Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter prayer

Merciful God, 
thousands of years ago, 
in the dark of the morning, 
in the midst of profound grief
[Mary/the women] drew near to the tomb.  
Her heart broke as she came to say goodbye to her rabbi and friend.  
But instead of the stench of death she breathed in the gift of new life.  
Jesus was alive! 
The gift of resurrection is mysterious and confusing--
As are the ways you touch the dark and dead places in our lives.  
Where we have failed you forgive us. 
Where we sin you redeem us. 
Where the darkness threatens to overtake us,  you shine your light. 
And where death steals our joy, you proclaim I give joy abundantly. 

We thank you this day for new beginnings,  second chances,  and resurrection from death. 

We praise you in Jesus' name, 

Easter prayer

O God of death & resurrection,
we come today rejoicing in the fact of the empty tomb. 
Jesus Christ is risen! 
Where death and darkness threatened to overcome your promise of grace, mercy, & justice you stand victorious. 
We can't deny the power of sin or the presence of suffering in our lives.  
But because of Christ,
We know they don't have the final word. 

So we praise you.  
Hear us now as we lift our voices in thanks & praise 
for all you do & all you've done,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wickedness and Weakness

Luke 22:14-23The Message (MSG)

14-16 When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”
17-18 Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.”
19 Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”
20 He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.
21-22 “Do you realize that the hand of the one who is betraying me is at this moment on this table? It’s true that the Son of Man is going down a path already marked out—no surprises there. But for the one who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man, this is doomsday.”
23 They immediately became suspicious of each other and began quizzing one another, wondering who might be about to do this.

Most folks in the church are familiar with this story. If you've been in a church that does regular (monthly) communion, you've probably heard it a dozen or more times. If you're a life-r you've probably heard it hundreds of times.  

Funny thing is Scripture, as the living Word of God, has a way of speaking in new and different ways each time we read it.  That's what happened for me today, I heard this passage differently.  For me, today, it was less about the Passover meal (a.k.a. communion) and more about who Jesus included, or chose not to exclude.

It is clear here Jesus eats with one he knows will betray him. Throughout the whole meal, Jesus knew Judas would betray him (and he knew Peter would deny him) and yet he included them anyway.  This holy meal--to which Jesus gave new depth and meaning--wasn't reserved for the faithful and the righteous. It was meant for all--including the sinners, the liars, and those who would betray him.  

That's good news for us because if Jesus included the "worst" disciples then--the most wicked the the most weak--then Jesus also includes the "worst" of the disciples now. Whether we're defined by wickedness or weakness, Jesus invites us to the table. He shares the blessing with us, even knowing we're going to keep getting it wrong.  

And the kicker is, if Jesus is willing to include us at our worst, then he's also willing to include them at their worst.  The gift of forgiveness, of salvation, new life, and God's promises aren't reserved for a select few, they are made available to all--over and over again because of and in spite of our sin. 

Preachers' Prayer

Lord God,
This week is big in church life. 
It's hectic. 
It's demanding. 
It's blessed. 
It's holy. 
And it's exhausting. 
For all the pastors preparing sermons & liturgy,
Give energy,  stamina,  inspiration,  health,  and help. 
Bless them so that they might experience the truth of the Gospel as they proclaim it to/for others. 
Be big. 
Be bold. 
Empower and use your faithful servants. 
In the mighty name of Jesus,

Prayer of preparation

Loving God,
Still and focus my mind that I might hear from you. 
Help me as I read your Word.
Guide my thoughts so that what I write and what I plan would speak to your people. 
In Jesus' name, amen. 

Are you ready?

