Jesus Texting

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For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it. –Job 33:14

Luv4all:  Hey!

You:  Hey!  What’s up Jesus?

Luv4all:  Happy Birthday!

You:  Hehe, not my bday, dude!

Luv4all:  Yes it is.  I would know. 😉

You:  My birthday isn’t for 5 months.  You feeling okay?

Luv4all:  It’s all good.  You don’t get it.

You:  Get what?

Luv4all:  My present.  I send you one every day.

You:  Okay… what?

Luv4all: Life!  You get Life from me everyday.  So everyday is your birthday.

You:  Oh…like REbirth.  I get you.

Luv4all:  No.  Rebirth is important.  You get that too.  But every day is a NEW BIRTH.  A new chance.  A new opportunity.  A new lease on Life.

You: This is deep, JC.

Luv4all:  I KNOW it’s deep.  Remember this: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind”?  I want you to embrace my light, like it’s the candle on your birthday cake, every single day.

You: How come I’m just hearing about this?

Luv4all: *groans* I tried scripture–you’re too busy.  I tried talking to you in your prayers–you have trouble listening.  I tried speaking through other people–you always have somewhere else to be.

You:  Sorry.

Luv4all:  It’s alright.  I’m just pointing out that the only way you seem to be able to communicate these days is through texting.  Not exactly the easiest mode for transmitting Grace and Truth, you feeling me?

You:  I feel you.  Sorry.

Luv4all:  Don’t hassle it.  Short and sweet is better than nothing.

You:  So, it’s my birthday.  New Life.

Luv4all:  That’s right.  Celebrate by living the freedom that comes with it.

You:  Okay.  I will.

Luv4all:  Okay.  Gotta go.  Thumbs getting tired.

You:  LOL.  Thanks, Jesus.

Luv4all:  No prob.  But remember, a little prayer never hurt anyone.  And my data plan?

It’s unlimited.

 

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Reclaiming “Thoughts and Prayers”

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  –James 2:14

In the last week, I’ve read several comments, cartoons, and editorials that were, in effect, bashing the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I understand why.  Some people carelessly throw that phrase around during a tragedy.  The words seem empty, not followed up with action.

And there’s so much going on that demands action.   The need to stand up for justice, or donate to a relief effort, or write your congressperson is very real.  If we don’t do any of these kinds of things, the possibility of positive change becomes less likely.

I get it.  I see that urgent need as well.  But please, stop treating the notion of “Thoughts and Prayers” as if the words were pointless.  In the rush to condemn human apathy or criticize lip-service, a vital activity at the heart of Christianity is getting caught in the crossfire.

Thinking is NOT doing nothing.  In fact, we could all stand to do it a little more.  Critical thinking in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  People are scared, numb, in survival mode.  Rash actions and words are not the answer.  God gave us minds, and wants us to use them.  When faced with a crisis, there are few things that can be more important than taking a deep breath, examining the situation, and sorting out our thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, Praying is definitely NOT inaction. Prayer sets the foundation that makes sure future actions align with the Kingdom of God.  Prayer focusses one’s own spiritual energy, and joins with others pursuing common goals.  Prayer conveys our great needs to God, and invites us to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer opens us up to receive the improbable or seemingly impossible.

When a person of faith says, “My Thoughts and Prayers are with you”, it is not an empty phrase or a polite brush off.  It is a statement of alignment, with God and with neighbor.  It is a promise of attention and focus.  It is the promise of divine action, channeled in part through the believer.

Or at least, it can be.  Truly, that phrase has been dumbed-down and co-opted, but that’s not the way it is supposed to be used.  Rather than letting sacred activity be mislabeled as inactivity, let us put this false dichotomy to rest.

The work of the Christian in the world has internal and external components.  Thoughts and Prayers not without Action.  Faith not without Works.  All these words are to be taken with utmost seriousness.  Reverence, even.

Those are my Thoughts and Prayers.

Can I get an Amen?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Moses and Errin’

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Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  –Exodus 4:10

When I’m trying to quiet down a group at church, I know exactly what to say:

“Would anybody like to close us with a prayer?”

–Instant Silence–

That scenario plays out time and again, in my current church and every other church I’ve ever served.  It doesn’t really stress me out too much. Many folks don’t feel comfortable sharing their faith out loud, in prayer or testimony. I’m used to it.

