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)

Prayer of Confession for March 26, 2013

Gracious Spirit,
Breath upon the waters,
Wind beneath our wings,
Unable to see You,
Deciding You are not really there,
     we trust our own strength,
     make our own decisions,
     enjoy our own triumphs,
     preen in our own success.
We cross an invisible line,
     turn from Your invisible presence.
We do not search for You
     with all our heart, mind, and soul.
We neglect the celebration of discipline:
     prayer, solitude, study, worship, fasting.
We neglect the fellowship of Your church.
     spending time in Your Word,
     learning the basic tenets of our faith.
Gracious Spirit,
     forgive our blind eyes,
     eyes that do not see Your hovering presence.
Let us feel the breath of life
     flowing from Your constant care.
Renew us.
Renew all creation.    
In Christ’s name we pray.
Amen!! Amen!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Joy comes in the Morning.

Lord God, Creator of all living things, Redeemer of mankind,
I thank You for all the gracious blessings you have bestowed
     upon me and my family this day.
I thank You for answered prayers, for knowing what is best for us
     when we ourselves don’t know.
I thank you for doing all things in accordance with Your perfect will,
     even when we think we know what is best for ourselves,
     when we don’t have patience to keep trusting and waiting on You.
I thank You for being in control of our lives, 
      for lifting our hearts up in joy. 
I praise You, Lord, for Your goodness, Your mercy, Your kindnesses, 
     Your love for me, unworthy sinner that I am.
Lord, help me realize that I don’t have to be the leader all the time.
Teach me to relax and to let others be in charge of situations.
Convince me that I need to be a cheerleader for others;
Help me to train others to take my place.
When others do things differently from the way I do,
      let me react with positive words and praise.
Don’t let me be a nitpicker who purposely hurts feelings.
Let me build others up with favorable, helpful words.
Thank You for the glory of this day and for the joy of being with others.
Lord, You heard our prayers throughout the long night,
     and You have given us joy in the morning.
Praise You, Lord!!  Praise You, Almighty God.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Favorite Prayer by Henri J.M. Nouwen

“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.” 
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Building Walls: Prayer of Confession May 12

O God of lasting peace,                                                                                                     
We have built up walls
     to protect ourselves from our enemies,
     to protect ourselves from being exposed
          as the flighty, sinful people we are,
     to protect ourselves from hurt pride,
     to protect ourselves from embarrassments,        
     to protect ourselves from seeing the need,
          the loneliness, the suffering in
          our neighbor’s eyes,
to protect ourselves from getting our hands messy
          by working with orphans, the homeless,
          the drug addicts, the convicts, the mutilated,
to protect ourselves from worldly ridicule
         for loving and worshiping You.
Lord, those same walls have also confined us.
They have shut us off from receiving Your love,
     from seeing the needs of others,
     from following and serving You
          as You expect us to follow You.
Break down those walls we have built.
Help us to see that the way to Your heart
      is through reconciling our own hearts
             with the hearts of our enemies.
Bless our enemies and bless us.
Teach us to value and love each other.
Teach us to find great joy in our relationships.
Teach us to feel with our emotions and our hearts
     as well as with our hands.
Let our love for You grow and become more evident
     to others.            In Christ’s name, I pray,  Amen. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Supreme Creator God

