Prayer for the Week, Sept. 13

Eternal Father, Holy Lord, Abiding Spirit, we humbly, yet gratefully present ourselves before You this day. We come to be healed of our self-inflicted wounds of mind and spirit, to be reminded of our worth as Your children, and to repent of our foolishness. All of these things and more are at Your invitation. 

You, Our Father, have called us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Then You demonstrated what these mean in the earthly life of Your Incarnate Son. He displayed before us, as recorded in the inspired Gospels, an unparalleled concern for justice, offering Himself for the sins of the world, removing the condemnation rightly falling upon us; he modeled mercy in reaching to the neglected, the wounded, the poor of spirit, the ones laid aside by illness of mind, body, and spirit; and humbled himself to walk among us, the ones who offended the truth.

We pray for his mind to dwell and work in our lives. We confess that we are yet at a distance from this mind, preferring our own ways and priorities. In very recent days, we have overlooked the right things to do; we have thought ourselves too busy to extend mercy to those right in front of us, sometimes thinking them unworthy of our time and resources; we have thought ourselves to be more important than others. Lord, have mercy upon us, and forgive our sin.

Refresh us yet again, we ask, by Your Holy Spirit, in ways that tell us the mind of our savior; implant his thoughts, his love in our inner being, even as we bring ourselves before Your Holy Word, there to be shown not only our failures, but our possibilities as we allow You to live in us and through us. Then will we more truly live as we pray, when we say,

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And for give us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us, not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil;

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.


Prayer for the Week, September 6

Our vision, our best thought; our wisdom and true Word. We bow before You, our Father, knowing that You are these things and eternally more. You have made us and known us, loved us and called us.

Our prayer this day is that we would be so captured by Your redemptive love that we would want in full what we want only in part. We confess that instead we want to see things for ourselves and order life according to our own vision; we want to be wise in our own eyes and in the eyes of our fellow man and woman; we struggle to find our worth in who we can make ourselves to be, and it is always inadequate. Have mercy on us, O Lord.

We work for things that do not last, instead of fixing our eyes on our inheritance in Christ, in whom are all the true riches the world will ever know. Come, and lift us from our impoverished lives.

With You as our vision, and Your passion becoming our own, let us see what You see when You look at the world. For those who are fallen under the weight of addictions, let us see souls precious to You, capable of being what they cannot imagine for themselves. For those whose joy has been robbed by despair, let us see them as ready to laugh and sing once more, needing only Your touch. For those imprisoned in faraway places for their faithfulness, let us see brothers and sisters for whom we tirelessly pray. For those lost in the pursuit of self, let us see people in need of a Savior.

We pray for Your wisdom in the midst of political unrest; for Your confidence in the midst of growing financial uncertainty; for Your presence in what seems an increasingly empty world, devoid of value. We pray for Your guidance of a generation that is living in the hopelessness of life without boundaries; all of which causes us to pray as Jesus still teaches us by saying . . .

 Our Father, who art in heaven,

 Hallowed be Thy name.

 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth,

 As it is in heaven.

 Give us this day our daily bread,

 And forgive us our debts,

 As we forgive our debtors.

 And lead us,

 Not into temptation,

 But deliver us from evil,

 For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever.


Prayer for the Week, August 23

To You, Our Father, through the work of Your Son, Jesus the Christ, and by the strength and encouragement of Your Holy Spirit, we come to pray.

We pray because we lack wisdom for the decisions we make; we pray because we lack strength to live according to what wisdom we gain; we pray because we lack power to remove the obstacles in our path. We pray because we lack authority to forgive sins and thus find new life. Most of all we pray because You have invited us to come, to taste and see that You are good. 

We pray because we live in a darkened world. Even on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning of Your making, darkness infringes upon us. It keeps many, many people from presenting themselves before You in worship and thanksgiving for all the gifts this world has to offer. Shine, Lord Jesus, into such darkness.

In the darkness, wrong seems right and right seems wrong. Shine the light of true wisdom upon our pathways. In the darkness, we struggle with relationships, so easily broken, so inadequately mended. Shine You light of forgiving wholeness. In the darkness, the enemy comes in to kill and destroy, fostering hatred, envy, greed, despair, revenge, and terror. Shine, Lord Jesus, with Your powerful, redemptive love. 

Your light will shine to the measure that we allow it to shine through us. Forgive us, we pray, for keeping the light You have placed within us under all manner of shade. We do what we should not, and dampen the light; we fail to do what we should, and the light does not shine. Have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy. We have not offered the cup of cold water, the healing words, the extended hand of forgiveness. We have not sought first the kingdom of God, the rule of the Son, or the strength of the Spirit. So once again, we pray with Your fallen yet chosen and redeemed people of all times, Our Father . . . 