I will step in and do my priestly duty, offering up a prayer to close out a meeting, but I wonder:  Who’s fault is it that Christians today struggle so much with this?

Maybe it’s God’s fault.

Remember the call of Moses?  When Moses claims he’s “slow of speech and tongue”,  God lets him off the hook, and allows Aaron to do the public speaking instead.

By this time, I think Moses had just worn God down with all his “No’s” for why he was the wrong man for the job.  God even offered to train Moses in how to share his faith publically, but Moses was resistant.  So God relented.

It probably wasn’t what God intended, but generation after generation has been using this same “slow of speech and tongue” excuse to avoid communicating in faith and prayer. If Moses didn’t have to speak up, then neither should we, right?

Hmm.  That’s our mistake.  That’s less like Moses, and more like Errin’.  Maybe it’s our fault for taking the easy way out.  Or the church’s for seeing this as “the pastor’s job”.

The truth is, many folks really do want to share their faith — it’s just a matter of know-how, comfort, and practice.  Of making it a priority.

This Fall, I’m launching Faithsharing 101 classes at my church.  In 4 short weeks the goal is to help people feel more comfortable praying out loud, articulating why they’re a Christian, and even sharing some about their faith story with others.  This is not a class in evangelism or door-to-door witnessing.  It’s a class in finding the right words, and feeling good about sharing them.

Can this be done in 4 weeks?  I don’t know.  Maybe God was short on time with Moses and didn’t have a month to set him on the right path.  It will at least be a good start.

I think God wants all believers to be able to express themselves.  To offer a prayer in the midst of those who are gathered.  To spread Good News through words and stories.

It took some time, but God helped Moses eventually find his voice.  And Aaron found his role in this new community of Hebrews, too.  God assures us that there’s a place for all of us, and sends the Spirit to help us find our voices.

We just have to practice saying ‘Yes” when God calls us.

Now…

Would anybody be willing to close us in prayer?

Have a great week,

Mitch

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The Walgreens Prayer

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I pray a lot.

That is not a statement about my personal piety, but more about my function as a pastor.

It seems that I will be tasked with opening a meeting with prayer, or closing it.

Or both.

Some days I’ll pray 9 or 10 times for this gathering or that event.

And I don’t mind.  I kind of like it, actually.

Usually I’ll thank God for gathering us and being with us.  I’ll pray for our community.  I’ll ask God to guide us as we move from here.

That kind of stuff.

Recently, a certain phrase began creeping up in my prayers.  “May we be happy and healthy…”

“Keep us all in your Good Graces Lord, and may we be happy and healthy until we gather together again.”

That kind of thing.

That’s a nice sentiment, right?  One day I just started using it, wondering how those particular words had come to me.

Last week, I found out.

There it was, staring up at me from the prescription bag I held in my hands:

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Good Lord.

Had I been praying the slogan of a pharmacy???

Was that even legal?

I’m convinced that the Walgreen’s slogan had seeped into my subconscious and made its way into my prayers.

My main questions was this:  Does Walgreens have a corner ON Happy & Healthy?

I mean, isn’t that what the church is offering, too?  We want people to be happy, to find joy in their lives, to know Christ in a life-changing way.  And we want people to be healthy, too.  To care for their bodies, minds, and spirits.

I guess it just surprised me that a pharmacy’s mission was so similar to our church’s.  But I soon realized that while Walgreens offers a certain level of happiness and health, it is the church that helps people dig deeper, developing their faith, discovering Christ, leading New Lives.

So, I’ve decided to allow myself to use that phrase whenever it pops into a prayer.  I’m not breaking a trademark (am I?) and I’m speaking to something real and deep in our Christian experience.

And if the store gets a little more business, well good on them.

We’re not in competition with Walgreens.

We just happen to be set up…

on the same corner.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Bump, Set, Spike, Embrace

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I’ve been really enjoying the Olympics.

There’s something truly gratifying about watching people excel at what they do.

Even sports that seem weird to me, like 2-person kayaking or Rugby 7 are fascinating to watch.  I didn’t know either sport existed!

I’ve watched a couple matches with the USA women’s indoor volleyball team now, and I think they have impressed me the most.

Each point contains so much activity I actually had to look up and confirm that it’s just 6 people on a side at any one time.  It seems like more!