Almighty and Most Merciful,  Loving God,
How easy it is to forget that You are indeed
     an almighty, omniscient, omnipotent God.
How easy it is to forget that You are incomprehensibly
     greater than the universe. 
Forgive me when I want to shrink  You to my size,
     when I want to create You in my own image,
     as if I am God, and You are my servant. 
Forgive me when I let my weak, sinful-self redesign You
     into being so many thousands of times less
     than what You are. 
How pompous I can be, Lord!
How do You tolerate me with all of my quirks and warts?
I am so unworthy of Your love, Your mercy, Your faithfulness.
Yet, You continue to keep Your covenant with me. 
You never let me down;  
You are sad when I let myself be dragged down
     by worldly temptations that I cannot resist  
     although, like arsenic, they are not healthy for me. 
Like the alcoholic, the smoker, the drug addict,
     I struggle to avoid my insidious temptations.
I cannot resist trying to make myself
     look bigger and more important than I am. 
I gossip about others, boast about my accomplishments,
     pretend to be someone I’m not. 
Forgive me for my sinfulness,
     for not loving others better than I do; 
     for not going the extra mile for those in need;
     for not using the talents and treasures
     You have given me to do Your will. 
     Too many times I disappoint others, myself, and You.
Give me the courage and the desire
     to change my attitude and my behavior. 
Impress upon my heart the need to be humble;
     the need to listen to Your voice;
     the need to let You lead me;
     the need to follow You.
How easy it is to forget that You had the power,  
     the ability to create a universe out of nothing.   
What a wonderful world You have made.
Where did You get the framework You used?
Where did the great idea of the cosmos come from?
What made You choose to create the sun,
      the moon, the stars in the heavens? 
How did You construct the blueprint for the planets
     for our earth with the waters, the land, the sky?
Such a beautiful world, Lord!
     Such beautiful sunrises and sunsets we enjoy!! 
You are the Supreme Creator;
     nothing created will ever match
     the awesomeness of Your universe.  
And what does Your creation say about You, Lord? 
You are imaginative, inventive, resourceful, limit-less,
     --all worldly adjectives that cannot even begin
     to describe what I feel about You. 
You are a radical and an awesome God;
     and I thank You for loving me,
     small, unworthy person that I am.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Be My Anchor, Lord

Lord Jesus, Blessed Redeemer,
Put on my heart the need for repentance,                                           
      the need for change in my mind and in my heart.                      
Give me strength and courage to follow You,                                    
      into deeper, blacker waters,
      rougher waters beyond the buoys,
      where my feet cannot reach the bottom,
      into waters that frighten me
      because I am not a good swimmer,
      and I panic if water is over my head. 
Lead me, Lord, and keep me afloat.
Assure me of Your presence, Your strength, and Your power.
Let me remember that I do not need to fear changes in my life
       and in my journey with You as long as I remember
       to stay within the safety net of Your loving arms.
Forgive me, Lord, for wanting to cling to my childish flotation devices
       instead of taking them off and trusting you to hold me up.
Protect me as I swim in a sea of worldly trials and temptations,
       among monsters that would pull me under into their watery lairs.
Encourage me to pull up the anchors that keep me in my safe place,
       but prevent me from moving out 
       into the depths to which You call me.
Let me put aside all those devices that prevent me from being
       the person You want me to be.
Give me the courage to paddle out to answer Your call.
Give me the strength and the will to go where You want me to go.
Convince me to change ineffective customs and habits.
Give me the ears to listen for Your voice,
       And when I hear Your beautiful, wonderful voice, 
              let me obey You.
Lord, be my anchor, my compass, my north star.
Impress on me the need to let You be the Navigator of my life.
Steer me into new rivers and oceans to give me new opportunities 
       to glorify you and to enjoy being in Your presence forever.
Wonderful, Loving Savior,  thank You 
      for loving me unconditionally.

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”   Psalm 69                  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Teach Me and Guide Me, Lord.