Prayer for the Week, August 16

Heavenly Father, the One who knows us and loves us, we bow our heads before You this day. We consider so little the wisdom that resides in You and You alone. The majestic creation, so intricately designed and fit together in ways the best of our efforts can only begin to understand, speaks of wisdom beyond comprehension. The complexities of human hearts, minds, and wills are all known to You as well; we cannot begin to truly assess ourselves and know even as we are known. Yet You do know us—and love us still. May our praise therefore arise daily.

Joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, insight and confusion are our constant companions in this world, combining in ways that move us and shape us. We know not what to ask or imagine; we struggle to know where to focus our energy, our time, our concerns. Make us wise, we pray.

We confess this day that we have worked hard for the wrong things, the unimportant things; we have given time to fruitless pursuits, to idle hours; we have stressed over insignificant things, over uncontrollable events. Forgive us, we pray; Lord have mercy.

Draw our minds to Your words, we ask this day. In Your written Word are all the instruction that we need in the way of wisdom; in Your living Word, even Your Son, our Savior and Lord, are all we can ever know about who You are, what You desire, and how to truly prosper in this world. Forgive us for looking elsewhere, we pray; Lord have mercy.

Even as Your own heart weeps for the poor, the needy, the despairing, the sick and infirm, soften our hearts, open our hands, increase our compassion for them all, so that we may be prepared to act in Your place when they come across our path. Then shall we become wise and truly live, even as we pray,

 Our Father . . .

Sunday Prayer for August 9, 2015

We have sung it innumerable times, O Lord, our God; we have repeated the words that still comfort, encourage, and inspire us: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” It is sweet because we know our need and we know your provision.

We know inside the deepest recesses of our lives that we have not done all the things you have wanted us to do; we have done things we know we ought not to have done. These we confess before You now. … We recognize that we have not the power, the strength to overcome the sins that beset us; otherwise we would have ceased. Your grace comes in our need, to our aid, and stands for us in presenting our petitions before Your throne.

We live in a world so deeply in need of grace; You send us as Your emissaries. So often have we failed. Forgive us, we humbly pray. We are prone to responding to the pain and confusion of the world in the world’s own way; we’ve encountered the darkness, but have shed insufficient light. We talk about that darkness in many ways, but too seldom bring the light of grace to bear upon it, to dispel the blindness and bring wholeness to life by means of Your own word.

For the grace of forgiveness, we pray. We also pray that our hearts will be as forgiving as Yours. For the grace of second chances, third chances and many more, we give You humble thanks; teach us not to condemn as worthless those who need to know that their lives, too, still matter, regardless of what they have done.

For the grace of hope, the boundless future awaiting those You are redeeming, we offer joyful praise; teach to live in ways that communicate that hope is real, its dream secure, its way through love.

For the grace to bear the trials and tribulations, the disappointments and the pain that comes to all in a broken world, we pray. Teach us to live above the world, seated where Christ is seated, above the power of anything in this world. Then will people ask us about the hope that lies within.

And so for the sick, the poor, the homeless, the jobless, we pray. And for our faithfulness to Jesus we pray, even as the church has prayed for centuries,

Our Father . . .

Thoughts on Finding Our Place

I suppose I should know better by this time. There are more than enough opinions competing for market share in a ridiculously overcrowded blogosphere; why bother to add another to the cloud of unknowing, to borrow a phrase?

Perhaps that “unknowing” is a word that aptly fits where we find ourselves as confessing Christians in a world order we have not known. We don’t know what has happened to the world as we’ve known it in the west, and particularly in the USA. We don’t know what the ramifications will be, either for the church or for the society. We don’t know how to pray–at least it appears so in many quarters, especially those previously given to equating being American with being conservative Christian, or in some cases, vice versa.

I am, of course, referring to the Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex couples able to be legally married, with every pertinent right as enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. The present court, though deeply divided, does not appear to be of a mind to hear cases that would call the decision into further review. Before expressing my thoughts on how Christians might most redemptively respond to the ruling and the possible outfalls, it might be helpful to answer a question on the minds of many who do not pay particular attention to the Supreme Court, other than when warning sirens are sounded by certain interest groups.

What Just Happened?

The case was brought before the court on the grounds that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For the sake of convenience, I include the text of that amendment’s first and fifth sections here:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

. . .

