Prayer: Living in God’s Presence

Several months ago I discovered Apple Music. It is a service you can purchase through Apple that allows you, (or up to six people if you get the family plan), to access all of Apple’s music via your iPhone or computer. My phone connects via Bluetooth to my car so as I drive from place to place I press the home button and say, “play….” whatever song, artist, style of music I want to hear and a couple seconds later I’m listening to whatever song, artist, or style of music my little heart desires! It’s great and it has rarely let me down. It pretty much always finds what I’m looking for. I got to thinking the other day about my instant access to the world of music, and it dawned on me that sometimes that’s kind of our approach to prayer.

We press the prayer button as it were, speak into the air and wait for the answer to arrive. Now I know that’s simplistic, and most of us have a better theology of prayer than this, but at its basic core I think sometimes this is the essence of how we view the interaction when we pray. Having said that let me go further to admit to you that I have never been a very good prayer. I know I have been a pastor for 37 years and a Christian for longer than that. But the fact remains I am in the primary school of prayer. I read authors sometimes who describe a prayer life that is deep and rich and I know that I have not progressed to near that place. And while I know that everyone is different and there is no right way to pray and that personality and temperament all come into what works best for each of us, still, I know that I am in the primary…. no, the kindergarten of prayer. Too often my prayer life does not take me much further than the Apple Music style I mentioned above.

If I move beyond a recitation of my needs and desires, the “next song” I would like God to play in my life, and instead simply rest in God’s presence, I sometimes catch a glimpse of what could be. The world is so full of noise and distractions, I need so much to find ways to genuinely connect with the One who is The Divine. To take the time to engage with all my being the God who loves me and all of creation with a passion that is beyond description. I long to touch the hem of God’s garment and bask in the peace that goes beyond understanding.

Prayer for me these days is not so much about getting stuff from God, having God play my song, as it is simply living (as imperfectly as I do) in God’s presence on a regular basis. It is drinking deeply from the well of love, wisdom, and grace that God’s presence offers. It is inviting God to guide and lead all and to open my eyes to see as God sees. That’s what prayer is for me…..

But like I said, I’m only in prayer’s Pre-School! I have a long way to go.

Peace,
Bill

Lent is a time for sorting

I have been cleaning out files on my computer.  It is amazing to me how fast files and folders — designed to make life more efficient — can become unruly!  I’m certain I had a plan when I set up a given file structure.  I had a purpose and an understanding of how that structure would work and benefit me moving forward.  But somewhere along the line I forgot what I had done, and I started a new folder with a different file system in another place that made sense in that moment!  Consequently, as I’m working my way through the cleanup process this morning, I’m discovering that there are four locations of folders that should be in one place, and sometimes multiple copies of the files in each of those areas!

I think I’m getting a handle on it and I’ll probably have a much cleaner structure soon ─ at least for a while!

As I’m doing this work, I’m also thinking about the worship service tonight that begins the season of Lent.  Through the years I have engaged a number of different practices during the Lenten season.  Sometime I have removed things from my life to allow a deeper focus on God.  Other times I’ve added things with the goal of enabling a richer connection during these weeks.  Lent is a time for sorting. It is a time for evaluating where we are, and what in our lives has gotten perhaps a bit unruly and needs cleaning up.  It may be that as we take stock, we will discover that we need to become more involved.  Maybe we will find that our level of commitment to our faith and path of discipleship needs to be enhanced by activity.  Maybe we’ll discover that our life is filled with too many activities, even at church, and what we need to do is create some space for God to speak.

Whatever it is that you sense God calling you to this Lenten season, I pray that you will choose to follow and discover the richness and renewal God longs to give.  May God bless all of us as we give ourselves to this year’s Lenten journey.

Peace,
Bill

I Believe in Miracles

I gave up about four minutes into the third quarter.  Why not?  The Patriots were down by 25 points and no team, in the fifty-one-year history of the Super Bowl, had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit.  In my mind it was over and I didn’t care to watch my team go down to their inevitable defeat over the next hour and a half.

