Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Prayer for a Butterfly Garden

Pastors are asked to do a variety of things that don't quite fit into the standard definition of ministry: judging a chili cook-off, calling a football game, or driving in a parade come to mind. A while back, I was asked to offer an invocation at the dedication of a local butterfly garden at a county-owned park. 

I was glad to do it, but I wanted to be true to my prayer life as a Christian without drawing the ire of church & state rabble rousers. Also, I didn't see the need to get any of the county employees in trouble for asking me to lead in prayer. 

Some may criticize me for not being more Gospel-centered. After all, there's never a wrong time to share the message of Christ. I would not feel comfortable offering prayer at an interfaith event or sharing a platform with religious leaders who do not share my faith in Christ. But I felt good about my role in this simple event and have been blessed to maintain relationships with several others who attended.

Here is the prayer I offered:

Our Heavenly Father,
In Your promises, we’re given life.
With each morning Your mercies are new

As we gather here today in the sights
and sounds of life surrounding us,

We give thanks:

For the song of the sparrow
For the ripple of the river
For the imperceptible flutter of the butterfly’s wings.

After a quiet season in their cocoon
they emerge full of life.

After a quiet moment with them in our gaze
we emerge in life.

Thank you for those who have worked so hard
to provide a haven for these delicate creatures.

Thank you for today’s moment
of celebrating their tender beauty
and speak to our hearts.

As art reflects the artist
so let created reflect Creator.

We give You the Glory, Amen.

May 2012

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Prayer for A Crisis Pregnancy Center (A Choice 2M8k)

Last year I had an opportunity to offer the invocation for our local Crisis Pregnancy Center Banquet. "A Choice 2 M8k" is doing great work for mothers all over Florence County. Their next banquet is coming again soon, and I thought I might post this prayer here. It holds true in 2016 as much as it did in 2015.

Our Heavenly Father
We come to you as your children, 

As your Sons & Daughters.

You are our Mighty Creator King.
You are the author of the Universe,
And yet there is not one child you do not know by name.

You spoke through the heart of John as he leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s belly.
You spoke in the cries of your Son, Jesus, born to Mary and cooing in a borrowed manger.

You’ve knit us together in our Mother’s wombs;
You’ve labeled all of our days.

You continue to speak to us through Mothers and Sons and Daughters around us each day.
But our world is a broken place.

We entrust unto you the lives given up before their tiny voices even cry out for the first time.
We entrust to you the precious child whose hands will not grasp, 
Whose imagination will not flourish,
And we know that in You they are made whole. 

We pray for your guidance and protection,
Over mothers, fathers, and extended families whose lives are changed forever 
As a new life takes seed and flourishes.

Tonight we lift up this special ministry at A Choice 2 M8k. 
Pierce our hearts.
Let us give generously. 

Let us pray continually. 
Let us live graciously in your grip.

Our Loving Father,
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. 


Thursday, December 03, 2015

'Tis the Season? (Deck the Halls, Good News, & Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“Tis the season to be jolly

fa la la la la la la la la…”

It is a rather meaningless tune when you stop to write it out, but no less jolly. When “Deck the Halls” was first written in 1877, it was decidedly festive. Perhaps a bit too festive, with several verses dedicated to drinking barrels of mead and passing around a bowl of intoxicating beverages.

‘Tis the season for what, then? I hope it will be jolly and festive for you and your family. But I also hope it will be joyous and reflective as only Christ can give. The Angel Gabriel promised, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Perhaps it is hard for us to consider good news and great joy when the surrounding world is in the midst of runaway violence. But those who boast of evil will fall (Psalm 52). Consider the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed at the hands of the Nazis in 1945:
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”

We rightly tremble at the humble majesty of the manger and the violent grace of the cross. As we celebrate Bethlehem, Golgotha is within view. Let us keep our joy in the midst of attack.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Feeling Wheels for Feeling Well

I was reminded of the concept of a "Feeling Wheel" in a recent post from Lifehacker. They suggested using such a wheel for expanding one's vocabulary, citing an English Teacher's blog.

The Feeling Wheel has its origins in counseling and psychology. It can be a helpful tool for pastors who wish to pinpoint their counselee's presenting problem in a helpful way. As we seek Godly Wisdom in a given situation, having the right words can help. We begin in language because after all, "In the beginning was the Word." The Psalmist writes,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23-24


Monday, November 02, 2015

Mindful... or Thankful?

As more distractions overtake the mundane moments of life, we strive to be more “in the moment” and less tethered to cyberspace or the shackles of shortened attention spans. 

Every week or so, I see a new headline on “Mindfulness” or being “Mindful.” Proponents say that living in the moment will help me relax and discover some kind of inner truth that can only be revealed from washing dishes by hand or breathing deeply 21 times.

