Thursday, April 27, 2023

I Wonder--April 27

I am not familiar with anyone in the church who does not believe that prayer works. 

Now this is different than saying that 'God answers all of my prayers,' because let's face it, that is not always true. 

I have prayed as faithfully as I know how and my prayers were not answered in a way that I prayed. When I have prayed for and with loved ones, and then they do not recover, this is not a failing of prayer. It instead means that my prayer was answered differently from the way I vocalized them. 

So again, we know that prayer works. But have you noticed that a praying-attitude leads you to pray more consistently? I wonder if you noticed that the more you pray, the more committed you are to prayer, the more people gather around you seeking your prayers in their lives? The more we pray, the more prayer can build up in our lives.  

To demonstrate this, allow me to share a story I read this week. . . 

A certain church was known to be a body who prayed diligently and faithfully for the needs of the community and each other. 

Each week the church shared their hearts; pouring themselves out in honesty to one another. These prayers and postures began in the lives of just a few people, but before long the attitude was spreading around the community. The needs were still serious. More people felt open to share their pain and struggles with one another. And the church welcomed these needs and they prayed together. 

Then one day the phone rang at the church. On the other end of the line was a woman from another country. She was in distress; she suffered. Through broken English the woman explained that she needed help. But the help that she sought was not fiscal or physical; she wanted the church to pray for her. That was all she wanted. "Pray for me." 

What an extraordinary thing. 

The church could pray for someone they would not likely see in their community. They could hold that person up to God and trust God to be with the woman and her situation. . . And so they prayed. I don't know how the story ends, but I suspect that the prayers kept coming for this woman. 

When we pray we are molded and shaped by the petitions and intercessions we offer. The more we pray the more our hearts can be transformed into the heart of Christ. 

I wonder if right now you might find another moment in your day to offer prayers for someone you normally might not pray for? Notice how that feel and notice how it changes you? 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

I Wonder--April 25

As I continue thinking and reflecting on prayer, I wonder what role humility plays in your prayer life? 

Teresa of Avila reminds us that, "Humility is the principal aid to prayer." But again, do we remember this and do we practice it on a regular basis? 

Our temperaments, the rigors of our day, the stressors that we face each morning, they can mold our prayers we may not always like. And while we do not deliberately alter the motivation of our prayers, it does happen. It has happened to me. 

We pray about what bothers us or what upsets us. We might be tempted to pray that God reigns down upon another person, or group of people, some form of vengeance or justice. Prayer takes on many forms and shapes. But let us not neglect the humility that prayer invites, and I believe, necessitates in our lives. 

I once read that "humility means living as close to the truth as possible: the truth about ourselves, the truth about others, the truth about the world in which we live" and work.

Humility, whether in prayer or not, is not something acquire. We don't get more humble by focusing on it. We become more humble through submission, through deliberate choice, and by nurturing our relationships with God.

Think with me today about your prayers from today. . . Where is humility found? How might you practice it more consistently and how might you share what you are learning about humble prayer with someone else? 

Monday, April 24, 2023

I Wonder--April 24

Let me share with you a little spiritual practice that I engaged in this morning. . . It revolves around an Oreo. 

My morning began promptly at 8am as I opened the church office for the day. Before I could set down my bag, or place my coffee on my desk, or even get the lights on and the heat bumped up, I noticed that my 8am meeting had arrived. This was less of a meeting than most--pest control arrived. 

After speaking with Anthony for a moment about our needs, and enjoying some small talk, I headed back to my desk where my steaming coffee still sat in my black mug waiting for me. Sighing I opened my laptop, plugged in my iPhone, reached for my Bible and journal, and get ready to face the day. This is a new week and it is already shaping up to be another busy one. 

There are calls to make. Visits to schedule with members who cannot physically attend worship. I need to check on a couple of other items around the property. My robe and books need to be put back into their home until next Sunday when I will need them again. Mentally I run through the list of people and places from last week that I deal with--anything left undone? I have some preparations for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to start and I need to think about Bible study for Thursday evening.  

