Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Learning to pray

When I was a teen, I had the trip of a lifetime in going to what was then the Soviet Union. It was in the time of Conservatism in the West (Canada had Brian Mulroney as PM and the Americans had Ronald “Ray Guns” Reagan as their President). And there was the evil empire of Communist Russia lead by Mikhail Gorbachev. The cold war between Russian and the West was in full bloom. Along with about 35 others from my high school, I went on a trip to Russia in the Spring of 1986.

One of the things that I learned through my Russia experience was that school children were actively discouraged from being people of faith, people of prayer. Children were asked to sit at their desks and pray to God, asking for God to provide candy. They would wait for a few moments. When no candy appeared, the teacher would point out that God has failed to provide for them. Then the teacher would give them candy and tell the children that the State and party could provide for them and that there was no God. Their trust and faith needed to be in the Party and in their government. The Communist government of the day was atheistic and the Party believed that so should all the people be.

The trip took me by and into a number of beautiful former church buildings that had been turned into museums by the state since officially there was no God, and thus no need for prayer. Each city we visited had beautiful churches and cathedrals, monasteries and convents from Vyborg on the Finish border all the way into Moscow. Time and again, we would see women, with their heads covered, enter into the churches, they would “disappear” for a bit and return again, seemingly out of thin air. I learned later that they were in these places to pray and to receive the sacrament from the clergy – though it was totally unofficial and unsanctioned by the State.

My trip to the USSR and my encounters with Russian Orthodox Christians came back to my mind this week as I am getting ready to travel for holidays and trying to keep my prayer and spiritual life in order. The disciples come to Jesus early one morning and respectfully wait for Jesus to finish his Morning Prayer time with the Father. They knew the place and they went and waited and listened to Jesus as he prayer to the Father. Then, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, so that they could be like John’s disciples, only better because the Lamb had taught them to pray. Jesus’ disciples wanted to be one up and one better than John’s disciples.

So Jesus obliged them. He said them, “When you pray, pray this way:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” So if we want to examine how we ought to pray, let’s ready to have what has been taught:
·       Know who God is... He is God and he is Father. He has revealed this through Jesus, his Son. It is how he wants to be known. In fact, there is a place in the New Testament where we call out to him as “Abba” or “Daddy” Father. Knowing God as Father in such away runs against everything we see in our culture today where fathers are concerned. We seems to have lowered the status of father from know who our father is through God to thinking he is Peter Griffin of Family Guy or Homer Simpson. This is not who God our Father is. He is caring and compassionate, loving and merciful as well as all powerful and holy. God is present to each and to all, ready to respond to each and to all according to his purpose and perfect will for each and for all.

·       Know that God’s kingdom is coming to this earth. Are we ready to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven? Are we ready to have God’s will done in earth, in us as it is done heaven? Living the way God calls the world to live does not begin with someone else. Living out the kingdom starts with you and with me. We cannot run away from it. If we are God’s then it begins by allowing God to do the things in us, to bring us to the coming perfection at the end of time when we will seek to do his will and serve God in the way that God intended it to be all along. When we pray your kingdom come, your will be done we have to be willing to let go of our agendas, our lists and demands and allow God to bring things to pass in his way and in his time.
·         God knows what’s in our hearts, the question is do we?  Prayer is not so much about the laundry lists we like to make as it is about preparing the person to be ready to be an answer to prayer... and not necessarily one’s own prayers. Often when we pray we are being moved to see the world for how it out of what God sees. If you cannot steer a parked car what makes you think God can steer you if you are unwilling to be moved by what you see?

·         Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best God has for you. There is a temptation to see almost anything as an answer to prayer because we want answers and we wanted them yesterday. We need to be people of patience who carry an attitude of fortitude; people who will persist to seek God’s best not just what we can scrape together in this moment and make it work for now. God’s life, lived in God’s grace will never lack his blessing. Persist in this life that you have been given that not only will you be blessed but so will the people you love most. Prayer is not just about you and God: it is about the community to which you are connected, that through you God will bless them too.  So pray and live alongside your prayers. Don’t give up - persist in prayer.