Luke 22:7-13The Message (MSG)

7-8 The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.”
They said, “Where do you want us to do this?”
10-12 He said, “Keep your eyes open as you enter the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then speak with the owner of the house: The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.”
13 They left, found everything just as he told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

  There are a number of things that happened in this passage that required obedience, faithfulness, and timing.  
-Peter and John were prepared to cook the Passover meal (not generally something they would have done as men--fish, maybe, but not a feast for a high holy day)
-There was a man carrying water (also not normally the job of a man) and he managed to be at just the right spot at the gate at just the right time for Peter and John to see him
-Peter and John had to follow him
-The homeowner was home
-the homeowner honored the request of the "teacher" even though he wasn't present
-the room was already ready and furnished
-The disciples found the food, got a lamb, and prepared the meal for all of the men to share together

In this we see incredible faithfulness in the various men who are present. Peter and John were ready to do what Jesus asked--even though it wasn't "men's work" (and they knew/figured out how to do it).  Then there's the man with the water (presumably a slave) who just happens to be carrying water at the moment they come into the city.  He would have been easy enough to spot, as it typically would have been a woman carrying the water, but still he was there for Peter and John to find and follow. Then we have the homeowner.  He was home and didn't see to argue or even flinch at "the teacher's" request.  

God ordained or otherwise, the collision of people who were willing to live in the moment or do as God said or some combination of both is incredible and important.  The events of this night came together because multiple people were faithful and obedient.  We often say "God is in control", which I believe (to some extent), but God is also reliant upon us to participate.  We need to listen, we need to follow, and we need to do as God has asked us to do.  

Are you ready?
to listen?
to follow directions?
to work outside your comfort zone?
to help the stranger?
to be used by God?


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Quote of the day

Daily Prayer

Precious Lord,
Prepare my heart to hear your voice. 
Help me to be a faithful listener.
Guide my heart to the place you are calling.
Speak into my places of fear, doubt, and anxiety.
Give me instead your perfect peace.
This I pray in Jesus' name, 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trusting God

At various points in the last few months, God has reminded me that I am to “Trust God” and life faith-fully.  It’s almost like an echo in my mind. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.  It seems simple enough, but when the storms of life are raging, it’s not as simple as it seems.  

I know I'm supposed to trust God, but I also have this selfishness inside of me.  

"I'll trust you, but you need to show up already."
 "I'll trust you, but I'm tired of waiting." 
 "I'll trust you, but you didn't do it my way." 

On the days I struggle to trust, I try to "preach faith until I have it" (~John Wesley). And I often use music to help convict me.  If I sing it often enough, maybe it will become even more true for/in me.  This song by Lauren Daigle has been incredibly powerful for me in that way. 
The full lyrics can be found here

The chorus is a good reminder for me:

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

Even when God doesn't do it my way, I am called to trust.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Experiencing God: Hearing God speak

 I’ve written a couple of posts on experiencing God (hugs & heat), and I think it’s important to keep uncovering the various (tangible) ways we can experience God.  One of the more recent ways is through prophetic* people in my life. 
I’ll start by saying I’m wary of those who tend to try and predict future events.  I knew one guy who studied the “Bible Code” (which he did in English…if you believe in the Bible Code (read messages hidden within the scriptures) I’m pretty sure you should believe they were hidden in the original biblical languages and not some random English translation, but what do I know? I’m just a biblical scholar and a theologian.).  This man would send me letters of his predictions.  I was pregnant with our first child when he told me it would be a boy and we were to name him “John Allen”. Turned out it was a girl and we named her Ruth.  He told me there would be a HUGE earthquake of the coast of California causing a giant tsunami on December 22nd of that year causing destruction all the way into the Inland Empire and that we needed to have the church fitted with reinforced steal (which needed to be purchased from a very specific company, by the way).  Needless to say, we didn't buy the steal and no such earthquake or subsequent tsunami happened. Which is all to say, if you say you’re a prophet, I take it with a grain of salt.  

However, despite some crazy experiences with people that I do not believe were hearing the Word of God directly, I have known others whose words have been tested and proven in time.  My spiritual mentor has spoken prophetically into my life and my ministry on a couple of occasions and I have a prayer partner who has also been given prophetic words for me.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but every once in awhile, when I ask her to pray for me, she says “Call me” and ends up having a very specific scripture or word that seems to be from God.  

