Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Prayers for Such a Time as This

Perhaps if you live half-way around the world from central Oklahoma, or maybe on the moon, you haven't heard that an EF5 tornado left a gash at some points 2.5 miles wide through Moore, Oklahoma.  Well, it has.  I was in Midwest City, Oklahoma on May 3, 1999 when another EF5 went through Bridgecreek, Moore, Del City, Midwest City, and Choctaw.  It was devastating.  It was traumatizing.  It was something that we learned how to respond to natural disasters on such a grand scale and then went on to take what we learned to other areas and share with them our discoveries.  We did that because that's just how we roll here in Oklahoma. 

I know everyone handles things differently-- the stress, the trauma, the sorrow--but I just don't understand how things become so argumentative during these times.  That is probably because when devastating things like EF5 tornadoes occur, it strikes me as the time to put away ideology, the need to one up or even 'be right,' and just listen, weep, and pray.  Now too, more than ever, prayer is coming under the gun.

There have always been people who simply do not understand why others have faith.  There always will be.  But, and maybe I am wrong about this, it just seems that there was a 'be and let be' attitude in the past.  Maybe I just didn't see it.

There was an article on on Who Hears #PrayersForOklahoma.  It was noted that many people post on twitter and other social media sites using the hash tag #PrayersForOklahoma as if it is somehow a magical incantation that takes care of everything, particularly responsibility.  One British comedian even responded to other celebrities "sending prayers" with the snarky comment "I only sent money."  But the article wasn't all snark, and I appreciate that snark didn't seem to win out.  (By the way, Mr. Gervais, thank you for your contribution to relief efforts.  Thanks to Rhianna, Beyonce and Katy for the prayers.)

It seems that those who are lashing out against the "in lip service only" people of faith, are just as bad themselves.  I too hate when the tenets and rituals of my faith are tossed around lightly by those who do not take seriously what it means to pray--which I would say means that we place ourselves in the position to respond, to be changed ourselves, to care.  To my thinking, if I am praying that people are helped, loved, protected, then I might hear "well, what are you going to do about it." 

But here is the thing, there are people whose faith is deeply rooted in connecting in communion with the divine.  There are those who have little to no faith, but in times of devastation realize that there is something bigger than us, and seeking that which is greater is important, even if they don't get it.  People need to pray.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, but I suppose even that is changing.  But if you aren't hip deep in muck and mire, in debris and shattered and splintered wood and lives, don't condemn anyone else who is who seeks to cry out to a higher power.  It's rude.  As a clergy I have allowed people space to reject, deny, and loathe God when their lives are crumbling around them.  I figure God is big enough for that, and God will show them, perhaps through me, absolute and unconditional love that won't let go when times are tough.

On that note...
I have a book entitled "Guerrillas of Grace:  Prayers for the Battle" by Ted Loder who asks the question, "How shall I pray?"

How shall I pray?
   Are tears prayers, Lord?
   Are screams prayers,
      or groans
          or sighs
              or curses?

Can trembling hands be lifted to you,
    or clenched fists
        or the cold sweat that trickles down my back
             or the cramps that knot my stomach?

Will you accept my prayers Lord,
     my real prayers,
          rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life,
     and not just pretty, cut-flower, gracefully arranged
          bouquet of words?

Will you accept me Lord,
      as I really am,
          messed up mixture of glory and grime?

Lord, help me!
Help me to trust that you do accept me as I am,
that I may be done with self-condemnation
     and self-pity,
          and accept myself.

Help me to accept you as you are, Lord:
and yet to trust
   that your madness is wiser
          than my timid, self-seeking sanities,
and that nothing you've ever done
    has really been possible,
so I may dare to be a little mad too.

Lord, hear our prayers for such a time as these.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Be glad with me!

This will allow me to say on the day of Christ that I haven’t run for nothing or worked for nothing. But even if I am poured out like a drink offering upon the altar of service for your faith, I am glad. I’m glad with all of you. You should be glad about this in the same way. Be glad with me!  Philippians 2:16b-18

Here Paul is saying that even if he were used up for the benefit of someone else's faith, then it is not for nothing. The sacrifices we make for the good of Christ and God's kingdom mean so much more than anything we can work for on earth.

He tells them to be glad! Be glad with me! As we ended last week with a prayer for a new heart, so we end this week looking at our hearts. That's where it all starts. We must agree willingly to surrender to God; anything else is false. We must be glad in our faith. This is not happy, happy, joy, joy, all the time, but a deep-found contentment with your relationship with God and with your life.

It all starts with your heart. Are you harboring resentment of others because of wrongs, real and perceived, that you hang on to for fear of letting go? If so, this harbored resentment or unrest will interfere with your ability to be glad in God. Are you freeing your heart to live gladly in the joy of the Lord? That takes daily intentionality and continually reaffirming that choice. Let us reaffirm our choice to turn our hearts to God today.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Stars in the World

Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world.  Philippians 2:14-15

The temptation is that when we get around others we act as they do. Rather than being a good influence, we often enable bad behaviors. Often we even use others bad behavior to justify our own. We are as bad as those other people after all.

But this is not the way God wants us to live. We are to shine! We are to live as the example of faith in a faithless world. We are to live as the example of light in the darkness.

This is no easy task, but with God all things are possible. We must agree to surrender our desires to God's desires and our lives to the life God has for us. Even in tough times, it is easier to be where God wants us to be, than anywhere of our own devising.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Example of Obedience
Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.  Philippians 2:12-13

Obedience is something we have had a problem with since we were children. We couldn't wait until we were 'grown-ups' so we could be our own boss! I don't know how many conversations I have had with those who are 16-25 who want to take back those sentiments. The grown-up world really isn't one of freedom, but one of demands, obligations, responsibilities.

Obedience to God takes some of the pressure off. We still have demands, obligations and responsibilities, but if we go about our lives as God would wish, then we can trust that we are where God desires us to be. Carrying out, or working out, our salvation with fear and trembling means that we do not take our salvation for granted. That we continually work with God to grow in the faith through God's grace. In this way, we can be about God's work, and God's purpose.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

To the Glory of God
 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
Philippians 2:9-11

Confessing Christ as Lord means willingly subjecting yourself to his will. Confessing Christ as Lord means willingly giving up your free will for God's will.

Doing something willingly, even joyfully, means that it isn't a chore or a burden, but a blessing and an opportunity to praise God.

How can you affirm or reaffirm your affirmation of Christ as Lord today?