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.[1]

The amendment itself was part of the Reconstruction period legislation in 1868. As can be seen, it covers a wide range of interests. The most relevant section, of course, is the first. It was enacted primarily to protect the interests of former slaves. Since then, it has been used many times in an ever-expanding array of cases in which an aggrieved party believes existing laws restrict in some meaningful way their liberty to do something the state has unreasonably forbidden. In the cases at hand, same-sex couples argued that the state unreasonably hindered their liberty by prohibiting their ability to participate in and benefit from the legal benefits enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples, asking that their unions be placed on the same footing.

As everyone is now aware, the court agreed. To do so, however, it had to argue a different definition and understanding of marriage from what many people, particularly religious people, had assumed to be unassailable. In what can only be described as question-begging logic, the court acknowledged that marriage has historically and universally been thought to be a union of one man and one woman. It then argued that since changes have been made to the institution of marriage in the past, such as the decline of arranged marriages, allowing imprisoned persons to marry, and prohibitions against interracial marriage, change itself regarding marriage is a good thing. It seems to acknowledge on one hand that all the changes cited have to do with the practice of marriage and not the nature of the union; but it then argues that change of any kind can be good, and that to refuse this particular change would make the children of same-sex couples stigmatized and inferior, along with a few other unpleasant entailments.

What also becomes clear is that marriage is far more than a building block of society, as it celebrates and legitimates personal choices of intimate association and life choices pertaining to how one will choose to live. It seems far more important to the court to enhance personal satisfaction than to consider the interests of society. Let’s stop here for just a moment. Throughout history, all cultures, universally, have protected the union out of which children arise; it is necessary for the continuation of society in a cohesive fashion. And it is with that in mind that governments, particularly in the west, have extended certain legal priorities, privileges, and protection to married couples. The raising of the next generation is important to the public interest. Marriage may well be more than that institution by which new generations arise; but it is difficult to understand what interest the government would have in any of those additional characteristics. Simply referring to an evolution of understandings of marriage does not answer that question. Nor does it answer how one moves from changes in the way marriages are arranged and which men and which women can enter into the union to what that union is.

The majority opinion also spends considerable time speaking about the benefits to personal happiness of intimate association such as exists in marriage. But love may or may not be present in a marriage and it may well be present in a relationship between two persons who are not married. Formal marriage cannot create the bond; nor can its absence prohibit the bond.

Nonetheless, it has become the law of the land. For those people who complain that Christians or other identifiable groups of people impose their morality on others, two things should be noted. The one-man, one-woman nature of marriage was cross-culturally held for centuries. It was not imposed on people who wanted it to be otherwise. Secondly, it is the Supreme Court that has imposed a new definition of marriage upon the nation. Much of the criticism in the dissenting opinions from Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito is centered on precisely this point.

Finding Our Place

Now what? For many people, the questions surrounding same-sex marriage have been given far too much attention. They wonder what the big deal has been all along and are happy to simply settle the question once and for all. Just move on and do what you’ve always done. After all, no one is telling anyone that they must marry someone of the same sex.

There is some wisdom in this approach.  It is particularly tempting to adopt it when listening to those who address the issue with palpable hatred and disgust for the persons on the other side of the matter. As Christians, we never serve the cause of Christ well with anger, name-calling, belittling, and censure. Letting our speech be seasoned with grace somehow escapes far too many people as a directive for our interactions. And Paul does tell us to be subject to the governing authorities, to live quiet and peaceful lives, and to be know as people of hope. We do not serve, and we certainly do not owe ourselves to any earthly power. Not even one with the Constitution of the United States of America. And we should not expect any earthly power to substitute for the rule of Christ in our hearts and in our communities of faith, much less expect a secular government to require other to follow a way we don’t do so well at obeying ourselves.

On the other hand, we believe that God’s expressed desires for human living are not arbitrary, but are good for the flourishing of people–all people. He designed us and knows us better than we know ourselves. Thus fearing, reverencing Him by accepting his ways, even when we don’t understand the reasons, is the beginning of wisdom. I have a strong suspicion that it is the loss of the very idea that God made us, intentionally, that lies at the heart of the present debate. If we are the product of a random evolutionary process, then nothing can be forbidden. Blind and dumb nature can only produce things, not “oughts” or “shoulds” to guide our moral lives. We are on our own.

