Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Prayer Request

Please pray for my nephew, Dan. He leaves for basic training as he enters the National Guard on Monday. He will then receive special training. These two training phases will run through February, when he will return home. His unit has already been told that they will be called up for active duty in October, 2010, destination unknown. I am praying for his well-being, just as I pray for the well-being of other military personnel. Your prayers for Dan would be appreciated. Thanks.

Boredom is Unnecessary

I agree with David Wayne.

Prayers Appreciated

Please pray for my sister-in-law, wife of my brother. She has been hospitalized for about sixty hours, after having experienced severe abdominal pain for several days. Doctors are conducting an organ-by-organ testing procedure, but as yet haven't determined what the source of her pain is. Please ask God to guide the doctors and to bring healing to my sister-in-law. Thanks so much.

"Three Gifts for Hard Times"

That's the title of this article, written by a Harvard law professor, reflecting on his suffering from his perspective as a follower of Christ.

One quibble: His rich understanding of Jesus' use of the term, remembrance, isn't quite as rich as I see it. The term, in the original Greek of the New Testament, is anamnesis, which means the absence of time, making it akin to eternity, also the absence of time. In Holy Communion, Christ invites us to taste the feast that every generation of believers in the God of Israel and the God revealed in Jesus have ever known. In, with, and under the bread and the win, Christ comes to us in body and blood and we are at table with an eternity of believers, past, present, and future.

But this is a quibble. The article does give mature expression to what God does even in the midst of our undeserved suffering and dying.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Looking Forward to a Great Year with Saint Matthew Youth

Tonight, we had the first gathering of the Saint Matthew youth group for the 2009-2010 school year. I was excited with the turnout, which included three sixth graders joining us for the first time.

After having pizza, we considered three Bible passages pointing us to five important goals for Christians, the Church, and our youth group: Loving God, loving neighbor, serving others in Christ's Name, telling others about Christ, and worshiping God. Being a disciple isn't always easy, but it doesn't mean that it can't also be fun! (The passages we looked at were Matthew 22:34-40, Matthew 28:16-20, and Luke 14:26-33.)

We then brainstormed about some of the things we want to do this year. The first thing we discussed was a local "mission trip" in 2010. During the past two summers, we've gone on Group Workcamps Foundation mission trips. (In 2008, we went to Grand Rapids, Michigan and this year, we went to Nashville, Tennessee.) In 2010, we're going to take four to five days, live in the church building, then perform service projects right here in our community. I loved the excitement the youth evidenced for this as they suggested both projects we might take on and fund-raisers we could do to help finance Saint Matthew's youth ministry. (We also have planned to go on a Group-sponsored mission trip again in 2011.)

We also talked about participating in the Southern Ohio Synod Bible Bowl next March and going to a Christian music festival at one our regional amusement parks.

It should be another great year!

My Announcement Today at Saint Matthew

This is an announcment I shared during worship today at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I'm the pastor:
By now, most of you have probably read or heard accounts of the votes taken at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly. I will be commenting in more detail about these votes later. For now, I have just a few things to say:
  • (1) The resolutions passed do not mandate that this congregation or this pastor change their policies on ordination or marriage.
  • (2) I was and remain opposed to the substance of those recommendations.
  • (3) I will be attending a meeting for all rostered leaders of the Southern Ohio Synod—that’s all pastors and associates in ministry—happening this coming week. There, our bishop, who, I’m pleased to say voted against these resolutions, will review the actions of the Churchwide Assembly.
  • (4) I intend to ask the Church Council to allow me to attend a late September national meeting of Lutheran CORE, a coalition for reform of the ELCA. In the meantime, I ask all of you to pray that God will guide the Church and that we will accept that guidance.
As I have said many times, I could be wrong in my thinking and interpretation of Scripture. So, could others. I pray that the Holy Spirit will show the ELCA, Saint Matthew, and me the ways in which God wants us to go.
For a little background on my thinking on this subject, please go to a piece I wrote, I Could Be Wrong.

In Prayer, God ACTS!

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Ephesians 6:10-20
This morning, I want to call your attention to a few verses in our second lesson, specifically Ephesians 6:18, one of the greatest passages in all of Scripture. Here’s how it reads in The Contemporary English Version:
Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.
“When we work,” someone has said, “we work. But when we pray, God works.” Whatever good you and I want to see happen in our lives or in the lives of our families, communities, school, friends, neighbors, or world will absolutely have to begin in prayer. (And prayer begins with God, prompting believers to come to Him.)

Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Some years ago, his father, who had always been physically active, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Hybels writes:
"As I drove to my mother’s house in Michigan, I wondered how I would function without the person who believed in me more than anyone else ever has or will.

"That night in bed, I wrestled with God. 'Why did this happen? How can I put it all together in my mind and in my life? Am I going to recover from losing my father? If you really loved me, how could you do this to me?'

"Suddenly, in the middle of the night, everything changed. It was as if I had turned a corner and was now facing a new direction. God simply said, 'I’m able. I’m enough for you. Right now you doubt this, but trust me.'

"[Hybels goes on to reflect] That experience may sound unreal, but its results were unmistakable. After that tear-filled despairing night, I was never again tortured by doubt–either about God’s care for me or my ability to handle life without Dad. Grief, yes–his death wounded me deeply, and I will always miss him. But it did not set me adrift without anchor or compass. In the middle of the bleakest night I have ever known, one overpoweringly intimate moment with God gave me courage, reassurance and hope."
Life can sometimes overwhelm us.

That’s because, as our lesson from Ephesians tells us, our enemies in this life aren’t the spouse with whom we disagree or the child who rebels or the co-worker who gets on our nerves. Not even the sins that tempt us or the death that comes to us all, which have after all, already been defeated by Jesus Christ, are our real enemies.

