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Archive for September, 2010

Waiting, waiting, waiting

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”  Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSV)

     How long are we willing to wait for God?  I suspect that waiting is a life time process because it doesn’t mean waiting idley, doing nothing.  A the first part of these two verses indicates, the waiting includes learning.  The Psalmist asks God to teach him (or her) what it means to live in God’s ways, to follow God’s path.  Do we pray for God to teach us?  Do we pray to learn God’s ways?  Do we seek God’s truth as we wait for God to act in the world?  Even more than that, are we part of God’s action in the world?  Are WE the ones who are supposed to act?

     So often we hear people who refuse to attend church say that they won’t go because there are so many hypocrites in church.  That’s a harsh judgment, but sadly it is probably true if we look at it from the point of view that we are supposed to be perfect.  What many people don’t seem to understand is that the church isn’t, as the old saying goes:  “a haven for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”  We gather together on Sunday mornings and other times to worship our God, to seek guidance and direction, to learn God’s truth and find our way in life.  We continue to come together so that we can, as John Wesley says, “move on to perfection” although we will never reach it in this life time – it’s a journey!

     When others place the burden of perfection on church goers, we will never measure up, and our sinfulness will be a very visible blemish.  However, when we put on the mind and heart of Christ, when we live in God’s truth, when we continue to learn from God and trust God for guidance, we will live as faithfully as we can in God’s grace and forgiveness and acceptance.  What I find most disturbing is when we treat each other as members of the same church with hypocritical behaviors.  We claim that we are loving and caring, and yet we push our own agendas, expect things to be done OUR way, and, even worse, spread rumors that are harmful to others.  This is the very thing that turns people off, and certainly defy the way that that God would have us live.

     Sadly, the church is the very place where these behaviors show up.  Most Sundays, my sermons are on how to life in God’s ways, how to grow in our faith, how to share our faith, but I sometimes wonder if there is any tranformative word that is really going out from where I feel God is leading me in my preaching.  The behaviors don’t seem to change, and people continue to criticize, tear apart, and find fault with others in the church.  There are times when I would like to throw the whole structure out the window, get rid of every committee, and just start over.  However, that isn’t practical, and there isn’t any learning that takes place when we do that.

     Rather, I believe, looking at this passage from Psalm 25, that God would have us learn together by example, by trial and error, through the hills and valleys of community life.  I think we travel the journey, and even though we may not always see the fruits of our labors, we have to trust that someone is “getting it.”  Somewhere along the line, there are people whose lives are being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as they grow in their faith.  I know I’m one of them.  I believe that I have grown through the adversity I have experienced in my life.  I think my faith is stronger and my trust in God is far greater because of the changes that have happened over the course of years and the moves I have made.

     Oh, it’s not that I wouldn’t have LIKED to stay with the way things “used to be.”  Life would have been so much easier!  But then, God doesn’t call me to take it easy!  Rather, God calls me to be faithful, and in that faithfulness, I will encounter conflict and frustration and discouragement.  I suppose I’m at the discouragement part right now.  I would just like things to fall into place in at least one area of my life, but everything seems to be a work in progress at this point.  That is when I believe we have to hang onto the promise of God that we aren’t alone, and that this is one of those learning times in our lives. 

     When I decided to enter seminary, it was like jumping off a cliff and not knowing what was below.  I gave up a well-paying teaching position, went back into debt with school loans and credit card debt, and had no idea what the future held.  It is in that suspended state of falling that I learned to trust that God was with me.  I learned that no matter what happened, even the worst thing in the world, God was the lover of my soul and NO ONE could take my soul away from me or from God.  NO ONE and NOTHING could destroy my soul.  It was in God’s hands.

     The first day of classes, I sat down in my Old Testament class and knew I was where I was supposed to be.  The bottom of the cliff was in the classroom where I would continue my journey in a different way than I ever thought I would.  Every change in my life, every disruption, every upset, every discouragement, every painful experience continues to land in the truth that God is with me.  What I experience in this life time strengthens me and helps me to be a better person, and ultimately it will lead me to finding the blessings and joys, as well.

     We begin with trust.  We live with hope.  We live OUT forgiveness from God and toward others (as well as ourselves), and we continue to learn about God and our relationship with God even though we may doubt or feel alone at times.  I pray that those in any church anywhere who are waiting will find God in the waiting.  I pray that we all will find our purpose in life and know with confidence that we aren’t alone on the journey.  God has given me many companions on this journey of life, and I celebrate the gifts of my wonderful husband, my parents, my sister, and my friends as well as many other people who have touched my life in significant ways.

