Tag Archives: prayer

Activate prayer any time, any place, anyway you can

Last week, I was fortunate enough (maybe I should say, blessed) to attend a Ruby Payne conference, attend a Passion City Church worship service, and bond with two passionate Christians seeking to learn more about how to make pathways out of poverty—more specifically how our churches can make pathways out of poverty.

 

Certainly that is a great deal to list in the first paragraph of a blog, but I needed to jump in and get started (that helps me when I have departed from a routine).  Please allow me to continue.

 

The Missouri UMC Conference established an initiative for the 2019 year: to increase the church-school partnerships from 10 to 40% in an effort to create “pathways out of poverty.”  This is a lofty goal, indeed; and an educational task force is operating to assist this effort.

 

At least that is the structure that is currently established.

 

Three of us attended the Ruby Payne conference, Addressing the Challenges of Poverty,in Atlanta on September 23-25.  The focus was on how to work with the multiple agencies that provide resources for those in poverty, aka the under-resourced.

 

About 20 years ago, I attended a Ruby Payne conference that introduced me to her framework of poverty.  That experience taught me so much about the hidden rules that exist not only for the socio-economic poverty class, but also for the middle class and the wealthy.

 

The knowledge base made me much more accepting of others who were in different life circumstances than my own.  In fact, I had to reassess my own background and figure out my own hidden rules.

I firmly believe that it made a tremendous difference in my teaching and continues into my ministry.  I have not one doubt that this information is a key to the conference’s initiative, too.

 

But, I am wondering way too far from my blog’s opening title.

 

Our small team was asked to use prayer as we stepped into the conference: Prayer for guidance.  Prayer for understanding.  Prayer for the conference.  Prayer for the churches.  Prayer for the people in our communities.

 

Growing up, prayer meant a formal set of words offered at specific times with specific purposes.  Prayer had a visual appearance of head down and hands folded.  I was a kid, learning.

 

Prayer was given at each meal in our household and even today, I yearn to hear my dad’s words.  I cannot remember them all and my family has tried to rebuild it, but we can’t.

 

Prayer was used in church and we all had to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. The minister, aka pastor or preacher typically offered prayer.  Sometimes lay people prayed, but I never really felt like prayer was used all the time, any time, or anywhere.

 

Then, I grew up.  I begin realizing prayer was a tool, a connection with God.  I participated in a small study group about prayer.  I began hearing about prayer differently.  And even through the discernment process and the training to become a licensed local pastor, I continued to learn about prayer.

 

And I used prayer—officially.

 

And I used prayer—personally.

 

Then this summer I read the book, Talking with God by Adam Weber, and I became comfortable with prayer in an even deeper manner.

 

Prayer is a tool but it is even more.  Prayer is a conversation with God, one that never has to cease, that can change on a whim, that can be tears or laughter.  Prayer is essential in our Christian lives.

 

Prayer is any time.

 

Prayer is any place.

 

Prayer is anything.

 

Throughout the days of travel, conversation, presentations, meals, walking, and more, prayer is all that you do when living as Christians.

 

The Missouri Conference has a dream, and that dream can involve every individual through prayer.

 

The work that Ruby Payne has done is prayer in action as the educators, the agencies, the legislators, and the interested citizens work to address the difficulties in life that come through the barriers created by the hidden rules of socio-economic classes.

 

There is no reason to believe that any church denomination has an answer to the problem, but there is a reason for each Christian—regardless of denomination—to join in prayer that we can do all that we an for all those we can in any way we can wherever we can and whenever we can (yes, John Wesley said it and we should continue to say and do as the same).

 

Prayer is the first and most essential task we all can participate in doing. We can pray regardless of age, gender, or race.  We can pray alone or we can pray in groups.

 

Yes, I did mention attending a worship service while in Atlanta.  I was not familiar with Grace City Church, but when I started learning about it I wanted to go.

 

What an experience!  The church was an old Home Depot store transformed into a worship space.  No stained glass windows.  No pews, just padded chairs.  No alter.  No typical appearance associated with the traditional church in which I grew up or am accustomed attending.

 

But there was Jesus!  There were people—everywhere.  There was music.  There was a sermon.  There was an offering.  There was PRAYER!

 

And I know that God was pleased.

 

I walked away from that setting and discovered that I had witnessed just a miniscule picture of what true Christianity can be.  The congregation was not what I have witnessed before.

 

The people were all one:  No race mattered.  No age mattered.  No gender mattered.  No social class mattered.

