Sunday, June 19, 2011

For everyone else

Today, remember to pray for all those who lost their dads-
For many, today is a painful reminder that their fathers were taken from them prematurely.

Today, remember to pray for all those who haven't had a dad-
For many, today is a painful reminder of what they don't have, circumstances or decisions of their parents left them without a male parent.

Today, remember to pray for all those who struggle with only the painful memories or strained relationships of an all too human and imperfect dad.
For many, this is a difficult day because of the hurt they face when they remember their dad.

Pray for forgiveness and reconciliation and healing and consolation

Pray that those gaping holes may be filled
with the only perfect Father, "Our Father" God and His love and understanding
and with whatever other make-shift, though still imperfect relationships,
that God may use to help them be more whole

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ACTS: Confession;
Sharing all your secrets with your best friend

When a lot of people think about sin, they think about Exodus 20 (the 10 Commandments) or the book of Leviticus (don't be gay, don't eat shellfish, don't hang out with women during their periods). Me, I think about Matthew 5:17-48.

To hate is to murder. To lust is to commit adultery. To need to swear an oath to get someone to trust you means you must not be too trustworthy in the first place. Turn the other cheek, give 'em the shirt off your back, go the extra mile. Love your neighbor. Be perfect as God is perfect.

Reading Matthew 5 always reminds me of how perfect I'm not.

(Abrupt gear shift)
What's a friend? A true friend? What's the difference between a real friend, a best friend and just a buddy or acquaintance?

A real friend loves you and accepts you no matter what, right? They won't stop being your friend even when they find out what you're really like, who you really are, or once they find out all your secrets, everything about you.

Jesus is like that. Jesus is the friend you can stay up all night spilling your guts to, and He'll still be there for you. Ever have a friend where you break down in front of them? Where you can cry in front of them and they won't make fun of you?

Confession is like that. No matter how wrong things are going, you can get it off your chest- even if it's you're own fault. You can get everything off your chest and have a therapeutic catharsis.

He knows you inside and out. He knows you better than yourself. He knew you before you were born. And He knows that you'll never be perfect. He loved you enough to die for you.

Spill your guts. Dump on Him, He can take it.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Faith & Prayer

There are many things that are essential to arriving at true peace of mind, and one of the most important is faith, which cannot be acquired without prayer.

~John Wooden

ACTS; Confession is good for the soul

"...ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." ~Romans 3:23-24

You, me, that guy over there- everybody, EVERYBODY. We're all selfish and short-sighted. ALL of us. So what do we do? We don't have to do anything, Jesus took care of it on the cross. 

Confession is simply the act of recognizing that we need God, it is admitting to God that He is God and we are not.

Martin Luther thought believers ought to renew their baptism daily thus drowning the "Old Adam" (our sinful nature) every single day so that we could then start the day fresh as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5).

You might say that we are ALL recovering sinners. We may not all be alcoholics or drug addicts, but like addicts, I think it might be healthy for all of us to pray as they do-

  • Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves (JESUS) could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God (JESUS)
  • Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Friday, June 17, 2011

ACTS; Get your Praise on
Likin' God's Personality

I've been talking about how if you're not sure how to pray, you can just follow this simple acronym, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (ACTS). There are tons of ways to give God praise and adoration. Since we want to adore Him for who He is, not just what He does or what He gives us, it's important to meditate on what He's like. What is God's personality anyway?

Since 1 John 4:16 says "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them," I think a great way to pray with adoration might be to pray 1 Corinthians 13:5-8 to God. Tell Him how He is love-

  • Lord, You're so patient
  • Lord, you're kind
  • You don't envy
  • You don't have to brag.
  • You're maker of the universe, yet you humbled yourself to be servant of all, (Phil 2:7-8)
  • You don't dishonor others, You wouldn't snuff out a smoldering wick (Matt 12:20)
  • You're not selfish
  • You're not easily angered
  • You keep no record of wrongs.
  • You do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. 
  • You always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
  • You never fail.
Lord, help us to be more like You! 
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sin Boldly!

"If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign."~Martin Luther
Professors at Concordia, Seward taught us that there must always be a balance of Law and Gospel in religious teaching and writing, but they also advised us that if you are going to err, err on the side of the Gospel. I hope and pray, as liberal as some of my politics, as un-researched as some of my theology and as stream-of-consciousness and extemporaneous as most of my writing tends to be, I still hope that above all, readers see Jesus as loving and accepting, forgiving and inclusive. As many pastors pray at the beginning of their sermons, may the words of my mouth (keyboard) and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in God's sight.

A little Blues

Lately I've been kinda into Cornell West's concept of catastrophic love, prophetic Christianity, the tragicomic, and being a Bluesman in the life of the mind, a jazzman in the world of ideas. A little ZZ Top came to mind, so I thought I'd share.

