Thursday, April 1, 2010

Power and Glory

Forty days and forty nights of Lenten meditations. We’ve had time to consider, internalize, write about, think about, talk about – yes, even walk about and past the Lord’s Prayer. How quiet and peaceful the Park crosses are in the early morning, even with the commuting traffic. There is a calmness about pausing before each cross. How reassuring those same crosses are in the late afternoon or early evening, when we’ve had a day without any stops, or times, for private prayer.

Surely knowing that God’s Kingdom is always there for us, forever, lets us feel the magnificent power and glory of Our Creator. Dr. Sam eloquently stated this past Sunday: we are moving this week from Celebration to Celebration. Let’s not forget Holy Week, and the reason for our rejoicing, our embracing the supremacy and strength of our God. Let’s seek his splendor and magnificence, not just this week, but forever and ever. Amen.

For Thine is the Kingdom

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Catholic wedding. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was looking forward to the swanky reception and the open bar, but that's not the greater part of what I took away from the experience.

First, all of us Protestants sat on one side of the church where we could be obvious in the fact that we didn't know how or when to cross ourselves and that we didn't know when to kneel or what to say. We shuffled from one foot to the next, admiring the the happy couple or gazing at the sanctuary with all of the saints who looked down on us benevolently.

Suddenly, the congregation began the Lord's Prayer. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian--we all looked to each other in wide-eyed hope. Here, at last, was something familiar, something we could cling to with confidence. And then we did the unthinkable: we keep speaking when everyone else fell silent.

I learned then that the Catholic version of the Lord's Prayer stops at "deliver us from evil." We protestants were still going with pride: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and...(here the voices tapered to a whisper as we realized we were alone)...the glory forever. Amen."

I thought at that moment how we take anything memorized for granted. We knew the Lord's Prayer, but had we really thought about what it means to tell God: all power and glory, even this flawed earthly kingdom is Yours, forever? Of course, we know that everything belongs to God, but the ending to the Lord's Prayer--at least as we say it--affirms that we yield to God's will. That last line is basically another reminder of "Thy will be done." We are saying that all kingdoms, all power, and all glory belong to Him.

The next time you say the Lord's Prayer--and may it not be at a Catholic wedding--think about that last statement. I guarantee you can feel your heart lift at the reminder that He is in charge, not us.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Temptations and Evil

What tempts you today? A nap? A piece of pie? A moment stolen from yard work to read another chapter in that great mystery book? No, you say. My temptations are much greater: to fudge on my tax returns, to borrow from the office’s petty cash drawer, to linger after work talking to the cute guy in the next cubicle instead of dropping by my sick mom’s home.

We’re tempted to omit and commit, on any given day. What is important is that we recognize our sin of temptation and acting, or not acting, and not let ourselves be caught in a temptation “loop.” It just doesn’t work to casually ask God not to lead us into temptations; we must be Pro-Active about our lives.

Part of that strength should also be directed toward recognized evil in all its forms, in all its faces. Whether it is as serious as immorality or vice, or simply foul and vile and nasty, we want God to be beside us. Of course, we always want the pleasant and good in our lives. But the world today is not an ivory tower.

God, let us be constantly in prayer, asking that we continue to do the very best for and in our lives, that we love others as ourselves, and that we always strive to be the kind of self that we know we should be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

For the past few weeks, the idea of justice has been a constant theme. We spoke about it in Sunday School. I read about justice in one of my daily readings and also for one of my Wednesday Bible studies. I can't seem to escape the idea of justice.

Human beings want justice. We say that what goes around comes around, and we wait eagerly to see if criminals get their due. Some of us even prefer books with a happy ending because the embattled hero and/or heroine always get what they deserve--and so does the villain. The question remains, though: do we really want to get what we deserve from God?

Each time I recite "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," I have to ask silently: "Lord, please forgive me better than I forgive others." Try as I may, I hold on to grudges. I forgive in name, but I don't forget--and that is a part of human nature, too, I'm afraid.

This portion of the Lord's Prayer is a reminder that God's justice isn't our justice, and that's a good thing. We don't need to worry about whether or not murderers who repent at the last minute will get their due. We need to worry about whether or not we'll get our due, for, as James says, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10)

So I always thank God for abundant grace, and I pray to do a better job of forgiving even while I give thanks that He's so much better at it than I am.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Which comes first

In his recent address on the Day 1 radio program Rev. Dr. Robert Dunham of University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. used the idea of the radical nature of the parable of the Prodigal Son to recount something he said to one of his parishoners. After "another" sermon about grace, the man said he was ready for Dr. Dunham to "stop preaching about grace and start preaching about repentance. After all", he said, "repentance is always the precursor of grace". Dr. Dunham's response was:

"There is not a single instance in the Gospels," I said, rather assertively, wondering even in the moment if I were right, "when Jesus requires repentance before he extends grace or healing or hospitality. Not one! Repentance is a response to God's grace, not a prerequisite for it. Grace always comes first."

I've always heard we can't grasp how culturally radical some of the parables were because to us it's, for example, no big deal for a child to want his inheritance and leave and do bad stuff and come back and have a feud with his brother and then the dad throws a party.

That's a standard show for Jerry Springer. But if the grace before repentance thing is true. Now that's radical.

