Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where is Your “Thin Place?”

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6)

Those who have learned to pray, have learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life. - William Law, Christian Perfection

prayer photo: Prayer prayer.jpg

  The ancient Celts believed that there existed on earth places they called “thin places”. These “thin places” where locations upon the earth where they believed God's Spirit was more accessible. A place where it was easier to pray, because they felt the distance between God and themselves seemed somehow thinner.

  This same concept exists within the minds of people today. People find comfort in finding a special place to pray. A place where we sense God's Spirit is more real to us. These places can be a special prayer room, a church sanctuary, a special place in the woods, their patio or deck or by a lake or river or on a hiking trail. One of my brother-in-law's has a special room in his home where he prays daily.

  Even though, we can pray anywhere, because God is always present, a special place does seem to create a “thin place,” where prayer comes much easier to us. Jesus recommends “going in a closet in secret to pray.” I don't find praying in a closet very comforting, but I do understand the point Jesus is making about our prayer life. I do find a few places more comforting toward nurturing my prayer life. My office at the church, the church sanctuary (when no one but me and God are present), in the back yard with the quiet of the night time stars above or the morning sun is raising, or some community or national parks are my favorite locations.

  I also have discovered that praying while driving alone to be most helpful, though this is done with my eyes wide open. Rather than getting upset with the poor driving habits of the other drivers, I find peace in praying for them and whatever spiritual needs they may have that day.

  What makes a “thin place,” like, a prayer room either in the church, home or elsewhere, helpful to us is that it gives us a place to be intentional about our prayer life. We want to pray, but often we find ourselves attempting to find the time to pray. Our lives seem too filled with other things to pray. If we are waiting to find the time to pray, it will never come. We have to be just as intentional about our daily prayers, as we are about eating. If you went without eating long enough you would die, so we eat to live. If you went long enough without praying, your spiritual life begins to die, so we need to pray to maintain our spiritual nourishment and continue to live and thrive in our discipleship to Jesus Christ.

  So where are your “thin places”, where do you find God's Spirit more present to you? Where can you go to intentionally place yourself in a state of prayer and communion with God.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sometimes, I Need to be Saved

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes - a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives

Psalm 71:2 scripture  Each day of our lives we will face decisions that challenge all our senses and bring emotional distress. These decisions can fill us with doubts and fears and we hope we have the correct information and resources for a good, solid, just decision.

  As a pastor, I face moments of critical decision-making where leadership skills are strained and all my skills and patience is required. When I face these moments, my hope and prayer is that I will be as smart as Jesus in my decisions, but I also hope I will be supported and encouraged by the community of faith.

  When looking on a situation from the outside, others sometimes lead us to believe that some decisions are just simple, no brainers when the fact is that they are far from easy. After the fact, when critical action was taken, we can seem to others like we were geniuses or fools. Others might believe we made these decisions on our own, but within the body of Christ this is not generally the case, nor should it be.

  Knowledge and skills are beneficial when making critical decisions, but what is even best is when we face these challenges within a supportive, faithful, and nurturing community that provides focus and direction for the gifts, talents and things we know. Communities during the times of trouble in our lives save us, sometimes from our own unreliable knowledge and our lack of patience.

  Most of the time I just need Christ and the Christian community to save me. As the Psalmist says: “In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.” (Ps. 71:2) Jesus faced challenges not unlike the challenges the church faces today.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inviting Others to the Table

“And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples — for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:15-16)

SupperAtEmmaus  I spent 20 years working in the addiction treatment and prevention field and did a great deal of public speaking to groups throughout the county where I worked. Parents would frequently ask me what steps they could take to keep their children drug free. Among my suggestions was to insure that they had regular family meals together. Family meals provide opportunities for ongoing, consistent conversations between parent and child and keeps parents involved in the daily activities of their children.

  My children are now adults and if you were to ask them their most memorable family moments sharing conversations around the dinner table on our deck in the summer would be at the top of the list. On a summer evening we would barbeque and share dinner on the deck and frequently would end up talking into the late evening hours.

  In scripture, banquets and feasts are prominent in sealing friendships and building relationships. The idea of hospitality runs deep in the thought of those in the Near East. Shared meals are a sign of community and acceptance. In the context of meals Jesus challenges our ideas about community. Jesus calls all disciples to be good neighbors, to be hospitable and welcoming. Jesus, both as guest and host of meals shares his reality of the kingdom of God. Jesus accepted and extended invitations regardless of social status.

