How To Pray: Thoughts on a Simple Way to Pray

This episode is about three simple elements to be aware of as you pray.  Don't confuse simple with simplistic though. Prayer is arguably the most central prayer practice in our spiritual formation.  Take a few minutes to watch the video:

To review, there are three elements which in both study and personal application, I have found helpful to nurturing my own prayer practices and my relationship with God.  Remember too, the over arching emphasis for me is the relationship with God.

1. Solitude.  Make space and set a time, even if just a minute, to be with God.
2. Spiritual.  This is a spiritual practice and it is something in another realm of creation.
3. Simple.  Talk to God as you would a friend.  Consider using the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

1.  What are some of the things in your house which make prayer difficult?
2.  What are some of the relational aspects of your life which make this tough?
3.  Do you have a name for God you're most comfortable with?  What is it?  Try using it in any prayer you pray.
4.  Read some of the Psalms (in the middle of most Bibles).  What are some of the emotions which people express to God?  Do some of them surprise you?  Why?
5.  Is there a place you're most comfortable and/or go to relax?  If not, can you make a space?  Try doing this for 30 or 40 days and see what happens.

Praying to Love Like Jesus

I read a recent article quoting N.T. Wright regarding the lack of having an extended Easter celebration.  We give 40 days to Lent but only one to the greatest miracle and then get on with the work of the church.  I couldn't find the link but I certainly want Dr. Wright to have the credit.

In truth, most of Christianity, at least in the USA, gives little care for Lent either.  I mentioned on Ash Wednesday that we have a lot of Christmas and Easter people but very few Christians who are Ash Wednesday people.  But let's be really specific, we're really saying there are a lot of Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday people.  Christmas people would be amazed by the Good News and Easter people would not be able to contain the Good News but would be like the women and take the news to their closest friends (Luke 24:1-12).

Maybe we need to turn our eyes finally to Jesus. Rather than be consumed with attention to detail we become amazed by deity who loved us enough to come to us, live among us, save us and redeem us.  How about stand in wonder of God's desire to do something more profound - make it possible to love others in the same way Jesus loved us.

I have found breath prayers to be one of the prayer practices which makes connection with God possible.  The prayer I wrote this week and I'm praying, is out of this idea of Tom Wright, that we need (I need) to be intentional about Easter's truly GOOD NEWS!  I have the potential to love like Jesus because Jesus truly loves me!  Trying to pray the right words and prayers is well and good but following Jesus is more about living than it is about learning.  Tim McGraw says it well in his new song, "Humble and Kind," stating that "saying I love you ain't no pick-up line."   Jesus, may your LOVE be seen in my LIFE.

Episode 5: It's Easter Jedi Pastor!

Welcome to this week's mini-message on the Easter story.

Take some time for reflection on the message and the story from Luke 24:1-12

  1. *When was a time you told a true story that other people found hard to believe?
  2. What happened while the women were wondering what had happened to Jesus’ body? (24:4)
  3. What did the angels tell the women about Jesus? (24:5-7)
  4. What words of Jesus were the women reminded of? (24:7)
  5. What did the women do after the men had told them that Jesus had risen from the dead as He had predicted? (24:9)
  6. Why did the apostles not believe the women? (24:11)
  7. How did Peter respond to the sight of the empty tomb? (24:12)
  8. Why is Jesus’ resurrection central to the Christian faith?
  9. Why did the disciples express disbelief even though Jesus had told them clearly that He would rise from the dead?
  10. How will you REMEMBER Easter with your life this week?

Jedi Pastor Ken's Episode 2: Backwards Day

My favorite day at summer camp has always been "Backwards Day" or some call it "Opposite Day" when everything goes in the wrong direction.  You never know what to expect!  When Jesus shows up in Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, it is like opposite day.  Watch this week's "mini-message" and consider how you might Follow Jesus and live a more opposite life!

