Thursday, September 26, 2013

Prayer of Confession from Sept. 15, 2013

Merciful Savior,
Forgive us as we confess…
We have been ungrateful recipients of the vast treasure
              that is Your Holy Scripture.
We have heard Your Word
              but not obeyed it,
Believed the right things
              but not lived them,
Claimed to know You
              but not followed the life You modeled,
Called to trust You,
              we have not loosened the grip of control,
Invited to abide,
              we have chased our own pursuits,
Given the Sabbath for rest,
              we have ignored it.
Lord, have mercy and forgive us.
Bring us to new life
              in and through Your Son, Our Lord and Savior.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thank You, My Faithful God

Dearest Lord,
I thought You had moved away from me.
I thought You had deserted me,
     leaving me alone to face the dark threats
              of an alien world.
I thought You were done with me,
     that You had had enough of me,
              my pride, my hardheadedness,
              my determination to be in control.
I couldn't find You in the places I looked,
     because I saw only what I wanted to see.
I did not wait and listen for Your Shepherd's voice to call me
     and lead me to You.
I didn't have enough faith in Your love.
I based Your love on my experience with fragile, human love,
              instead of remembering and trusting Jesus’ example
              of unconditional, sacrificial love, an in-spite-of love, 
              which originated with You, Creator God that You are.
But, Gracious, Heavenly Father, now I know…
You were there beside me, in front of me, behind me
     all the time I felt troubled, abandoned and lost.
I just couldn't see You because my eyes were too focused
     on solving my own problems and rescuing myself
     from uncomfortable situations with my own puny, human resources.
I couldn't see You because I was too busy just being busy,
     trying to fix those annoying, bothersome worries of doubt and despair.
Yes, I thought You were ignoring me, Lord,
     but the truth is—it was I who was ignoring You with my busyness,
              my belief and insistence on my own powers and abilities.
I couldn't see You because of my own self-importance and egoism.
Then, in my futile frustration, I panicked and lowered my defenses.
I forgot to call on You;  I left my spiritual armor in my closet.
I went out into a hostile world without the belt of truth around my waist,
     without the breastplate of righteousness across my chest,
     without the shoes from the gospel of peace I needed,
     without my shield of faith, my helmet of salvation, my sword of the Spirit.
Lord, how did I ever think I could withstand attacks from the forces of evil?
     How did I ever think I could be a worthy adversary for Satan himself?
     Without my spiritual armor, I was vulnerable and couldn't prevent
              him from feeding my insecurities, my doubts, my unbelief.
I didn't  rush to You at the first sign of weakness.
I didn't go to You in prayer; nor did I renew my spiritual resources, 
      my spiritual strength by reading and studying Your Holy Word.
I didn't go to my prayer journal to pour out my confessions to You.
But You, O Lord, You did not leave me; I know You will never leave me.
You will always love me, protect me, and lift me up when I come to You.
Still, I must remember that I freely decide whether or not I come to You.
When You made me, You gave me the awesome  gift of free choice;
You gave me the right to decide if I want to surrender my will to Yours,
     and allow You to rule my heart and my life.
Lord, when will I ever learn that I will never have inner peace
     until I let You be the Controller of my life,
      until I study and follow Your Word as my guide,
     until I let the Holy Spirit work within me,
     until I surrender all parts of my being to You?
Thank You for Your patience, Your guidance, Your love.
Teach me to be the person You created me to be;
Teach me to bring glory and honor to Your name in all I do.
I am coming to You, Lord; I am coming to You. 
I give You my life, and I will be Your child and do Your Will.
                                                                        In Christ’s name, I pray.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Forgive Our Crumbs and Hand-me-downs

