Sunday, September 27, 2009

Praying with a full deck

Playing cards may not seem too spiritual. Generally they're associated at best with killing time and at worst with gambling and even fortune telling or divination. But I have a simple way to use cards to help you pray or have an impromptu worship service.

You can play this in a group or as solitaire. Deal just enough cards until you have at least one of each suit. Then begin with the Hearts...

The heart stands for God's heart, aspects of His character that you admire. How do you love Him, why not count the ways? However many points you have in the heart suit, that's how many things you need to try to think of about God that you want to praise him for.

Let's say you have an ace and a duce, that's just 3 things. But if you have an eight, a six and a Queen, that's 24 things you need to think of. Here's a help; Love is patient, kind, does not boast(1 Cor 13) ... Whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is praiseworthy (Philippians 4:4-8)... Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness (Galatians 5)... omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient- although it will mean more if you come up with your own or look through the Bible trying to come up with your own, instead of me giving you answers.

Don't be embarrassed to sing a hymn or contemporary praise song.

The clubs represent our failings and shortcomings, our sins and our mistakes. However many points you have in this suit, that's how many things you should think of to admit to God (and/or your fellow group members- and/or your self). They may be mundane or profound, bog or small. Things your embarrassed by or things you're ashamed of and feel guilty about. If you'd prefer, you can do this silently, privately or on paper that you burn.

The point is not to see who's the worst person or who's got the most shady past. The point is to recognize that we all do/say/or think things that get in the way of our relationships with God and with others (or fail to do/say/or think things that would help those relationships). It doesn't matter who you are, none of us is perfect. Ask God to forgive you and help heal the damages and help all involved to move forward. (Psalm 51, Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 Steps)

Some psalms and a few worship songs work for this too. Don't be afraid to let yourself complain to God about whatever is bothering you or whatever hurts or fears you're going through, but do be careful not to let this degenerate into either a bitch & whine session or (as I eluded to before) a brag session either. Seek God's forgiveness and move on quickly, don't wallow in the negative for too long.

For the diamonds, however many points you have, think of that many things that you have to be thankful for. The diamonds are God's blessings. If you're really scared, sad, hurting, or anxious, maybe you should double that number. The more you remind yourself of all that God has done for you, the more your faith will be strengthened (Phil 4:4-8, if you come to Him with praise and thanksgiving, the peace which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds).

Remember what Bing Crosby said in the movie White Christmas, "when I'm tired but I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep..." What a great way to fall asleep, counting your blessings.

The Spade is a shovel, a tool. I think this is appropriate for this last part NOT because it's like digging for treasure- that's the wrong attitude. I think it's appropriate because intercessory prayer, prophecy and helping and healing are all jobs God wants us to take on for Him, ways He invites us to partner with Him in His ministry. You might say that they're shovel-ready-jobs.

However many points you have in the suit of spades, that's how many supplications you should bring to Him. Supplication is a fancy word for requests, but before you start praying for things you want on your Christmas list- try praying for other people first.

You could try using your hand as a reminder;
  • pinky=those who are weak or meek,
  • ring finger=those you love, spouse/family/friends,
  • middle finger=those with importance, prominence or power,
  • index finger=those who lead/teach/preach or mentor
  • and at the thumb, finally you get to pray for yourself.
Another way you could go is that if you have the king of spades, you pray for leaders and government officials, if you have the queen you pray for women in your life, if you have the jack then you pray for young people you know.

This can be tough. It might mean that if you only have 4 points, you never get to pray for yourself, or if you have thirty points you may have to think of a lot of other people to pray for.

Once you've played this card game, whether it takes you just a few minutes or hours, you will have essentially completed a simple worship service. You will have also prayed through the age-old prayer outline; ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

Hopefully just doing it once will be enough to stick with you, so that you'll remember the ACTS prayer formula every time you see a deck of playing cards. It may just deepen your prayer life and your relationship with God, if you let it.

Here's a more complicated, but meaningful way to use a deck of cards as a devotional aid. This is dedicated to all the service men and women, especially those either in or headed for Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the North African Campaign (part of WWII), a bunch of soldier boys had been on a long hike.

