Posts

tuning-in

Prayer: Tuning In Activities

Sunday we talked about the many ways to pray. Often, we are very good at talking, or making requests, but not so good at listening.Here are some ways to practice tuning in to God:

As a family:

Take a walk, a hike or just find a comfortable place to sit outdoors with the idea of tuning in to God. Give your children the task of finding something outside that reminds them of God. At the end of the time, take some time to dialog as a family around the table. Let each person share what they noticed and why. Ponder together what God might have been saying to them as they “tuned in”. Offer a short prayer of thanks for each story and what God taught you during that time.

As an individual:

Try making a routine activity in your day into a time of listening and tuning into God like mowing the grass, folding the laundry, or preparing a meal. Be creative!  Make a note of the things that you notice, or thoughts that seemed significant, or things that grabbed your attention that reminded you of God. At the end of your day, spend time thanking God for the little revelations you received. Ask God to show you if there is more God would like to teach you through these things.

Centering Prayer:

Does your mind drift when you try to pray or listen to God? Try this simple way of praying. Find a comfortable place to sit and prayerfully dwell in God’s presence with an open heart. Make sure that you set aside some time where you will not be interrupted. Turn off noise makers. Now pick a word to focus on that symbolizes your desire to tune into God’s presence; like light, love, shepherd, rock, Jesus… just to name a few. As you sit quietly with your eyes closed, focus on that one word… as thoughts, worries or anxiety arises; gently turn your thoughts back to your sacred word. Allow the Spirit of God to draw you into a place of deeper communion.

the grace of giving

bubbaIn May of 2000, I lost someone very dear to me… my stepfather, Daddy Bill. He died about three weeks before we returned from Italy. Daddy Bill was in a very real sense my father… he provided security, stability and love for me as a teenager desperately needing a father. One thing I loved about Daddy Bill was that he always had a dog… and he loved his dog very much… Bubba was his name. He was a yellow lab… very big, very loving, very smart and very, very loyal. When I returned home from Italy, I found Bubba depressed. He was lying on the floor and would not get up and move. The vet had decided that if he didn’t make an improvement, Bubba would have to be put to sleep. So I decided to take him back home with me to the farm and try to love him and nurse him back to health. After all, that’s what my stepfather had done for me. Our family extended hospitality to Bubba and were mostly blessed (other than when he had big mistakes that big old dogs make… but we won’t go there) He actually lived for another 5 years. He brought us joy and love while at the same time blessing us with the opportunity to show love and appreciation to Daddy Bill by caring for something that he loved very much.

In essence, that is what giving is all about. It has has to come from a place of deep identity and gratitude to God.  If we are honest with each other, there really is no earthly reason for us to just give away our hard earned money, time and energy away. The only real reason for us to do something that crazy is because we genuinely love God and are grateful for all that God has done for us. 

So how do we make the move from a worldly view of giving to a kingdom view? We do it because of our gratitude for the grace and love that God has shown us. You know, my dog Bubba was very large and as any of you who have had a lab know, they shed something terrible. I had to clean up the floors after him often. I even had to change my clothes before I could leave the house because I was always covered in white dog hair. He was old and had frequent accidents as I mentioned earlier that Harry or I would have to clean up. His special dog food sometimes cost more than our people food. We almost needed pet insurance to afford some of his medication for arthritis. Extending hospitality and being generous to Bubba came at a cost. But I have to tell you that I never regretted my decision to take him in, because I was motivated completely by the love of my Daddy Bill, my stepfather, who had shown such love and grace to me. Doing something that I knew would please him was enough motivation for me.

The spiritual discipline of giving can only come from that place; an awareness of God’s lavish love, grace and provision for us and a deep trust that if we were to ever need anything from our father in heaven that He would do the same thing for us. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says this, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Ways to Practice:

  1. Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.
  2. Try giving a thanksgiving offering to church or an organization that helps others just because; not out of obligation but for the grace of giving. Notice the ways in which that kind of giving forms you.
  3. Try doing a random act of kindness trusting in God’s ability to multiply the gift.

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

a practice to remember…

Tonight, many of us will meet together to practice remembering the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Some traditions will host love feasts, foot washing services and communion while others will simply take time to fellowship over a meal and remember together the significance of the events that took place so long ago.

This ritual, though very diverse, is rich with multi-sensory ways to engage more deeply into the words Jesus shared with the disciples gathered around the table. We touch the bread that represents the body of Christ… the white color reminds us of the Lamb of God, without blemish, who took away all sin from the world. We recall that Jesus willingly broke the bread and gave thanks for what it was and what it was to become. He invited the disciples to eat it… to fully take in and digest that his body would be broken for them. He would become the bread of life so that we may all have life.