Lord, do we cause so many problems in this world  
     because we have forgotten who You are?
Have we forgotten to fear Your mighty, awesome power?   
Have we forgotten to take our shoes off to show respect
     for You and the Holy ground on which we stand
     when we come into Your Presence?  
Or do we come before You begrudgingly and disrespectfully,
     with dirty hands and feet that are unfit to serve You?
Are we ceremonially unclean?
Have we forgotten to prepare our hearts to make them suitable,
     welcoming dwelling places for Your Holy Spirit?
Are we truly grateful for the cost of our eternal life
     or do we take it for granted and fail to thank You
     for caring enough to reach out to us sacrificially
     giving us the greatest love we will ever know?
Have we forgotten that the Son of Man willingly, obediently,
     died to redeem us from  the darkness of death’s eternity?
Have we forgotten that You can rock our world
     anytime You want and shake us up to get our attention?
Have we become so absorbed in our own self-importance
     that we see You as being made in our pitiful image
     instead of believing  that we are made in Your image,
     to serve You and bring glory to Your name.
Lord, have we forgotten the importance of having a humble spirit?
How dare we be so pompous and so full of ourselves
     that we would think we might usurp Your position   
     and so proud that we might think of ourselves as God! 
Lord, forgive us for not giving You the honor and respect we should.
Forgive us for putting You last when we should put You first.
Forgive us for giving You our left-overs,
     our crumbs, our hand-me-downs,
     when we should give You our first fruits,
     the first of our time, the first of our money,
     the first of our love, the first of our talents,
     the first of our attention, the first of all our resources.
Impress on us the need and the joy of giving You first place
     in our hearts and in our lives.
Lord, lead us back into fellowship with You.
Make us worthy of all that You have given us;
      let us be who and what You want us to be.
Guide and direct us to do what You want us to do.
Thank You for the blessings You continue to bestow
     upon us even when we fail to appreciate or deserve them.
Thank You for loving us in spite of ourselves.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Prayer of Confession for June 30

Searcher of hearts,
You know how often we confuse Your guidance
     with our own desires.
We prefer our own choices and avoid Your nudges
     that urge us to be more inclusive in our love and
     more generous with our time and possessions.
But it is in You, Loving Father,
     that we find our true freedom.
Forgive our shortsightedness.
Renew our spirits to unite with Your Spirit
     so we might live joyful lives.
Slow us down.
Bend us close to you
     so we may be renewed in Your love and
     recommitted to Your justice and peace.

In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Church: How is it Doing?

The mission statement, written on the front of our weekly bulletin, says that we are a church that

1. loves God, 
2. loves and serves others, and 
3. makes disciples for Christ.

Indeed this mission statement takes into consideration and includes the Great Commission and the Royal Commandment given by Jesus Himself to His followers.  Looking at what is going on in my congregation, however, I worry about how well we are doing as a   church in fulfilling the three claims we make and wonder what kind of report card grade God will give us when He Himself evaluates us.

Many of our members stubbornly insist that we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing while others challenge them by pointing out our continued small attendance for worship service and a lack of participation in our fellowship programs. We have had several members graduate to that glorious heavenly kingdom in the past four or five years, but we haven’t added any new members to replace those precious, departed saints in our pews. Many of our members complain that “we” aren’t going out beating the bushes to find new members; but, for some reason, the “we” never seems to include “them”. 

Looking at the first criteria in our mission statement: Yes, we love God, or at least most of us—or many of us---do, or at least we claim we love God; but do we love the God we make in our own image or in whose image we are made?  And if we love Him, we should want to serve Him by loving and serving others. 

Considering the second item listed: Yes, we love and serve others, but do we love and serve only those others who are friends and family and are almost the same kind of people we are, or do we love and serve all our neighbors as much as we can even if they have different life styles, are of different races, ethnicities, or even of different religions?  Are we an inclusive or an exclusive church? Do we really want to move out of our comfort zones to seek and invite those who are socially, economically, and politically different from us?  I guess what we need to ask ourselves is how much  we honestly love our neighbors---all our neighbors, which means all those in our world whose paths intersect ours. I believe we can serve without loving; but can we truly love others in Christian love without wanting to serve them?  

Like many small rural churches, my church was founded over 200 years ago by a few families, and many of their descendants are members today. It is easy for newcomers to be intimidated by the exclusive intimacy of the family groups. It is also easy for the old-timers to want our church to stay the way it has always been and to be intimidated by threats of change suggested by newcomers or “new-blood.” If each of us truly loves Jesus and wants to share the message of His love and His kingdom and the message of salvation with others, we must all sacrifice our selfish motives and ideas of what church is supposed to look like and act like.  We must, however, always keep our minds and hearts focused on glorifying God and doing all things in accordance with His will, not our personal will.

When it comes to making disciples for Christ, I think my church is very weak.  When it comes to going out and inviting people to join us for our church services, we fall short.  At the moment we don’t have much at all to offer our children and teenagers which means they are often absent from Sunday school, worship service, and we don’t have an active youth group for them to attend. How are we going to train people to be disciples for Christ, and how are we going to share our love for Christ with them if we rarely see them?  Again, I hear people giving their opinions on what “we” need to do for the youth; but I don’t see anyone coming forward with the love and vision needed to make a difference in their lives.  As one of the characters in William Faulkner’s short story “The Bear,” said, “We don’t have the dog yet,” meaning we don’t have the person, who can make a difference, coming forward and saying, “Here I am, Lord; use me Lord.”  We need people who are willing to come forward, to accept Christ’s call not only in developing youth programs, but in developing other programs in our church.