     May we find grace and forgiveness and acceptance in our hearts for each other and others as we grow in faith and as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Why Pray?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Someone recently asked me, “Why pray?” I have been pondering that question ever since, and I have paid attention to my own prayer life as I thought about the answer to this question. At the time, I said that prayer opens us to God’s presence and helps us to align ourselves with God as well as be in relationship with God. That was a fairly paltry answer, and I’m not sure at this point that I can give a fully complete answer since I think prayer is something we grow into, both in practice and understanding. It takes a life time, and I doubt that we will fully understand it here on this earth.
However, I have some thoughts on “why pray.” As I paid attention to my own praying, I realize that I have times throughout the day when I’m really concentrating on praying for others and myself. But there are far more times, in fact the majority of the time, when I’m just talking with God steadily. It’s like God is my constant companion. Norman Vicent Peale in “The Power of Positive Thinking” called this “prayerizing” your life. We pray at all times and in all circumstances, so that is what I think this passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians meant. I think his intention was to instruct the church at Thessalonica to pray – to talk with God all the time. That takes practice and persistence.
I started talking with God all the time way back before I even went to seminary. I would have these mini conversations (one-sided, of course) as I would work out whatever it was that needed to be addressed. An interesting thing happened. The more I “prayerized” or “prayed without ceasing,” the more I began to recognize the difference between God’s voice and my own wishes. That’s what I mean by prayer opening us to God’s direction. God will guide us when we really ask and listen for the answer. It may not be as clear as a specific voice in our heads, and it may be someone else speaking to us or something we read, or a passage in the Bible, or a sudden inspiration, or even just a nudging we can’t identify for a while. Prayer establishes a trust relationship with God because we begin to realize that God is always with us and ready to give us guidance through the indwelling Spirit.
We are connected to God through the spark of the divine that has been planted in us because we were made in God’s image – God is the One who created us and has given us life. God is good, and in chosing to be good, God has also chosen not to be “bad.” Prayer helps us to find the goodness, the celebrations, the blessings that we have been given and give thanks.
But I know that isn’t enough for those who have prayed for something, such as all the prayers that were offered for my great-nephew Tucker during his brief life on this earth. I think we need to pray for whatever is best for the person. When we pray, we often pray expecting the outcome and answer to that prayer to be exactly what we were asking for. But it doesn’t work that way. We need to pray with an open mind and heart, asking for God to do what is needed or what is best for the other person.
I’m not saying that God decided that Tucker shouldn’t live. Tucker died because he had physical problems that were too much for him to bear. My prayer for Tucker and his parents was that they would be surrounded with God’s love and supported through their family and friends. I prayed that they would be guided to accept whatever the outcome might be, and that they would know that God was there through it all, and I believe God was there. I believe that God held that tiny baby, and when his body just couldn’t make it, God carried him in the very heart of God and wept for the short life that he had.
God feels and understands our pain. That’s what Jesus teaches us about God. Jesus was God in the flesh – the incarnation of God, so he understands the fullness of the human experience. He understands pain, suffering, hurt, loss, grief, healing, joy, reconciliation, rejection, laughter, weeping, blessing, friendship, family, and all the things that we as human beings experience. Through Christ, God understands what we go through and that we will struggle as well as rejoice.
Prayer opens us to trusting that God is with us. Prayer opens us to doing whatever we can do to help the other person. Prayer opens the heavens to bringing hope and comfort.
When we pray, we need to pray without having an agenda for the answer. We pray with trust that God is there and that God will give us direction as to how we can help be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, as well as support for others. Prayer helps us trust that the One who has chosen to be good will be there to bring us through the rough times and make something good out of the bad things.
I’m sure there are many other things I could go on about, but that is where my thoughts have taken me for today anyway. Perhaps down the road, I’ll add more thoughts to this. For now, I commend our souls to prayer and to God.

Discouragement

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God . . .” Psalm 42:5

Lately I’ve been wondering about discouragement.  Although I realize that discouragement is part of life and nothing to worry about, I wonder if it stems from unresolved issues or happens when we place too much expectation on our own ability to accomplish something.  Maybe we have expectations of ourselves that are just too high.

My husband and I spent a week in Iowa with my family, and it was a good week.  We both needed the break, but more than that, we looked forward to and enjoyed spending time with my family.  However, upon returning, we both feel discouraged.  For him, it is a series of events that have happened at his work with his immediate supervisor leaving to go to another company, as well as the promise that he would move into a different area of the company that has better pay and is more to his liking, using his sales gifts more fully.  The promise has been offered for three and a half years, and he is just now seeing a move toward training.  Sometimes he thinks that they are doing the training just to keep him from leaving to go somewhere else, and it’s easy to see why – he is very good at sales!  As much as he really doesn’t want to change companies, with the departure of his immediate supervisor, he’s thinking about it more seriously; however, (he has more patience than I do!) he is going to wait to see what the next few weeks bring.

I, on the other hand, went back to my work with the same old frustrations about lack of involvement, attendance that is low in the summer months, and occasional bickering that can happen in any institution.  There are people there who just don’t like each other, and they don’t get along.  Things may calm down for a while, and then they kick up again.  Just when I think we can finally move ahead, something else comes up.  I’m not quite sure what to think about it, but I’m not taking it personally since the issues don’t involve me directly.  Overall, things get resolved, but I find that lack of healthy communication will slow down everything and pull us inward, away from the mission and ministry of the church.

On my first Sunday back from vacation, both churches welcomed us with great enthusiasm and people said how happy they were to have us back and how much they had missed us.  That was great, and I am happy that we are appreciated so much.  I just wish I could get a handle on some of the ways we can improve conditions in one church and help the other church to find a little more energy.  Both churches have quite a few people involved in various things, but new thing I have tried seems to be falling flat.  I really thought that the inspiration to do those activities was an idea guided by the Spirit, but obviously, no one else caught the Spirit!

As the passage above reminds me, I don’t do these things on my own.  My strength has to come from God or I’m alone on all these adventures.  The discouragement doesn’t help.  So, I am trying to stay upbeat and positive, even though there are many times my energy fades quickly, my fatigue sets in, my discouragement drags me down.  Fortunately, there are many times when I’m reminded that there are great people out there who are really interested in growing spiritually, not pushing their own agendas, and willing to work cooperatively with others.  I pray that I can continue to be open to hearing God’s guidance and finding ways to help them grow and “catch the Spirit.”

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