·         Recognize that God will give what is right to give, when it is right to give it. Know that some times, God for the good of the object of your affections might say not now or no, not this way. God’s timing is perfect because he can see it all. And we know that God is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by the Father so that we can be like our brother. And through our brother, we will become more than conquers though him who has loved us. In God’s way, in God’s time we will be blessed.

·         Contrition and confession: remember who you are in the face of a holy, powerful glorious God. We are human, formed of the dust and to the dust we shall return. Remember that God delighted in thinking about you when he created first in his mind, then in forming us in the dust of this creation and then seeing us formed in our mother’s womb. Remember to say you’re sorry for falling short and for missing the mark. Always keep your accounts with the Father short because the Father is merciful and swift to bless. Ask to be healed and to be strengthened that you might live for God.

·         Pray in a way that draws others into the experience – Prayer and worship are not just about the words spoken: it is also about the unspoken desires of the heart and the silences we keep that we might here the still small voice of the Spirit who is within us. Seek and ask of God the way a child does of a parent. Persist with honesty and recognizing that if we know how to give to our children when they ask, how much more is God willing to respond with his best when we seek and ask of him? If you worship and pray in this way others will follow. So bring what is on your heart and the things that you believe only God can deal with and put that on the altar as part of your liturgy. Then you will see what difference that makes in your life beyond the walls of the church building.

Take time this week to go to your prayer closet. Take time once you are there to celebrate your Father and to bless his name and the things he is doing in you and around you. Remember who you are in the face of a holy and merciful God and give thanks for the abundance of grace and goodness. Pray that your Father’s will shall be done in you and through you, that his kingdom will reign on earth as it is in heaven. It is going to be a risk, but one that is going to be necessary to take, if the kingdom is going to be extended.


Friday, July 19, 2013

The P's of the Royal Priesthood

Martha was the one serving in this week’s Gospel. It must have been somewhere away; away from the house in Bethany because Martha was in a flap! She could not find what she was looking for and she wanted to fix a nice meal because it had probably been a while since Jesus and the 12 had eaten a proper, home cooked meal. She wanted this meal to be some special because of that. Yet nothing was going according to plan. Everything was extra work and Mary had disappeared on her so she was rattling around the kitchen with her frustration at the situation coming promptly to a rolling boil. She was ready to spill over like a pot, cooking rice with too much water in it.

Then she, stormed out the group and spotted her sister sitting at the feet of the Master, just like she was “one of the guys”! "Teacher, don’t you care that I have been left alone to do all this work? Tell my sister to help me out!"

With compassion for the work and the spirit of Martha, Jesus points out to the flustered chief cook and bottle washer, “Martha, dear Martha... Mary has made a better choice and she won’t have what she is receiving taken away from her.” While some might consider this a ‘slap down’for impatience, it is not meant to be – just an eye opener and a refocusing of priorities where all of the disciples are concerned. Martha’s service was being accepted. What Jesus wasn’t going to accept was the worry and the anxiety that Martha was expressing because of the elaborate agenda she had set. One dish would suffice. It did not have to be a major feast. The extra time and energy could be put to other, better uses. As it was once apply said by a missionary, “God’s work, done God’s way, will not lack God’s supply. “

So what does one do when you're in a spot? What do you do when you think things are going to hell in a hand cart and you cannot tell one end of the egg from the other? Here are some thoughts about serving in the royal priesthood of all believers:

1)      Provision:  There are countless times recounted in Scripture when God has provided for his people. He provided a son for Sarah and an heir for Abraham; Abraham found the ram when he need it for the altar instead of sacrificing Isaac. God gave Hannah a son and she gave Samuel back to God that he might be a powerful prophet; and be the king maker. God led his people out of bondage in Egypt, through the Red Sea and fed them in the years out in the Sinai Desert. God provided a way home from exile in Babylon. And most of all God have us all Jesus that we might have a way home to him. We need to recognize that even the poorest man is equipped with everything that God can give him. On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. Eat and be filled then feed that others that you might be followed into the kingdom.