  Even today, in the middle east, to invite a man or women to a meal is an honor. To share a common meal is an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness. Sharing a place at the table meant sharing life. In doing this Jesus shocked the concept of community and was criticized for it. "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Boast in Our Hope

Hope means to keep living amid desperation and to keep humming in the darkness. Hoping is knowing that there is love; it is trust in tomorrow; it is falling asleep and waking again when the sun rises. In the midst of a gale at sea, it is to discover land. In the eyes of another, it is to see that he understands you. As long as there is still hope, there will also be prayer. And God will be holding you in his hands. - Henri Nouwen, With Open Hand, 85.

Scripture Quote Romans 8:24  In an article in Christianity Today, Cornel West stated, “As a Christian, I am a prisoner of hope.” (Christianity Today, October 26, 1998, p. 88) In the midst of all I do or ever did, God was always been there encouraging me to hope for far more than I ever thought possible.

  We need hope. Biblical hope is trustful expectation. Hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.

  From what do you draw hope? What keeps you going and gives you a reason to live? Many people rely on simple wishful thinking and call it hope. Where Jim Wallis from Sojourners magazine tells us, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” This is hope based on what God is willing to do within our lives.

  Over the years I have been called upon to assist community groups work through problems, such as, alcohol or drug abuse. One of the most demanding problems in helping any group is to assist them in overcoming their own sense of hopelessness. When you approach a group that uses phrases, such as, "It's too late," "Nothing can be done about it," "You can't fight city hall," "You can't change the world," or "What's the use!" These statements indicate a group drowning in their own hopelessness. Their repeated failures only re-enforced their hopelessness, even though their hopelessness often leads to their failures, they see themselves only drowning.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Being Rich Toward God

”Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

  My wife, Karen and I went on vacation during July in Elmira, NY. Elmira is near Watkins Glen, NY where the Watkins Glen International Race Track is located. I have mentioned in prior posts I am a fan of NASCAR. Karen has been to the track many years ago, since she grew up in this area of New York. I have never been to the track and I wanted to visit and wondered if a visitor could actually get to see the track.

Start/Finish Line - Watkins Glen International looking toward turn one

The start/finish line at Watkins Glen International.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  I discovered you can visit one section of the track and watch cars practice on the track most days for free. Watkins Glen is a road course track 3.4 miles long. I also discovered I did not have to settle for just watching other cars, but I could have the opportunity to drive three laps around the track myself (though not free). After the second lap you get to stop and take photos at the start/finish line. (photo included)

  I decided I could not pass up this chance. After I had finished driving my three laps around the track, Karen mentioned that doing this was probably on my bucket list. I am not sure I really have a bucket list, yes, there are a few things I hope I might do someday, but if they don't happen I won't be disappointed. As I thought about it, it occurred to me most bucket lists contain earthly items, but how about heavenly items.

  Some people do in fact develop their own bucket lists, those things they want to do before they kick the bucket. They believe they need to achieve everything on their list in order to feel fulfilled in life. Fact is we probably will “kick the bucket” before we complete the list, depending upon what we have on our list.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How Much Land Does A Man Need?

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)
Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, "How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?" He replied, "Just a little bit more."
   My morning message on August 4 uses the scripture from the Gospel of Luke from Chapter 12 verses 13-21. Jesus tells the parable about the man who builds larger barns to hold the abundance from his harvest, so he can "Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (v. 19) But God says to him “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus tells this parable, when a man asks Jesus to settle a dispute with his brother over an inheritance, but Jesus does not want to get into a family squabble. Jesus refocuses the man's concerns about how he views his life.

Jesus was concerned with the larger implications our preoccupation with the things of this world. Jesus wants us to understand that the sum total of a person’s life is more than their financial portfolio, but our wealth toward our relationship with God.

Leo Tolstoy wrote a story called, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his situation and he wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.

Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared.

He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide.

In the end, Tolstoy suggests, all a man really owns is a 6 by 3 piece of earth, so we are better off putting our confidence elsewhere. Jesus, like Tolstoy, is warning us that we had better not put our trust in the promise of materialism; if we do we will be sadly disappointed.

Jesus doesn’t say that it’s wrong to have wealth to plan for our financial future. He doesn’t say that you can’t be his disciple and be financially secure. Jesus doesn’t propose a target income that is acceptable and then beyond that we’re in trouble. Jesus is teaching us by saying, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus wants us to stay alert that our obsession with wealth can lead us down a road which can separate us from our relationship from God and from our ability to truly experience the wonder and abundance of God's creation. In the end, we can't take it with us and we only need a 6 by 3 foot piece of the earth.
The Romans had a proverb: "Money is like sea water; the more you drink, the thirstier you become."