Our real enemies, our Bible lesson reminds us, are the spiritual forces of darkness. These are the enemies that pull the human race–and each of us individually–down into despair, depression, apathy, relational discord, and hollow, shallow, pointless living.

We cannot overcome them on our own. We need to call on the only One Who can overcome them. We need to pray to God.

And we need to pray not just for ourselves. We need also to pray for others.

Lutheran pastor Walt Kallestad tells about a friend of his who was annoyed by the clerk at the register for which she was in line. The clerk “was slow, fumbling, and couldn’t seem to do anything right for the people she was supposed to be ‘serving.’” Kallestad goes on to write:
"Irritated, my friend grumbled to God, ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ Then [a]...thought struck her, ‘You’re here because you’re the only one in line who will pray for this clerk and treat her with patience and kindness, which she needs right now, instead of angrily rattling her more.”
God isn’t just interested in our prayers for things like world peace. An old saying tells us that “the devil is in the details.” Satan loves to discourage us in the little, everyday places in which we live, in the details. He knows that if he can trip us up there, there is no way that we’ll ever be free enough to address the bigger issues of life. So, we need to pray for ourselves and we need to pray for others.

But how do we pray exactly? There are lots of ways to approach our prayer relationship with God and, to tell you the truth, I get bored easily with any routine. So, I tend to change my approach to prayer a lot. But this morning, if you’re interested in establishing prayer as a regular part of your life, I’d like to share a simple approach to prayer.

It’s A-C-T-S. I like this acronym because it reminds me that when I pray, God acts.

Following the ACTS formula for praying, the first thing we do when we pray is adoration. We praise God for Who God is, for the characteristics or personality traits of God. More often than I care to admit, my prayers are offered in a hurry when I’m facing a challenge or uncertainty. “God,” I might say, “I don’t know what to say to so-and-so, who is dealing with difficulty.” Or, “God, any ideas for my sermon for Sunday?” Or, “Lord, protect my family.”

There’s nothing wrong with bringing our everyday prayers of desperation to God. Like the loving Father He is, God loves to hear from us. But more than anything, God wants to have a relationship with us.

God can really work in the lives and through the prayers of those who hop off of their own agendas long enough to cultivate a relationship with God. When we begin our prayer time with adoration, praising God for Who He is–a God of infinite power, love, wisdom, grace, mercy, helpfulness, and life–we take the focus off of ourselves and open the channels of communication to our soul. We place ourselves under God.

The C in the ACTS formula for prayer is confession. If adoration opens us up to communicating with God, refusing to confess our sins to God is sure to close off our communication with Him.

But we need to be earnest about this. I know that in my own case, for example, I sometimes find myself saying, “God, forgive me for my sins.” At times though, I may not really be confessing at all, just mouthing religious-sounding words.

A good rule for effective praying of whatever kind is: Get specific.
  • “God, forgive me for being such a critical, stick-in-the-mud.”
  • “Forgive me for trying always to get my way.”
  • “Forgive me for cutting off that red Volvo on 33 the other day.”
Take the risk of inviting God to forgive and help you change in the specific places of your life. “The prayer of an innocent person is powerful and it can help a lot,” the Bible says*. God makes us innocent when we confess our sins in the Name of Jesus. And that gives God's power to our praying.

The T in ACTS stands for thanksgiving. You know the incident when Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to thank Him? One analyst of that passage has said that you can be sure that all ten were grateful for their healing, but only one expressed that gratitude.

Probably most of us here today are grateful for the blessings we have in our lives. But when we take the time to thank God for our blessings–like the blessing of being forgiven, for example–we remind ourselves of where our blessings come from and so, our relationship with God is deepened.

Finally, the S in ACTS is the strangest word of all to our modern ears. It’s supplication, which means humbly asking God for help in our lives. Having adored, thanked, and confessed to God, we bring our laundry lists of needs and wants to God. Repeatedly, the Bible confirms that God wants to hear our requests. “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” the Old Testament says. “Ask,” Jesus tells us in the New Testament, “and you will receive.”

Among the many personal characteristics that have earned me the title of geek is that I love the study of history. One thing my geeky pastime tells me is that, repeatedly throughout history, lives been changed by the supplications of those who established strong relationships with God through time spent in adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.
  • Slavery was brought to an end peacefully in England through a movement that began in prayer.
  • The Cold War ended, I’m convinced not because of the policies of any government, but because of people who prayed, inviting God’s power into seemingly unchangeable circumstances. For several years before Communism fell in Europe, a prayer gathering happened in a Lutheran Church that bordered the wall the Communists once built to hold captive people in. The prayer gatherings at first attracted only a few. Just before the wall fell, thousands of East Germans would gather inside and outside the church building for these meetings. When the wall finally came down, East Germans who hadn't been schooled in the Christian faith for decades gathered near the church building, where one banner stood out. It said, simply, "Thank you, Church." Even those without faith knew, if only for a moment, what part prayer had played in gaining them political freedom.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the most important movements of the twentieth century, which has brought millions into recovery from a horrible addiction, began with prayer in Jesus’ Name.
  • Habitat for Humanity, which is providing homes for millions who would otherwise have no places to live, began when a couple, made desperately unhappy by their financial success, on the verge of a marital crack-up, prayed for guidance.
Every worthwhile, life-changing endeavor at least since God revealed Himself to Abraham four-thousand years ago, has begun with desperate prayer to the God of ancient Israel, the God we know in Jesus Christ!

The world we face is full of challenges too big for any of us to handle in our own strength. We need to remember something: When we work, we work; when we pray, God us, through us, for us.

Let’s pray, then roll up our sleeves to do what God wants us to do, and see how God works!

*James 5:16, Contemporary English Version (CEV)