If if that's how we have to offer grace in order to receive in that way; then I might have to "watermelon, watermelon"* over a couple of lines of the Lord's prayer this Sunday.

*When I sing in the choir, the director usually encourages me; rather than voice the words, to mouth "watermelon, watermelon," because it looks like I'm singing along, but no one can hear me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." ("And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one." NRSV)

To some: pornography; alcohol; gossip; racism and other prejudices; the "short-cut"; off-color jokes; lies, both big and little; not speaking out when appropriate; speaking, when not appropriate; cursing; inaction when action is needed; action when inaction is what is called for; not listening because "too busy" or judging that it is "not important"; judging others; laziness; etc., ect. All of these, and innumerable more, are what Ellsworth Kalas in this week's Session on his Reflections on the Lord's Prayer, would call the "stuff of everyday living."

We are taught to pray, "Lead us not into temptation (tests or trials), but deliver us from evil", or as Kalas cites from the New Revised Standard Version, "And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one."

No one escapes or is immune from the pain, the sufferings, the afflictions to body or possessions, or the everyday "stuff" of life. No one. It is life and God does not shield us from them. The question, of course, is how do we respond, receive, and react to these life events.

Martin Luther recites a story where a student wanted to be rid of his thoughts. The teacher responded, "Dear brother, you cannot hinder the birds in the air from flying over your head; but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair."

We will, everyday, go through the temptations, the "stuff" of life. So we pray that we respond, receive, and react to the evil as God would have us respond. And, as a result, over time we come to know ourselves and God--discovering that we cannot do anything but continue to sin and do evil unless our reliance and trust is on God alone, from Whom our strength comes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Falling Short and Certain Delivery

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent and why we give something up for those 40 days. If nothing else, I’ve decided that Lent is a time to remind us of our own humanity and, thus, of Christ’s divinity. If you think about it, giving up chocolate or cokes for 40 days shouldn’t be that big a deal, but I’ve never made it. I came incredibly close last year, but I still fell short.

Think about this year: one of my Lenten obligations was to write entries for this blog, but I have missed two. Two, out of a minimum of seven. It should not be that difficult to rearrange my schedule to meet such an obligation. Once again, I fell short.

That said, I could never suggest Lent is solely about reminding us of our mortality--such a suggestion would be beyond self-centered. Obviously, our mortality is a key component of why Jesus had to give himself up for our salvation, but Lent is also a reminder of that solemn sacrifice and thus something far greater. Falling short, I suppose, is another important reminder of both why we need Jesus and how nothing short of grace will save us.
I think even more comforting, though, is that “Deliver us from evil” actually follows “Lead us not into temptation.” There’s never any doubt that temptation will find us whether it be a box of Girl Scout cookies or something far, far more sinister. Fortunately, there’s Someone who can deliver us from evil just as long as we have the foresight to ask.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Strength and Love

To forgive is to love, to be strong. Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the weak can never forgive. He said that forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Half a world away, Reinhold Niebuhr stated that forgiveness is the final form of love. Here in our own community, we sometimes do not think we are strong enough, or that we can love enough, to forgive old wounds and hurts.

Yet we repeatedly ask our parents, our spouse, our children, our neighbors and friends, and – yes, even God- to forgive us. We even have a problem forgiving ourselves for past deeds, even when we've repented, over and over again. Lord, help us to be strong and to love both ourself and our neighbor.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Right Path

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil...
Temptations to take the wrong path are ever present day to day for all of us. Jesus knows this and offers us a simple prayer to help us stay on the right path. He knows that we have free will that can lead us astray, so he encourages us to seek the path God wants us to follow. He even offers us an instruction guide.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"And forgive us our debts (trespasses), as we also have forgiven our debtors (those who trespass against us)"

Matthew 16:25 might speak to this week's phrase of Jesus' pattern prayer. Jesus says "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Jesus was teaching here about the cost of discipleship; but it also says we must give up our rights to our selves. Everyone has rights: rights to protection, to body and soul; rights to our individuality and personality; rights to security; etc. But when our "selves" become the focus of our lives, we lose what God has made, has intended, for us.

Ellsworth Kalas, in this week's reflection on this phrase of the Lord's Prayer writes: "When we hold something against another person, we begin to shut out the face of Christ, and when the image of our Lord is blurred, we no longer have the faith to accept forgiveness." When we allow our perceived "right to ourself" to be the focus; when we hold on to the hurt, the debt, the trespass, that was done by another to our person, even if the other person was indeed "wrong", then there is a barrier between us and God and His forgiveness cannot be received. And that barrier is the focus on myself. Only when the focus is shifted from my rights to Christ, when the rights to myself are surrendered, laid down, then through God's Spirit the trespass, the debt, against us can be forgiven, and God's forgiveness of my debts to Him and to others, is received. The obstruction of self which prevents God's forgiveness from "getting through", is no longer a barrier. By "losing my life", my right to myself, I can find the life God has planned for me. A life free from the burden of guilt arising from my trespasses, given when I let go of the anger, the bitterness, the resentments that build and fester when I hold on to those trespasses to my self.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Harold be Thy Name

You've probably heard that story about the little boy who said he knew God's name was "Harold", and when he was asked how he knew that, he said, "Well, when we pray the Lord's prayer, we say, 'Our Father who art in Heaven, Harold be Thy Name!'"