2)      Prayer: Where prayer is focused, power falls. I remember a gentleman telling me that he would not pray the Lord’s Prayer because he didn’t need bread, he had lots in his house. The point of prayer is not to get things but to communicate thanks and ask “those things which are requisite and necessary for the body as well for the soul (BCP).”Give us this day our daily bread is to ask God to provision the day and the demands that are going to be place on our resources so that we can be faithful to proclaim the kingdom, that the kingdom would finally come. Prayer provides the connection between God and ourselves, both personally and corporately to have the power and the direction we need to proclaim and the power to do it well.

3)      Power: there is a little chorus we used to sing all the time: “For I am building a people of power, and I am making a people of praise. We are given by God through the Spirit “dynamos” or dynamite. Power in God’s kingdom is not given to those who rule but to those who serve. Leadership is not about position, provision or power. It is about those who serve and those who need to be served. Power is given to enable the servant to serve the least, the last and the lost not ourselves. Divine power is not given so much to turn the world upside down as it is given to turn the Church inside out.

4)      Persistence: Christianity is a way of life that we need to persist in: day by day, day after day. It is the only way in which the Church is going to grow and mature into the Body of Christ. We need in our modern society, to learn how to persist in prayer, in wisely using the provisions we are given and sharing, and operate sensibly with the power and authority to serve and care for those who are around us as neighbours. We need to persist in blessing and being blessed. Blessings are not just for fair weather but for the every day – fair or foul weather. We continue to sail on, even when life is heard and the going not so clear. Life may not be what we would call “fair” but we do know that God is always faithful.

5)      Proclamation: we are to announce the coming of the one, true King and to tell how God has provided for you and for the community, and to let people know that the same kingdom is coming near to them, whether they respond or not. When the world recognizes that we are being provided for, that we are active in prayer and in being answers to prayer, in being powerful and persistent servants of the least, the last and the lost in the name of Christ, then do we make the kingdom fully known to this world of God’s.

There will always be the worries of ministry and somehow will some things get done. Nevertheless, when we recognize that there is provision, prayer, power, the need for persistence and the need to proclaim the greatness of God's grace and love, we are well on our way home.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rescue the Perishing, care for the dying

I can remember the first time I ever got to drive an ambulance “Code 3”. That’s when you know things are serious because it is lights and sirens. You need to get there and you need to get there as swiftly and yet as safely as one can. Driving an emergency vehicle does mean that you get to drive however you want. It means that there are extra rules and one must drive with extra care so that you can get wherever it is that one needs to be without hurting everyone around you, including yourself.  

I had undergone a lot of training to be in that driver’s seat. We had to learn how to drive our large ambulance and how to handle it under a variety of conditions so that we could get there. Then we needed to be able to assess the people who needed our help, treat their wounds, illnesses and if necessary transport port them to a place where they were going to get a higher level of care.

How does this relate to the week’s Gospel? In a lot of ways!

Where, first of all, are the bystanders? Where did they go? Why didn’t one of them wait with the injured man. They have left. One of them had his cell phone and called in the 911 emergency that had us coming, lights flashing and siren blaring. We had to use the search light in the growing dark but thankfully we did find the man. He was in the ditch, nearly hidden from view. He was bruised bleeding and near death.

Consider and evaluate the scene of this incident: The injured man appears alone. There does not appear to be anyone else with him. Thus there is no one else who is injured and in need of assessment and treatment. Plus there is little to no threat to the team in the vehicle. That’s important. Those who committed the crime have fled the area with their ill gotten booty. We can get out, assess and begin to treat the injured man.

This is simple and easy enough. It is the ABC’s of emergency medicine. Is his airway open and is he breathing. Yes. But his breathing is shallow. Give him oxygen. Has he got a pulse? Yes? Good. Is he bleeding? Yes. Get bandages and pressure on the wounds. Get a “C-collar” to stabilize his neck. Get him on a back board the main stretcher and then get him in the vehicle so that we can get him to a place where we can care for him better... With me so far? We are on our way to the nursing station and relaying information to the nurse so that she and the staff are ready. We spend time at the nursing station with the man and the nurse, helping and caring for the injuries until it is time to take him to the airport.