 Heavenly Father, 
I do say I follow Christ,
I am most sincere when I say it,
But sometimes I find myself rushing in,
     determined to fix situations You need to fix,
     situations You can fix much better than I.
But in my foolishness  and in my vainness
     I am so sure that I can do more than I am able.
Teach me patience, Lord,
Show me how to wait on You and on others.
Help me to trust in You to work Your miracles:
     to fix those broken hearts that seem unfixable,
     to mend those broken relationships that seem unmendable,
     to replace anger and hatred with love and caring,
     to give purpose to life when there are so many doubts.
Help me to be quiet instead of speaking inappropriately.
Teach me discernment when interacting with others.
Give me wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen.
Give me the courage, Lord, to do the right thing,
     even if I must put aside personal pride ,
     even if I must risk suffering the pain of rejection.
Encourage me to go the extra mile for those in need.
Help me to be a better forgiver than I am.
Cleanse my mind and heart of those delicious, juicy grudges
     that I enjoy chewing and mulling over.
Demolish  those ugly, jealous thoughts and prideful boasts
     that dwell in the depths of my heart,
     the sinfulness that surfaces when I am not alert.
 How quickly I slide from the heights of joy
     to the depths of human sin and degradation!!
I do not seem to learn do I?
And still, in spite of all my short comings,
     all the ugliness I enjoy wallowing in,
     You still look for me, love me, and forgive me,
     when I cry to You and ask You to find me
     because I am lost and cannot find myself.
Give me the strength and the faith to trust that You
      will hold me up and stay with me
      when I try to follow You down unfamiliar roads,
      when I go out to meet You in the places to which You call me.
Guide me and show me where You want me to go,
      what You want me to do.
Use me to show Your wonderful love to others.
Let me share the joy of being Your beloved child with them.
Let me show them the peace obtained from knowing and abiding in You.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Call to Worship for May 5, 2013

We have come into this sanctuary
              to celebrate our risen Lord’s presence,
              to affirm the gifts of love, hope, joy, and peace.
It is in this sanctuary that we
              discover the meaning of life,
              know the power of love,
              celebrate our new life in Christ together.
We have come to this place where God is with us.
As a community of faith, we look to the future with hope.
With neighbor, friend, and strangers
              we have come together,
              to worship and to praise God.
May we now
              celebrate new life in Jesus Christ,
              sing the praise of a loving, compassionate God.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What We Can Learn from the Geese

 Lessons From The Geese  by Dr. Robert McNeish:
(People with disabilities, parents, staff, businesses, etc., all need to work together. Synergy is the concept that when we all work together the end result is greater than if each of us acts independently. There’s a great deal to be learned from the teamwork shown in Lessons from the Geese.)
Geese are easily identified because they fly in a V-formation, and by the sound of their "honk".  Scientists have learned some interesting facts about the geese, some of which we can apply to our own lives.

1. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following behind. By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird were flying on its own. 

For us this means that people who have the same beliefs, the same purpose and destination will get  where they are going more quickly and easily if they travel together, because they will benefit from each other's thrust. It means we need to be with each other to make our life journey easier; we need to join a group that supports and uplifts us. We need to associate with others who will give us support as we journey through life. We need to be faithful in our church attendance where  we can share our joys and concerns with others, and, in turn, give support to our church family as they share their joys and concerns.  Jesus said for us to love our neighbors as ourselves; we cannot do that if we live in isolation and do not know our neighbors. 

2. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone—and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

We should realize that we need to stay in the formation for which we were created and not try to go off on our own. We need to stay with those who have common goals, common values, common destinations; we need to stay with those who will help us get where we want to go so that we can fulfill our purpose.  We need to stay with those who will share their strengths with us, and who will guide us along the paths we need to follow.  We also need to be sure to identify and give strength to those dear ones who fall out of the formation,  trying to go alone.  We need to provide whatever it takes to bring them in to the presence of God. 

3. When the Head Goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose takes his place and flies point.  

 This goose-behavior should tell us that we need to take turns with other people when we are doing demanding jobs. We cannot always do the hard task of leading; that will cause us to burn out.  We need to let others be the leader sometimes so they can build up their own leadership strengths.  On the other hand, especially, when the task is a grungy one, we need to stop hanging back, avoiding involvement, and take a turn at leading and give those who are working a chance to rest.

4. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.  

Why do we honk at others?  Do we honk at others in order to encourage them, or do we honk at them because we are impatient and want them to get out of the way?  We need to be sure our honking from behind is encouraging - not critical and nasty.

5. Finally… and this is important…when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunshots, and falls out of formation, two geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies. Then they fly out on their own or with another formation to catch their group.

Do we stand by each other like that? Are we strong enough, compassionate enough to sacrifice our personal agenda and halt our own journey for a friend in need?  We should try to be.