Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Lifestyle of Prayer

Dear Friends,

I grew up in our family’s Episcopal Church. That was back when it looked far more like the Anglican Church of England than what the Episcopal Church looks like today. Halfway between Luther’s and Calvin’s reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, our “high church” liturgical service was in English but otherwise almost indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic service. All prayer was read by the priest from the prayer book with appropriate responses by the congregation. Prayer was a ritual and any prayer outside of the church walls was usually the recitation of a written prayer that had been memorized. I faithfully recited the Lord’s Prayer every night before falling asleep. Sixty-plus years later, I still do. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a non-liturgical, Pentecostal service and we gathered in prayer groups like we do in our church. I was terrified. It wasn’t just the heart-pounding thought of praying out loud in front of others. How in heaven’s name can a person pray without a prayer book to read from?

But in the ancient church, prayer was a natural as breathing. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 And Paul wasn’t asking the impossible! He was encouraging them to keep on doing what they’d always done! Prayer is no longer a ritual for me but a lifestyle  and now my own constant prayers throughout the day have become the background music of my life. Oswald Chambers was an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement teacher and evangelist, best known for the devotional MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST. He wrote, “Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops...Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. It is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.”

German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that true prayer originates in the heart of God and is revealed in His Word. We breathe the language of prayer because the Holy Spirit Himself teaches it to us. True prayer isn’t just about me and God is not a cosmic vending machine that automatically gives us everything we want when we deposit our prayer quarter and pull the lever. That’s why we seek God’s will and pray: Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Prayer is prompted by God. Modeled by Jesus Christ. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

British novelist and theologian, C.S. Lewis was a devoted member of the Anglican Church of England and he treasured the Church’s BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. So do I. I've found the CELTIC DAILY PRAYER from the Northumbria Community in Ireland to be a wealth of prayers. The GLENSTAL BOOK OF PRAYER from an Irish Benedictine monastery is written in the earthy Celtic tradition. I deeply appreciate and use the prayer books of the Eastern Orthodox Church which so beautifully reflect the majesty and mystery of the earliest liturgies in the ancient church. As we are inspired by hearing well-articulated prayers spoken by a person, we are inspired by reading well-written prayers. If your tastes run to the contemporary and charismatic, many have been encouraged and inspired by Sarah Young’s: JESUS CALLING – Enjoying Peace In His Presence.

Some of us have been in churches that harshly denounced the use of written prayers as being ritualistic and shallow but we must remember that Jesus prayed extemporaneous prayers and He also prayed the prayers written by King David and others. Jesus and the earliest Christians read and sang from their “worship book,” that contains 150 prayers which cover every conceivable emotion and circumstance. When our own prayers fail. When the darkness closes in and we find it difficult to even find the words to pray, Jesus’ prayer book will always be our best resource. You already have one of those ancient prayer books of course. It’s located in the center of your Bible to make it easy to find and it’s called the BOOK OF PSALMS.

Let your prayers become the ambient background of your life as you walk through your day. Many of us say grace before a meal but let your “grace” – your thanksgiving for your food and your blessing of it, extend to everything that God has given you. Say grace over your family. Thank God for them and ask Him to bless them. Say grace over your day, your house, your health, and even the books you read and the chores you do. For as Paul said, “pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.” Amen?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Joy In Sharing

Dear Friends,

My mom didn’t just teach me how to cook, she showed me that there is joy in feeding others. Some people prepare food out of a necessity to eat. My mom prepared food for others as a way of showing her love. Nothing made her happier than having the whole family over for dinner or preparing a gourmet meal for friends. My mom loved that I shared her enthusiasm for cooking and she and my dad would give me cookbooks for birthdays and Christmas. A certain loved one in my life today is not showered with diamonds, perfumes and untold riches but she does get homemade pizza, pink lemonade cookies and fresh-baked chocolate chip scones! One of the ways, I can show my love for my church family on Christmas is when they come over to my house and I cook up a giant pot of Jambalaya – my mom’s recipe of course. The scent of baking bread fills the house and before the meal, we take communion together with a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. I think that’s what Jesus would do...

We read throughout the New Testament how Jesus used food to serve others and show His love for them. On one occasion, He fed many thousands of His followers. Scripture tells us there were 5,000 men but there may have been just as many women and children who were also present. On another occasion, He fed a mega-church sized crowd of 4,000 followers. Mark 8:19-20 (NLT) The Jewish leaders complained bitterly about Jesus dining with tax collectors and other assorted sinners. “Why do You eat and drink with such scum?” they asked. Luke 5:29-30 (NLT) Jesus replied that it was in the context of fellowship with those who were lost and struggling that He could offer them a changed life. Luke 5:31-32 Jesus didn’t come to save the self-righteous; He came to save those who were lost. Those who had messed up their lives. Those who were among the marginalized in society. He ate with them. He talked with them. 