  1. How do people commonly show admiration for famous people? How about powerful people?
  2. What four things did Ken note that were “opposite” or “backwards” of what ought to have been expected?
  3. Why did Jesus choose to ride into the city on a colt/donkey? (19:35)
  4. How did people react to Jesus’ entrance into the city? (19:36-37)
  5. In what way were the words of the disciples’ praises significant? (19:38)
  6. Why were the Pharisees in the crowd upset? (19:39)
  7. How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees’ rebuke? (19:40)
  8. How did Jesus react when He saw the city of Jerusalem? (19:41)
  9. What does this passage teach us about Jesus’ regard for celebrity status?
  10. What has the Lord done for you recently that causes you to praise Him?
  11. How can you imitate Christ’s compassion by living an “opposite” life this week?

The Powerlessness and Power of the Ministry of Caregiving

There is a lot of misunderstanding about caregiving and how important it is for the primary caregivers in a time need, also to have support. Sometimes it is simply a matter of "self-care" that is needed.

The outline of The Caregiver Bill of Rights is great place to start and ought to be empowering to caregivers. It is adapted from CareGiving: Helping an Aging Loved One, by Jo Horne.  That is an important word: empowerment.  From my experience and reading and listening to other caregivers, we often find ourselves powerless.

At some point in time, caregivers find themselves completely powerless against their circumstances because they LOVE the person they care for (and in most cases would take their place).  Powerless most often is thought of as not having a voice.  And what would a caregiver voice? We already know things could be worse.  

But in case you wonder, here is a short list of what I have experienced and heard what powerlessness feels like in a care givers life:

We are powerless to give a medical diagnoses.
We are powerless to remove the pain.
We are powerless to provide comfort at times.
We are powerless to grieve.
We are powerless against doctor's schedules.
We are powerless against the clock.
We are powerless against insurance companies.
We are powerless to get help.
We are powerless to afford expensive needs.
We are powerless to afford simple needs.
We are powerless to leave the house.
We are powerless to the school schedule (if we have kids).
We are powerless against extra-curricular (if we have kids).
We are powerless to watch a TV show.
We are powerless to get on Facebook.
We are powerless to read a book.
We are powerless to go to the bathroom.

Does it sound extreme?  Yeah, but it is true at some point in time, 1 or more of these is active in the life of a caregiver.  Some days are better than others.  Some days these make a list of the entire day.

Here is the thing I would recommend.  If you're a caregiver, print this out "The Caregiver Bill of Rights" (see link above) and post it where you'll see it (I'm gonna do that today).  Even if it is just committing to do 1 thing for yourself in a day, do it.  If you are a friend of a caregiver (and I mean a real, hardcore, soled out friend), make a difference by advocating for your friend or family member.  Be willing to do what they REALLY need or get a group to help.  The most important thing though, is to ASK...and MEAN IT, "How can I help?"  (If you can't, don't).

Here is something to think about.  Have you ever thought about the first martyr of the New Testament and what his ministry was?  It was Stephen (Acts 6:1-15 and he was stoned in chapter 7) and he was the leader of the caregiving ministry of widows in the early church.  His ministry wasn't being in front of large crowds or focused on  prayer, that was the work of Jesus' 12 apostles.  No, Stephen was not in that close group of 12 apostles either!  No, he led the ministry to distribute food and care for the widows.  In addition he worked healing miracles.  

Stephen said yes to caregiving.  So do many others.  I don't write for me.  I write for all the others who say yes, and silently serve. To fellow caregivers, I encourage you to not forget yourself and try to claim some of your rights.  To other I ask you to consider how might you support someone in your life who serves silently?  

I am not asking for me.  I am asking for those who can't.

Jedi Pastor Ken YouTube Channel Goes Live with Episode 1: Antics and Actions

What is a "Mini-Message?"