So, I went upstairs and settled into the show my wife was watching in our bedroom.  Thankfully, I turned on my laptop after about hour later. Because when I did I discovered that while I had given up, the Patriots hadn’t!  There were two minutes left in the game, the Patriots had the ball and they were just 8 points down.  I rushed downstairs to turn the game back on!  And I watched as Brady led them down the field, and after a pass interference penalty took the ball to the one yard line.  White scored on the next play with fifty some seconds to go.  But they needed a two point conversion to tie.  No problem, with three receivers lined up to the right Brady threw back to the left and Danny Amendola caught the ball and broke the plane of the goal line for the tie.  After winning the coin toss for the overtime period the Patriots, once again methodically went down the field and won the game on another two-yard run from White.  It was far and away the greatest comeback win in football history and it won’t be topped soon if ever … and I almost missed it!

There are probably a hundred, maybe a thousand applications to what I just shared with you.  There are stories of congregations that were down to seven people in worship that came back and became thriving centers of ministry again because of a decision that was made, or a leader who had new vision.  There are stories of people with significant illness where all seemed lost, and then inexplicably a new treatment is introduced ─ as a last-ditch effort ─ prayer is offered and the illness responds to treatment and health is restored.  There are stories of individuals whose lives are a mess.  They have burned every bridge and their families are well beyond tough love efforts to help them.  And one day they show up at the door cleaned up and whole.  There are a hundred exceptions to the regular story and this Sunday’s game brings us to the remembrance again that just because it has never happened doesn’t mean it can’t.

The caution of course is that most of the time it doesn’t.  A miracle is a miracle because it is not the norm.  So most of the time when teams are down by 25 points in the big game they lose…usually by 35!  Most of the time when churches have dropped down to an unsustainable place in worship attendance, they close.  Most of the time when the doctor tells us we have a terminal illness, we die.  And my faith is such that it does not insist on God performing miracles in order to be God.  I am so grateful for the ways that God works in the midst of the normal course of events unfolding.  I am so grateful that God is a God who leads us through the trials, the deaths, the losses with grace and love, and the ability to move through the most painful experiences of life not so much around them.  I believe in miracles, I have seen miracles, but I don’t require God to act in miraculous ways for me to be a person of faith.  My faith is in the presence of God and the grace of God, the incarnation of God into every circumstance, AND in resurrection, the reality of God’s love that wins no matter what!

I’m glad I didn’t miss the end of the game Sunday.  I’m happy I got to see that amazing comeback and win for my team.  I celebrate those extraordinary moments in life when miracles occur, but more than that, more than any of that, I am so thankful that God is consistently love and forever grace in every moment and experience of life.

Peace,
Bill

Trusting in God’s Goodness at 4:00 A. M.

I wake up almost every morning between 4:00 and 4:30. I wish I could say I did that with purpose.  I wish I could say I did this to exercise or to spend specific hours for various devotional practices.  But, that’s not the case.  I usually wake up with my mind racing.  I wake up with my mind running from one place to another.  And while on some mornings productive things do occur during that process, too often, if I’m honest, I spin my wheels.  It’s not that I don’t pray when I wake up with my work before me, I do.  The problem is, I believe I’m awake because I am not trusting as I need to.  What I mean by that is, I believe if I were trusting God as I ought to, I would sleep beyond 4:00am!  Instead many a morning as I glance over at the red glow telling me I’m awake early again, I chastise myself for my lack of faith.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this place, and if so, just ignore my post this week!  But my guess is, I’m not.  My guess is, too many of us ─ as clergy and as laity alike ─ have points in our life when we wake up early in the morning with concerns running through our minds.  And we struggle with letting go and trusting that God knows our needs, is concerned about our needs and will lead us forward through our needs, all the way to the end.

Pray for me and I will pray for you that together we might grow in our trust, that we might rest, let me say that again…that we might rest in the Lord and trust in God’s goodness.

I’m not suggesting that there are not many important things which ought to draw our attention.  I’m not suggesting that we ought to take lightly the responsibilities and struggles of our lives, and the lives of those around us.  I am suggesting that God has promised to guide us and be with us in the midst of whatever important stuff is happening in our lives.  In stressful times, it’s far too easy to forget that God is with us and to trust in that goodness.  I know it far too well…at 4:00 in the morning.