That reminds me of how often we misunderstand things we hear. And as it was pointed out in the devotional, many of us learned the prayer through hearing it over and over and trying to say it as we heard it prayed in church. It was a long time before I even understood what I was really saying. And if I am forgiven only to the extent I forgive others, I have a problem lots of times!

While in Seminary I came across a book that expanded the meaning of the Lord's prayer for me, because the prayer was translated from the Aramaic, the colloquial language based on Hebrew that Jesus and other Jews of his day spoke amongst themselves. The Aramaic words give a broader, more cosmic meaning to the prayer than the way it comes to us translated into English from Latin translated from the Greek. And you DO lose something in the translation!

I speak Russian and have been involved in missionary work in Kazakhstan and with the Russian United Methodist Church in Moscow and St Petersburg. The Russian version of the Lord's prayer is a translation from the Greek orthodox version, rather than the Latin version from which our English version comes.

When we pray in English, it sounds like we are asking God for our daily bread, not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from evil, and to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. However the grammar of the Russian version has a different focus.

Instead of a list of requests, the Lord's prayer in Russian affirms that indeed God DOES give us our daily bread, DOES NOT lead is into temptation, DELIVERS us from evil and if we forgive others, forgives us. In Russian it makes more sense to me. Because why would we need to ASK God for our provision -- it all comes from God anyway. And of course God would not lead us into temptation. And of course God delivers us from evil.

Somehow I think the English version misses the point Jesus was making when he taught his disciples how to pray. Perhaps, as was pointed out in the devotional, the Lord taught not a prayer in itself, but a way of praying. And if we take the Russian version and the Aramaic version into consideration, perhaps the model Jesus was suggesting indicated that the way to pray to our Father in Heaven is to acknowledge the character of God and how God operates in our lives, blessing us, providing for us, and protecting us because God is Sovereign.

When we pray we recognize God's sovereignty, blessings and provision -- not asking for them, but in a way taking them for granted, because that is how God provides for us. Praising and glorifying God in the way Jesus taught his disciples is so important, and a wonderful starting point for our relationship with the Lord on earth as it is in heaven!

During Lent as we remember how Jesus resolutely turned His face toward Jerusalem knowing all that would happen to him there, focusing on the Lord's prayer is a wonderful way to connect with Him and our Father in Heaven. But let's not just stop with praying it together on Sunday and studying it during Lent. How much more wonderful this beautiful pray can be when used as a way to open our hearts to a deeper relationship to God in Christ as we are led by the Holy Spirit!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Our Daily Bread

When the Lord's prayer was given by Jesus, it was suprisingly a very short prayer that dealt with all life's main concerns succintly and efficiently. He emphasized that our prayer not be wordy for the sake of length but to be to the point. Ellsworth Kallas reminds us that food in general were issues in Jesus' life and his times. Even though we may live in the land of plenty, there are still many in today's economy struggling to manage the basics. This simple prayer that Jesus gave us never ceases to amaze me in that it is always "current" and never out of date. When I pray that he "give us this day our daily bread" I always feel that I am asking him to grace me with the basics of what it takes for the day. There are no guarantees of tomorrow and every day we go by the grace of God, so it is humbly that I ask him to help me secure the necessity of today's fuel. I never want to take that for granted, it can be taken away as quickly as it has been given. I simply pray that I am becoming worthy somehow and that in growing toward the cross, I will somehow become a better Christian and a better person, friend, mentor and neighbor.

What is "daily bread"?

God is always there for us. He will provide all we need. He’s just waiting for us to turn to him, in prayer, in song, in meditation, in quietness. When we pray “give us” that which we need today, we are entering into a daily dialogue with God. He wants us, each day, this day, to pray – I’m ready right now. Give me whatever you know I need in my daily life. My “bread” needs may be different friends, or better study habits, or deeper faith, or more constant awareness of my parents and spouse and children, or just a more concentrated effort to be regular in my prayer life.

God knows. He always knows. He's just waiting...for me, for you, to pray: Give us this day our daily bread.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Give us this day our daily bread"

One of the mysteries of Scripture is that, through the Holy Spirit, passages say different things to different people at different times, perhaps determined by where that person is in his or her life at that time.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear..." (Matthew 6:25)
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:34)
"Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11) Or, in one translation, "Give us this day our bread for tomorrow."

All of these Scripture passages are teaching, advising, urging us to narrow our focus, simplify our lives, and simply trust God. Not ignore our future and our preparation for it; but, to ultimately come to realize that all of our tomorrows are in God's Hands and our calm, solid trust in Him today, each and every moment, is the assurance of our being prepared for all of the tomiorrows.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Doing My Part

It is impossible for me to forgive other people for their wrongs without knowing that I am forgiven for mine. Asking God to forgive my many, cumulative tresspasses (debts, sins, character defects) in the Lord's Prayer and in my other prayers gives me a sense of hope and awareness that I am forgiven. When I read scripture, I am told that I must also forgive for God to be pleased with me. It is expected. It is difficult. It is my part that I must do, and I can't do it without God's help and guidance. It gives me hope to know that with God's help, I can do what I cannot do without it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God's Will, our responsibility

In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin writes about a dilemma in which he found himself traveling home from a business trip. The plane he was on was stuck at the gate with an expected delay of 90 minutes to 4 hours. Godin went on line, found a rental car, determined that he could drive to his destination in around 2 hours and persuaded the flight attendant to give him permission to leave the plane.