ACTS; Adoring God for who He says He is

If you're like me, and it's easy to confuse Adoration with Thanksgiving, maybe it will help to think about God is like, not just what He's given us. A great way to review who God is and what about him is praiseworthy is to listen to what He says about Himself.

In the book of John, Jesus announces His Godhood by using His name, Yəhōwāh ("I am that I am") seven times. Seven times he says "I Am..." and then He gives us a powerful metaphor for who He is. Pray with me though these-

  1. The Bread of Life (John 6:35)- Jesus You are our spiritual sustenance and nutrition. Like manna in the desert, God gives us His Word (the Bible) and His Word (Jesus).
  2. The Light of the World (John 8:12)- Thy Word is a light unto my feet, Jesus , You enlighten and reveal God's character, His will and His ways. Your light exposes sin, corruption and imperfection, and  leads us into God's glory, love, and forgiveness.
  3. The Gate (John 10:9)- Jesus, you protect us from thieves and wolves within the safety of Your corral.
  4. The Good Shepherd (John 10:11)- Jesus, you lead us beside still waters, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we don't have to fear because You're with us and comfort us. When we're lost, You finds us.
  5. The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)- just as You  raised Your friend Lazarus, You promise that we too will share in Your new and eternal life.
  6. The Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)- Lord, You don't want anyone to perish, You don't want anyone to be alone without You, all we have to do is accept the free gift of Your love and forgiveness.
  7. The Vine (John 15:5)- Through You, Jesus, we are attached to God the Father. You and the Father live in us and through us and unite us. You graft us into Your family and prune us when we need it. You produce Your fruit in us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ACTS: Adoration; What's God like?

Last week our congregation hosted a day of prayer. We had a prayer service (with litany) in the morning, followed by a prayer-walk, and then volunteers taking shifts during an all-day prayer vigil. The morning service was organized into four parts based on the acronym, A.C.T.S. which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. ACTS has long been a simple pattern which people can use to help them begin to have a more meaningful prayer-life, in some cases to even begin to speak to God.

Throughout the course of the rest of the summer, I'd like to post a number of essays exploring these ACTS. Hopefully, together we can grow closer to God and deepen our relationships with Him.

For many Christians, Adoration is a toughie. Is adoration the same as praise? Sort of. What does it mean to adore God? Personally, I usually end up in Thanksgiving when I mean to be in Adoration.

What makes God adorable? What makes Him worthy of praise? A good place to start might be what He calls Himself and what Old Testament Judaism called Him. These names reveal His character, who He is and what He does. Consider some of the following:

  • Adonai- "my Lord,"  or "my Master," that is, one to whom we bow, surrender, and obey
  • HaShem- a less formal, more familial version of "Lord," who is with us
  • Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh- "I will be," He is not just the god of now, but He will be the same today, tomorrow and forever (Hebrews 13:8)
  • Elah-avahati, God of my fathers, (Daniel 2:23)
  • Elah Elahin, God of gods (Daniel 2:47)
  • Elah Yerushelem, God of Jerusalem (Ezra 7:19)
  • Elah Yisrael, God of Israel (Ezra 5:1)
  • Elah Shemaya, God of Heaven (Ezra 7:23)
  • Elohim- "He who is the object of fear or reverence", or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge" the mighty one.
  • Elyon- Supreme
  • Roi- All seeing
  • Shaddai- "God who is sufficient," our supplier
  • Shalom- "the name of God is 'Peace'" (Judges 6:24)
  • Shekhinah- the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to dwell among humanity.
  • Yəhōwāh- He is who He is (emphasis on IS) the name God called Himself to Moses, the point being that He IS alive and here and now, not just the god of our dead forefathers.
  • HaMakom- "The Omnipresent"
  • Tzevaot- "the Lord of Hosts," king of the angels
So this is a great way to pray, to simply tell God who He is- meanwhile, you're reminding yourself who God is. As a matter of fact, this is an act of worship, invoking God, entering His presence. When we pray this way, we get perspective, we remember that God is God and we are not. Something we would do well to remember every day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

"Trying to make some sense of it all,But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
'Cause I don't think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

~Joe Egan;Gerry Rafferty (AKA Stealer's Wheel) 1973

"It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes."
~Ecclesiastes 7:18

During Jesus time there were two dominant groups of religious leaders, you might think of them like political parties. 

On the one hand, there were the Sadducees, they emphasized man's total free-will, our ability to choose good or evil, but they did not believe in an afterlife or a spiritual realm. Sound's a lot like some liberals today; secularist and skeptical, respecting only the hear and now, what they can understand empirically and operating systematically.