But I long for another quiet minute. . . Perhaps like me you know what that longing feels like? 

Opening my desk drawer I find a small ziplock bag with 2 Oreos. Smiling I pick them up. There is never a bad time to enjoy an Oreo and I suspect that God reminded me of them for this very moment. 

The first one I dunk into my coffee; the second I just enjoy as it is. And as I enjoy them, I breathe deeply. I savor the practice and I savor the moment. Any conflict, any tension, any pressure, any expectation, gone as I enjoy the Oreos. 

That short mini-reboot is all that I needed. I have learned that it is often all any of us need. Just a moment to thank God for the gift of a Double Stuff Oreo and how the 30 seconds it took to enjoy was all I needed. In fact, it is often all any of us need. . . just the next moment to be with God. 

I wonder today how you might find that extra moment? That Oreo-moment? I wonder how it might help? 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

I Wonder--April 19

For the last couple days I have spent time considering prayer. As important as prayer is to our spiritual lives and our relationship with God, I wonder about the power of silence? And although silence seems counter-intuitive when consider the practice of prayer, which feels like talking to God, maybe there is a convergence point to consider. 

Paul Tournier, who was a Swiss doctor and counselor, was interviewed in 1984 about silence and the work that God called him to do as a physician. Consider this exert from that text: 

"QUESTION: Doctors are among the busiest people in our day. It is significant, therefore, that it is a doctor who emphasizes for us the importance of silence, of mediation. Why? 

'TOURNIER: Modern people lack silence. They no longer lead their own lives; they are dragged along by events. It is a race against the clock. . . If your life is chock-full already, there won't be any room for anything else. Even God can't get anything else in. So it becomes essential to cut something out.' "

Although this interview took place nearly 40 years ago, Tournier's words are quite applicable to us in this culture. His question, or the meaning of his response, is that we must find something to cut out of our lives in order to create the space for God to fill us. 

And so today, I again wonder about the power of silence in your life? 

What one thing could you cut out of your day, right now, right in this moment, that would help you to find space to be a little more attentive to God's voice and direction? 

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

I Wonder--April 18

There are times when praying is easy; when it feels joyful and joyous. 

Bowing your head at meal time, or lifting it up when the blessings of God reign down upon you and those whom you love and care for, that is wonderful. It feels amazing and when I find myself in these moments I cannot help but smile when I consider how much God loves me and how closely God can be felt.

However, how do you pray when your are overwhelmed? 

How do you find the words, and what do they sound like, when God feels distant. You remember that God is never distant--you've learned that your whole life. You remember that it is only we who move away from The-God-who-died-for-us. God remains steadfast; God seeks relationship with us. But still in that moment the words don't come.

We have all been in that place. . . So what does prayer look like in that place? 

Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie wrote these words to you when you find yourself in the space where the words do not come easily and God feels so far away. They wrote: 

"Blessed are we who pour out to you (O God) the whole of it--unedited--all the terrible truths and fears and what-ifs." 

In their words, I found something helpful. For I too have been in the place where words do not come easily and all I want to offer God is the unedited words of a prayer said not in love but in frustration, in anger, in confusion, in isolation. 

But you know, God honors those prayers too because they come from a place of honesty and trust. 

This is the lesson of Job for the church. Job trusted God enough, I believe, to be that honest and that open with God. He was willing to give God the unedited parts of himself and believe that God would not reject him. 

I wonder if perhaps that is a lesson for you today when prayer becomes harder than we might like. Can you trust God with the unedited parts of your life and believe that God is listening?  

Monday, April 17, 2023

I wonder--April 17

One of the joys of session meetings here at Bethesda is "Elder Enrichment." This is the part of the agenda each session meeting that I inherited--and I see the value in it. "Elder Enrichment" that takes place immediately following our Dwelling in the Word (devotions). This is how we start every, single, session meeting. 

