Monthly Archives: March 2011

Prayers for the People

Sometimes I can pray spontaneously, and sometimes I need to write something down beforehand to help me to pray. A week ago Sunday (20Mar2011) at Cornerstone I wrote down the following prayer, and for the past week have thought that I should post it… so here it is:

Loving God, we confess that our lives, our prayers, and our belief in you focus more often on ways in which we want either to be kept safe or shielded from pain. Yet Your life in Jesus demonstrates that safety and pain-free lives are not promises for those who follow You. Instead what you reveal in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a promise of abiding presence – to comfort, to mourn, to rejoice. We as Christians are not guaranteed to get out of this life alive, but You, Creator and Redeemer, promise resurrection.

Forgive us for the times when we look to save our own lives and preserve our own comfort at the expense of others losing their lives and comfort. Forgive us for the times when we think of You, Jesus, as merely a human with extra special abilities. You are not a super-hero. You are God who, with words and out of love, created the universe and the ground on which we walk, and You formed our bodies and breathed into us the breath of life.

You alone know why, at times, healing happens in ways we want, and, at other times, why You seem to ignore our cries for healing. Help us to know and to trust Your presence always – even when we don’t understand and cannot feel anything but pain and aloneness.

Disciple making and sending God, for those in this world who do not know Your love as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and who are experiencing tragedy and loss – send comfort and compassion to them and may they learn to name You as the source of true love and lasting peace. For those rejoicing – may they know Your presence and open their hearts to know that all good gifts come from You. For those who are exploiting others and for those who lead using arrogance, pride, and violence – humble them and work in them that they would see that they are fleeting but You are forever, and You are God…

Lord, You know the prayers and concerns spoken aloud today and the ones we have trouble naming even in our own hearts… You know the circumstances and situations and needs of each person, family, and community affected by these requests, and we ask that Your will be done. Help us to be open to the ways in which You will answer, and help us to trust You always, that You would be glorified, honored and praised.

And now, please do a new work in us as we pray the prayer Jesus taught to the disciples trusting that You will work within us both to will and to do Your good pleasure…

Our Father…

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

From Coffee to Peace – a sermon exploring my Lenten journey

I (Dan) preached this sermon today at Cornerstone UMC in Saco, Maine. I post it here just to show some of my thoughts and reflections at this point in my journey.

I want to explore Micah 4:1-4 today and share with you how it has affected my Lenten Journey. Yet before I do, I want to make some comments about Lent and Prayer so that what I say about Micah might make sense.

Lent is a 40-day journey to the cross that prepares us for Easter. I always assumed that Lent was 40 days because Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. I also assumed that the period of Lent was actually 40 days. Then one year I took out the calendar to see how many more days until I could have coffee again, and I realized that there were actually 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. I talked to some friends and did some research and discovered that the early Church called Sundays little Easters because Christ rose on Sunday. So, I counted from Ash Wednesday to Easter – minus the Sundays – and viola, 40 days. (Only later did I learn that the United Methodist Book of Worship also states that Lent is a 40-day journey that does not include Sundays.)

Then I began to wonder why Jesus fasted for 40 days? And what is it about 40 in Scripture, because it appears in other ‘famous’ places in scripture, too.

As I studied I came to learn that 40 is a significant number in scripture when numbering days or years, and I believe it usually signifies a time when God is going to act in a significant way for the salvation of the world. I invent my own words at times by combining different words together. One of them is “God-mazing,” and it means an amazing thing that God has done. So for me, 40 usually means something God-mazing is about to happen.

Here are some examples:

Noah – 40 days: Re-starting Creation

Spying out Cana – 40 days: Israel becoming a people with Land

Goliath challenges Israel – 40 days: previews David who preludes a Messianic King

Ninevah’s destruction/restoration – 40 days: Grace available to all

Jesus fasts – 40 days: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of restoration.

Jesus’ time with the disciples post-resurrection before the ascension – 40 days: the CHURCH!

Fasting at Lent does mean that we give up something for a time. However, Courtney likes to say that our focus in Lent should not rest solely in what we are fasting FROM, rather we should focus on what we are fasting FOR. What will we do to fill the absence of chocolate, coffee, t.v., or internet? I like Lent – it helps me to countdown to Easter, but I often wonder if I fail at Lent as I try to reinvent a Lenten discipline each year that will ‘work’ for me. Lent, at times for me, has looked like fasting from coffee with a general sense “to pray more,” yet without a real focus. Yet Jesus has modeled prayer for us in the Lord’s Prayer. Granted we may pray it by rote or on auto-pilot at times, but it can also be an amazing prayer of transformation for our lives.

What does it mean when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven?” And what does it have to do with Lent and Plowshares and Pruning Hooks?