 

Only one thing mattered:  God’s unconditional love.  Prayer was alive and witnessed.

 

Dear Loving Father,

 

I am with you always, and I pray always.

Use me in ways I may not understand

So that I can share your kingdom with others.

 

I pray when I struggle, and I know you listen.

May my unconditional love of others

Provide a prayer for them in their struggles, too.

 

I pray in order to hear you, and yet I am unsure.

Let me continue to pray and to do all that I can

In any way, for all, in any way, at any time I can.

 

Thank you, too, Father, for all those who join

In prayer to do the same wherever they are

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Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Prayer for our students

I cannot imagine leaving the latest school shooting out of Sunday’s service.  We may live have a nation away from Florida, but our schools are being shaken repeatedly by shootings.  The country needs to pray for healing and for answers about how to stop the violence.

When the UM News department posted the comments from Florida’s Bishop Carter, I could not ignore it and felt that it provides us the tool we need.  Please read and join in prayer:

The statement issued by Florida Area Resident Bishop Ken Carter, who is also the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, reads as follows:
On this Ash Wednesday, our services announced the biblical imperative to “repent and believe the gospel.”  In light of today’s shootings, we repent from our participation in a culture of death, we acknowledge the harm we do to others, and we claim the power of the cross that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.  We also grieve with the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida, in the deaths of seventeen persons and the wounding of many others on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A number of surrounding United Methodist Churches have students at this school, and our connection will support their healing ministry in the days ahead.

 

Using these words, let us pray together:

 

Dear God,

We accept the role of being your servants,

But sometimes we cannot be all that we want to be.

We hear the news and cry out for answers,

And we forget to turn it over to you.

We feel anger boil up within us and we scream,

As we try to renew our faith during Lent.

Let us begin with Bishop Carter’s words:

“In light of this week’s shootings, we repent

from our participation in a culture of death,

we acknowledge the harm we do to others,

and we claim the power of the cross

that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.

We also grieve with the communities

of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida,

in the deaths of seventeen persons

and the wounding of many others. . .”

Guide us in our prayer life

To share our pain and to hear your words.

Guide us in our scripture reading

To find wisdom and encouragement.

Guide us in our fellowship

To love one another,

To make disciples of others,

And To transform this hurting world

So all my know grace and love

Now and forever through your son, Jesus Christ.–Amen

 

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Oops! Did you misunderstand my letter

This is the sermon and related scripture that I gave on Sunday, October 22, 2017.  The format is a bit different so I hope you can follow it easily.  This also concludes the series of Paul’s letters and the message that still applies to today’s churches.  Thank you all for reading along.  I appreciate your interest and hope these words speak to you.

Reflection: Oops!

How many times do you say something to someone and then discover that maybe they did not really hear what you were saying? All too often, correct?

Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians because that is what he thinks may have happened when the church received his first letter. He was afraid that they were not understanding what he said about Jesus’ second coming.

Imagine Paul’s sense of urgency when he learned that members of that Thessalonian church were not following the list of do’s and don’ts that his first letter listed because they only heard that Jesus was returning soon.

Consider the scriptures of this second letter as though you were misunderstanding Paul’s first letter:

 

Opening scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12, NLT

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Reflection continues: But just in case . . .

Communication always has the potential to be heard through a wide range of filters. What one says may not be heard the same way as the speaker intends. How come? There are many reasons the message can become twisted.

For instance, the forecast for the weekend might be partly sunny and that would be fine for an outdoor event. But maybe the partly sunny also means partly cloudy and those clouds might be filled with rain. If you are planning on a day outside, you might hear that forecast as ruining the weekend’s plans while someone who may not need to be outside would hear that same forecast and it would not be an issue.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians tried to address the issue of Jesus Christ’s second coming, but some did not hear Paul’s emphasis on the do’s and don’ts that one should live in order to be prepared at any time for Jesus’ return. What some heard was only that he was going to return at any time. Nothing else mattered to them except that he was coming.

Now Paul hurriedly sent the second letter because he did not want the Thessalonian Christians to continue being idle. Those who thought all they had to do was sit and wait were not living their faith as testimony to Jesus’ teachings.

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, NLT

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

 

Reflection: . . . you misunderstood my first letter, let me restate . . .

Addressing any misunderstanding is awkward. If one is the message sender/speaker, the words chosen make sense to that person and even if written out and re-read, there is a potential for misunderstanding. The misunderstanding can develop from a range of possibilities.