My teenage daughter asked me a while back to make videos of my sermons so she could watch them later.  I asked, "Sure, that wouldn't be hard to tape my Sunday morning sermon." She responded, "No, not like that.  Do it like you do teaching youth Sunday School.  Like you're you just hanging out."  Hmmm.  It kinda set out there for a while...until...

I was doing a continuing ed class at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary on Spiritual Formation.  We were talking about how to incorporate social media and the spiritual journey.  It dawned on me what my daughter was talking about!  YouTube has become a new form of social media.  I'm not sure if it was originally intended that way but looking at my daughter's YouTubbers she follows, I got what she was trying to say.

Usually, my sermons run between 15-20 minutes on a Sunday morning but when I begin my "walk-throughs" they are shorter.  The late, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas was my preaching instructor at Asbury Theological Seminary, and he always taught us the 5 minute sermon is the hardest.  He was right.  That is my goal with these "mini-messages," taking my sermon down to a core of 5-7 minutes.  This was just the start!  Stay tuned to the spiritual side and may the force be with you!
Reflections Questions from this Mini-Message

  1. When have you indulged another person with an expensive gift?
  2. When did Jesus arrive in Bethany? (12:1)
  3. What was done in honor of Jesus in Bethany? (12:2)
  4. What did Mary do to Jesus? (12:3)
  5. How did Judas respond to Mary’s act? (12:4-5)  What other motive did Pastor Ken mention Judas may also have had?
  6. Why did Jesus say that Mary had anointed Him with perfume? (12:7)
  7. Why did the large crowd come to Mary and Martha’s home? (12:9)
  8. Why were the chief priests concerned about these crowds? (12:11)
  9. How do you worship Jesus with your resources?
  10. In what way can we help those less fortunate than ourselves?
  11. When have we masked our own selfishness with the appearance of concern for others?
  12. How can you help someone less fortunate than yourself this week?

Five Ways To Develop Empathy for People Suffering

Watching the people you love in pain is one of the most difficult things humans experience.  As a parent, we naturally run to our children when they are younger and cry out in pain.  We will do all in our power to make it stop (even if the child does not believe it).  When it is your spouse or significant other, you would do the same.  You sooth with hands or words. You get them whatever they want and are willing to go to whatever lengths.  

But in some cases, the limits become evident.  When the situation is life-threatening or terminal, helplessness and even hopelessness become our companion.  Most of us would never think of abandoning them but sadly, it happens.  I think there are numerous reasons which contribute so it is generally not one thing that is guaranteed to send people running away.  Of course, the opposite is true too, and while some may flee, others will draw closer to support.  The capacity to care for other people is amazing at times (of course some of things people say is rather amazing too, like these comments here.  Don’t say them...ever).

The biggest factor here is empathy, that ability we have (or don’t have) to make a personal connection with another person’s feelings.  It does not mean we know EXACTLY what it is someone is facing but it is an indication we have SOME idea of the situation and emotions.

Here are my Five Ways To Develop Empathy for People Suffering

Walking in another’s shoes.  I think this is the most significant thing which draws us closer to those who are suffering.  If we can see the world through their eyes, and see ourselves in another, we are more apt to care.

Imagination.  That may sound odd but it is similar to walking in another’s shoes.  If there is not a simple connection evident, our imagination can be put to good use.  We can imagine what suffering is like and this can draw us closer.

Reality.  Sometimes we have lived through the experience.  It is NEVER identical but when there is a common point of connection, we may be able to draw closer to those in need.   I learned after Testicular cancer and losing part of my vision, I was a better pastor in the hospital.

The Time Before That… If you had a relationship before all hell broke loose then there is a good bet, you’ll be able to share the connection and be a support.  Let me say truthfully though, if you walk away at the beginning, don’t expect to come walking back later to the same relationship.  

And the last and most important...

Ears to hear.  I have been blessed by those who have been able to make time to listen.  That matters a lot in my role as caregiver (and especially as it has come from other clergy). One friend said, “I have nothing to offer you. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”  Spot on.  Another buddy got me out hunting and just allowed me the space to be all-out redneck for the day.  Sure needed that too.  They just listened.