Thy Kingdom Come is not a prayer saying, “Get me out of here.” Rather it is a prayer that acknowledges the World is upside down and only the Kingdom of God can right-side-up everything. We acknowledge that God is big enough to do something, and we also acknowledge that a way in which God has chosen to bring the Kingdom is through the Church – through people like you and me. An aspect of God’s Kingdom is Peace – Shalom. Shalom is larger than a cessation of violence, because it encompasses restoring Creation to right relationship with God and with one another.

Praying “Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven” opens us up to the opportunity to be incorporated into God’s bigger story. I love people watching. Have you ever seen people in the supermarket who appear to be off in their own little worlds? Well, usually all of us are on individual missions at the store. But I mean someone who is oblivious to other people around as he blocks the aisle with his cart. Or the person who stands in front of the items you need talking to herself about which mustard to buy, and you can’t find a way to interrupt her or get around her to get your mustard. Sometimes I feel that is how I am in God’s plan. I can become so fixated on my projects or situations in my life that I can forget to place my story into God’s larger story. Praying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” takes us out of control and allows us to be incorporated into something bigger – into God’s larger story. C.S. Lewis described prayer this way, “I don’t pray because I want to, but I pray because I have to. The need flows from me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

Lent is 40 days set aside for the reordering of our lives to God’s time and God’s way. A time in which our prayers could sound like, “God, work in me, transform me. Clear out and clean out the distractions. Prepare me for your move and to join in your work.”

Lent is also 40 days we set aside to pray specifically for something that is bigger than just our lives. My Lenten fast is from Coffee – not caffeine or warm breakfast beverages, but coffee. Yet my fast is for praying for peace – for “beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and neither shall they learn war anymore.” I love coffee. I like it in the morning, the afternoon, and even after dinner sometimes. I enjoy it, and I don’t think there is a problem with that. But as I heard the news this past week I realized that I craved a cup of coffee more than I craved peace – not the generic greeting card kind of peace, but a real, tangible specific peace in this world – that people in Libya would stop being killed; that children in Cambodia would not be sold as sex slaves; that car bombs would stop causing carnage in markets; that churches would stop being burned and that our Christian brothers and sisters would not seek out their own revenge; that the domestic violence I hear out my window every week would end. I know that I need transformation when I seem to care more about a cup of coffee than about human lives.

Let me read Micah 4:1-4 again.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

I am amazed by these verses. They point towards a return to farming – a return to tending the Garden, which is what God created us for in the first place. Swords and spears are not put away (for use on another day) or destroyed (as in thrown away). Instead, they are re-ordered and reincorporated into God’s redemption story. Those things which were intended for destructive purposes are given opportunities to take part in nurturing and cultivating life. AND if God can do that with an object, then how much more does God desire to do that with humans. Those whose lives destroy are not beyond God’s kingdom vision of grace and restoration. One of my colleagues in Afghanistan in 2002 had spent a significant amount of time in Congo (DRC and Brazaville) and Angola in the ‘90s. She said that when she asked people about peace they responded that peace meant harvesting what they planted – to live in the same place long enough for a complete growing season without having to flee because of violence or forced migration.

This may sounds dreamy – too good to be true, especially in our world today. It may seem like a hope for another time. The World tells us that war and violence, although evil, is a necessary evil in our world, because “that’s just how the world works.” Yes, that is how the world works. But that is not how God’s Kingdom works. And God’s kingdom is not just pie in the sky and ‘one day’… but God’s Kingdom is Now! And praying for peace helps transform us so that we can see how we might join in God’s holy work of healing the world.

Channel 6, 8, 13, the BBC, New York Times, Portland Herald, Boston Globe… They tell the world’s story. And at times it may seem like we are trying to fit the story of our lives into their worldview, rather than seeing that another story exists that can give meaning to our stories – here’s the God-mazing story briefly: God has been working for the restoration of Creation since Eden. God chose Israel to proclaim the hope and prepare the way for the restoration. God fulfilled Israel’s longing and made final provision for this restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. God has commissioned the Church, the Body of Christ in this World, and empowered it by the Holy Spirit to proclaim to the World this message of God’s love, hope, healing, reconciliation, restoration and peace.

Joining in this story is something that we must do together – as the Church – by God’s power and with God’s help. Jesus taught the disciples to pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” and not “bring us up to thy kingdom.” We do not pray to be swirled away to a different place where peace exists. Rather, we pray that God’s peace will come to this world…now. We pray that families won’t be blown apart – literally – by violence. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” we are praying that our lives will be incorporated into the bigger storyline of the God-mazing story of restoration of Creation.

It is a lot to get our heads around.

It is a lot to get our hearts around.

It is a lot to get our lives around.

But maybe that is just the point. It is not our task to envelope completely with our understanding God, God’s Kingdom, and the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We pray in order to be enveloped by God and his love revealed in Jesus Christ: that God would shape our lives like the potter shapes the clay; that God would transform our imaginations enabling us to live as peacemakers in a world that thinks war is necessary; that God would work in us enabling us to pray that people would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; that God would transform our minds to see the possibilities of how swords can be plowshares and spears can be pruning hooks and how we could learn to garden – how to cultivate the love of God and neighbor instead of learning violence and war…

This year I hope Lent is different for me as I pray “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” I do not merely want to learn to survive without coffee. I want to be transformed to crave other people’s peace.