He shares that he offered an opportunity to his fellow travelers to ride with him. He had seats in the car for four other people and he offered them for free.

He had no takers.

"I've thought about that a lot," Godin writes, "Some of these people may have figured I was some sort of extremely well-dressed business-traveler psychopath. My guess, though, is that most of them were very content to blame the airline for their situation. If they had stood up and left the plane, the situation would have belonged to them. Their choice, their responsibility."

I have experienced taking more joy in the disappointment and inviting others into my unhappiness than in offering my limited abilities toward trying some how to engage in relationship to those around me. You know, trying to become better people.

I'd usually rather curse the darkness than to try feel around for the light switch.

I'll wait for God to save me from the flood, waving off the Coast Guard, while the boats go by and the life saver inches closer and closer with every toss.

But somehow, the more you show that you believe in me, the more I want to believe in me.

And in you.

And in God.

It's like the old commercial for Shake and Bake.

It's God's will: and I helped!

Our Daily Bread

When we pray for 'our daily bread' we are acknowledging that everything comes from God: the food we eat; the clothes we wear; the homes in which we live; the air we breathe; everything. It is all God's and He allows us to use it. He wants us to give generously of the things He gives generously to us. If we have some bread, we share it with others because that's how it's supposed to work. When we ask for our daily bread we know that somehow it will come. We know that God will provide for our every need.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

To which kingdom do you belong? Where you "settle", where your heart is, that is the kingdom that is your habitation.

There are two kingdoms. The kingdom of the devil, or the kingdom of this world. In John 16:11, Jesus speaks of the "prince of this world..." This is the kingdom of sin and disobedience. Because sin which is not fought against and resisted, reigns. Until the Kingdom of God comes, we are all in this kingdom. But not all in the same way.

Moses said to the Israelites, before crossing into the Promised Land (Deut. 30:14), that the "word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. " If the"Word" is in our heart, enabling us to obey, then, as Jesus said, "...the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) If we fight against our sin daily, resisting lusts, enticements of this world, and suggestions of the devil, then the Kingdom of God is increased.

And that is the second kingdom--the Kingdom of God, the place of righteousness and truth. If Jesus is our Lord, then sin, although still present, does not reign over us; His grace reigns

Therefore, we are taught, after praying that His Kingdom Come, to immediately petition that His "... Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The covenant prayer we prayed each Sunday in January as the Call to Worship is a prayer where we asked that we surrender ourselves completely to His Will. Although God has given us a free will, it is not free if we make it our own will. To be free is to desire only God's Will.

In this part of the prayer, we are led to pray against ourselves; praying that God's Will reigns in us, here, now, on earth just as it does in heaven, so that the Kingdom of God (Thy Kingdom Come) will be advanced and increased, daily and incrementally.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Earth and Heaven

“In earth as it is in heaven” are magnificent, comforting, idealistic, and challenging words. First, their magnificence empowers us to believe that it is within our power to have our world, here on earth, reflect God’s heavenly world. Next, we are comforted by God’s love for us, so all-embracing that he had Jesus teach us this prayer, showing that we can have God’s will for us, here on earth.

Then realistically we have to step back, to see that ours is a broken world, with too many people who perceive humanity as flawed and unredeemable. Lastly, we must face the trials which come to us, our families and friends, our nation and our world. We must not give up. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. [Heb. 11:4]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four Frightening Words

In some respects I think "Thy will be done" are the four scariest words in the English language. Saying it--and really meaning it--means that you are giving up control to God.

This year I have prayed for a former student's life even though I knew she was terminally ill and even though I knew that we shouldn't pray for life--not when death's reward is heaven. I have prayed for certain couples with the hopes that they might part ways because I thought they would be better off with different partners. I pray each day for the safety and good health of family members even though Jesus said that none of us should love our parents or our children more than we love Him.

At the end of prayers like these, though, I force myself to add "Thy will be done." Sometimes I have to repeat it to myself several times because I want so badly for things to go my way when they clearly are going to go in another direction or need to go in another direction.

Saying "Thy will be done; Thy kingdom come" is an admission that we mortals can't understand the divine. We pray with the best of intentions, but we can't understand God's will. We take a leap of faith each time we say "Thy will be done."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

God's Will, Not Mine

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...heaven on earth.... My heaven on earth is when I simply trust God and get out of the way, trying not to be that thorny soil being crowded out by the concerns of this world, but rather that good soil, open to awareness of
God's will for me, for the farmer scattering seed. This is often not easy. That's one reason I keep praying.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come

This week's reflection in the Lenten Guide suggests that when we pray, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, we are praying a "Prayer of Complaint". 

These words recognize that "our world is not what it should be because it isn't what God meant it to be." 

What is the kingdom of God?  In what way is asking for God's kingdom a revolutionary petition? 

Do we really want God's kingdom in our midst?