Peace,
Bill

Finding God’s Blessings in Life’s Good Times and Bad

I was thinking about blessings today.  I was thinking about it in terms of the weather.  For while it’s been grey and somewhat dreary this January, every day that I don’t have to drive on snow I count as a gift this time of year, and I celebrate it as one more day closer to summer!

Now I don’t know what blessings you might be experiencing these days.  I don’t know where the places are in your life where you are finding joy and hope and new life, but I hope those things are present for you.

And as I was reflecting again today on the many gifts present in my life, I was also recalling how sometimes I have heard folks approach gifts and blessings with some level of hesitation.  Instead of giving thanks and enjoying the positive elements of life and receiving them as a gift, there is this apprehension that, as some put it, “they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  There is this understanding that if things in our lives get going too well, “look out,” there’s trouble around the corner!

I’m not suggesting that life doesn’t have its troubles of course it does.  There are tragic things that come into our lives, there are heartbreaks and griefs that are real and cause us significant pain at times.  But friends there is something wrong with a theology that expects trouble whenever things are going well.  There is something wrong with a theology that struggles to receive and bask in blessing because of the dread of what bad thing is coming down the pike.  There is something wrong with a theology that lives in fear.

Again, I am not suggesting that life is a bed of roses, that there won’t be days when we have to drive in the snow, but for goodness sake, God is good!  God’s blessings are new every morning and even when those troubling days arrive, the blessing of God’s presence is always there.  So, give thanks this week with joy, with celebration, with an overflowing heart for all that God has done and is doing, and don’t fear what’s behind the next door.

Peace,
Bill

Thanksgiving Blessings

I remember as a teenager listening to Arlo Guthrie talking about the comparisons we make with others when we are feeling bad.  For instance, when we say to someone who is having a bad day or a difficult time, “Well, don’t feel so bad, at least you aren’t like so and so who….(you pick the appropriate difficult circumstance).”  While I’m not suggesting this is a very helpful way to comfort a person feeling low.  Arlo took the concept a little further.  He wondered aloud, “But what about the last guy?  Nobody’s got it worse than that guy.  Nobody in the whole world.”  It was kind of a provocative thought for me to take in, (especially at 16!).  Who has it the worst?  Who is the last guy, the last person?

Well at 60, I still don’t know if I could identify Arlo’s “last person.”  I’m not sure who that person might be today.  But the sad reality is that there is no shortage of candidates.  There are millions of children who are hungry, there are millions affected by deadly diseases, and even more tragic, millions more affected by diseases that are treatable, but who find themselves in places or situations where the medicines to help them are simply not available. There are homeless, lonely people all around us.  There are lots of “last” people in need.

At our house this week we with gather with 20 or so family members from a variety of places in the world, to celebrate Thanksgiving.  A wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We will feast and laugh and have, what I trust will be, a rich time together.  And again, that’s a good thing!  Jesus feasted and celebrated at times, and it is my sincere hope that you will have some opportunity to be together with some special people in your life, sharing some level of feast and thanks giving for the gifts and the blessings of your life.

But as we give thanks, may we do so remembering the needs around us. May we do so with an eye towards those who find themselves, for a variety of reasons, and from a variety of perspectives, in that category of “lasts.”  May we take the opportunity in the days ahead, to find ways, as individuals, as congregations, as people who follow Jesus, to make a difference in the lives of the folks in need around us.  May we choose to engage the needs of those in all our spheres of influence with practical resources and with the love of Jesus Christ.  May we do it all so that our giving thanks tomorrow will not simply be an exercise in celebrating our blessings, but rather a fresh reminder that we are always blessed so that we might be a blessing to others.

Thanksgiving blessings to you all,
Bill

Being Still in a Revved Up World

My father was not gifted in working with tools so I did not develop skills many boys, and I would hope girls, are taught when it comes to using drills and other power tools or the basics on how to build things. I have learned a little bit from others through the years, and I can do some basic tasks to care for my home. But, I do minimal building, as I am not gifted in any way in this area.