In January of last year I had asked her to pray for me.  I was struggling because we really wanted a second child. It took us a long time to get pregnant again and then we miscarried.  It was heart breaking and we kept praying that we would be able to have another child.  And it seemed like forever, and I wondered if it would ever happen.  I asked my friend to pray for me.  And then she said, “Call me.” And I did.  And then she shared a message, which included that God would answer my prayer as he had answered Hannah’s. I wasn't sure how long it might be before God answered "as he had Hannah" but I was grateful for the hope.  And it turns out, we were pregnant in about a month.  You could call it coincidence, but it was more than that for me.  

Later that year, I again asked for prayer, as I had many times, and this time, she said "Call me." So I did.  Again, she had specific words for me (sort of like when I prepare a sermon and it all just flows, I don't have to think to make it work, it just comes...from's clearly not mine).  She had very specific words for me that addressed my current situation in ways that were uncanny, since I hadn't told her what was going on. I'd only asked her to pray.  Her words have brought me comfort, they have brought me hope, they've given me direction and instruction.  And I am grateful that God gave me someone (actually multiple someones since it's happened with other people, often in the form of "hey, I just had you on my heart today and felt the need to do tell you ________).  

God does speak. God speaks through the scriptures. God speaks through giving us peace, comfort, and hope. And God speaks through other people.  It might be simple. It might be vague or it could be specific.  To be sure, there are "false prophets" and we should be wary about believing everything people say is "from God", but just because there are some folks who are pretty far out doesn't mean there are no modern prophets who genuinely hear from God to offer God's truth into our lives. 

*It is HUGELY important to understand that when I say “prophetic” I’m not talking about fortune tellers, or future predictors.  A prophet (in biblical terms) is a truth teller—they are a messenger from God, sent to tell God’s truth.  If you read the Old Testament prophets, you might be inclined to think they are future-tellers, but really they are more like doctors in that they are diagnosing a condition and explaining likely outcomes.  For instance, if you keep acting unjustly and selfishly, you will end up struggling with famine.  That sounds like future-telling in a way. But it’s also diagnostic…if you keep being selfish and not thinking of others, or the big picture, this way of life is going to land you in a heap of trouble.  Much like if a doctor says “if you keep failing to exercise and eating the way you are, you’re likely to have a heart attack.” The doctor isn’t a fortune teller, she’s a diagnostician…she’s studied likely outcomes of certain behaviors and knows there’s a direct correlation between diet and exercise and heart related issues.  So, when I say “prophet”, what I mean is someone who listens for God’s voice and is offered a message to share.  The legitimacy of said message can be measured by how it holds up against the truth of the scriptures. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Here You Go God

"Here you go Mommy." 

I get that a lot.  And generally that’s followed by a handful of trash.  It might be an apple core, a broken toy, a half eaten sandwich, a gun wrapper, already chewed gum, or any other type of rubbish.  There’s nothing like receiving trash because your child doesn’t want to deal with it herself.  “Thaaaaanks” is about the only reply I have. 

Today, I had one of those “ah ha” moments and realized, that’s a lot like what we do to God.  We break stuff, we use what we want, we pull off the undesirable parts and then we hand it to go and say, “Here, it can be yours now.” We might want a solution (like fixing a broken toy a.k.a. situation) or we might simply not want to deal with our rubbish ourselves. So instead we give it to God.  

I wish I could say I’m more mature in my faith than this, but the reality is, I do this on a regular basis. I tire of something, or I break it, or I don’t find it useful or whatever the case may be, and so I readily dump it in God’s lap. “Ok, it’s your problem now. You take care of it.”  I’m not sure I have a great solution to this habit, but I imagine it will start with an awareness of it.  If I can acknowledge what I’m doing, maybe I can stop and think before I dare a hand-off…

  Could I fix it?
 Could I get rid of it myself?
Does it really need God’s hand or am I just being lazy? 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

We Can Ask God...

...for anything God wants to do.