A lot of Christians (especially conservative or "Evangelical" ones) fear and loath folks like that. They blame relativism and rationalism for everything wrong with the world. But I don't think we should view them as the enemy, rather, they are our neighbors. And how did Jesus tell us to treat our neighbors?

On the other hand, there were the Pharisees. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees did believe in life after death, but they also believed in a little thing called predestination- the idea that you think you have free-will, but God has destined some people for salvation and others for damnation. They were hyper-religious and legalistic, they believed that you had to be absolutely meticulous about keeping all the rules because you never know which rules will be more important. 

A lot of intelligent thinkers and progressives are suspicious people who act and think like Pharisees today because they see them as being inflexible, uncompromising, volatile and aggressively working to shore-up their influence in society.

If you read the New Testament, the Pharisees are the guys who were always trying to trap Jesus and ultimately plotted to have Him killed because they were paranoid that either He would usurp their own power and influence, or disrupt the comfortable arrangement they had built up with the Roman occupation. 

The thing is, BOTH extremes are wrong. A secular humanism on the one side, may have good motives for making society better, but it's farsighted with it's optimistic view of human nature and attempts at applying systems and structures. It doesn't account for how messy and imperfect life can get or how importance of the intangibles in life.

On the other hand, fundamentalists, Calvinists, conservative Evangelicals and the religious-right are just as wrong and their absolutism and legalism are just as or more dangerous than the relativism that they're constantly railing and ranting about. They're NEARsighted with their obsessive focus on personal piety and individual responsibility at the expense of massive societal, corporate, and institutional evils.

They're the ones Jesus was talking about when He said they strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt.23:24).

They're adamantly opposed to teaching the theory of evolution in Biology classes in public schools, yet they blindly accept and live by the tenants of Social-Darwinism.

They vehemently oppose abortion yet they oppose programs to reduce poverty and social safety programs, support capitol punishment and applaud unprovoked military action.

They ardently oppose secularism in all forms, yet laud an atheist hedonist like Ayn Rand as a heroine of individual responsibility and economic liberty!

They claim that they uphold the U.S. Constitution strictly and abhor activist jurists, unless the activism favors their ideology.

How can you grant First Amendment rights to Corporations and Political Action Committees but deny 14th Amendment rights to real human beings because of their sexual orientation, race, or immigration status?

These are the white-washed tombs Jesus talked about (Matt 23:27) who hypocritically talk about returning to traditional values and religious heritage but  care nothing about justice, mercy and faithfulness. But prophets like Malachi, Zechariah, Micah, Amos and Hosea all  stand ready to indict them.

So here we are in the middle. On the extreme left, we have unspiritual Sadducees and on the extreme right, we have hyper-legalistic Pharisees. Ultimately both succumb to the idolatry of self-worship. Each thinks they know best. On the left they say everyone makes their own way, on the right they demand that you follow only their way because they believe that only they know best.

Instead, we should be confident enough to trust that there is such a thing as truth, yet humble enough to recognize that we may never be mature enough, experienced enough, wise enough or enlightened enough to have an absolute monopoly on that truth.

If we truly follow Jesus Christ, we can not trust our own vision. We cannot be either farsighted and miss what's right under our noses, namely that God is real and loves us and that people need Him. Nor should we be nearsighted and be so caught up in our own little kingdoms that we fail to see the world around us and how much they need our help, effort, intercession, and inclusion- not just our scrutiny and condemnation.

Instead of using God and religion to defend our political and philosophical opinions, we should consider how Jesus spent his time and listen to His teachings and imitate Him and implement His directives. We need to wash the inside of the cup, and not just the outside (Matt.23:25).

We have to recognize that as citizens of the greatest and most successful empire on Earth and throughout history, we Americans are especially vulnerable to complacency, greed, and self-indulgence and we have to ask God to help us repent of that and to keep us from being too comfortable with it and defensive and protective of the false god of our standard of living and our unique privileges.

We can't be Christians of Emperor Constantine, but instead of a poor, homeless Palestinian Jewish carpenter who hung out with fishermen, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Perhaps I've rambled too long here, but this post is really emblematic of the main purpose of this blog. That is to give a voice to those who believe and love Jesus, yet feel that the much of American Christianity is often short-sighted and not necessarily following Jesus with blind faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) but unfortunately are too often acting as blind guides (Matt. 23:16).

I want all Christians to know that you don't have to conform to a monolithic Republican way of thinking politically and philosophically- and that if you read Matthew 5 (and 23) and see a Jesus who perhaps aligns more with progressive (dare I even say liberal) values, you are not alone.

And I want secular, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other liberals to realize that Jesus is not a rich white American, He's not homophobic, xenophobic, plutocratic, Machiavellian, oligarchic, militaristic, nationalistic, or nihilistic. He's not imperialistic.

