless body was revived, and believers are lifted up with you.

You continue to lead a revolt against evil and a revolution of the human heart.

Praise to you, Lord Christ, for the overwhelming, empowering, eternal significance of Easter. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wrath of God

I seem to have a theological obsession with this topic. I was in a men’s Bible study for several years, and there was a collective groan whenever I raised the subject!

My anxiety seems to peak around Easter - around the doctrine that Jesus was a scapegoat for our sins. I fully appreciate his sacrifice, but I’m troubled with the notion that God required it. I understand the consistency with Jewish tradition and theology, but again, it confounds me.

I can grasp the wrath of God as a concept. When we go our own way, when we lapse morally, ethically or selfishly there are consequences.

Are there eternal consequences? Yes, maybe there’s a separation from God. Maybe a spirit or soul can be so overrun by evil that it’s somehow extinguished. Indeed, I hold tightly to the belief that God is in the process of eradicating evil and restoring humanity. Still, I’m not convinced this invokes the sulfurous fires of hell.

God made us. He gave us free will. He can't be surprised when we run amok. Surely, he's disappointed, but not angry.

I’m rambling. It’s more useful to pray:

God of Mercy, God of Forgiveness,

I return to this theme with trepidation. I don’t want to mislead anyone with my doubts. Still, I seem to revisit the wrath of God regularly.

The phrase is noted about twenty times in my concordance. There’s no denying that it’s Biblical, but I cannot reconcile my God of love with an angry deity.

Did the Bible’s narrators and interpreters give you human emotions? Were personality traits borrowed from the gods of pagan cultures? We’re inclined to link our desire for justice with punishment, but maybe that’s a temporal construct?

Lord Christ, is there really fiery and eternal punishment for the people you died to lift up? Does the suffering servant really impose suffering upon others?

Wrath, retribution, anger - it just seems like an insult to your nature, to your character. It misses the point of Easter. You came to save us. You died to save us.

Jesus, do my questions teeter on the brink if blasphemy? (Have I crossed the line?) Where there are gaps in my comprehension fill them with your love. Amen.

Artwork: depiction of God by Michelangelo; Sistine Chapel, Rome

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hidden Meaning

Your words, Lord Christ. A terse, blunt account of what we now call your Passion and the events of Holy Week:

…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.

Then, Luke tells us that your Disciples failed to understand: Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
(Luke 18:31-34)

Am I any different from the Disciples? Do I grasp the meaning of your suffering? I’m rushing to Easter morning attempting to avoid the troubling details:

Rejected by the religious establishment. Wronged by the authorities. Betrayed. Deserted. Humiliated. Tortured. Killed.

It was an unimaginable sacrifice...expressing a love of incomprehensible intensity.

Jesus, you endured humanity’s malevolence that we might rise above it. Today. And at our own resurrection.

During Lent, open my eyes, open my heart, to the full meaning of Easter. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jesus 101: Forgiveness

Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. (Wikipedia)

I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

We live out our faith in a variety of ways. Holy Spirit, help me to appreciate and honor that diversity. Some people have gifts for teaching or hospitality or music. Others are passionate about service work. We find great examples of personal piety and discipleship among the faithful.

It’s our biggest shortcoming that we hold in common. We all struggle with Jesus 101: Forgiveness.

From the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12) to the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the gold standard of Christianity is forgiveness:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Still, we prefer to nurse, curse and rehearse our hurts as Dr. Robert Schuller preached. Reversing our hurts, healing and reconciliation call for genuine forgiveness. We’ll take a stab at it, but we add conditions and limitations.

Lord Christ, incredibly, you offered a prayer of forgiveness for your executioners:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus - in your grace - it seems that I am forgiven hourly. And permanently. I must become more forgiving. No disclaimers or fine print.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)


Photo credit
Dr. Robert Schuller, from The Be (Happy) Attitudes

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Frozen Chosen

Generous and Patient God,

I have heard Episcopalians (and other good church folk) called the frozen chosen - stuck in their ways, stuck in their pews. Are we guilty as charged, frozen solid in our tradition?

There is a downside to that chosen people status of our Hebrew heritage. It should evoke gratitude and servanthood, but it's just as likely to breed arrogance or indifference.

Yes, we are chosen: chosen for service and called to serve those not chosen by society, circumstance or bad choices.

The Book of Common Prayer is very realistic about our true status in its Prayers for the Church:

We pray for purification, direction, reform, strength, provision and unity.

We ask you to “strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless and restore the penitent.”

That’s a generous description of the body of Christ - and of me. I can be found in each category: often careless, inconsistently penitent, sometimes faithful.

Father, I pray for a thawing of the frozen chosen. Inspire us to contrition and devoted, energetic service, in Christ’s name, Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, page 816