That's what Ruthie said the other day. She had made up a song about being strong and courageous but that no one is stronger than God.  After she sang, or maybe as part of the song, she said "We can ask God to do anything God wants to do."  And I thought that might be the wisest interpretation of prayer I've ever heard.  We can ask God to do anything God wants to do. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" (New Living Translation)

There have been lots of interpretations of that verse over the years.  

Does it mean whatever we ask?  To win the lottery?  For someone to love us?  For our team to win the big game?  Does it really mean whatever?

Does "in my name" mean we just put the Jesus stamp on whatever we pray and it will happen?  

I think most of us know the answer to those questions is "no."  We've prayed for things and said "In Jesus' name" and those things didn't happen.  And clearly we've prayed for "whatever" (*well, if not us, certainly someone has) and whatever hasn't happened.  So, there must be some other, deeper, meaning to Jesus' words "whatever you ask in my name".  

And I think Ruthie sort of nails it..."we can ask God to do whatever God wants to do." In other words, if we ask for things that are a part of God's will, then God can/will do it.  Just saying that makes me know it's a sticky wicket, because after all....we believe God wants what is good for us, what draws us to wholeness, what makes us more Christ-like and surely we (or others) have asked for things that meet those qualifications and seemingly some of those prayers haven't been answered either.  So it's not so simple. 

But there is wisdom in Ruth's words.  Certainly, asking God for what God doesn't want to do isn't likely to work out in our favor.  And while the formula isn't perfect (or really set), we are invited to pray and ask for anything (that lies within the will of God).  The easiest retort to that is "Well, what is it that God wants?"  And while we may now know those specifics either, we do know the general categories. God wants what is good for us and good for others. God wants justice. God wants peace. God wants mercy. So, if we pray for those things, maybe God will give them since we can ask God to do anything God wants to do. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prayer for Lent

By Howard Thurman

Listen to the long stillness:

New life is stirring

New dreams are on the wing

New hopes are being readied:

Humankind is fashioning a new heart

Humankind is forging a new mind

God is at work.

This is the season of Promise.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Just Be Held

I've been fasting from Facebook during Lent and I've invited folks to send me their prayer requests.  When I feel the urge to check Facebook, I begin to pray instead.  I've been honored to have people share their struggles and their hopes with me.  A common theme is needing/wanting to hear from God. 

In our house, music plays a big role since Rick is a musician...he thinks in songs (I think).  It's not unusual for him to put a song on and when I stop to listen to the lyrics, it contains a message he's trying to share with me. 

This is one we've been listening to lately and I think it holds a word of hope for others who are waiting, struggling, and trying to discern God's direction in their own lives.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Can we celebrate Easter?

The other day Ruth was watching TV and saw some commercial that related to Easter…eggs hidden around the hard, decorations, special foods…the works…Martha Stewart style. And she asked, “Mom, when we get to our new house*, could we celebrate Easter?”

I paused a minute (generally one to be overly pragmatic and think things like “no, we celebrate Easter at Easter time not in July”) and then I said “Yes, of course we can.”  After all, Easter isn’t really about some designated Sunday during the year. Easter is about resurrection, life after death, new beginnings, second chances, forgiveness of sins, and the blessings of God’s grace.  And, quite frankly, after a year full of “stuff” (including death of various types, endings, hurt feelings, and dark places) we are in need of a whole lot of Easter.  

As I thought about it further, I thought it could be a really cool way to begin in a new place.  We could spend a couple weeks unpacking and hopefully getting to know some people (from the church, or otherwise) and then maybe have an Easter party.  It’d be a fun “open house” and a nice way to show Ruth, others, and remind ourselves that the celebration of Easter can happen at any time of year.  
Who knows, it might even become a tradition for every time we move into a new appointment…a reminder of God’s grace, a chance to mourn the endings (for better or for worse) and to look forward to the new life and new beginnings God is offering in a new place of ministry.  

I’m surprisingly excited about the idea and looking forward to the ways we might do this in a new place and a new season of our lives and ministries.

*It’s appointment season in the UMC and clergy all over are waiting to hear if and where they will be moving, or if they will be staying, this year.  While we don’t yet know where, we do know for fact we will be moving.