For instance, maybe there is a translation issue. Paul new more than one language, but who knows the native language the different members of the Thessalonian church making it necessary to translate the letter. Another possibility is that as the listener hears that first letter, the selective hearing only catches Paul’s statement that Jesus will be coming soon.

The same thing happens in communication efforts today. We may hear a news story through a personal filter that is different than the main purpose of reporting that story. Or maybe we have a prejudiced feeling toward one of the people (or party) that is central to the news report. That filter may “color” how you understand the story.

Reading on into the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians needs to be read with care, too. Reading this portion of the chapter might cause us to do the same thing that the early audience did concerning the second coming.

Hear Paul’s words with open minds, and try listening carefully through the filter of the earliest church and be alert to possible filters of today such as being an American:

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12, NLT

     Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he [Jesus] can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

     This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

 

Reflection: Let me restate what I mean.

Paul’s primary message is just as critical today as it was when he wrote that first letter to the Thessalonians which had to be why he felt so much urgency to write a second letter. This places today’s reader in a position to read it carefully—listen to it carefully.

Only one thing matters at all: live each day in the same way that Jesus lived his. Love one another. Read scripture. Worship. And live each day to the fullest: don’t be idle or lazy; work hard. In fact, Paul stated what he recommended very straight forward:

we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us . . . [2 Thessalonians 3:6]

Paul did not want any misunderstanding. He wanted these believers who were new to their faith to fully understand that waiting for Jesus’ return did not mean to quit living.

As Christians still waiting for Jesus to return, we must follow the same advice that Paul gave the Thessalonians in both of his letters. God’s timeline does not match our human timeline; so, while we wait, we live. We live a Christ-like life doing all we can for one another in love. We live a Christ-like life studying scripture and worshiping. And, as Paul tells all the churches in his letters, we pray.

 

Closing scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NLT

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Patient Father,

May we honestly hear Paul’s ancient words

            as words of advice for us yet today.

Help us to listen carefully without filters

            so we may learn to live Christ-like lives.

Guide those who share the scriptures’ message

            so your words are not misunderstood.

Show us how you want us to share the news

            of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

            and how our faith leads to salvation.

With these words, and the words of Paul,

            may we hear the promise of eternal life. –Amen.

 

 

 

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Teaming for God, with God

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture connections:

 

Opening: Psalm 105:1-5, NLT

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,

 

Sermon: I Corinthians 12:4-11, 29-31, NLT

    4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

     A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

     29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

 

Reflection: Teaming for God, with God

What a week this has been! As Missouri residents, we have watched just about every kind of teaming effort one can imagine. The week began with the horrible news of the murder of Clinton’s young police officer Gary Michael.

As the days unfolded in the search for the suspect, we witnessed, even first hand, how the law enforcement community worked as a team to search all the area even in our own town. Frightening, yes, but the end result was successful as the professionals and the local citizens worked together to a successful conclusion and the search ended.

On a much lighter note, the week was filled with the Interstate Series between the KC Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royal fans have been sorely disappointed, but the Cardinals are thrilled. In the midst of it even a bold kitten joined in the competition, now nicknamed Rally Cat, he stole the show from the disappointment of the Royals and to the thrill of the Cardinals.

All the events of the week, though, exemplified teamwork. We all live in community one way or another, and when one lives in community, teamwork is essential in order to keep order in our lives and to meet the wide range of needs that develop in almost every facet of our lives.

Consider the need for a team of healthcare providers when we are challenged with an illness or injury. Think about how a broken down car needs some teamwork to get back into working order. Consider the grocery stores and all the other retail stores that demand a team to fill the shelves, maintain the business, and then even to check out the customers and get them on with their lives.

Why should we not realize the value of teamwork in our spiritual journey as well? As Paul wrote his letters to the young churches throughout the region, he was emphasizing the need for teamwork even then. His letters are filled with encouraging members to work together to fix problems and to keep their focus on the final outcome—lasting faith in Jesus Christ.

Do we, right here in this church family, really work as a team? Do we capitalize on each other’s various strengths and gifts to carry out the commission God has given us? Do we work as a team to keep our own faith strong and growing?

Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is filled with advice on how to live and to work as a team in order to develop one’s faith, to carry God’s message out to others, and to withstand the challenges of living among non-believers. His message is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. We must pay attention to his words as we struggle to survive in our own community today.