I love my church, and I pray for her.  She is the bridegroom of Christ, but she needs to be getting herself ready for His arrival. She needs to be fulfilling the calling given in the Great Commandment and in the Great Commission. She needs to show her love for God by loving and serving others and by making disciples who will go out into the world to tell others of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ which makes our restoration and salvation possible.  As John Piper says, if we do not do this, we waste our lives, and life is much too precious to waste.   

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Need to Put You First

Father, forgive me for my many transgressions,
     for being a hoarder,
     for refusing to give You the first fruits,
     for the reverence I give to worldly possessions,
     things that do not breathe or sacrifice for me,
     things that have sentimental value because
           they belonged to beloved people,
           or speak of happy times in my life.
Father, forgive me for holding onto stuff I don’t need,
     inanimate stuff, which I stubbornly worship
     with the awe and zeal I should exhibit for You alone.
Forgive me for cherishing these worldly idols,
     that speak of success and promise to provide comfort.
I do set them in special places, bring them out to show off.
Forgive me for my narrow-mindedness,
     my obsession with worldly possessions, so-called luxuries,
     that never fulfill my needs or fill me with contentment.
Give me Your peace, Your love, Your mercy, Your joy.
Forgive me when I so foolishly let my childishness rule my heart.
Give me Your strength to resist worldly temptations,
Keep my heart and mind focused on You and all that You promise me.
Accept my love for You and Your Son,
Let me rejoice in a meaningful, personal relationship with You.
Keep me close to Your heart and pinch me when I stray.
Thank You for all the blessings and patience You have shown me.
Thank You for being my “Abba” and for calling me Your beloved.
Lord, help me to put You first in my heart and in my mind.
In Christ’s name I pray.  Amen and amen!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pretty is as Pretty Does

My father’s family, my aunts, uncles and cousins, have always made me feel loved.  Many of my favorite—and not so favorite—memories were made when I was with them.  When I was in the first grade, the U.S. Air Force sent my dad to England for six months.  Because my mother, who was from England, had not learned to drive and had no family in this country, she and my dad decided it would be best for her, my younger sister, and me to stay with my paternal grandmother in North Carolina until he returned.   

My grandmother’s house was my favorite place in the entire world.  She lived in a small house which had only four rooms.  Three of the rooms served as bedroom-living room combinations, and the fourth was the kitchen. She did not have running water in her house to the day she died; and until I was a teenager, she cooked on a wood stove which meant someone had to bring in wood for it.  Hers was a happy, welcoming house though; and on weekends, there was usually a crowd of relatives visiting her.  Most of the time, it was a fun place for a child to be and for me, it was always home. 

I loved my grandmother dearly, and she taught me a lot about Jesus, about remembering and practicing the Golden Rule, and about being a good person.  I never doubted that she loved me too, and she would often take up for me when my mother was being especially strict—which was usually the case.  For example, once, when my mother was giving me a hard time about eating a second hot-dog that I had asked for but suddenly felt too full to eat, I felt my grandmother, who was sitting beside me, nudge my leg. When I looked down, I saw her hand turned up signaling for me to give her the hot-dog.  After I had quickly given it to her, she ate that hot-dog without my mother ever knowing what my grandmother had done.  That day she was not only my champion, but she was also my partner in crime!!

I adored my cousins, Pat and Evelyn, and loved to be with them too.  But a girl who lived across the road and down a piece from their house could always manage to annoy me when she came to play.  She liked to brag that she would be a movie star someday and;  maybe I was jealous, but I really didn't like her.  One sunny morning, when I was home from school, my grandmother told me to go over to this girl's house to play. I told my grandmother I didn't want to play with her.  When she asked me why, I shocked her by replying truthfully,  “She’s ugly. She’s too ugly to play with!”
Grandma didn't spank me, but she lectured me about judging others, made me sit in a chair in the yard for what seemed like half a day, and meditate on the thought: "Pretty is as Pretty does." (I still remember the purple verbena and the snapdragons planted near my chair!)  When I finally assured her that I would never, ever, say someone was ugly again, she let me go to play.  