I think as a society we have lost some of our ability to be empathetic toward others.  It could be our desensitization to suffering brought about by the plurality of images of suffering.  We dismiss the possibility someone can know our plight because of certain factors (their not our race, our faith, our gender, our sexuality, etc.).  Our current election cycle and candidates have given rise to the idea that “if you’re voting for (insert candidate here), you can’t be my friend,” without ever giving thought to WHY this person may lean this direction in their voting.

When I first became a Prepare/Enrich Marriage Counselor, I thought it was interesting our first sessions with couples was on Active Listening.  After 22 years of being with my wife, being a parent and working with couples, I do not wonder about THAT anymore.  I wonder about how many MORE sessions I ought to have with couples and how I might need to just offer classes to everybody on becoming a good active listener.

You do not have to be clergy or a counselor to practice active listening either.  All of us need it and would benefit from it.  Take five more minutes and check out this great video on the subject:

There Is Grace In The Grieving

I keep thinking I am going to wake up one day soon and all of these past few years are going to make sense. All the education and praxis of 20 years of full time ministry you would think at some point things would be more clear, I would have some better idea or reason for things happening. Some things do not come to us easily or conveniently but we sure try to make them fit. We have been creating better widgets and sprockets since Ford got the assembly line chugging. We can turn out just about anything quicker, faster, smaller or larger, and in any color you want.

But suffering and death?  Nope, we have not been able to fix it.  We’re all terminal.  The mystical and spiritual?  We can describe it and talk about it but the mystery of the soul has yet to be grasped in this world.  So what happens when the two of those come together?  I’m thinking a big mac that the heart and soul can barely begin to digest.

As my wife’s primary caregiver, I have found myself reaching out a bit farther than I really would like (I’ve gotten very protective of my family and self these days).  I have found a good network of other cancer caregivers.  Steve is one of those.  He lost his wife a few years ago but has stuck around to be a help to others of us still in the fight.  While Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief is standard fare (see my previous post: Facing the Filter of Grief), Steve shared how his journey went:

Steve’s Stages of Grieving
1. Transition (old routine, diagnosis, recognizing and dealing with the evil).
2. Survival (doctor appointments, treatment schedule, travel, medical terminology).
3. Heartbreak (Hospice care thru funeral).
4. The Blank Time (No memory of the time but know it happened).
5. The Crash (after everyone has gone home and I’m all alone).
6. The Hole (That mental cavity I crawled into).
7. Priorities (Re-establishing and re-creating them).
8. Reality (The birth of new goals and interests).

If you wanted to get cute, I’m sure we could put together a nice little flow-chart for these but what I really like, is these come from the journey.  Kubler-Ross has more words and more descriptions but Steve’s gets at the heart of the matter. His stages are far more descriptive for this visual learner.

What is not so easy to point out though is the soul work at play.  I have read enough and talked to enough to know Steve was right when he made the observation most people do not want to talk on the subject. Soul work is not easy work and grief is indeed work in the soul.  I use this term a bit loosely simply because in some of my groups are atheists and agnostics, and regardless of a person’s theological understanding, there is an internal destruction and re-construction taking place in the grief journey.  In my experience, it is an ongoing process at each step as we re-construct our world from what has come apart through each stage of suffering, pain, and grief.

Each moment and every movement, we are held by grace.  I suspect some will have their own understanding of what grace may look like based on your tradition.  For me, this has been a significant part of my own destruction and subsequent reconstructing of my view of God and life.  It may not seem like much BUT the reality within the interior life (the soul) CAN be significant and revolutionary in its own way.