Thy Kingdom Come

I am most aware of the brokenness of the world, and our need for God’s kingdom, when praying with others.  When I first became intentional about this—asking people how I can pray for them—I assumed that this would be depressing.  I presumed that when people shared their worries or concerns that I, too, would take these on, and that over time these burdens would become overwhelming.

Yet I find instead that there these moments of sharing are not something to be dreaded.  When I spend time talking with and listening to someone in the hospital or my office, there is a sense of God present in a unique way.  

As we pray, I say the longings I have heard. They become my longings: for healing, for hurting family members, for comfort in the fears.  And even though I enter the fears and longings, in the moment there is so much more than the pain.  There is a sense that in these prayers we are joined in Christ, and Christ is present in a unique way.  Somehow, in the moment of our sharing and praying together, God’s kingdom breaks through.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Singing the Lord’s Prayer helps me to slow down and think about the words. Particularly do I focus on the phrase “hallowed be thy name.” When we join in a community praying of the Lord’s Prayer, we are sometimes asked to "repeat" the Lord’s Prayer. And that is exactly what we tend to do, hurriedly and thoughtlessly. Always we should “pray” this prayer.

Sing through the beginning, to yourself, slowly. When you come to these words, “Hal-lo-wed be Thy name,” you slow down, you pause, you reflect.

These first ten words of this prayer are perhaps ten of the most important words we shall ever pray, as we look toward God our Father, proclaim his presence all around us, rejoice being in His heavenly arms,and assert our belief in the holiness of His name.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"...Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name..."

There are other gods. Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21) Anything, be it good or bad, that draws our focus, our concentration, our total submission away from "Our Father", is our god, our idol. Before we can express our gratitude to Our Father be keeping the Ten Commandments, the first of those Commandments must be obeyed: a commitment to worship only the Lord.

When Jesus teaches us to pray Our Father "who art in heaven," He is showing us that we must recognize initially Who our Father is. He is not part of the creation. He is not part of this world. He is beyond human comprehension. This is the Father that we worship and pray to-not any other god or idol that is finite and created. He is greater than the loftiest ideal we can imagine, because even that is created and an idol.

Therefore, "...who art in heaven..." is immediately followed by "...hallowed be thy Name..." "Hallowed" means to make or set apart as holy; sanctify; consecrate. "Hallowed", therefore, means made or set apart as being holy; highly venerated; unassailable; sacrosanct. In our prayers, Jesus teaches us to begin by remembering in Whose Presence we are coming. That it is He alone Who is worthy of our worship, devotion, total commitment and surrended. That before we can begin to petition for others and ourselves; before we can begin the work of the Kingdom; before anything, we must begin with the focused desire to know He that is in heaven, He that created the heavens and the earth, He that is alone holy and worthy of our worship and praise.

Smarter than a sixth grader?

Notes from a discussion on prayer by the confirmation class:

Martin Luther is credited on page 125 of the Claim the Name Confirmation Book as saying that prayer is not "telling God anything" nor is it a means of "forcing God to do something that God otherwise would not do."

During confirmation class this week we asked some of our best theologians, our sixth graders what they thought about Martin Luther's ideas of prayer and what they thought prayer is:

Prayer lets us know peace that the burdens we bear aren't our own.

When people tell us they are praying for us, it can draw us out of a frenzy to a state of peace.

God doesn't do for us what we ask in prayer, but leads us to what he calls us to do.

Our prayer doesn't change God's will, it might change the timing of it.

When we experience a loss, we gather together and prayer gives us some peace.

We are healed through prayer when we realize we are "good enough" as we are.

Prayer allows us to work through the distractions and understand ourselves better.

We pray like we can change God's will and at the same time have the faith that God's will is best.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do you know what this prayer is?

I was in the park this afternoon, viewing the last of the crosses to arrive.  These crosses each have phrases from the Lord's Prayer, and if you start at the log cabin chapel, the crosses will lead you through the park and through the prayer.
As I stood on the path, admiring this last cross, two children came running around the bend toward me, shouting exuberantly, "there's another one!".  Then they raced on to find the next cross.  Behind them, their grandparents followed, and finally caught up with the children at the "Amen".  From a distance, I heard the grandfather ask, "Do you know what this prayer is?"
I smiled, and wondered what he would tell them. 

The Hallowed Cross

The music ministry sponsored a cross depicting "Hallowed be thy name."  Here children paint with their thumbs, decorating the stained glass windows that accompany the musical phrase "Hallowed be thy name".

Our Father Who Art in Heaven

When I begin the Lord's Prayer and say 'Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name', I know that God in listening to me. He cares and He listens. He is greater than I am - He is God and I am a flawed, mortal human being seeking to live a better life. When I pray this particular prayer I am also praying as part of a community of people who are praying for the same thing - a better life for ourselves, our families and the world in which we live. We need God and we need each other, and our collective petition to live as we believe He wants us to live makes our world a better place. I feel sure that it pleases God when he hears one of us say, 'Our father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name..."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hallowed be thy Name

Based on the postings so far, it seems like most of us treasure this idea of God as Father. Something inside seems to sigh with relief when we realize that God loves us unconditionally and wants to be in relationship with us.

And yet...there is a tension. God is so much more than we. There is a sense of God's holiness, a reverence and awe that I wonder if we have lost in our desire for a buddy who accepts us.