About ten years ago I bought a chain saw to use on our property up north.  I don’t like my chainsaw.  It scares me to use it.  But I have learned how to use it safely, and this past summer I spent some significant time thinning out small trees on our land.  While it is not my favorite thing to do, it was good to get the work done and the chainsaw makes it light work.

I had an issue with the chainsaw as I worked with it.  The idle was quite high.  Now, as I stated before, I don’t have a clue about how to fix things like this.  So every time I finished cutting and pulled back the bar that stopped the chain, the engine would rev up significantly.  The sound was very unpleasant both to me and, I suspect, my neighbors.  But I couldn’t do anything about it.  So every time I stopped sawing, the engine would just climb in pitch and roar.

I thought about my saw this week as I watched the news and followed the growing pitch of the revved up rhetoric from the campaign trail.  I thought about it as I fielded phone calls and emails related to the church, both local and global, questioning where we are going and the struggles of these days.

And as the sound grows in its intensity, I find that if I’m not careful, my “engine” begins to rev up too!  If I’m not careful my insides and sometimes my outsides begin to stir too.  Maybe the same thing happens to you?  Maybe, like me, you find it hard to slow that response down.  Maybe you, like me, find yourself acting and reacting in ways that surprise you, not knowing how to stop it.

What I am trying to do, some days more successfully than others, is to pay attention to what’s happening in my soul.  I’m trying to pay attention when I feel that revving up beginning to occur in me.  And when it does, I’m trying to turn to prayer.  I’m trying to invite God’s Spirit to lead me toward God’s peace, to help me to breathe, and to quote that beautiful Biblical word, “Be still and know that God is God.”

I don’t know where your “rev” level is these days.  But if it is slipping into that high rpm level, let me invite you to join me in seeking to remember that God is still God, and God offers us a Peace that passes understanding, that goes beyond circumstance.  I invite you ─ as you begin to hear that high pitched whine start to spin in you ─ to pause, take a breath, and lean into God, where there is rest and peace beyond measure.

Peace,
Bill

Listening to One Another and to the Spirit of God Among Us!

Some have already left for early meetings.  Others are leaving soon from places around the world.  All are headed to Portland where next week, the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church begins.  Delegates from 130 Annual Conferences from all parts of the globe will gather at this quadrennial meeting of our Church.  While many points of view on a variety of theological, ethical, political, and social issues are shared from our pulpits and our official and unofficial agencies on any given week, it is the General Conference and the General Conference alone that can speak for The United Methodist Church as a whole.

The ten day gathering in Portland will be filled with wonderful creative worship led by choirs, bands and preachers from many countries.  There will be reports shared that will offer opportunity for celebration as well as reflection on where we need to grow and change.  There will be mission opportunities and ministry information galore.  And of course there will be the challenge that exists everywhere in United Methodism to focus on that which divides us or that which unites us.

I recall hearing recently a presidential candidate expressing the belief that while they and their opponent were both battling for their party’s nomination and were very willing to point out what they saw as flaws in one another, the things that held them together were much stronger than the things that pulled them apart.  When I heard that I thought about our Church. I thought about how easy it is to focus on a few things that divide us rather than the many that draw us together.  Now that is not at all to say that the things that divide us are not important, they are.  But I believe deeply (you know that because this is not the first time I’ve written about this here in this forum), that one of the greatest gifts the UMC could give to our culture here in the United States is an image for how you find a way to love one another and live together when you disagree on significant issues.  If there is anything we need in our polarized culture today it is this ability.  So we must continue to speak to one another and share our various perspectives.  More than that, we must continue to listen to one another and even more listen to the Spirit of God moving among us.

I don’t know what will happen in Portland this year.  I don’t know what we will decide about any number of issues.  And I am both excited about the possibilities and aware that regardless of what happens, some will come away unhappy.  So I’m praying for the delegates.  I’m praying for our Bishops.  I’m praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them and upon our Church.  And I am trusting that regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen, what new legislation or program or initiative is passed or not, that in the wonderful and amazing grace of God we will find our way forward into the rich mission set before us.

Thanks be to God!

Peace,
Bill