Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No Old Fogeys Allowed!

Dear Friends,

I remember that hot, summer evening my step-daughter graduated from First Lutheran High School. Family members and older friends congratulated her and said things like, “Well, how does it feel to be an adult now?” It seemed only a few short years ago that she had cuddled up on my lap and tried so hard to learn how to read. So full of fears that she would never catch up with the rest of the first-graders. So full of innocence and joy. It’s our job as parents to grow our children into fully functioning adults and, when we succeed, it’s natural for us to miss their endearing childlike qualities and perhaps feel a little sad. 

And, as Jesus observes today what we do, what we say, what we watch on TV, what we think... I wonder if Jesus may also feel a little sad when He remembers how we were as a child. Many of us adults are worn-down with worry. Anxious at times. Depressed at other times. Stressed at work and at home. And, God wants us to enter Heaven as a little child – not as an adult who’s anxious about the petty stuff that God always had under control anyway. God doesn’t want you to enter Heaven worried about all the unfinished things you left on earth. God doesn’t want you to enter Heaven stressed about your new living conditions and staring in disbelief at the NO SERVICE NO WI-FI message on your phone. God wants you to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child. 

Jesus said the way into Heaven is by a simple and childlike trust and dependence on Him. “Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt 18:3) 

How do we do that? Little children are innocent. And let’s face it. We’ve used the words, thought the thoughts, seen the movies, done the deeds. As adults, we lost our innocence long ago. There seems to be no way to gain it back. But Jesus said to enter the kingdom as a child and He will never tell us to do the impossible. We lost our innocence through sin and our only hope to restore that innocence is through Jesus. What robbed us of our innocence when we were young? What are our habits today which reinforce the worldliness that replaced our innocence? Confess, give this to the Lord and ask for His healing in this area.
Little children are born bold and we need to come boldly before God with our prayers and petitions. Do you cry out in boldness to Him or suffer in silence while being proudly self-sufficient? When the diaper is full of poopy, does the baby suffer in silence thinking, I don’t want to bother mom about this little incident–she’s had a rough day... Does the baby sit there with a full load thinking, Somehow I have to figure out how to take care of this myself... No! The baby opens his or her mouth and cries out to mom with a loud, hearty boldness. That’s what God wants us to do. Too many times we suffer alone with our lives full of poopy and not wanting to bother Him about it. We sit there with a full load while trying to figure out how to take care of it ourselves. And, we say in essence: “Sorry God this is too big and messy to trust You with. I’m going to have to handle this one myself.” And God would say, “What part of ‘trust in the Lord with all of your heart’ did you not understand?” (Proverbs 3:5)

By the time we have become an “adult,” we have forgotten how to play. The principle that undergirds our American culture is that work is good and play is bad. Playing is for small children and hard work is for adults. Clowning around at school earns a visit to the principal’s office and levity at work is often frowned upon. Life begins to get painful and those wonderfully fun, playful times you used to have with your loved ones are now just a bittersweet memory. Life itself transforms us from young and playful to old and stuffy. “Become like little children,” says Jesus.

Jesus is saying lighten up (Matt 11:28-30) and receive my kingdom as a child. (Matt 18:3) Not childish and immature, but childlike with your innocence, boldness and a lightness in your heart. Regain your innocence by leaving behind those unhealthy worldly things. Be bold enough to admit that you can’t change your poopy life by yourself and turn to God and trust in Him. And, recapture the playfulness that will keep you young at heart. 

Jesus said you must be as children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You don’t want to be the recently deceased Christian curmudgeon who arrives at Heaven’s Gate to see the sign that reads...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Contemplative Prayer ~ Part Two

Dear Friends,

Today we boldly tread into the area of Contemplative Prayer that most fundamental and reformed churches call “A Doctrine of Devils.” Contemplative Prayer grew out of the spiritual practices of the 2nd century Christian mystics and has been deeply embedded in monastic life for the past 2000 years. For the first sixteen centuries, Contemplative Prayer was the goal of Christian spirituality, but the reformation changed that for the Protestant Christian and the "anti-Catholic" backlash included meditative prayer as one of the "evil" church practices. 

So is meditative prayer really an approprate way for a good Protestant to pray? Or has your pastor just been spending too much time at St. Andrew’s Abbey?

Rest easy. Your pastor is in good company.  Other pastors  who endorse Contemplative Prayer are Jack Hayford, Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll and Bill Hybels. Some denominations who endorse this practice are Calvary Chapel, Foursquare, Southern Baptist, Vineyard Church and Assembles of God.

Contemplative Prayer: 
Meditative Prayer has been described as the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God. It is stilling your thoughts and emotions and focusing on God Himself. It is putting yourself in His presence to make you better able to hear God’s voice correcting, guiding and directing you.

Focused attention on God is a meditative practice. Scripture is designed for meditation and our Bible is filled with exhortations to meditate. See Philippians 4:8 as an example. At the heart of meditative prayer is silence, solitude and stillness. We start by finding a quiet sacred space in our home (silence) where we can be by ourselves (solitude) so that we can just sit-a-spell (stillness). 

We take deep breaths to relax. Breathing in on the count of five. Exhaling on the count of five. Breathe through your nose and relax.  In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren says to “choose a brief scripture or simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath.”  (see list of suggested short prayers for use during meditative prayer) Repeat the word or phrase as you continue to breathe. After several minutes of deep breathing and repeating the phrase, we find that we have almost effortlessly transcended into a contemplative state beyond words or emotions.

Our thoughts slow down and the sense of our separateness disappears. We come into a unitive experience with God. We have not abandoned our discerning thoughts nor taken leave of our senses. But our mind is clear of the clutter. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we hear His Voice.

Rick Warren has said that “God wants us to connect with Him on a moment-to-moment basis.” He said we should “use ‘breath prayers’ throughout our day as many Christians have done for centuries.” From the 2nd century, Christians have used the “Jesus Prayer” as a way to “pray without ceasing..” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

The Jesus Prayer:
Speaking the name of Jesus invites and instills His presence. The name of God, verbally expressed, already contains God’s presence. Speaking forth the name of God, places the reality of God into our circumstances and prayers. Orthodox mystics and Protestants alike ascribe to this ancient belief.

The Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” (Matthew 16:16 and Luke 18:13). The Orthodox practice combines the Jesus Prayer with deep breathing. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (on the inhale) have mercy on me (on the exhale). Note the shortened version of the original prayer -- you can pray either one.

I have found that after awhile, your mind becomes drawn to the Jesus Prayer and you’ll find yourself praying it while going about your daily activities. With or without the deep breathing component in Contemplative Prayer, the Jesus Prayer is a way for you to stay connected with God in both the daily mundane and in the stressful circumstances. 

It’s difficult to describe, but the Jesus Prayer will allow you to stay focused, relaxed and energized at the same time. This prayer can bring a sense of meditative calmness even in the midst of chaos. The Prayer takes us into a monastic mind-set as we go through our day. We do not disassociate from our conscious and discerning thoughts, but we invite the Presence of God into the center of those thoughts and into the ebb and flow of our life by invoking His name in all that we do.  Amen?

The Short Prayers

Kryie Eleison* (Ky-ri-e E-le-i-son)
Lord, You know that I love You
Maranatha, O Lord come
Lord Jesus praised be Your Name
Jesus, Healer, make me whole
Have your way with me, O Lord
Lord God, have mercy on me
Glory and honor to God
Lord, give me a heart of love (hope)
Not my will but Thine be done
Here I am Lord, I am yours
I in Him and He in me
Father, Jesus, Spirit: One
Jesus, I submit to You
May Your presence give me peace
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna, Lord, Hosanna