Paul’s chapter 12 in I Corinthians begins with a caution:

Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a] regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this.You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul was answering their question and it was obvious they were struggling with leadership. He knows that to begin the conversation, he must establish the ground rules and to remind them how each one has special skills. He goes on to outline how each one’s spiritual gifts are important and that each gift has an important role in the life of the church.

All organizations can fall into disarray when one or more individuals try to do everything whether or not they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to do it all. We live in community with each other, so it stands to reason that we must learn to use all of the strengths of each other to provide the successful outcomes that are desired.

Paul outlines the various gifts that are found among the community. Yes, he was focusing on the needs of the church itself, but the point is that all types of gifts are needed and all have been given special gifts:

 

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

 

The list of skills needed to make any community perform at its maximum potential certainly goes beyond what Paul was listing, but the principle remains the same: each person is given special skills, talents, energy, and insights that can be teamed up with others to create the most successful team in any setting.

If Paul were writing to our church today, would he be so concerned that we were failing to team together that we are losing sight of the ultimate goal to share God’s love with others in any way that we can? Would Paul write to our church to encourage us to stop and reassess what our purpose is and then to revamp our methods to continue serving the community in love, demonstrating how faith in God can defend us from the evils that surround us?

In today’s culture that emphasizes success at all cost, the faith community struggles. Faith communities that are showing growth are those who focus on prayer, service, and teaming in the name of God. Every organization that finds itself in a downward spiral must stop and review the matter. Churches are no different.

Paul’s letter to our church might sound very much like his letter to the Corinthians. He might want us to stop and review whether or not we are using each other’s strengths in a loving manner. He might want us to resist the urge to establish blame in one way or another. He might want us to look beyond our own doors and find others with skills to keep God’s work moving forward.

In this first letter to Corinth, Paul ends chapter 12 with a key statement: But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And with that statement he begins the 13th chapter that is known as the love chapter. In the context of the letter, he takes the reader from thinking about each person’s special gifts into how to apply those gifts in the way Jesus Christ demonstrated—through love.

The words are so familiar; yet remember that the lesson Paul is sharing with the Corinthians is about the work of the church:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels. . . . If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Those words reveal the glue that makes everything work: but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The words of chapter 13 continue to develop what love really is: patient and kind. And he continues to share that love is not jealous nor boastful nor proud nor rude. Love is not demanding nor makes one irritable. Love wins over all negative attitudes as long as one never gives up loving one another as one wants to be loved themselves.

Our church is no different than so many other churches. We struggle to fulfill God’s commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the reformation of the world. This is no small task. We are a small church, so it is important that we read Paul’s letters and hear the message he shares of how to live in a world filled with evil. And when the job seems overwhelming, then it is critical that we evaluate how we are using our strengths, skills and talents in a loving manner.

A team focuses on the a clearly defined goal, using all the spiritual gifts God provides, and then begins its operation with prayer calling for God’s help in carrying out the job he asks us to do for the transformation of the world. We are God’s team right here in our community and we must lead with love for each other and love for all in our area. If we are going to team for God, we must team with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You are all-knowing and loving.

You task us to make disciples of Jesus Christ

In order to transform this world.

 

You provide the leaders, the prophets,

The teachers, the physicians, and the workers

To serve as a team for you.

 

You provide the knowledge and skills

To be a spirit-driven team

fueled with love in your name.

 

Give us the wisdom to discern

What Paul’s ancient words tell us

As we work to team with you.

 

May the words of this prayer

And the work of our hands

Show we team for you, with you.

–Amen

 

Closing: I Corinthians 13:11-13, NLT

     11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

     13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

 

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Prayer-filled Lent Reflection #5: Praying for family & self

given on Sunday, March 22, 2015

 

For five weeks, the goal was to consider praying for specific themes, and to encourage a conscious effort to pray regularly creating a 24/7 awareness of our relationship with God and the world around us. We see the physical needs of preserving the world, the relationships that are part of our daily life, and the wide range of issues that complicate our lives. Unfortunately, the weeks have challenged my resolve to develop a prayer-filled Lent.

What happened? Life did. And because life does hand us so many unknowns interrupting even the best plans, the need for prayer is even more critical. Today, prayer is one of the very best defenses in managing life’s ups and downs. Prayer keeps us God-centered; prayer keeps us active as Christians.