Someone’s serving.  Someone’s digging the ball right before it hits the ground.  People are bumping, setting, spiking, faking, blocking.  All the while they’re calling out to each other, coordinating their efforts.

Here’s what I noticed, though.  After each point, win or lose, the women come to the center of their side of the court, throw their arms around each other, and say encouraging words.

It’s just part of the rhythm of the game, and it isn’t only the US team that does this.

Bump, Set, Spike, Embrace.  Bump, Set, Spike, Embrace.

During the point, everybody has their own job to do, working in tandem, coordinated towards a common purpose.

And in between each point they take a moment to come together, express their unity, and share mutual encouragement.

This is a great model for the church!

A group of disciples come together for a common purpose, but dozens of different tasks.

Everybody does their part.  Sometimes there are successes, sometimes there are failures.

But always, and regardless, the church comes together in regular intervals to embrace one another, to pray, to praise, and to encourage.

It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of discipline, and a lot of faith to be a church like that.

But let me tell ya, what we’re in it for…

is worth more than all the gold in the world.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Thees and Thous

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As pastors go, I’m a fairly casual guy.

I hardly ever robe.  I’ll wear a jacket but seldom a tie.

I’ve been known to read the scripture straight off of my iPhone in worship.

Heck, I even play the drums in our praise band.

So it might surprise you to know where I go when I’m looking for devotional material.

Time and time again I turn to a book, written in 1936, by a Professor of Theology at the University of Edinburgh.

His name is John Baillie, and the book is “A Diary of Private Prayer”.

It’s organized into prayers for morning and evening of each day of the month.  Let me give you a short sample from this morning’s prayer:

O God my Creator and Redeemer, I may not go forth to-day except Thou dost accompany me with Thy blessing.  Let not the vigour and freshness of the morning, or the glow of good health, or the present prosperity of my own undertakings, deceive me into a false reliance upon my own strength.  All these good gifts have come to me from Thee.  They were Thine to give and they are Thine also to curtail.  They are not mine to keep; I do but hold them in trust; and only in continued dependence upon Thee, the Giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.

I’m not the only one who seeks out this book filled with thees and thous.  It’s been reprinted many times — I actually have three copies of it.

So what is it about this 80 year book, written in antiquated English, that stirs my soul?

The more formal language is beautiful, written at a time when a single sentence could be a work of art.  It sounds like how I sometimes wish my plain prayers could sound, if only I could muster the words.

And the prayers that Baillie wrote seem to capture deep thoughts and simple ideas in a way that conveys the stirrings of my soul.

Here’s the Amazon link if you’d like to explore this book: https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Private-Prayer-John-Baillie/dp/0684824981

More importantly, I wonder if you have a special book you turn to in your spiritual reading, time and again?

It may be relatively new, like “Jesus Calling” or by an ancient writer like St. Augustine.

I encourage Thee to share in the comments!

Happy reading and have a good week,

Mitch

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12:12 training

 

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Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 12:12

I believe I have failed this verse completely.

First word:  Be.

Yep, I’ve blown that before.  Now, ask me to “do” and maybe I can help you out.  Or to ruminate, or worry, yes I’m your man.

But to “Be” anything is a challenge.  Let alone what I’m suppose to be:

Be Joyful.  Be Patient.  Be Faithful.   Gulp!

These are not simple things to ask for!  To be joyful — well, I’ve managed that from from time to time, but certainly not on command.

To be patient? This is maybe the hardest request out of the whole verse.  It’s just not something I’m any good at.  Not for more than maybe 5 minutes at a time.

Then, to be faithful.  Oh Lord, I wish I were.  I work on this one, I really do, but it’s a challenge for me.

Be joyful, patient, and faithful.

Already it seems impossible, but then add in the conditions, and I’m positively sunk.

Be joyful IN HOPE.  So as I try to muster up a little hope for my life, I need to do that joyfully.  Yikes.

Be patient IN AFFLICTION.  I have trouble being patient at the drive through lane, and you want be to be patient in affliction?

And finally, be faithful IN PRAYER.  You want me to be consistent in my prayer life, reaching out to God as much as I possibly can?

Hmm.

Ok, maybe I can be faithul in prayer.

Which maybe means maybe I can try

to be the rest.

After all, I might not be Romans 12:12 perfect,

but I can be in 12:12 training.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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