In truth,  knowing I had disappointed my grandmother by showing her I wasn't the girl she expected me to be was worse than having to sit in that chair while the other children were playing.  Sixty two years later I still remember the lesson I learned that day,and I easily recognize those girls who are my grandmother’s kind of girls---the ones who are “pretty is as pretty does.”

1 Samuel 16:8  “Truly, God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart."

Make Me Yours, Lord

Most Holy and Gracious, Lord,                   
Almighty, Omnipotent God,
Touch my heart with Your loving Spirit
And fill me with Your joy, Your powerful goodness.
Fill me with Your love for Your creation
     and with hope for the future.
Remind me that You will always be with me wherever I go,
     into safe, comfortable places with friends and family
     or into dangerous, unfamiliar territory

     full of people and things that would harm me.
Forgive me when I am pompously self-sufficient,
     when I rush forward foolishly,
     become too confidant in my own abilities,
     think I can do all things by myself,
     forgetting who I am and Who You are.
Let me remember to hide in You and to let You lead. 
Lord, I do love You and thank You
     for all the treasures in my life. 
I ask You to use me to minister to others in Your name. 
Keep me in a servant –spirit so that I can do those things
     You want me to do humbly, lovingly, and unselfishly .
Please, don’t let others see me as conceited and critical.
Let those who come into my world find a sunshine
      that radiates with Your love and peace.
Let them see something in me that might nudge them to seek You.
Let me remember that I am to glorify You and make disciples for You.
Draw me nearer to You, mold me, and make me completely Yours. 
I pray this prayer in the name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Prayer of Confession for June 9, 2013

God of birth,
God of joy,
God of light,
We come to you
      a people hungry for good news.
Dead to miracles,
     we have missed the world’s rebirth.
Preoccupied with our own pleasures,
     we have ignored Your gift of joy.
Concerned with making a living,
     we have missed the life You planned for us.
Forgive us, gracious God.
Open our eyes and our hearts
     to receive Your gift.
Open our lips and our hands
     to share this gift with others in our lives.
In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prayer of Confession for June 2, 2013

Our Heavenly Father,
In humility, we come,
     confessing who and what we are.
Afraid, we are often unresponsive.
Fearing what You want us to do,
     we turn deaf ears
     when Your Spirit calls.                 
Embarrassed to speak Your Word,
     we close our mouths
     when Your Spirit touches our lips.
Afraid that our ordered lives will be disrupted,
     we close the windows of our hearts
     when the breezes of Your Spirit blow.
Afraid of the new life it might bring,
     we quench the flame,
     when the fire of Your Spirit touches us.
Forgive us, O Lord, we pray.  Amen

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Go the Extra Mile

While I was in the grocery store yesterday, I overheard a young man loudly recapping an altercation he had been involved in earlier.  From what I heard him say, --and I didn't really mean to eavesdrop, but he was “pontificating” in the middle of the long dairy/orange juice/snacks aisle! – I knew he was very proud that he had managed to prove himself to be right and the other person to be wrong. 

It wasn't even his words themselves that first caught my attention; it was his body language, accompanied by his loudness.  Watching his arms waving around and hearing his loud, almost shouting voice, I was sure that winning this verbal battle had been, and still was, very important to him—as was his sense of pride in the victory—he was enjoying his bragging rights.  

As I pushed my shopping cart around him, I wanted to stop and ask him, “Does it really matter?”  “Is winning an argument more important than nourishing and retaining a relationship with a relative or a friend or any other person?”  Today, I don’t think winning is terribly important, but in my childhood, I’m not sure I would have agreed.

Many years ago, when I was five years old, I lived in the North Carolina countryside for six months with my grandmother, a dedicated Christian woman. With no television or radio, our nightly entertainment was usually listening to the adult conversation or hearing her tell Bible stories. I remember when I heard the story in which Jesus charged his followers to go the extra mile, I thought He meant for us to literally walk another 5, 280 feet!!  

At that time, my mother didn't drive, my dad was on an overseas assignment, and we walked everywhere we went unless we rode in my uncle’s car to the Piggly Wiggly in Shelby on Saturday mornings and to Sunday school and church on Sundays.  We usually walked on hot dusty paths through fields to my uncle’s house and on hot dusty roads to a little country store—“a right fer piece away”-- so walking another mile, if I didn't absolutely have to, didn't sound appealing to me at all; as a matter of fact, it sounded like punishment—not what I wanted to do for anyone else.

