The Practice of Praying For Others.

I sat down in front of our house, laying my bicycle to the side. My dad sat beside me. We were tired and sweaty. We smiled and laughed about all the days gone by as I learned to ride that bike. Today had been the day where it all came together! And then I looked at my dad’s hands. Forever in my mind, I will remember the scars and blood. Every moment he reached out to balance the bike and got cut by the chain, every time he tried to catch me as I fell learning to ride were marked in his hands.

There is a word for what my dad did:  Intercession.

To begin our series on Committed To Christ, intercessory prayer is a good place to begin. Any Commitment we make to Christ, ought to keep in perspective that it was Jesus who first interceded for us. Christianity isn't a self-help faith but a “God Help!” faith. Before we take any step on this journey, it needs to start with the knowledge that it is Jesus Christ who was, is and will always be, committed to us. That also has a word – grace.

In the guide for our series, in the first paragraph it states, “If you are going to have a personal relationship with the Lord, it is going to begin with prayer.” So before we gloss over this, we need to consider that before Jesus began his ministry in earnest, before he stepped out and took the first steps of healing and preaching, he too began with prayer.

Read today's passage here: Luke 6:12-19

We know little of the exact prayers Jesus prayed. Obviously, here, Jesus went off by himself. But it is clearly implied by what follows, that in his prayer it was a time of interceding, of stepping up to talk with God, the Father, about those first disciples, about those who would be coming to be healed and for the words that Jesus would be preaching.

If you haven’t used the words, “I’ll pray for you,” certainly someone has said to you, “I will be in prayer for you.” If we trust that person to be a person in prayer, then those words become very powerful. The Christian who intercedes for others, is actually doing something Jesus did. And it it is the first step of Commitment.

To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and in every prayer...always persevere in supplication for all saints (6:18).” To the church at Philippi he wrote, “ everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” To pray for others, to intercede is an act that brings us in-line with Jesus Christ. 

And being in-line with Jesus is what many people often wonder about and they express it in wondering what God’s will is. I have lots of people ask me about it or question it. I hope you’ll find it helpful to know that It is always God’s will to pray for others. To pray for others and to be prayed for are two sides of this coin too.

At Cumming FUMC we have over 300 people who are part of the Intercessory Prayer Team. Nearly 1/3 of our church’s Sunday morning attendance is praying for others. I put my own name on that list when I lost vision in my eye this year and I have prayed for others on this list.

Your decision to live a more committed life for Christ will begin with prayer, but you must not forget, you’re not the one beginning the conversation, you're finally joining it. Jesus has been trying to get your attention and has been praying for you even before that day on the mountain when he prayed for the disciples.

My invitation for you is to join this conversation. It maybe you have someone or a situation where you need to intercede or you are in need of someone to intercede for you. We’re making that time today.  Will you make that time in your own life?

In the weeks ahead, I'll continue to explore what it means to be Committed to Christ at Cumming First United Methodist Church.

NOTE: If you're looking at doing a sermon from this theme or using this series, I used the Five Finger Prayer from Sermons4Kids

Practicing Celtic Spirituality - Reflecting With Nature

This past summer, Elizabeth Canham and Loyd Allen both spoke at our first week of the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation presented by The Upper Room Ministries.  At one point, I found their lectures overlapping and it led to a time of reflection on the aspects of Celtic spirituality and its recognition of God's presence in nature.  We were instructed to use our imagination to engage with God through creation.

Now before dismissing the use of imagination, consider the poetic nature of the Psalmist and the Song Of Solomon.  Consider too, the songs and guidance of many of modern worship leaders.  The symbols of the Church: grapes, the dove, the whale, a sea shell - all of these call us to use our imagination.

I had wanted for a long time to offer some of my reflections on how I had been meeting God in creation.  The time I was given helped me to write out what significance hunting has played in my life in recent years, especially turkey hunting.  This is not intended to be tongue-in-cheek or silly.  It is part of my journey and what I have learned and experienced...

I am the great bird of spring.  I own the morning, the mid-day and the dusk.  The spring is my time to sing the  praise of the Most High.  My thunderous gobbles echo all the day, silencing those whose praise is heard all the year.

I am cautious with my beauty.  I hide it from all those who casually consider God's creation.  For those who will make the sacrifice, those who will be patient, who will endure, they alone will experience my beauty and my praise.

I am the great bird of spring and I proclaim the new life of arising.  My pagentry and courtship show to all the ability of God to bring new life each year with the celebration of Easter.  Just like the Creator, I am always about but only those who want to see me, to hear me, will be blessed.

I was once taken for granted and my song nearly lost.  Those who cherished my place, who revel in the spring, these made the sacrifice to bring me back.  Today my voice is heard across the land again.