Is this a tension for you? Is there a moment when you wanted, like Peter, to fall on your knees and say, "go away from me"? Is there a moment when you knew that God was so much more than anything you could comprehend?

My Two Daddies

It hasn't been that long since I made the connection between God as Father and my earthly father, my Daddy. Since that revelation, I always open my prayers with "Father" because the thought is so comforting to me. That Sunday, the sermon was on the passage about which of you would give a snake to your child if he/she asked for a fish. (Luke 11:11-13) I thought of my earthly father, of how he has always selflessly given to me in a hundred different ways.

When I was little, he went to Hardee's on his lunch break and bought a stuffed Donald Duck that he then chased me around the house with as he spoke in Donald speak to elicit giggles. When I asked for a basketball goal or a bicycle for Christmas, he gave me both. After proving that I was going to stick with playing the trumpet, he bought me the best silver trumpet he could find. When I needed a soft case to carry it around, he bought leather instead of vinyl. When my car had problems in high school, he loaned me his brand new shiny red pick up while he drove my clunker Monte Carlo. When I asked for a five to go to the movies, he always gave me a twenty. When he told me to pick out a car my sophomore year of college, I picked out a Volkswagon; he picked out a Mustang.

I know I don't know all of the ways in which my heavenly Father has done the same thing. I can think of little things like the day I was struggling to write my ten pages. I prayed for the strength to write those ten pages; God gave me fifteen. I have sheepishly prayed for a parking spot in a certain garage because I was running late; God gave me three. I have prayed for a car to last an extra year and managed to get a second out of it. I prayed to find a good man for a husband; God gave me the best man for a husband--someone beyond my wildest expectations.

I do know that it's hard to see how God works in our lives sometimes. I started keeping a prayer journal a few Lenten seasons ago. Reading it a year or two after the fact has shown me a glimpse of how God gives generously even when we can't see it at the time. My challenge to everyone would be to keep a little informal journal of the things that worry you; check it a few months or a year later to see how God has given you even more than you asked for.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our Father

Ellsworth Kalas said two things that really struck home with me in his “Lenten Study.” One, that Jesus wanted us to know that above all, that you and I are God’s sons and daughters; yet secondly, the term “Our Father” is for some an insuperable barrier. The explanation being that for those without fathers or abusive fathers or unworthy fathers, they might not want to think of the heavenly Father in that light.

In my mind it is a little more personal. When I pray to my Heavenly Father for guidance or the strength to deal with the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the typical day in and day out trials of tribulations of life, or to thank him for the bounty that he has blessed me or the beauty of life and the earth, I want him to be My Father, not necessarily the Father of those who have caused me hurt or pain or loss or the person who sees the glass always half empty.

I don’t want to think that the irate driver who yells obscenities out his window because he is having a bad day/life or the person who chooses to lay me off versus the younger less expensive person or the person who cuts in front of me in the check out lane has the “same” Father who supports, loves and lifts them.

Yet in that same token, the devastating earth quake in Haiti reminded all of us, we do have the same Father and he asks of us to love and help and support each other, just like he does us. Amazing that such a horrific event, could bring together mankind and cross all barriers of religion, language, culture, skin color, monetary status; yet not really, we all have the same Father.

The Collective

I like the collective "Our Father." I like the thought that as we pray, Christ is there and that all who pray are there with us too. I work with a lot of people whose relationship with their earthly father was/is less than loving, some neglectful, some abusive, some traumatic, some torturous. I like the collective because we can gather around those who don't know the generosity of a loving God and don't know the kindness of a earthly father. We can love them into awareness and hope that these relationships, the relationships between the loving God and ourselves is reflected in the love we have for each other. The power of love then does the rest. God is love and we try to love as God does and that is good example of the collective "Our Father." I like that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning to Pray Out Loud

OK, think “”, that Microsoft commercial. I went to and typed in “learning to pray aloud” and this is what I got:
Courage to pray out loud
Is it necessary to pray out loud?
i would like to eventually learn to pray out loud, with words or in song – How do I pray out loud?
Ask for volunteers to pray aloud for the specific concerns of group members…

My dad’s blessing before meals, and his mother’s before him, was short and sweet: “Lord bless this meal and all others”. Kevin’s stepdad’s prayer is the opposite. Your stomach will be growling and someone will be laughing before the prayer is over.

I went through MasterLife training in my former church years ago and one lesson that always stuck with me is a lesson we had on learning to pray out loud. The facilitator used the Lord’s Prayer as the model prayer, as did Jesus in Luke 11:14 when his disciple ask “Master, Teach us to pray”. The facilitator, Steve, broke it down, to show us how the Lord’s Prayer can be used to author a prayer you will have the confidence to pray out loud.

We analyzed each phrase, broken it down, looked at supporting bible verses. We pondered questions like is thanking God praising God? What exactly is our daily bread? How do we ask for forgiveness? Are we really forgiven “as” we forgive others?

So I dug out my discipleship books – sad that I had to dig them out – and thought that I would put this into practice this Lent. Each week I'll use the formula Jesus gave us to begin to pen my prayer – and I hope you'll use it to create your own prayer. By the end of Lent we will have practice pulling together that prayer which we have the courage to pray out loud. We'll have confidence to know what to say, how to praise Him in prayer, why we thank Him and how to add our heart felt requests.