What happens when prayer seems to fail you? What can you do to revive your prayer life? Check out a proven resource: always first is the Bible; locate a devotional or prayer book; or turn to the web. The web may seem surprising, I know, but the Upper Room, the devotional magazine, has long guided readers in prayer and now even it is available on the web.

Since this Lent has challenged my own resolve to maintain a prayer-filled, reflective attitude, I followed these three suggestions. I continued reading the lectionary, following up on the study notes and seeking more scriptures via the concordance. Prayer is actively reading God’s word.

The second suggestion to locate a prayer book took me to my Book of Worship and to the 365 Days Prayer Book I use each evening. The Book of Worship helped manage the sermon last week since life threw a couple of roadblocks up. I trusted what our denomination has created to carry me through the funeral and the time crunch of Course of Study. This week Spring Break lulled me into a mental state of leisure, so to manage, I went to the web and found the Upper Room prayer resources.

The focus this week is praying for family and self. Prayers for those closest to us may seem the easiest, but not necessarily. As parents, prayers for our children may be natural, but as children grow up and become more independent, prayer may seem futile, ineffective, and untimely.

As children, prayer is learned. First, prayer may be lived out as children discover God’s glory and grace first hand. As children begin experiencing life, parents are the first teachers in their faith journey. Blessings at the dinner table demonstrate prayer as thanksgiving. Saying a bedtime prayer often asks God for protection. Slowly, children develop the prayer life that they will use as parents, too.

For adult children, prayers for family span the generations. Not only do they ask God for guidance in their own lives, they ask for protection of their children, and they also ask for the health and well being of their parents. The sandwich generation prayers are far more complicated when there is request for personal guidance in the care of three generations, for the health of all three generations, for the mental well being, for the independence, and for a wide range of specific needs of three generations.

At times, prayers become like a canned responses or maybe even dropped from conscious thought. That is when using a devotional publication or website comes in handy. The Upper Room does offer a daily devotion (in written format as well as on the web). Not only can the devotion guide you in your prayer life, the web site offers additional insight into prayer. In fact, I found that there is a ‘Spiritual Types Test.’ The questions are surprisingly simple, but when completed a composite is presented for you in the flash of hitting return.

The four types the Upper Room identifies are the mystic, the sage, the lover, and the prophet. The reasoning is that there are different styles or focuses for individuals to use in their prayer life. The Upper Room’s spiritual type test guides the individual in understanding how they feel most effective in prayer as well as in their Christian journey. Of course, reading through all the various types, one discovers that it is also possible to conscientiously develop one’s prayers to more specific needs using the different types.

In one of the articles, the verse James 5:16 is referenced as one of the key verses about prayer:

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

 

Dr. Candace Lewis writes in one of the website’s articles, “Powerful and Effective Prayers,”

When listening to friends share their work, health, financial, relational and spiritual challenges; I hear the need for powerful and effective prayers.  . . . Maintaining a right relationship with God and others enables us to pray powerful and effective prayers. The verse states we should “confess our faults one to another and pray one with another that we might be healed”.  . . . God’s grace enables us to pray powerful and effective prayers for the needs of self, others and the world around us.

 

That last line confirms the importance of prayer and that even when we feel we are without words, God still hears our silence and is always available once the words begin tumbling forth again.

When we feel overwhelmed by family or even with our own issues, the resources are available. We, though, must remember that we have God present at all times. Prayer allows us to have that ongoing talk with him, even when we feel alone and unable to use words.

One of my favorite modes of prayer is the breath prayer. Even though I do not always know what to say or how to say anything, I can use a breath prayer. The concept is that it is such a short phrase that you have practiced so frequently that it just surfaces at all the times you need to call on God.

The prayers of supplication are those we use when we are praying for others. The prayer chain is an example of that. We ask God to care for someone who needs help. In a sense it is like placing a magnifying glass on a specific need from as many sources as possible. Over the past several years, the prayer chain in this church has been an invaluable resource not just for the members but also for those in the community who value the prayer chain enough to ask to use it, too.

Still the means of prayer are as numerous as the people who pray. Unfortunately, as we develop our prayers and the methods we use, remember that the prayer is not about what we want, but what God knows to be best. Our prayers need to take self out and put God in.

Our human, selfish side wants prayer to be answered in the way we want it answered. We want someone healed and/or back to the perfect state of being that we want. Sometimes that condition is no longer attainable due to physical damage or age-worn. The prayer needs to focus on what God wants and for us to accept God’s decision.