They arrived in a little town called Casino.
The next morning being Sunday, several of the boys went to church.
A sergeant commanded the boys in church.

After the Chaplain read the prayer, the text was taken up next.
Those of the boys that had a prayer book took them out.
One boy had only a deck of cards, and he spread them out.
The sergeant saw the cards and said, "Soldier, put away those cards."
After the service was over, the soldier was taken prisoner and brought before the Provost Marshall.

The Marshall said, "Sergeant, why have you brought this man here?"
"For playing cards in church, Sir," was the response.
The Marshall asked the soldier, "And what have you to say for yourself, son?"
"Much, Sir," replied the soldier.
The Marshall stated, "I hope so, for if not I will punish you more than any man was ever punished."
The soldier said, "Sir, I have been on the march for about six months.
I have neither bible nor a prayer book, but I hope to satisfy you, sir, with the purity of my intentions."
And with that, the boy started his story ...

"You see, sir, when I look at the Ace, it reminds me that there is but one God.
And the deuce reminds me that the bible is divided into two parts: the Old and the New Testaments.
When I see the trey, I think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And when I see the four, I think of the four evangelists who preached the Gospel: there was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
And when I see the five, it reminds me of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps;
there were ten of them: five were wise and were saved, five were foolish and were shut out.
When I see the six, it reminds me that in six days God made this heaven and earth.
And when I see the seven, it reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from his great work.
And when I see the eight, I think of the eight righteous persons that
God saved when he destroyed the earth: there was Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives.
And when I see the nine, I think of the lepers our saviour cleansed, and that nine of the ten didn't even thank him.
When I see the ten, I think of the ten commandments that God handed down to Moses on a tablet of stone.
When I see the King, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty.
And when I see the Queen, I think of the blessed Virgin Mary who is the Queen of Heaven.
And the Jack or Knave is the Devil.

When I count the number of spots in a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year.
There are 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year.
There are four suits, the number of weeks in a month.
There are twelve picture cards, the number of months in a year.
There are thirteen tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter.

So you see, Sir, my deck of cards serves me as a bible, an almanac and a prayer book."
- This version was written in 1948 by Country-Western singer, T. Texas Tyler.
It's origins can be traced back to 1865 in America, and back as far as the late 18th Century in Belgium (1778) and France (1809). It has also been known as "Cards Spiritualised" and "The Soldier's Almanac, Bible And Prayer Book"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Went to a party Mom

I went to a party,
And remembered what you said.
You told me not to drink, Mom,
so I had a sprite instead.

I felt proud of myself,
The way you said I would,
that I didn't drink and drive,
though some friends said I should.

I made a healthy choice,
And your advice to me was right.
The party finally ended,
and the kids drove out of sight...

I got into my car,
Sure to get home in one piece .
I never knew what was coming, Mom,
something I expected least.

Now I'm lying on the pavement,
And I hear the policeman say,
the kid that caused this wreck was drunk,
Mom, his voice seems far away.

My own blood's all around me,
As I try hard not to cry...
I can hear the paramedic say,
this girl is going to die.

I'm sure the guy had no idea,
While he was flying high.
Because he chose to drink and drive,
now I would have to die.

So why do people do it,
Knowing that it ruins lives?
And now the pain is cutting me,
like a hundred stabbing knives.

Tell sister not to be afraid, Mom
Tell daddy to be brave.
And when I go to heaven,
put ' Mommy's Girl' on my grave.

Someone should have taught him,
That it's wrong to drink and drive.
Maybe if his parents had,
I'd still be alive.

My breath is getting shorter,
Mom I'm getting really scared
These are my final moments,
and I'm so unprepared.

I wish that you could hold me Mom,
As I lie here and die..
I wish that
I could say, 'I love you, Mom!'
So I love you and good-bye.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers)

P..O. Box 54168 8
Dallas , TX 75354-1688
1-800-GET -MADD (1-800-438-6233)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

like living stones, are being built
into a spiritual house

For readers of the 'Prophet, Priest and Pirate' blog and for facebook friends; this is the first weekly installment of this Fall's high school Bible Study at St. John Lutheran Church in Charter Oak, Iowa. We meet every Sunday at 9 AM in room 101 of the church office annex. Anyone from 9th grade through college is welcome to attend. It's free and you're welcome to bring your own coffee or juice for breakfast. Church is at 10 and you're welcome for worship, but you're not obligated.