I am the great bird of spring.  My dance and my songs are the sights of spring ushering in it's new life.  Yet, all year I travel in silence, seeking solitude and sustenance.  I wait patiently for the moment in time when I might praise again my Creator with the thundering sound of my voice.

I am the great bird of spring.  I hold high my head for it is a majestic gift.  I display my fan, spread in glorious splendor - given for the pleasure of God.

I do not begrudge those who join me in the dance, in the harvest.  You who speak my language are those who also suffer the hours and grow in patience.  You who give thanks at the harvest - remember that you too, are mortal.  From dust you came, as have I, and to dust you will return.

Share with the world my beauty as best you can.  Be nourished by all that I provide.  But you know that spring is my time, my place and if you come, I will teach you the way of praise and you will learn the way of patience.

I am the great bird of spring.  I am the wild turkey, known across this land but only truly known by those who would enter my sanctuary of spring.

Authentic Faith For Dummies: Tested and Tenacious

Have you ever been made to feel stupid?  You know, a dummy?  You know, like the Missouri Tigers making comments about UGA playing "Old Man Football?"  Maybe it was intentional or maybe not but it happens to all of us.  It might have been in a class or at work.  It may have been on a date or with a friend.  I’m certain it was not from anything like this fella (and others) who certainly suffered from "temporary insanity" and who certainly must have felt a little dumb.  Thankfully, the internet gives us a lot to compare ourselves too.

Now, the thing I like about the “For Dummies” books is that they try to deal with the problem at hand.  They don’t take rabbit trails.  I’ve learned about computers and freeware, about car buying and house buying and they’ve all served me well.  So if there is one, I think James is the “Authentic Faith for Dummies” book of the Bible.  Today we start at the beginning (James 1:1-12).

James writes to people not sure about faith.  In our day, people aren’t sure either.  Faith has been lost in religion, government, science and relationships and with good reason.  Scandals in the church, lying under oath, Space shuttle disasters and the collapse of marriages have all caused us to question and lose faith in these things.  No one wants to lose faith in God and it is one of the reasons at the heart of why people come to church and are exploring spirituality…to find faith.  No matter what we think brought us here, it is faith that hangs in the shadow.

I heard it said that, “One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” This is a great analogy for where faith begins. For faith to be authentic, it has to be yours and it can only be lived when you cast off from shore, from what you are dependent upon.

John G. Paton knew what it meant to cast off from shore.  He went out as a missionary to the new Hebrides Islands in the south Pacific, he found that the natives among whom he began to work had no way of writing their language. He began to learn it and in time began to work on a translation of the Bible for them. He discovered they had no word for "faith." This was serious, of course, for a person can hardly translate the Bible without it.

One day he went on a hunt with one of the natives. They shot a large deer in the course of the hunt, and tying its legs together and supporting it on a pole, walked back down the mountain path to Paton's home near the seashore. As they reached the deck both men threw the deer down, and the native immediately flopped into one of the deck chairs that stood on the porch exclaiming, "My, it is good to stretch yourself out here and rest." Paton immediately jumped to his feet and recorded the phrase. In his final translation of the New Testament this was the word used to convey the idea of trust, faith, and belief.  "Stretch yourself out on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Act_16:31).

That is in fact what authentic faith is, it is when you stretch yourself out on Jesus Christ.  You have to do it.  Not me, not your spouse.  Not mom or dad.  Not grandma.  You.

The question here at the very beginning of James is whether or not your faith or my faith is authentic.  Just so you know, I’m of the opinion, that some Bible translators don’t get that the Bible was mean for real life.  They choose words that don’t really fit.  Patience really doesn’t describe what we need from faith.  Endurance is a better word but I think there is still on better. TENACIOUS (EBC). What do you think of when you hear the word TENACIOUS?  Bulldog? Pit Bull? Defense?  Tenacious D?  Do you want just a patient faith or a tenacious one?

When starting a new church, our church consultant (yes, those exist) said, to a group of us going through church planting boot camp, that new churches can be a great place for kids to grow in their faith.  Why?  For the same reason, I think, new churches are a great place for grown ups to grow up in their faith…faith is lived out in obedience. You have to follow God and cast out from the shore, stretch out on Jesus.  Obedience to God develops a tenacious faith.

There is no person whose faith, isn’t tested.  James makes pretty clear that the idolatrous are tested to see if they (we) will give up their Idol worship (namely love of wealth) for loving their neighbor and so loving God.  The poor are tested in their afflictions.  This isn’t a fairness issue, it is a faith issue.  So again the question, not that you don’t have faith, but is that faith authentic, is it tenacious – can you lay out on Jesus Christ?