Sometimes our prayers fail because the person for whom we pray may not receptive to the prayers nor to God. That does not mean stop praying, it means the prayer may be to allow God into that life. Once God is part of one’s life, the prayers may be transformative.

Prayers for our family and even for ourselves are automatic in many cases. We see the issues in the lives of those immediately around us and it is easy to ask God for answers. We witness poor decisions, we watch health decline, we see hurt, and we feel helpless. These are the very reasons we should rely on prayer. Yet the toughest part of prayer is allowing God to take over and accepting his sense of timing not ours.

Make the prayers you offer a conscious act of piety. Use the sources available to you from the Bible, to devotionals, and even to web resources. Apply various tips for prayer that can enrich the practice of talking with God. The list of tips vary, but some of the most common ones are:

  • Plan a time and place to pray
  • Keep a prayer journal listing the concerns and reviewing them
  • Pray specifically—use names; use issues (One source adds “God knows the needs. He wants us to acknowledge that we are concerned about those individual requests, too.”)
  • Use a prayer guide which is a short list of reminders such as salvation, protection, leadership, ministry, opportunity, etc.
  • Find a prayer partner because “. . . Jesus admonishes the disciples . . . that there is more power in going to God as a group rather than only as individuals.”

[“10 Prayer Tips: How to Talk to God” accessed at www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com]

 

Finally, in your prayers, ask God for the strength to turn it over to him and to let him work in his own way and in his own time. Prayers that seem unanswered due to our human demand to see an answer in our time frame, not God’s time frame. The hardest part of prayer is turning it over to God. Certainly we can repeat the prayers, but we must let go. Faith means knowing God hears and will answer.

Closing prayer

(Praise)      Awesome God,

Your love shines as the sun springs above the horizon.

Your grace peeks above the brown earth as the crocus bloom.

Your words echo like the peepers sing along the waters’ edge.

(Apology)  Forgive us for groaning and complaining through short days.

Forgive our selfishness wanting more than we need.

Forgive us for our poor patterns of Christian living.

(Thanks)    Thank you for patience in waiting for our complete trust.

Thank you for tolerance of our selfish demands.

Thank you for unending forgiveness as we make mistakes.

(Help)        Help us to put your teachings into practice.

Help us to use prayer to stay in constant connection.

Help us to rely on you for answers to prayer

in your time, not ours;

as you decide, not as we demand. –Amen

 

 

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Prayer-filled Lent Reflection #3: Praying for justice

given on Sunday, March 8, 2015 (due to the winter weather conditions, the 2nd Sunday in Lent had to be canceled at the rural churches)

Okay, I admit that last week’s winter snow disrupted my Lenten resolve. Snow days can bring welcome breaks from our daily routines and provide us with a day of rest and delightful surprises of nature’s beauty. Certainly these are welcome, but a Sunday snow day? Last week’s Sunday snow day broke into my prayer-filled Lent.

The original plan for the second Sunday in Lent was to focus on Communion and praying for the Church—the universal church, the denomination, and the local churches. The path developed a huge pothole and I hit it!

In fact, I began thinking about re-routing the entire Lenten theme and start all over again. I looked over my notes, reviewed the acronym PATH, read the lectionary, and prayed.

When Jesus met with the disciples for the last supper together, no one present knew—except for Judas—the changes that were about to occur. From our perspective today, that supper was the initiation of the universal church.

The 2,000 years since that supper has created a social phenomena that has sustained cultural and historical challenges that lead to reform creating an institution that reflects all the various ways Christians choose to practice worship and to fulfill the Great Commission. The Church does need prayer for God’s help in maintaining its integrity and its mission.

The mission from that first day was to bring about change in a world filled with corruption. The mission was to transform a rigid, inflexible, intolerant culture that had distanced itself from God.

And snow day or not, prayer is needed for The Church, but today the global culture demands attention and as Christians, prayer is a force that cannot be stripped from any one person, one community, one denomination nor any other cultural unit that focuses on fulfilling God’s mission.

Snow day or not, prayers must continue for the well-being of The Universal Church, and Christians must face the reality of the world armed with all their individual gifts and prayer. Prayer is the most powerful tool Christians can use to confront the social injustice that attacks God’s children anywhere, well everywhere!

Within our denomination, prayer is the foundation for the action we take confronting all the injustice we can. John Wesley was an activist. He did not accept the ‘hands-off’ approach to being Christian. He saw and demonstrated that being Christian meant literally serving as God’s hands and feet.

