Thursday, June 30, 2016

From the Classroom

Some year ago as I was in the classroom where praying was being taught,  I heard a lesson about praying the Psalms.  At the time it meant for me taking one Psalm a day until there were no more and using it as the foundation stone for my praying.  Since the Psalms are prayers of different kinds, the discipline of praying the Psalms took me into areas of prayer not yet practiced.  For those interested in learning to pray the Scriptures, it is a good place to start.  Praying the Scripture certainly keeps us in a spiritual framework for praying after the Spirit of God since He is the source of all those sacred words we read. 
Not long ago I decided to return to the Psalms for a season of praying.  Once again I launched out with Psalm 1 and started praying forward using a new Psalm each day.  I also decided to offer a daily blog posting which would focus on those Psalms during the month of July.  So, for the next 31 days there will a meditation, a prayer, a reflection, a poem, or some random thoughts about a particular Psalm being read.  Maybe on another day I might go back and do the same with more than just the first 31, but that day is not today.  31 will be enough for this time!
So, I invite you to join me in this journey.  Perhaps, you might read the Psalm each day, read the blog, and then invite the Spirit to help you use the daily Psalm in your own prayer life.  Maybe you are feeling a need to get back in the classroom of prayer and, if so, this might provide encouragement.  If you do, look for me.  I seem to stay in that classroom, learning all the while, but never getting to a place where graduation is an option.  The one thing I have learned about a life time of prayer is that there is much to learn.  Pray on and know the blessings of the Spirit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coming and Going

The difference in coming and going is staying.  I remember back to the days of my first appointment when one of the guys in the Zoar Church had a tractor accident.  Somehow he fell off the tractor and was run over by those big rear wheels.  Both of his legs were broken above the knees.  Honestly, I do not remember the length of time he was hospitalized, but it was for months and months as he worked through recovery and therapy.  As his pastor I visited him often in the hospital.  He was my first time of filling that role.  I remember leaving him feeling guilt that I could come and go, but he had to stay.  What had happened to him could have happened to me, but it happened to him.  I am not sure back then I truly understood how unpredictable and fragile life can be.
When young it is not easy to see an end to what seems to be stretching out there in the distance in a forever manner.  The Word tells us to "number our days," and "to make the most of the time."  The young find it an impossible task.  The old find it as natural as waking up in the morning and being grateful that both legs will carry you away from the bed from which you slept and woke up.  Most of us have the experience of staying not by choice, but because it is thrust upon us.  It is not easy for us to stand in the middle of circumstances filled only with uncertainties, things that underscore the fragile nature of life, and things that cause you to know there is no such thing in this life as control.
Really, the only thing in this life that is certain is God.  He had His staying moment with us long centuries ago.  He knows about what it is to be as human as we are and to go out of this life into the darkness of death.  When we have to stay, He stays with us.  He is not just the God of those who come and go and talk about Him in the process.  He is the God who stays with us.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Church Grumblers

Laughter is, perhaps, not the normal response of most folks when reading the Scripture, but it happened the other day as I was doing some reading in Luke.  What I was reading brought to mind a lesson learned from a life time of preaching in nine different United Methodist Churches.  Have you ever noticed that every church has a group of people who can only be called "The Church Grumblers?"  Well, I finally found their kin in the Word.  I did not really go looking for them.  They just sorta popped up on the page. 
When I finished reading the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof by his four friends, I kept on reading to the end of the chapter.  There in the second part of that 5th chapter of Luke, I saw them.   "The Church Grumblers."  Of course, they were there when the paralytic was forgiven his sins.  "Only God can forgive sins," they told Jesus.  (vs. 21)  And then, later, when Jesus was eating in the home of a tax collector, they grumbled about His choice of dinner companions. (vs. 31) Next  they grumbled about the habits of His disciples. (vs. 33)  Nothing He did made any difference to these folks.  They just grumbled.

They are still around today.  Over the years I learned that those who greeted me as their new pastor grumbling about the old one would be grumbling about me before I left and most likely would be grumbling about me to the one who followed me.  I learned, too, that those who grumbled about what I did grumbled about what pastors before me did.  Some folks just cannot seem to help themselves.  They just find something about which to grumble.  I saw and heard them in every church I served.  Maybe you have, too.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Being Carried

We all have our favorite Bible stories.  One of mine is the New Testament story about the four guys who carried their paralytic friend to Jesus on a mat and then tore up the roof of a house in order to lower him into the presence of the One they knew could make a difference in his life.  Certainly, they showed faith and the scripture says that Jesus responded not to the faith of the man on the mat, but the faith of those four guys looking down through a hole in the roof.  In addition to their faith, those guys on the roof modeled determination, ingenuity, and loyalty.

What is interesting is that the guy on the mat is almost a sidebar to the story.  We know very little about what he thought about the actions of his friends.  Was he embarrassed?  Had he given up?  Was he the only doubter in the crowd?  It has always seemed possible to me that he was one of those sufferers who walks our world who had endured and struggled so long that he was overwhelmed and overcome.  Getting before Jesus was something he thought to be impossible.  When we read the story, we see that he never says a word.  Being there has nothing to do with him.  Instead, it has everything to do with the muscle and the faith of his friends.

When it seems too dark and too difficult to find our way into the presence of Jesus (and sometimes is does), when we find it impossible to pray the prayers that our heart longs to pray, it is good to have friends who are willing to carry us into the presence of the Christ.  This story of the four friends has always seemed to be more about intercessory prayer than anything else.  Is there a more powerful definition of intercessory prayer than carrying others into the presence of Jesus.  I am grateful for those who have carried me when I could not make it myself and I am sure you have the same gratitude in your heart. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Hindering Perception

When I saw them up the road, I knew what was happening.  Anyone who saw them would have figured the same thing. They were doing a car wash.  Very likely it was a fund raiser for some youth group since they were the ones out on the side of the road waving hand made poster board signs in the air.  But, I was very wrong.  When I got close enough to read the waving signs, I did not see the words, "Car Wash," but "Drive Thru Prayer."   It certainly got my attention so as I passed them, I took a long look their way.  Behind them there was a car parked in the circle drive in front of the church and a small group of people were gathered around it.  From the way things looked, it was the place where the praying was taking place.
In all my years of ministry, I have never thought of a "Drive Thru Prayer" ministry.  In the last two churches prayer rooms were created for ongoing prayer ministries, but people still had to make the effort to come into the room for prayer.  A drive through ministry for prayer was until the other day a not really considered idea.  I guess my hesitations would stem from wondering whether folks driving somewhere in their car would pull out of their intended journey for a moment of prayer offered by a group of strangers.  But, what I saw the other day surely gave proof that some would if given the opportunity.
As one who has lived his life as a part of the mainline traditional established church, I understand and confess the church's reluctance to get out of its comfort zone for something so out of the box  and beyond the boundaries of conventional structures for ministry.  But, it is not just the church, but also the leadership, a place where I certainly stood.  Getting the ministry of the church out into the world is not something which should be viewed as some radical act.  It should be a commonplace practice where failure and foolishness do not enter into the equation.  Too many times we are hindered by our perception of what other people might think.  Maybe, the real thing which should concern is what God thinks of what we do.