Jesus knew that food feeds hungry stomachs and that it also feeds hungry souls. “On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and after giving thanks, He broke it..” 1 Cor 11:23-25 Jesus’ last supper was shared with His disciples and then after His crucifixion and resurrection, one of the things He did was to light a campfire and cook breakfast for some of His disciples before ascending into Heaven! John 21:9-14 (NLT)

Last Thursday was Homeless Connect Day in Sylmar and about two hundred were fed a delicious lunch. Not the typical slice of processed luncheon meat and a wilted lettuce leaf between two slices of stale white bread. These were sandwiches made from Croissants piled high with deli-sliced turkey, roast beef and cheese. A choice of fresh fruit. Pastries. Faces lit up with joy as they enjoyed a meal prepared and served with love. They were given haircuts by professional hair stylists and received backpacks stuffed with life’s necessities. They were also connected with those who could provide them with long-term assistance and opportunities to turn their life around. Those who live a life of struggle and despair on the streets were loved and cared for that day. I think that’s what Jesus would do...

Food connects us with others. It builds a bridge on which a relationship can be formed. Whether feeding the homeless, baking brownies for a church potluck or taking a meal to a shut-in, giving food provides a tangible way of imparting the love of Christ to others. And the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be a gourmet cook or a five star chef to prepare a meal for another person. If you are sufficiently able to feed yourself, you are qualified to prepare a meal for others! When Jesus cooked breakfast for His disciples, the Son of God tossed some fish on a campfire and baked some flat bread on a hot rock! That sounds more like a fast-food fish taco than it does a gourmet meal!

Do you know someone who is going through some tough times? Going to the grocery store and filling a couple of bags with pantry basics and frozen food for those who may be struggling with illness or difficult circumstances can be a huge blessing. Sharing food is a perfect opportunity for you to put your faith into action. It’s what we can do to show our love for others. It’s what Jesus would do... Amen?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Seasons of Life

Dear Friends,

A New England mail order company will send you three genuine hand-selected autumn leaves for only $19.95! If you are not a purist, you can buy 120 artificial (paper) autumn leaves on Amazon for a mere $3.59 with free shipping! Or, you can find your own genuine, authentic leaves by walking outside. 

In Sylmar, I’m already seeing a change of color in the trees during my morning walk. There’s a freshness in the air that portends the passage of a season and prepares us for the next. Autumn is a time of beauty and peace for contemplatives, photographers, writers and artists. The brilliant tapestry of autumn colors feeds one’s soul and heart with such a dazzling display of God’s handiwork that we just need to go outside and play in it.

One of my favorite places to go this time of year is the picturesque town of Oak Glen nestled in what is called the “Little San Bernardino Mountains.” Oak Glen is known for its abundant apple orchards and  rolling hills covered with vivid autumn reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s as close as you can get to a spectacular New England autumn without getting on a plane.

Seasonal transitions of “nature” in God’s Creation remind us of seasons in our church and in our life. Autumn also signals the arrival of ADVENT – that season of anticipation as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. ADVENT leads us to the CHRISTMAS celebration which includes Epiphany– the manifestation of the Savior Jesus to the Gentiles. Soon the chill of winter gives way to the warmth of spring and a season of spiritual growth. LENT is a time of reflection and recommitment to a renewed relationship with God. We approach Good Friday with our unspeakable gratitude for the ultimate gift of God’s grace and salvation mixed along with a sense of sorrow for the suffering that Jesus endured. Easter– RESURRECTION SUNDAY – is truly a glorious day and the most important of all Christian Holy Days (“holidays”). Fifty days later comes PENTECOST, marking the day that God’s presence became actively working in believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable us to become a witness of His glory and grace to the world. After PENTECOST we enter a season of what the church calls ORDINARY TIME. But the time quickly passes and before long, we sense a freshness in the air and soon the autumn colors are bringing us once again to the season of ADVENT. The journey through our church seasons reveals the mystery of God’s plan as it unfolds for us in the life of the church, and we are reminded that with each transition, there is something new again. 

In God’s Creation, there is a rhythmic cycle with the organic flow of our four seasons. Every three months, a transition to the next. Depressed by the gray, gloominess of winter? The warmth of spring is right around the corner. Tired of spring showers and eye-burning allergies? The long, hot days of summer are ahead. Worn down by the relentless heat and smog? The cooler glorious world of autumn awaits you. Bored and weary with autumn and those Santa Ana winds? Grab the winter coat, gather the firewood and prepare for those long, frosty winter nights. We are reminded that with each transition, there is something new again.

So it is with the seasons of life. You may be in a springtime season of new birth and growth. You may be feeling as if caught in the dry, tiring days of what seems like an endless summer. This may be for you a contemplative, peaceful autumn time of thanksgiving. Or you may find yourself in the cold, dark, loneliness of a long winter season.

Seasons of life. Each with its own set of experiences and the passing of each season leaving behind memories of what was. Some seasons of life are filled with pain, sorrow and anger and those seasons can embed bitterness, uncertainties, fears and doubts into our soul. We will stay mired in our pain-filled past if we dwell on those memories and relive those circumstances of that season in our mind. And God says: “But forget all that-- it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” Isaiah 43:18-19 (NLT) Praise God! For He reminds us that with each life transition, there is something new again.

Remember that no matter what season of life we’re in, there are three guarantees we can count on:  1) This present season will come to an end.  2) God has already begun to do something new for you in the next season. And, 3) The one unchanging constant that we can trust in and count on is this: God is standing with us in this season and He is waiting for us in the next.  Amen?
This week's AMEN Corner is a revised, updated version of one published in October 2013. For information about Oak Glen, CA click HERE