He's loving, patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, and He is humble. He does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered,  keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. What's more, He's real, He's alive, He's here, He's now, and He loves them enough to die for them.

I think that often, Christians are afraid to step out of the Pharisee camp because they're afraid that any lack of condemnation, and (Heaven-forbid) any engagement whatsoever with the Sadducee camp will be misinterpreted as condoning falsehood. I say both sides are sometimes wrong but both sides are sometimes right. During the Reformation many parishioners told Martin Luther that they were afraid of making mistakes in what they did and taught and how they worshiped because they were so used to simply obeying the Pope. Luther told them to "Sin Boldly." I guess that's what I do by ranting on this blog, sinning boldly.

Alas, being in the middle not only means being caught in the cross-fire between the two extremes, it means that both sides perceive you as at best uncommitted and at worst, traitorous. But as Martin Luther famously said, "here I stand, I can do no other."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Happy Pentecost; Burn, Spirit, Burn!

"Lord, here am I: your fire impart to this poor cold self-centered soul; touch but my lips, my hands, my heart, and make a world for Christ my goal." ~Timothy Dudley-Smith, 'How Shall They Hear, Who Have Not Heard,' Hymn 831, Lutheran Service Book

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Do you pray for your pastor?

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." ~Colossions 4:2-4

Have you been praying for your pastor?

It occurred to me that my pastor is not just pastor at our church. He's also the Circuit Counselor for Iowa-District West of the LC/MS? As Circuit Counselor, he's been serving as the vacancy-pastor for 3 Triple-Parish churches near by. And he's on the Board of Junior High week at a summer camp. God's kept him pretty busy lately. Recently, a neighboring pastor announced he's retiring next month so he'll have even more on his plate, even if he's not asked to fill their vacancy too.

There's no slow season for a pastor. Sure, he here to pray for the members of his congregation, but we can pray for him too. Even Moses needed someone to help hold up his arms (Exodus 17:8-13).

If you haven't before, be sure that you start lifting your pastor up in prayer.

Seeking some Prayer-Cover

Please pray for/with my church. Next Sunday, June 12, Pentecost, our voters will decide whether to take on a major building project. The day before, partly to seek God's guidance and blessing, we are hosting a day of prayer.

Everyone is welcome to attend & participate at St.John Lutheran in Charter Oak, IA. It's not just for or about our church. We want to pray for our, neighbors, communities, area, state, nation, churches & world. Prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, &supplication. Prayers for health, for families, for needs, and for spiritual growth.

If you'd like to join us on Saturday:
  • 9AM- Prayer Service
  • 10AM- Prayer Walk around property
  • Noon-5PM- Prayer Vigil 
  • OR- Pray with/for us anytime during the day, wherever you are.

My personal prayer for St. John Luth. Is that as a congregation we are Christ-centered, that love permeate everything we do, that prayer and Bible study become priorities, that we become Spirit-filled and purpose-driven. God has blessed us for 130 years. Please pray with me that He will use us to bless others, both in and around Charter Oak.

What an awesome way to spend the day before Pentecost?! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Burn in us & through us!

St.John Lutheran, Charter Oak, IA mission statement: "Offering with open arms, the love of Jesus."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Be somebody people can lean on

This performance was from 1988. The song was originally a hit in 1972 for Bill Withers and hit #1 again in 1989 for a band called Club Nouveau. This version is by a Lutheran Elementary Principal, Paul Hill. I heard Hill when he spoke at a chapel at Concordia University in Nebraska back in the 90's.

Hill was a session musician before becoming a Christian school teacher. Legend has it that as a young man, he played back up on Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown." After listening to it, his mother broke the gold record he'd received for it. Another is that he helped Bill Withers write Lean on Me. Whether he did or not, he did write additional verses (as you can hear in this video).

Paul Hill overcame a debilitating stutter to become a first grade teacher, and elementary principal, and a motivational speaker and musician. He explained that the only two times he didn't stutter at all, were while teaching first graders and singing.

I understand that he passed away in 2009. I only heard him the one time but a few things still influence me. That you can do all things with God's help (Philippians 4:13) no matter what challenges you face. Do everything you do for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) and, we should all do like this song says, and support others when they need it (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It seems to me that these three things can make life a whole lot better.

This song really speaks about what communities can and should be, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing. Whether you're a teacher or not, you can be available for others. Maybe as a mentor to someone younger, a mentee for someone older. Maybe as a sibling or cousin, niece or nephew. Maybe just as a friend or a neighbor. Can you listen? Can you be patient and positive? Do you have compassion or empathy? Then you can be some one that others can lean on.