Like many things, I’m sure there is some value to what the health and productivity gurus say, though be forewarned (be mindful?) that most of the mindful mandates find their way to Buddhist teaching. Instead, Christians can embrace an attitude that trims away our distractions and tensions by taking us closer to Christ rather than deeper within ourselves.

Psalm 107:1 tells us precisely where to direct our attention, 

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good for his steadfast love endures forever!” 

My mindfulness will be better served in the form of thankfulness. Rather than mindfulness in myself, I’m thankful to the Lord. His goodness is forever, unlike my temporary mindful moment.

Philippian 4:6 addresses anxiety directly and describes the same necessary ingredient, 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

We won’t find a cure for anxiety outside of God Himself.

As Colossians 3:15 tells us, there is no place for emptying the mind or the heart. There is no need to find solace in our own breath or zen dish washing. Instead, 

“let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...And be thankful.”

The Thanksgiving holiday approaches and there is much cooking, traveling, and perhaps shopping on your calendar. When stress arises, will it be a mere moment to be “mindful,” or time to be thankful?

Image: Moyan Brenn

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Word, Walk, & Work: Adapting Eugene Peterson's "Working the Angles" Ministry Model.

Peterson's "Teach, Preach, & Administrate" becomes "Word, Walk, & Work"
This is a simple ministry model, inspired by Eugene Peterson’s “Working the Angles” model of Teach, Preach, & Administrate. Ministry is filled with more, but much of it fits within this paradigm.

Peterson writes, 
"The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration. The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. The length and proportions of the ministry "lines" are variable, fitting...a wide range of pastoral gifts. If, though, the lines are disconnected from the angles and drawn willfully or at random, they no longer make a triangle. Pastoral work disconnected from the angle actions...is no longer given its shape by God." 
I've summarized Peterson's two separate "Preaching" and "Teaching" categories under "Word," and added "Walk" to describe shepherding work. In my triangle, "Administration" becomes "Work." There is no meta-message on vocation versus calling. "Work" just fits better with other "W" words.   

"What do you think? Is this an efficient summary? Does this adapt Peterson's work in a helpful way?

  1. Pastoral Studying not including personal devotion, especially in sermon preparation.
  2. Preaching, with an emphasis on Sundays. 
  3. Teaching, Wednesday Nights, Small Group Studies, etc.

  1. Everyday Shepherding including Hospital Visits, Homebound, Nursing Home, etc.
  2. Pastoral counseling (pre-marital, marital, bereavement, etc).
  3. Encouraging “lost sheep.”
  4. Abiding with people in everyday life— simple conversations that lead to deeper questions and relationships.
  5. Meeting for Coffee, lunch, etc.

  1. Executive functions such as staff meetings, calendar planning, budgeting, capital campaigns, and more. 
  2. This can also include “Parish” functions such as attending a ballgame, banquet, board meeting.
  3. Presbytery / denominational work probably fits in here.
  4. Session meetings fit here and under “Walk” depending on what’s being discussed.

“The Angles”

  1. Scripture: Personal bible study not including sermon prep.
  2. Prayer: Personal prayer not including public prayers.
  3. Spirit Direction: personal wisdom-seeking with mentors, other pastors, self-examination. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Forgotten Toothpaste and Ancient Paths

My wife is usually the toothpaste picker-upper, but this past week the task fell upon me. I stood in the grocery store for a good five minutes before I realized that I didn’t know what kind of toothpaste we used.
I brush my teeth at least twice a day and sometimes more. We’ve probably used the same brand for ten years, but I honestly could not picture the tube in my hand. I had forgotten! I finally picked up some Colgate, not really knowing if it was the “right” kind or not. Later, when we were settling down for the night, Laura confirmed that I had indeed purchased our family brand. I guess some part of me remembered!
I wonder how often God fits into this kinds of “toothpaste” experience. We’ve got the old bible verses, years of church attendance, and a lifetime of faith behind us. But every now and then it seems we just “forget.” It reminds me of a church sign I saw: “If God feels distant, guess who moved!” If we’re not careful, we build our own walls that block our memory and our ability to see faithfully. We begin to miss out on the Spirit’s work in our daily lives. We ignore a few blessings here and there. We’re blind to the bond of Christ between our brothers and sisters.
Our 2015 theme from this year’s ARP General Synod is “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths.” This theme draws from Jeremiah 6:16,Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls...”
There is much that life will offer us that is not life at all. There is plenty of counterfeit faith to go around. If we hold to the timeless truth of a Savior who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) then we’ll be able to wade through changing tides in our search for solid ground. We can ask for the ancient paths and find rest.

Image Source: 7-themes.com