And maybe the next time when I hear Caroline or Tom say “would someone like to close us in prayer?” maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to pray out loud.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Our father, who art in Heaven. Heaven seems so far away that we can hardly reach it. We lie on our backs on the top of Etowah Indian Mounds, and look up at the black night, full of stars, wondering if we’re looking at God in Heaven. We walk to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, on a bright, sunny day, and look up at the blue sky dotted with small clouds, wondering if that is God’s Heaven.
Then we smell a baby’s breath, we look into the faces of our children, we hold our own father’s hand. We ourselves are visited in the hospital by Sunday school friends, we are called by caring ones when we’ve lost a job, and we get a card in the mail saying we were missed at choir practice.
We know that Heaven is not far away in the night sky, or shining down on us from a cloud. Heaven surrounds us all the time, and God is here, right now. We can whisper a prayer, or think a Psalm, or write a note to God. Our Heavenly Father encircles us with his heavenly arms every second of our lives.
Jesus taught us to pray, to remember, that “we” are part of “our” – that God is our Father who is always with us.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Our Father..."

In Leviticus and Numbers, God, through Moses, instructs the community of Israelites how to approach and worship Him. The instructions are very much directed to the community as a whole. The covenantal relationship is connected to the community's faithfulness to Jehovah.

Does Jesus change this community relationship in His coming, His teachings? Is He changing the community relationship with God to an individual relationship with God? Yes, and No. Each of us is invited to a personal, intimate, relationship with His Father, as revealed in Him. But that relationship is part of a community. And not just the community of believers, although that is where it begins and receives its support and encouragement.

When Jesus teaches us to pray "Our Father...", His charge is for us to remember, to realize, that He yearns for that intimate relationship (even and perhaps especially with those who have not experienced the intimacy of such a relationship) with "all". Everyone is included in that "Our..." More to the point, no one you can think of, in any part of our world, is excluded from that "Our..."

That is comforting, yet humbling. At the very outset of our communication with the Almighty God, the Creator of all, yet the Father, Jesus charges us as His children, that His love in inclusive of everyone. We should, therefore, begin our prayer with this attitude of inclusiveness--that everyone is our brother and sister. No exception.

As we begin again his journey called Lent, the words "Our Father..." shows us the cross was for all--not just those who profess belief in He who spread His hand and arms to be nailed to that cross. Let's remember this as we walk toward the cross. Don't just pass others as we approach-let's invite them, all of them, to the foot of the cross.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tertullian and the ordering within the Lord's Prayer

The earliest known writing about the Lord’s Prayer is by Tertullian, who lived in North Africa, 160-225.

In addition to exploring the meaning of the phrases within the prayer, Tertullian notes that the order of the prayer is also important. First we pray about heavenly things: the name of God, the will of God, and the kingdom of God. Only then do we pray for our earthly needs: daily bread, forgiveness, and protection.

Tertullian links this order to Jesus words, “Seek first the kingdom, and then these things shall be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).

Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

It can be difficult to pray in public.

Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right words.

There is pressure to use attractive words—exotic words with multiple syllables—and the temptation to search for lyrical phrases—and most fun of all, words with a second meaning, a hidden layer to be appreciated by the sensitive listener.

Then I remember. I prepare for prayer, not a recitation.

So I turn to the Sunday morning scripture reading and wonder how to pray this story of Christ's Transfiguration. What does Jesus on the mountain with Elijah and Moses have to do with those we feel alone? How is Peter’s offer to build three tents relevant to those who worry about losing their homes? I imagine the voice, booming out, “This is my son”, and wonder who else in our midst longs to hear the voice of God.

I fall into the story, and stop searching for my words, pretty words, unique words. I listen, and the prayers are there, because we are there in the Transfiguration story. We are the ones awed by the dazzling presence of God in our midst, we are the ones uncertain of how to respond to the events of our lives, we are the ones who need to hear God say, "you are my beloved child."

Is it enough?

Have I gotten past my words, my desires, and stumbled into our prayers? Is it enough?

Probably not.

But it’s not up to me. For when all is said, we will go beyond these words I have written and prayed, and pray together the words Jesus taught.

That will be enough.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Lord teach us to pray..."

...because we forgot how to pray.
...because we never learned how to pray.
...because we don't know how to pray to a God like you.
...because my prayers aren't working and I think I must be doing something wrong.

Why did the disciples ask that question? Perhaps the text is more explicit than I recall, but that is the impression I am left with. Why ask that question? As Jews raised by Jews around nothing but Jews, I would think that the disciples would be well informed on the method of prayer. Why would they need to be taught how to pray? Perhaps you can think of a reason I didn't include, but my go to is the first one I wrote. "Lord teach us to pray..." because I forgot how.

I agreed to do this blog in order to be challenged to think and the first thing I am challenged to think about is how often I pray. I must admit not often enough. It is like I forgot how to pray somewhere along the way. I quit saying the blessing before meals, I don't say my bedtime prayers like I was taught to as a child, and I certainly am not praying without ceasing as Paul suggests. I pray about the big stuff. You know the really important stuff:

"God help me keep my job in a crashing economy."
"God protect my children from the swine flu."