Dr. Thomas Oden expresses the importance of what grace means this way,
“Grace is always to be found working way out ahead of us, and only then ‘working with us when we have that good will,’ that we may cooperate with ever-fresh new offerings of grace (244, “John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity”).”  In the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition this is termed “prevenient grace” (‘preventing’ was the original term but it held a different meaning in the 18th century), or “the grace that goes before.”  Prevenient grace is merely a description of how grace is working - it is a way to think about how we are being held by God in our movements of grief (and life as a whole).

It is provided to us so we might be able to respond positively to what is before us.  Now by positive I don’t mean some “pollyanna happiness.”  I mean we are able to take the next step toward reconstruction.  This could include giving God a “piece of your mind (even with a few expletives).” That might not be positive for you  but If you’ve been unable to talk with God, then you’ve been able to break the wall down. That is positive!

In the letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:12b-13).” Paul’s words express this idea of prevenient grace, namely what we can do, we do because God, through grace, is making this reconstruction possible.  

How will you know there is something positive going on?  In Scripture and elsewhere, the evidence is best seen “by the difference it makes in our lives” (73, Thomas Green, “When The Well Runs Dry”) “The primary virtues are those which are rooted and manifest faith, hope, and love,” but they are certainly not limited to those either.  They are also not best expressed in the some kinda “pollyanna-ish” emotionalism that fits on a bumper sticker.  These virtues are those tried and tested in the reality of life and death.

There is no one practice of spiritual habits which will help and or support this.  In fact, there are many such practices which you may find helpful.  Some I’ve written about here on my blog but there are many other practices which will help (Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson is a good place to start).  For me, the practice of breath prayers has been a constant practice but one which has changed with the changing conditions of my wife’s cancer and struggles of my kids.  Even this week, I sensed there was a new need in my soul (if you follow me on FB or Twitter you'll likely have seen it).

"God, be near me now," expressed an urgency in my soul. It was a signal to me that I have become more aware and patient and gentle (the last two being fruits of the Spirit). These are primary virtues. Suffering, pain, and grief do not have to end us or lead to destruction. There is grace for re-construction, for going on, for growing, and becoming grace for others, just like Steve.

What is Spiritual Direction and is it Different from Pastoral Ministry? By Guest Blogger, Dr. Brenda Buckwell

A spiritual director is a mid wife, a listening companion who assists the other in birthing new possibility and/or new perspective and/or new understanding and awareness of God. Yes, I do believe pastors have the potential to be spiritual directors. Spiritual directors use a listening technique of "three-way-listening" each person listening to the other while at the same time both are listening to God. Spiritual direction is a distinct ministry of active listening for God's gentle interior quickening of heart and spirit - and helping the other articulate how God is present in the midst of life.

However in my experience the role of pastor is much broader than spiritual director. Administration, visioning, strategic planning, teaching, preaching.... yes the pastor role can and often does provide spiritual direction techniques - but rarely does a pastor provide spiritual direction - either one on one or in small group - for parishioners in the historic sense of spiritual direction.

Spiritual Formation on the other hand is the overarching umbrella which covers many types of ministry: pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, coaching, preaching, teaching ...all ministries to assist folks in noticing how God's Holy Spirit power and energy are shaping individual and community from the inside of our beings to influence our expressed outward actions and words. Often spiritual formation is spoken of as it relates to spiritual disciplines and prayer practices which assist folks in becoming even more aware of God's presence in the midst of everyday life.

Rev. Dr. Brenda K. Buckwell, Obl. OSB, seeks to integrate Christian spiritual formation into everyday life so that others can experience an expanded sense of
God. She is adjunct faculty at Ashland Theological Seminary, a spiritual director for lay and clergy persons, a national retreat leader and cofounder and director of learning and formation for Hearts on Fire: The Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders, as well as an oblate in the Methodist-Benedictine St. Brigid of Kildare Monastery. She has taught at United Theological Seminary and the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation through Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She is also founder of "Living Streams ~ Flowing Water, LLC" a spiritual formation ministry through which she teaches spiritual formation and prayer online and onsite and further provides spiritual direction, coaching, retreat leadership and congregational consultation.

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