It is a quiet ride to the airport where we watch the air ambulance coming. There is lots of lights on the spot where we make the transfer of the man in our care, wishing him a safe journey and thanking the staff on the flight who will take charge of our ward until he gets to hospital further away.  Then it is back to the fire department to park in the ambulance’s bay where we clean up, restock our supplies and ready the ambulance for the next time that it is needed. We know we will be going again. It is a matter of time.

The focus is on the care and love shown toward a person we have never met before. We care for him as a person, tending to his wounds, reassuring him in his fears and comforting him in the pain of the journey. Isn’t that what God in Christ does for us? Isn’t that what we as a community of faith and of ministry are meant to do for the city of people around us?

People will only know what we believe by how we love each other. Its how the world measures who God is. It is why Jesus commanded us to love each other as he has loved us. He loved us so much that he put his life on the line. In the cold and in the dark, as he surrendered himself, we were on his mind. Can we learn to selflessly love each other, having been shown by Christ how to do it? Will we not allow the Spirit to move us in to acts of kindness that will bless, rescue and heal people who are hurt wounded and dying spiritually as well as physically? Remember: the Lord visits and redeems his people. God is seeking to rescue that which is lost. His people. You and me. Will you let him?


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Upholding the Kingdom

Every so often I like to take a “time out” to reflect on ministry. Not just about where I have been and where I need to go. I try to reflect on what I have learned and what I still need to learn. I consider what I have taught and what I still need to teach to those who are around me. What do they need to hear, to see and to experience?

The Gospel lesson this week helps us to focus our personal and our corporate missions and to, as someone once wisely said, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” It is a lesson that we as people and we as Church need to keep on learning over and over again. We are called to announce the kingdom to the people, places and spaces that we find ourselves connected to and with. We are commissioned to go to our appointed places and spaces and uphold the kingdom and its values, constantly and consistently that people and places would know that the kingdom of God is real and true.

So how do we do this – how do we uphold the kingdom? First we need to recognize that we are sent people, as those disciples were. We are sent before the Lord’s “flinty” face to prepare is way because he is coming to them and he will visit and redeem them. And we are sent “without” guarantee of success and security of person. Ministry makes us vulnerable. We are sent without budgets, strategic plans; without libraries and computers. We are sent into hardship and into danger like lambs amongst a pack of wolves. We proclaim our scarcity though our learning to depend on God and lean on each other to provide the things that are needed for ministry to the people of the places and spaces.

And in the going we are to take the peace we have with God to other people. When we enter a country, a city, a home we are to pray God’s shalom over each and every country, city and home we enter. We do so not just to try and remove the wrong but also to pray in the abundance of God’s blessing and justice so that the wrong and the sin cannot displace the good God intends to offer. We are to keep in front of us at all times, that we are about the kingdom and God’s business. We are to uphold the kingdom and its life.

We also learn about how to deal with people’s reactions to the kingdom being announced. If we are not heeded – move on and take nothing with you – not even the dust on your shoes. Leave it behind so that it does not stay with you. Ministry is about making the kingdom and its life known and available to others. We are christened into this. We are not responsible for being successful nor for the failures do we experience. What we must be is faithful and learn to leave the rest to God almighty. This Church, this city cannot afford a “no biggy Gospel”. If the message we share with others is true and if it is real, then it is a big deal because it is life giving and we need to share it with those we find around us.

We have a unique role for each other and with each other. We are entrusted with the Good News of God in Christ: that God is visiting and redeeming his people. The word of God is living and active in this city and that it is incarnational (that it has flesh and bone). We are being drawn into this flesh and bone ministry of God to help birth a new generation of Christians in Canada and for the world. We are to be humble and possess humility so that as we encounter others, they can respond, be transformed and live the life of the kingdom with us and never be the same again.

So what can we accomplish for the kingdom of God in the next week?