He invites us to remember.

We feel the weight of the cup… the very cup that Jesus agonized over in the garden later that evening. The cup he said, is the blood of the New Covenant. We see the deep red fruit of the vine and it becomes a poignant reminder of Christ’s precious blood poured out for the world… We taste the warmth of God’s healing and salvation as we drink from the cup and remember.

We continue this practice because Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember and recall the significance of the things he said as often as they would eat the bread and drink the cup. It was to be a truly contemplative moment… a moment to more fully awaken every part of ourselves, every God given sense that we have , to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Tonight, as we engage in this prayerful act of remembrance, may we slow down and take it all in. May we become aware of each sensory message that the bread and the cup hold for us. As our feet are being washed, may we be reminded and touched by God’s care for us… and may all of these things produce a soul felt “Thanks be to God” welling up from the depths of our being.

worshiping a God who engages all of our senses…

As I read in Exodus this morning, I was struck with the details that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for constructing the Tent of Meeting. He included a variety of woods, jewels, gold, purple yarns and colored fabrics … worship was to be a sensory feast.

There were to be spices and oils to engage the sense of smell, bells to awaken the ears, fabrics to touch and images that would tell the eyes something of the Holy of Holies. I was especially struck by the details in the Ark of the Covenant. The box was to be constructed of Acadia wood and then covered with gold. At each end, would be a Cherub with their wings pointing upwards toward the sky.

As I read the words and imagined these cherub pointing upward, I began to think of God and the heavenly realms. I marveled at God’s purposefulness in engaging the senses that he has given us. These senses, though very useful to us throughout the day, served another purpose. They are also to be doorways into God’s presence.

We have all smelled a familiar perfume that reminded us of a favorite person or felt delight when we slid into clean sheets of a freshly made bed and felt cared for. All of these can lead us to a prayerful place… all of these can awaken us to God’s presence and care.

As I write this, I hear the birds chirping outside of my window. I am reminded that God has given me another day… I am also reminded that spring is here because the birds sing louder as the weather grows warmer. My heart is warmed and  I am suddenly filled with hopefulness and gratitude. I have been awakened to God’s presence and invited to linger…

O to be fully awakened
into the now
with the rush
of a pregnant moment;
God coming near

to take it in
like the red breasted bird
that has momentarily left its perch
and flown down into the meadow

to be near
the passing of the holy one
to drink it in
the way spring grass
welcomes the morning dew
absorbing it
into the deep parts
to be swayed
by the wind of God’s passing
the way strong trees
circum
to the breeze

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below

some thoughts on relinquishing

A few years ago, I found myself going through a very dry time in my ministry. I found myself feeling tired, burnout, uncreative, and a little calloused. I was scheduled to spend a weekend at a local retreat center for prayer and reflection… this was not what I wanted to do… I really didn’t want to pray or reflect… they both seemed too draining and depressing at the time. Since the weekend was already prepaid, I reluctantly packed my bags and headed out.

I wouldn’t exactly describe my attitude as being “spiritual” or “reflective”. In fact, I was there because I felt like I had to be. As I walked the grounds of this magnificent place, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to say a prayer for the weekend. In fact, I resented feeling like I had to pray for the weekend. But finally, I mustered up enough energy to say a simple two word prayer: “Find me”.

I didn’t have the energy to seek God so I relinquished my time, my sense of responsibility to make the retreat meaningful, and my own helplessness to God by saying, “Find me, God”. That was it.

I will never forget how God met me that weekend. When I relinquished into God hands how I ought to be refreshed and how I ought to pray, God met me in a profound way… the way I needed to be met but didn’t know it. I came away from that time a changed person with a renewed sense of God’s profound love for me. I can say, that I will never be the same again.

While I was there, I wrote simple song that captured my prayer and God’s answer:

Draw me
ever deeper
ever nearer
Lord, to you

Find me
ever waiting
in the secret place
for you

For your love rushes through me
and awakens
the deepest strains of songs
not yet sung
you purge my soul
with tender, healing
spirit hands of love

Sing to me
in the quiet place
let you’re love
find me there

Call me
to be one with you
and give me grace
to see

That your love rushes through me
and awakens
the deepest strains of songs
not yet sung
you purge my soul
with tender, healing
spirit hands of love