For St. John Lutheran Youth Fellowship (LYF) members, I'll be posting what we cover each week on my blog That way if you miss a Sunday, you don't have to miss out on a heaping helping of God's Word.

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." -1 Peter 2:2
For the next 16 weeks (give or take) our Bible study theme here is going to be based on 1 Peter 2:5," like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house." I encourage you to read all of 1 Peter, Chapter 2 and consider how God wants to use you to build His body up, to make you part of His church. You are special because He created you for this very purpose.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus and His disciples stopped at Caesarea Philippi (see a google map), (now a resort town) on the Southern tip of the Sea of Galilee . This was where Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. Many Roman Catholics believe this is when Peter was set up to be the first Pope, but we Lutherans don't think that Jesus meant Peter as the foundation for His church, but rather Peter's confession- the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the foundation for all other Christian teachings. Although, Peter, the name Jesus gave to his disciple (previously known as Simon) or "Petra," does mean "the Rock."

Unfortunately, lots of people seem to think that after Confirmation, they aren't going to bother going to Sunday school anymore- some even don;' want to bother going to church anymore- and lots of times, parents figure that once you've been confirmed you're either old enough to make your own choices or too old to be held accountable anymore.

That's really too bad. I think that's a little like laying a slab of concrete down, but then changing your mind about building a house on it. The slab may be fine for a while, but eventually it will be exposed to the elements and deteriorate to the point where it will no longer be fit to build on anymore.

Bloom's Taxonomy; critical thinking skillsRead Hebrews 6:1-3, you can think of Sunday School and Confirmation as a great foundation of knowledge. If you remember and somewhat understand God's Word- that's great. But I'd like to help you learn how to apply it, analyze it, use it to evaluate other knowledge and philosophies, and especially to use it to base major decisions and life choices on and build a life with. Teachers call these critical-thinking skills, in the church, we call it "equipping the saints," you being the saints.

In other words, you're very lucky because it was important to your parents and our congregation that you start life out with God's Word in your head- but now, I want to challenge you, I DARE you, to let Him take what's in your head and put it in your heart. Lets move on from "the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity."

I'm challenging you to become active, committed members of God's household, to become the body of Christ like Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:19-22. If you remember your confirmation vows and took them seriously, you promised to do this anyway. Prove it, come to Bible study on Sundays. Be God's people, let Him build you into His temple. Ever since you started Sunday School, we have been teaching you that you are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), now it's time to let yourself be His workmanship, since that's what He created you for (Eph 2:10). Read all of Ephesians 2 to see how 8-10 and 19-22 fit together.

I promise that most weeks my HS Bible Study posts won't be this long- I'm just trying to lay a foundation here (notice a theme here yet?). Bear with me, we're almost done for the week. Over the Fall and Winter I hope to show you some things for building your own character, friendships, work and team relationships, and hopefully success in high school, college and life- but all of them won't be worth more than hollow "self-help" advice unless they're all grounded in Christ. Therefore, this first Bible study is one of the most important.

This week we studied Jesus parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-29. One thing that most people miss when they learn this about building on the rock instead of on sand is that this isn't just a separate story, this is the culmination of Jesus' famous "Sermon on the Mount" found in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6.

Here's some questions from the "Serendipity Bible" to help you think through this parable:
  • What is the rock? (Remember Matthew 16:13-20, but keep in mind, it's not a person, unless you use the typical Sunday School answer- "Jesus")
  • What is the sand?
  • Why would someone build on the sand?
  • What does Jesus promise those who live by His words?
  • What kind of storms claim the most victims" Doubt, Moral failures, Relationship conflicts, personal crises, apathy?
  • What's the short term forecast for the weather in your life look like?
  • To be a "wise builder" at this point in your life, do you think you need to learn more, or just practice what you already know?
  • What does the foundation depend on?
  • How would you describe your Spiritual foundation so far?
Be sure to come next week when we'll talk about the good old fashioned Iowa work-ethic, and the Holy Spirit and how we'll need both of them to start building on God's foundation.
See you next week, come hungry!