Each month I bring a passage of scripture to the session meetings and we talk about that passage together.  We spend time together listening to how God is shaping each of us through the Word and we think and meditate upon it. Spending 20-25 minutes as a session considering God's Word is a good way to begin the meeting. I believe that it is the most important way to begin session meetings.

At the end of this month's discussion on 1 Peter 2:2-10, I planned to 'enrich' the elders with a deeper conversation about their prayer lives. 

It occurs to me that many meetings at church take on a more functional role rather than a spiritual one.

Now I understand why that is necessary. I know that without the constant attention of the session some aspects of our church would fall apart. We need elders who will examine the physical buildings to make sure they are secure, clean, and in proper order when we gather together. We need elders to examine the worship, the Christian education program, and a host of other items so that life at Bethesda continues to bring glory to God in all that we do. 

With that in mind I wanted to make sure that the elder who God chose to lead this church spent time together contemplating prayer. As we began our conversation about prayer I was reminded of something that Agnes Sanford wrote. She said: 

"So the first step (in prayer) is to relax and remind ourselves that there is a source of life outside of ourselves." 

The words "relax and remind ourselves" spoke to my heart as I opened the conversation up. Together the elders last evening gently, and openly, spoke about how it is that they pray. They talked about when they pray and what makes up their prayers. They talked about how they conceive of the language they will use in prayer before God. On and on the conversation went for nearly 45 minutes.

But this should not a conversation that should be left only to the leadership of the church. 

I wonder how is it that you pray? I wonder how you "relax and remind" yourself that you need to plug into God? 

Perhaps today take a little walk, pause in your daily practices and work, and notice how you pray. . . 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

I Wonder--April 13

So today, which admittedly has been quite hectic, I am wondering about how grace manifests itself in our lives? How is grace lived out--or how it is practiced? 

Over the last couple days Emma has had some car issues. And while my defense mechanism for situations like this is to rib or harass the individual (Emma), and thereby lower the stress of the situation, I knew that it was not the time or place for that behavior. She needed grace from me, and I would need that same grace soon from her. . . 

Pulling up next to her in Jimmy's truck I could see the emotion on her face. Her car would not move and she did not understand why. Rationally she could not solve the issue, and emotionally it was too much for her.

Over the next 24-hours the situation with her car got worse. More warning lights came on. We are looking at some significant work that needs to be done to fix the issue with Emma's car. And while I know that this is not the end of the world, watching my 18-year-old daughter try to figure out how to be adaptable and flexible when she does not understand what is happening has been hard. 

Turns out she will need to be dropped off at work at odd times and have to wait for her shift to start because I have to take Jennifer to Pineville for her job. Today Emma will have to go in before her sift and stay a bit longer than scheduled. Again, grace is needed. 

I am not an all-seeing parent (that is God). But I knew last night that things today were going to be a bit tricky. So we sat down together, the three of us, and we tried to map out a solution that would get everyone to work on-time, and home, for the next few days. Practically this will work, but emotionally it only works because Jennifer, Emma, and I are giving each other grace. We are practicing grace in a situation that none of us wanted or expected. 

So back to my initial question: in your life how is grace manifested? 

We know that God's grace is sufficient for us, but what about the human grace that needs to live in us? I wonder how you might practice grace differently with those around you who are enduring a hard season themselves? 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

I wonder--April 11

I have been considering a question that I heard before Holy Week. . . When did the fish discover the water? 

Think about that for a second. 

The fish was born in the water. A fish lives out its entire existence in the water. For some fish, they die in the water never having known that the 'water' was there--supporting them, sustaining them. It is only when the fish is caught, in a net or on a hook, that it gasps for the water that once nourished it. The fish may not have any understanding that it was once in the water. But now in its moment of struggle, and perhaps in the moment of mortality, the fish longs for what I once knew. The fish longs to return to the water.  

And I wonder if we are like the fish after Easter? 

Christ has always been around us. Walking beside us. Living in our hearts. Jesus has been guiding us. Listening to our prayers and teaching us in Lent. 