Now, over sixty years later,  after listening to wonderful, knowledgeable teachers and preachers of the Bible, after combing through commentaries and studying God’s Word before teaching Bible studies myself, I know so much better than that younger self did what it means to go the extra mile.  For me today, going the extra mile for someone means I say I’m sorry after a misunderstanding even if I didn't (or don’t think I did!) cause it. 

Going the extra mile means letting someone else win an argument or a  game if it is so important to him.  

Going the extra mile means showing God’s grace to others in the spirit of God’s love.  Just as God gives His good grace to an undeserving sinner such as I am;  so I am also called  to sacrifice my pride, my selfishness, and other examples of my sinfulness and to give grace to people who, in my limited, narrow-minded, earthly vision, don’t always deserve it.

Many times, I have been that young man in the grocery store, bragging about how I had won an argument with loud, sharp words. Now that I am older, however, I ask God to forgive the foolish person I was years ago.  I ask Him to make my words soft and gracious.  I ask Him to give me a loving spirit that can love others as I want God to love me---unconditionally and sacrificially.  

To do this I must put aside all pomposity and let my life be about loving and serving others, not about crowing over my own hard-headedness and winning arguments.  I pray that my young grocery-store friend will also find peace in treating others justly and mercifully, not angrily and self-righteously.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Most Caring, Most Loving God

Most Gracious, Heavenly Father,
Almighty, Most Powerful God, but also
     Most Caring and Most Loving God,
     Too Wonderful for me to grasp,
You want me; permit me, to call You “Abba,”
And You, Supreme Creator, Ruler of all,
     You call me “Beloved.”
What an Awesome God You are, Lord!!
Thank You for Your many blessings,
     for the sacrificial love You bestow on me.
Thank You for Your faithfulness
     to Your covenant with Your people.
Thank You for loving me in spite of myself,
     unworthy and undeserving as I am.
Remind me of my purpose in life:
     to glorify You in all I do, say, and think.
Forgive me when I do not fulfill my purpose,
      and there are too, too many times
      when I do fail to reflect Your glory.
Forgive me for my unclean thoughts,
     for wanting to be most important,
     for being full of pride and selfishness.
I would like to do better, Lord,
     to be a better person,
     to bring honor and glory to You.
Forgive me when I fall short of Your expectations.
Teach me to be humble,
     to be sacrificial when loving others,
     to find joy in turning the other cheek,
     in going the extra mile for others.
Teach me to be a loving servant,
     to be truly repentant,
     to be a receptacle for Your love,
     a vessel through which Your love can flow.
Transform me into the person You need,
     a person You can use to help others.
                            In Christ’s name, I pray.  Amen

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Remember My Afflictions and My Wanderings

Lord, I do remember my afflictions and my wanderings.
I have experienced bitter sadness, blackest depression,
     utter despair and futility in my life.
How many times has unwanted, uninvited doubt,
     in myself, in my worth, even in You, Lord.
     seeped into the marrow of my being? 
Even now, that awful gloom will sometimes slip in
     through the doors of my mind
     to whisper loudly ugly, negative thoughts,
     saying I am unworthy, unloved, untalented.
Old insecurities rush in behind the dreaded gloom
     to scream that I am unimportant and worthless,
     and then they would drag me into that awful darkness
     in which depression thrives and reigns.
But, Lord, because of You, I am now more perceptive,
     more prepared to recognize the work of Satan,
     more aware of his strategy,
     his goal to separate my heart from You.
I know the desperation, with which he fights,
     the relentless pursuit to make me
     one of his many conquests.
Because of the knowledge of Your great love for me,
     Satan cannot capture my soul.
Because of the assurance of Your great love for me,
     I will not give up and wallow in self-pity and despair.
Because I know I serve a Risen Savior, 
     I can and I will rejoice,
     and I will keep my eyes on You.
When I am tempted with feelings of insecurity and hopelessness,
     I will write my prayers to You,
     I will come to You in the quietness of the moment,
     I will worship You, I will praise You, I will adore You.
     I will be still and know that You are God!
     I will call on You to fill my heart and soul with Your Holy Spirit.
     I will remember Your faithfulness;
     I will rely on Your strength when I am weak,
     I will remember Your compassion—new every morning.
You are my portion, Lord!!
What more could I ever want?
I thank You for Your love, Your mercy, and Your peace.
(Lamentations 3:19-24)