Remember, YOU are the church!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where to focus our energies

"It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui."
~Helen Keller

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stealing from families

These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad for the economy. When unscrupulous employers break the law, they’re robbing families of money to put food on the table, they’re robbing communities of spending power, and they’re robbing governments of vital tax revenues.

- Annette Bernhardt, co-director of the National Employment Law Project and an author of a study showing that low-wage workers are routinely cheated out of overtime pay and workers' compensation, and are often paid less than the minimum wage. (Source: The New York Times)

I worked for the same grocery store chain as my brother for a few summers in college. He's older than me and had been working there for several years already and had a reputation for having a strong work ethic. At the time he was fiercely loyal to the company. I think it was also pretty important that I not make him look bad because I remember him telling me that if I was on the clock (not on break or lunch) but wasn't working, it was tantamount to theft. If you're just standing around and not working, but getting paid for that time, it was the same as stealing.

That left a powerful impression on me. Perhaps as much as anything our father taught us or anything I'd learned in school or at church.

Annette Bernhardt's quote from featured in Sojourner Magazine's weekly e-newsletter makes every bit as powerful a statement, only rather than warning the potentially slothful worker, hers is an indictment of the unethical employer and poor corporate citizen in America today.

Whenever people get bent out of shape about illegal immigration, I wonder about the businesses that hire them- or in many cases recruit them. Since they're payed "under-the table," they not only don't have to pay benefits to the worker, let alone minimum wage or over time, they don't with hold or report taxes either. It's unlikely that they bother with minimum safety regulations either.

What about the businesses that schedule workers for 30-39 hours a week- too much to have time or energy to look for a better paying job, but too few to have to pay benefits like insurance or retirement pension. It's practically slavery.

And how many American businesses have out-sourced jobs, moved production facilities over seas or relocated their headquarters off shore in order to lower over-head, avoid regulation or shelter profits from being taxed? No, it's not like every corporation out there has their product manufactured in a third world sweat shop for starvation wages and knowingly poisons the environment, but it certainly is hard to find ANYTHING that says "Made in America"on it anymore.

It makes you think. All this "globalization," de-unionization, and immigration has been happening under decidedly conservative, some would argue pro-corporatist, political administrations- Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Was it NAFTA? Was it "cancer-stage" unfettered capitalism? Was it just natural coincidence?

I don't know, but it is frightening that just 50 years ago CEOs were paid 8 times what their average worker was paid and now days they get paid as much as 800 times as much.

I'm not calling for Marxist revolution, but I do believe that we need a revival of responsibility, accountability and community altruism in this country. Call me crazy, but I think that responsibility, accountability and altruism are conservative values. So why don't people who claim to be social and political conservatives advocate for them? Is noblesse oblige really dead? Is it just too inconvenient?

When Republicans talk about personal responsibility, half of them think they're talking about not getting pregnant outside of marriage and not doing drugs, but the other half is talking about being on your own to develop survival instincts so that you can eat or be eaten. That's not Jesus, that's Darwin- which I find disturbingly ironic.

What about corporate responsibility? What about all being in this together? Being on the same team? What about being our brother's keeper?

When did Prince John become the one we all want to be like instead of Robin Hood? The religious right likes to whine about how upside down and twisted our values have become and how we should be holding on to absolutist black and white concepts of right and wrong. They use this to rant about evolution and gay marriage. But didn't looking out for the little guy used to be an American virtue? Didn't fairness and equality used to be the right think? So when did our values get turned on their head? Why is cunning and craftiness rewarded and hard work and playing by the rules laughed at and looked down upon? Why is it that cheating isn't wrong anymore- just being stupid enough to get caught?

Yes, people should be willing to work hard and not cheat their employers, but businesses should care for their workers like they're human beings, maybe even like they were family- not take advantage of them like disposable, expendable resources. Where's Teddy Roosevelt and his "Square Deal" when we need him?

Here's some more Biblical food for thought to chew on:

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.
Deuteronomy 24:13-15

'If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.
Leviticus 25:34-36

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
Deuteronomy 15:6-8

My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."
Psalm 35:9-11