Then He was gone. Then He was betrayed. He died. And our lives this past weekend felt less; our lives felt a little less. Even as the Easter egg hunt brought us joy, something was missing. As the rain fell from heaven we could almost feel Creation itself weeping because the Messiah was gone. . . Gone from our lives. 

Now we know that He came back; we celebrated His resurrection Sunday. 

But it was when Jesus died. When we read the words together in worship that the gravity of what happened to the Son of God made us long for the Jesus who walked beside us, who taught us, who fed us. In many ways we can be like the men on the road to Emmaus. . . Our hearts burn because that which was lost is now found. 

This weekend when did you discover that Jesus was gone? When did you become like the fish realizing how much was sacrificed so you could breathe again in the water with God? 

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Reflection for Maundy Thursday

Opening Prayer:

Come Lord Jesus Christ, fill our hearts with the light of your Spirit, so that by following you on your final journey, we may come to know the price of our Redemption and share in the fruits of your Passion, Death and Resurrection.  For the glory of  you who lives and reigns for ever and ever we pray. Amen.

Luke 23: 27-31
A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time, people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!' and to the hills, ‘Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?"

Find a quiet space. . . One with no one around; a space where the gravity of this text can speak to you in the places that you fill on Maundy Thursday. . . Now sit in silence with this text in your heart. Where does your attention rest?

Reflection Question
What does the traumatic grief expressed in this passage say to you? 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Reflections for Holy Week--Wednesday

Opening Prayer:

Come Lord Jesus Christ, fill our hearts with the light of your Spirit, so that by following you on your final journey, we may come to know the price of our Redemption and share in the fruits of your Passion, Death and Resurrection.  For the glory of  you who lives and reigns for ever and ever we pray. Amen.

Mark 14:53-65

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 

But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

Sit in with the Lord for a moment and notice where your attention was drawn in this reading from Mark 14. . . As you sit with God, follow the link below and listen to the prayer as a way to begin thinking about what is happening in Jesus' life. . . .

Reflection Questions:

We all condemn Jesus just as we join Peter in denying Him. What is it that motives you when your actions demonstrate this? 

Why do you deny Him? 

Why do you condemn Him? 

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Reflections for Holy Week--Tuesday

 Opening Prayer:  

Come Lord Jesus Christ, fill our hearts with the light of your Spirit, so that by following you on your final journey, we may come to know the price of our Redemption and share in the fruits of your Passion, Death and Resurrection.  For the glory of  you who lives and reigns for ever and ever we pray. Amen.

Mark 14: 43-46
While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, "The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely." He came and immediately went over to him and said, "Rabbi." And he kissed him. At this, they laid hands on him and arrested him. 

Sit in with the Lord for a moment and notice where your attention was drawn in this reading from Mark 14. . . As you sit with God, follow the link below and listen to the prayer as a way to begin thinking about what is happening in Jesus' life. . . .

Reflection Question:
Where in your life do you betray Jesus? 

What motives that betrayal? 

Monday, April 3, 2023

Reflections for Holy Week--Monday

As we begin Holy Week, I want to offer you a devotional practice to help you draw close to God. They can be done individually or with a group. Each session will follow the same format. We begin with a short prayer, then a reading from God's Word. At the close of the reading I will leave you a question or two to think and pray about.

I hope this practice is helpful as you think about the suffering of Jesus on the cross. 

Opening Prayer:  
Come Lord Jesus Christ, fill our hearts with the light of your Spirit, so that by following you on your final journey, we may come to know the price of our Redemption and share in the fruits of your Passion, Death and Resurrection.  For the glory of  you who lives and reigns for ever and ever we pray. Amen.

Matthew 26:36-41
"Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me." He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Sit in Silence for a moment and notice where your attention was drawn in this reading from Matthew 26. . . 

Reflection Question: 
Where in your life have you fallen asleep with Jesus asked you to remain with him? 

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...