How did Jesus put it (Luke 12:34)?: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”  James makes clear that faith and riches are connected.  One has us stretched out on Jesus Christ.  The other, faith in our finances, well, it could be riches, but this leads to greed and to any number of other sinful actions.  At the end of the day it becomes idolatry and idolatry leaves us, as Kansas once sang, “dust in the wind.”

God doesn’t go out of the way to make testing of faith happen.  It happens in real everyday life.  A tenacious, authentic faith is available to anyone who lives and is willing to stretch yourself out on Jesus.

My faith has been tested, in my family, in my health and in my ministry.  What I have learned is the faith that brought me here isn’t going to be the same faith that is going to keep me going.  Look at our church here at CummingFUMC.  How many wars and recessions has it survived?  The faith of those who stretched out 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago isn’t the faith for the next 20-30.  It must be yours and mine. 

Hearing from James and living life, what I am convinced is that Authentic Faith stretches out on Jesus Christ, not once but over and over again till it becomes a Tenacious Faith.    Oswald Chambers once wrote,  “You have to learn to go out of convictions, out of creeds, out of experiences, until so far as your faith is concerned, there is nothing between yourself and God”. 

James asks us to consider our possessions, our finances in light of God’s offering to be engaged in our lives.  What sits between you and God?  Will you stretch out on God?

(EBC refers to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.)

Neither Left or Right But Someplace Alone

I get that people are worried and stressed.
I don’t get why we take that out on others.
I get that we are fearful of tomorrow.
I don’t get why we refuse to live today.
I do get how easy it is to burn the candle at both ends.
I don’t get how I tend to scorch the ones around me.
I get that it is important to work
I don’t get how unimportant rest seems to be.
I get how much we need our down time.
I don’t get why God is not part of that equation.
I get that we religious people think church is important.
I don’t get why we think the condition of our soul is of no consequence.

Now that both conventions are done, we’re moving toward November 6 at quite a clip.  As I’ve indicated in previous posts and comments, I’ve tried to move to a place closer to center in the conversation, intentionally putting aside my previous held convictions on politics and simply listen.  Listen to the politicians on all sides, listen to the voices of the people, and yes, trying to listen even to pundits. 

I hear from both Democrats and Republicans that they have a concern for the poor as well as the middle class. Both of our major parties want everyone to “make it” in our society.  The sides differ on how to get there. There are certainly differing moral and yes, theological perspectives for why each person has ended up on their “side.”  Coming to such differences does not make one inherently evil.  What they are is a reflection of our diversity as people within a free, democratic republic.

One voice I’ve listened to a great deal has been Fr. RichardRohr.  It seems many have found his wordshelpful.  I’ve read a number of hisdevotional pieces that have discussed the background behind “left” and “right.” He often refers to how the “right” has been made up of the elite and priest class and the “left,” reflects the voice of the disenfranchised and working class.  That would be fine if we had a feudal system.  We don’t.

I think, it would be far more accurate to place elected officials on the “right” and the electorate on the “left” for the elected officials of both parties seem more interested in their election to power than the issues and needs of “we the people” even as they say they care about the poor and middle class.  In their striving for power, all parties have succumbed to inconsistent positions and platforms.

As I listen to the voices around me, we clergy are being pulled.  I see us being pulled toward power and the creation of a priestly class (what Fr. Rohr warns us about) or toward the prophetic role, an association with the people.  The voice that I see absent however in all this is the Biblical place and role of the elders/deacons - the class of clergy that Paul describes - a class of those set apart to lead the Church.

You see I get the jokes about working one day a week, eating fried chicken and getting everyone out of church a few minutes early to “beat the Baptists” to the buffet.  I get that it is important to some people to make the remark.  What I don’t get is how we (the clergy) came to such a poor state of soul care?  Well, yeah, I do.  We want to be powerful too.

And to that point, if there are not elders and deacons caring for the soul condition, who is going to address the state of human beings?  Paul notes to Timothy that “…godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out (1 Timothy 6:6).”  This is an issue of soul care.  To envy others or to be puffed up by wealth?  Both are paths of destruction for the soul.  The poor and the rich can both stray “from the faith in their greediness (1 Tim. 6:10).”  No political party or candidate owns a monopoly on this pandering.  Sorry, but try not talking and listening for a while.

What we as clergy are called to address are more than issues of legislation, executive orders or judicial ruling.  Those who are called out to serve God must be diligent to take care of our own souls and those of God’s people.  Our allegiance is not first and foremost to any party, government or country but to the Kingdom of God.  To give Fr. Rohr his due,  "The Gospel position is much larger than either of these ideologies, and is often a lonely position."

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