Three practices that can help us through a dark night experience

I remember a particularly difficult time in Italy when Harry and I were the janitors, the building and grounds committee, the Sunday school teachers, the nursery, the counselors, teachers and preachers for the small community of new believers that were being formed at Termini Immerse, Italy. (Talk about an overwhelming job description!) I had three lively children at that time at the exciting ages of 2, 4 and 7. Each Sunday when the time for preaching came, I would take all of the children out with me into the next room for Sunday school. On a good Sunday, we could have as many as 15 kids. Harry would get to preaching… a long time… and I would be over in this room in my high heeled shoes and Sunday best which was an important part of the culture… teaching SS class in another language… with 15 children ranging from 1-13 somehow hoping that what I had to say would interest them. I used a flannelgraph which one of my kids would take the characters off each time I put them up there, interrupting my thoughts that I was working on so hard in Italian… with my youngest either clinging to my dress or on my hip or someone else’s baby on my hip… in a room that echoed terribly with marble floors and which you could hear every sound in the next room and vice versa… no heat and no air-conditioning… you are getting the picture right? I was completely and totally overwhelmed and this happened every single Sunday. And… every single Sunday I would go home after church, crawl into my bed and cry.  Even though I believed that God had called us to Italy, and I believed that we were pursuing God’s will for us, I felt like a miserable failure. I was lonely, completely overwhelmed and I really just wanted to go home. That was a dark, dark time for me. I must admit that there were times when I felt so overwhelmed, that I didn’t really care if I was pursuing God or not.

Even Jesus didn’t feel like pursuing God that night in the Garden. In Matthew 26 verse 36 we see that Jesus has celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and he has gone to the garden to pray. He tells Peter and that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Have you ever paused to consider just that sentence… How dark that night truly was for our Jesus? So when we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights.

There are three practical things that we can learn in this story.

(1. Don’t go to the garden alone…

The first thing we can do when we find ourselves in a Gethsemane experience is invite persons to companion us. Jesus invites three of the disciples, Peter, James and John to be with him. As Christians, I think this can be hard for us at times. We want everyone to think we are doing great, or we don’t want to cause anyone trouble, but Jesus, openly names his feeling of sorrow to the point of death to his disciples and allows them to surround him and be with him during the most difficult time in his life. When we invite our brothers and sisters in the Lord to companion us, it is as if we were inviting God to companion us because we believe that we have the very presence of God, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.

(2. We can pray honest prayers

Sometimes, I think we pray pretend prayers with God because we are afraid that somehow our anger, disbelief and sorrow will keep God from hearing our prayers. But nothing could be further from the truth. God made us with a full array of emotions… we really can’t hide that from God. If we look at Matthew 26:38 we see that Jesus overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, falls on his face and says, My Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me…

(3. Relinquish our power into the hands of God.

The third thing we can learn from Jesus is that there will come a time in all of our lives when we do things that we really don’t want to do… even when we know it is right.  When we find ourselves in a very dark hour, it is good to relinquish the outcome and control into the hands of God. Jesus, himself, says inverse 38… not my will but thy will, O God.

Jesus was God incarnate, so it is a little different for us. But I think there comes a time when we need to fall on our face and simply let God be God. That requires us to fully relinquish any claim we might have to controlling our lives. It is a little bit like jumping off the diving board at the deep end of the pool for the first time and trusting that our parents will catch us.

There will come a time when all of us will have to do this in the impending hours before our death. But, I believe that this relinquishing should become a practice for us. In a very real way we do that when we practice the Sabbath. When we cease for a day, we are saying in a very real way, God, you are the Creator and I am simply the created. I relinquish my desire and drivenness to pursue more and work more. I trust that you are able to come to my aid. I trust that your will and your power are enough for me.

When the going gets tough

I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.

Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.

The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”

The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?

The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.

It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.

We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?

Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.

It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.

What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.

Waiting with Jesus

As Holy Week draws near, I find myself sitting with Matthew 26:36-53. Jesus has celebrated the passover meal with his disciples and he has gone to the garden to pray. He tells Peter and that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… and he invites  him to stay  and keep watch.

It intrigues me that Jesus needed community in those final moments. He extended the invitation to three of his disciples and friends to companion him during one of the most difficult and intimate times in his life. How were they to companion? By simply being prayerfully present.

He leaves them there to go and plead with God… If it is possible may this cup be taken from me… only to return and find that the Peter and the other have fallen asleep. How is it that they could so easily abandon their Lord and friend at such a crucial time in his life? Jesus’ question to them reflects the same incredulity, “Could you not keep watch with me one hour?”

We may gawk a little at the notion that the disciple were not able to stay awake and pray for Jesus at such a significant moment. Truth be told, for many of us, it is hard to manage  to keep watch for an hour during good and normal times. And yet, it seems that God invites us to keep watch for his presence and prayerful about fresh revelation.

Jesus continues to work among us here on earth inviting us to companion him… sometimes we get to do some really exciting and wonderful things. But other times, more often than not, he invite us to join him by simply being prayerfully present. I am not sure things have changed too much for us over the years… most of us find ourselves sleeping, both literally and figuratively.

How are you keeping watch?