But I have forgotten to keep God in Constant Contact ( I wonder what his email address is). I use prayer like the "Batphone." (You remember the red phone in the mayor's office that connects directly to Batman day or night.) I have forgotten how to pray daily, and that is what I hear in the text "Lord teach us to pray..." because I forgot and I need you to remind me to pray daily. To pray without ceasing. To be always in relationship.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Target practice. That’s what I need, Lord. Trying to hit the bull’s eye, without having a goal, without stopping and aiming, doesn’t work. It’s easy enough to shotgun pray. I can do that all day long. I can pray while driving, while shopping, while cooking, even while I’m listening to a long-winded friend on the phone.
That’s not what you want me to do, is it, Lord? I’m not supposed to fire off prayers like throwing out seeds on the lawn. You heard us asking you to help us to pray effectively, meaningfully, thoughtfully. We want to pray to you, and along with you.
Guide us, Lord. If we have to slow down and stop, in order to listen, then let us stop. Make us sit. Let us look you in the face. Let us slow down our breathing, become calm and relaxed. Let everything around us become silent. We want to hear you in the Lenten season. We do want to learn to pray.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Praying Together During Lent

The prayer Jesus taught begins with "Our", so it is fitting that we take time to pray together through Lent.  While our schedules do not always allow us to pray in the same place at the same time, we can join together in creative ways, to reflect and pray as a community.

At this Website we will discuss the Lord's prayer.  Each week our bloggers will write their thoughts about a section of the prayer.  Join in the conversation as a guest blogger or by writing comments.

On Ash Wednesday we will set up stations throughout the Park on Polk, each depicting part of the prayer.  We invite you to take time during the 40 days of Lent to pray and walk through the park, thinking about the words you pray as you reflect on others' images of the prayer. 

Throughout Lent, our ministers will offer prayers for wholeness and healing.  Immediately after worship services, join them in Latimer Chapel for a time of silent prayer and reflection.  Those who wish may come to the altar rail, where our ministers will offer prayers and anoint with oil.


Ash Wednesday Service and Holy Communion
Wednesday, February 17th, 6:30 p.m., Sanctuary

Palm Sunday Worship Services

Sunday, March 28, 9:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., Sanctuary
Maundy Thursday Worship Service
Thursday, April 1, 6:30 p.m., Sanctuary

Good Friday Stations of the Cross
Friday, April 2 , 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Sanctuary

Easter Egg Hunt
Saturday, April 3, 10:00 a.m., Park on Polk Street

Easter Worship Services
Sunday, April 4
Sunrise Service in the Park on Polk: 6:30 a.m.
Worship in the Sanctuary: 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., and 11:15 a.m.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The "Before" Picture

Thanks to Sandra and Scott Anderson for making these crosses. Each one is primed, made of 8" wide wood, and stands 4 feet tall.
When groups return their crosses to the church on Monday morning, February 15, Sandra (and anyone who wants to help--email Cyndi McDonald) will add a sealer to protect the art. These will be placed throughout the park on Ash Wednesday. Note the holes at the top and bottom. We will run rope through these and tie them to the trees.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prayer Stations in the Park

Thanks to the Ministry Teams and Sunday School classes who are providing stations in the park throughout Lent (Ash Weds Feb 17 - Easter Apr 4)

Lord, Teach us to pray - Discovery Class
Our Father, who art in heaven, - Children's Ministry
Hallowed be thy name - Music Ministry
Thy kingdom come - Inquirers Class
Thy will be done - J.O.Y. Class
On earth as it is in heaven. - Kindred Spirits Class
Give us this day - Lightseekers Class
Our daily bread - Senior Adult Ministry
And forgive us our trespasses - Available
As we forgive those that trespass against us - Available
And lead us not into temptation - 11th and 12 grade Sunday School class
But deliver us from evil - Experiencing Joy Class
For thine is the kingdom - Phileo Class
And the power and the glory forever - John Strother Class
Amen - Open Door Class

Many thanks to Scott and Sandra Anderson for preparing the crosses and setting these throughout the park.

Lent 2010

In 2010, as we journey toward the cross, we will follow the path given by Jesus for prayer.

Throughout the park there will be several stations set up, each representing a part of the Lord's prayer. Take some time for a journey of prayer, walking throughout the park, reflecting on this prayer.

Our church will also provide copies of Ellsworth Kalas' Lenten study of the Lord's Prayer. Each weekly lesson considers a part of the prayer. Meet here, at this website, to discuss the parts of the prayer, as well as sharing our experiences in and of prayer.

Week beginning:
Feb 17 (Ash Weds) - Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Feb 21 - Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
Feb 28 - On earth as it is in heaven.
Mar 7 - Give us this day our daily bread,
Mar 14 - And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us,
Mar 21 - And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
Mar 28 - for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Apr 4 - Easter

From 2009 to 2010

Discussions earlier to this post, especially those that refer to Henri Nouwen or "Show me the way", reflect our community's engaging this remarkable book.
Join us in 2010 as we discuss Ellworth Kalas' lessons:
Reflections on the Lord's Prayer: A Lenten Study
Copies will be available in worship services from the ushers.