The Wesleyan method of Christianity meant looking at the world around oneself, as God would see it. What was good was praised; what was bad took prayer and action. The Methodist movement has become so refined and formalized that the action has evolved into a mission force throughout the world.

The Methodist’s have even incorporated prayer into action by including it in its Book of Discipline, the formal document that structures the denomination. Part IV of that document is “Social Principles:”

The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. The Social Principles are a call to all members of the United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice. (p.97)

 

The Social Principles are not law, but an effort to help focus Christians, especially Methodists, to identify problems within the culture that need attention in order to protect God’s creation and his children—us—in this world.

Our prayer-filled Lent must extend throughout the year to put our faith into action. The Christian lifestyle includes dealing with the challenges to our lives, in every facet, most of which are included in the social principles. Just consider the categories, which begin with paragraph 160:

  1. The natural world
  2. The nurturing community
  3. The social community
  4. The economic community
  5. The political community
  6. The world community

 

Simply reviewing the six categories, the completeness of the world is identified. There is no single factor of our lives that is not included within those six categories. And our Christian responsibility is to do all we can to help manage our lives and the lives of all people all around the world.

Such an inclusive list of social concerns easily fills Lent, but can fill each day throughout our lives (not just a season but every day). Looking more closely at each category provides an idea of how inclusive and how diverse the prayer topics are. The list also covers some of the very news topics we are witnessing daily. [The following quotes are taken from the Book of Discipline, Par IV: Social Principles.]

 

  1. The Natural World: “…we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. …Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies.”

 

  1. The Nurturing World: “… We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals. … therefore support social climates in which human communities are maintained and strengthened for the sake of all persons and their growth. We also encourage all individuals to be sensitive to others by using appropriate language when referring to all persons. … We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ loved and accepted us.”

 

  1. The Social Community: “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. ..We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. … We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status.”

 

  1. The Economic Community: “We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order. Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation. We believe private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing business, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable. … We believe that persons come before profits …and encourage the sharing of ideas in the workplace, cooperative and collective work arrangements.”

 

  1. The Political Community: While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. … The rightful and vital separation of church and state … should not be misconstrued as the abolition of all religious expression from public life. … Citizens have a duty to abide by laws duly adopted by orderly and just process of government. But governments, no less than individuals, are subject to the judgment of God. …we recognize the right of individuals to dissent … refraining from violence. … We offer our prayers for those in rightful authority who serve the public, and we support their efforts to afford justice and equal opportunity for all people.”

 

  1. The World Community: “God’s world is one world. … We recognize that no nation or culture is absolutely just and right in its treatment of its own people, nor is any nation totally without regard for the welfare of its citizens. … We affirm the right and duty of people of all nations to determine their own destiny. … We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. … We reaffirm our historic concern for the world as our parish and seek for all persons and peoples full and equal membership in a truly world community.”

 

Lent is a time for prayer and reflection. Our world is complex and it is so easy to become consumed by all the issues that confront us personally and then all those social and cultural issues played out in front of us in real life, reported on the news, or presented in fictional worlds of television, movies, and now games. Prayer must become a constant in our lives if we are to maintain the Christian lifestyle we have committed ourselves to living.

Each day, pray. Each newscast you watch, pray. Every conversation that focuses on the ills of politics, work environments, sports competitions, and more, pray.

Keep God informed. Keep the channel open between you and God. Listen for God. He is telling us what we should be doing all the time he can. Prayer is the conversation and as in all conversations, we must share and we must listen.

We must simply pray, but when God tells us what to do, we must act, too. We must look around our community and call on our own gifts and skills to act. We must find ways to actively be Christians through writing letters to business and political leaders. We must find ways to help feed and clothe those in our communities right here but also around the world. We must identify a problem, then find a solution, and then do whatever we can to get it done. With prayer, I know it can be done.

Closing prayer:

Thank you, God!

(Praise)      You have given us the world filled with glories.

You have given us communities to support us.

You have given us gifts to care and share with others.

(Apologize) And, sadly, we misuse and abuse all you have given.

Time and again, we complain rather than act.

We look away and avoid our responsibility.

(Thank)      Thank you for listening to all our groaning.

Thank you for being patient and waiting on us.

Thank you for guiding us into action.

(Help)        Help us to move our thoughts into prayers.

Help us to hear your words above all else.

Help us to work with one another

to love one another,

to make disciples of Christ,

to transform this world. –Amen

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