In finding our place, Christians need to pay far greater attention to a robust theology of human nature as the deliberative and purposeful action of the God who finally revealed himself in the person of Jesus. Christian anthropology (the doctrine of mankind) has for too long started and and finished with Genesis 3, skipping over chapters 1 and 2.  We do read there of the creation in the image of God, an image which is born differently by male and female; and it is in their union that the image of God is more fully represented to the succeeding generation. This has much to say about issues of gender equality as well as of gender differences. If we are to have a meaningful contribution to make in the continuing public debate (and it will continue), we need to do more than recite verses from the Bible. We’ve thrown far too many pearls before many angry swine. Instead we need to reflect on the contextual meaning of the text and on the understanding of the present age to see where we fit and where we don’t. Or, more accurately, where the thought of the day does and does not reflect God’s design for human flourishing.

In finding our place we must also be honest about what the text does and does not approve, what it does and does not condemn. I’ve said virtually nothing about homosexuality itself to this point, and I won’t say a lot about it here, either (though I am open to talking more about it in a subsequent post). We cannot refashion the text to comport with contemporary sensitivities and thoughts. To put it bluntly, Matthew Vines’ hermeneutic is demonstrably flawed. Homosexuality is not God’s plan for human sexuality. That is abundantly clear on a responsible reading of the text, one which has not decided beforehand to neuter any passages that indicate such divine disapproval. That being said, we are not thereby authorized to go about the business of condemning homosexual person, or even of denying that there may be underlying causes or tendencies toward homosexual desire–most of which we do not fully understand.

Finally, finding our place must be done in full recognition that the place we will occupy is one of the alien and the outcast. And we must accept that as our lot if it comes to pass. We have a hard time fully believing Jesus when he told his followers that if they hated him, they would hate his followers; or Paul when he said that those who live godly lives will be persecuted. I am not sounding alarms here. I am suggesting possibilities. We have heard dire forecasts of what will come next on the agenda of those who believe they have won the day. Perhaps some of it will eventuate, perhaps not. Let those who know Christ be fully committed to him and his kingdom, come what may. Paul learned how to get along in all circumstances; so must we.

House for Prayer? Thoughts on the Third Sunday in Lent

Jesus cleansing the temple. Chasing out the bad guys, the ones who had turned into a place to make a fast denarius or two. And from that little tidbit we build sermons around what we perceive to be the parallel misuses of the buildings used for worship today. You’ve heard them, I’ve heard them; I’ve preached them.

Today, however, I’d like us to focus a little more attention on the first portion of Jesus’s objection to what was happening in Jerusalem. We can lay aside the reality that there are difficulties in identifying each of our respective houses of worship with the “my house” character of the Jerusalem temple. The reality is that any temple or church structure dedicated to the worship of God will encounter the same troublesome tendencies at some time or other. Lots of things happened in that temple on a regular basis; even more activities arguably take place in our buildings today. We play there, we worship there, we exercise there, we study together, we laugh, we cry, we talk about football and politics, we fellowship, we celebrate, we encourage one another, entertain guests and performers, raise funds, etc., etc. But how much do we pray there? Really pray?

The posts in this year’s somewhat shorter Lenten series have been focused on the kingdom of God and how we should make it more of a centering concern for our calling as the people of God. Nowhere can the commitment we have to the kingdom be better seen in our congregations than in the way we think about the places in which we gather as the body of believers. The question is simple–how much of what we do “at church” has prayer at its core, or as a natural outgrowth of the activity?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Did this mean that any other activity was forbidden? No. The temple was a busy place; it was the symbolic center of communal life, where the reason for being was found, where purpose for moving ahead through difficult times was instilled, where hope was renewed, where children were reminded of their special identity in God’s desires for the world and its redemption. Faith was formed in concert between home and temple, and faith was never perceived as some private
decision to believe what one wanted; it was “the faith” before it ever became any particular one’s faith. And prayers both confessed that faith and wove it into the fabric of the lives of its people.

Hence the anger with which Jesus confronted the money changers. Their activities clouded rather than cleared the vision of life and godliness that prayer was to engender where the people of God gathered. They hindered prayer. We are stimulated by and alerted to the real intents and purposes of God for us through the teaching of the scriptures; we commit ourselves to it through prayer. And our very identity as the people of God depends upon it.

What is it in our congregations that cannot continue without prayer? To put it another way, would anything in our regular way of doing things really be different if prayer were removed from it? Is it there at all? Maybe for some of our congregations we don’t need to repent of not praying for the kingdom as much as we need to repent of not really praying at all. Our faith formation and our faith transmission to another generation will not take place without it. And if something is crowding it out of our corporate life, perhaps a few overturned tables are in order. Repentance surely is.