What about you? How are you preparing to step into a God-mazing story that can transform your life and change the world?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Inspiration for Articulation of My Journey

I picked up a new book (at least for me) a few weeks ago. It’s entitled, “Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir,” and it is the memoir of a professor I had at Duke. I have found inspiration in it for two reasons. First, Frederick Buechner has instilled in me a love for well written memoirs. Second, I can hear Stanley Hauerwas’ nasally-Texas accent as I read the book. In reading, though, I have found inspiration to write and articulate part of my journey. As I read I find myself wondering how I would describe various times of my life – or certain aspects of my journey – and find a flood of faces and names come to mind.

Coincidentally, about a week before I picked up the book, I undertook the exercise of writing a statement of faith and also a *brief* testimony. As I wrote I found that I wanted to keep writing, yet I think it was good for me to try to limit them in length. I know that I wanted to expand each paragraph into a page… maybe someday I will. For now, though, I wanted to place here the distilled Statement of Faith and an abbreviated testimony.

Statement of Faith

I affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

I believe God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is good, loving, faithful, and true.

I believe God desires for all of Creation to know and to live in God’s love. Humanity, however, chose its own way and sinned, causing a rupture in Creation’s perfect relationship with God. The Good News is that God has been working for the restoration of Creation since Eden. God chose Israel to proclaim the hope and prepare the way for the restoration. God fulfilled Israel’s longing and made final provision for this restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. God has commissioned the Church, the Body of Christ in this World, and empowered it by the Holy Spirit to proclaim to the World this message of God’s love, hope, healing, reconciliation, restoration and peace.

I believe God has given the Church everything necessary to live authentically in this World because He has given himself for us in Jesus Christ. Christians, therefore, are to reflect the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ by living in alternative ways to what the World only offers as imitations of God’s love. Christians practice these alternative ways of living in worship as we: gather together; confess our sin; receive forgiveness; reconcile and offer signs of peace; engage Scripture; baptize and reaffirm our faith; pray for one another and for our world; offer our gifts; celebrate communion and share a meal; and remember that we go into the World as God’s people with God’s blessing, strength, and love.

Testimony

Experiences of God in education, in worship, and in ministry in this world have shaped me on my faith journey. Sharing life together with Christians from various cultures has helped me to see the miracle of the Gospel as it simultaneously transcends all cultures and peoples while remaining specific to each culture and individual.

My parents began taking my brother and me to church in Colorado when I was four years old, which is when they began their relationships with God in Jesus Christ. I enjoyed going to church as a child, and I raised my hand to accept Jesus as savior multiple times between the ages of 5 and 12. In Jr. High I began to notice a dissonance between Sunday life and school life. I was not a bad kid – meaning that I did not smoke, drink or cuss – yet I did not love the neighbor, the stranger, or the outcast very well. My youth pastor and other volunteers challenged and encouraged me to live into the faith that I claimed. I did not want to be a hypocrite. I wanted my relationship with God in Jesus to make a tangible difference in my life. In high school I tried to live perfectly as a Christian. In this striving for perfection, and often falling hard, I began to learn more about God’s love and grace – a journey that continues today. I had some wonderful “mountain top” experiences in high school, yet I came to realize that the Christian life consisted of more than one-time events. Rather, the Christian life is an everyday decision on an everyday journey.

I attended Seattle Pacific University following a general call into ecclesial ministry thinking I would return to Colorado to do youth ministry full-time. At SPU my horizons for vocational ministry possibilities grew as I started getting involved in opportunities to serve on campus and in the community. God used these opportunities and an increasing awareness of the world – in all of its complexities, interconnections, and heartache – to continue to shape and also expand my call in ministry to include an international element.

A growing appreciation of the Christian tradition has also formed my faith in significant ways. I spent the summer after my first year of university volunteering with the church in Ireland, and I had my eyes and heart opened to the long, faithful tradition of Christianity. One day a friend took me to monastery ruins in Glendalough, which I learned once functioned as a significant place of worship and education. While I stood among the ruins of a church that served as the full-time cathedral from the 6th to the 13th Century, I felt part of a story larger and more significant than I had ever imagined. I realized that the Church did not go underground at the end of the book of Acts and reemerge when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Rather, a long line of faithful followers had passed on a faith that transcends all cultures and times.

At Duke I grew in my understanding of the importance of worship, the sacraments, and the Church as the Body of Christ. Duke also helped me to articulate a view of church that held God in Christ at the center of worship, providing a gathering point for the community and a catalyst for the Body of Christ to engage the world.

The story of my journey would not be complete without naming some authors who have helped to shape me and continue as points of encouragement, challenge, and inspiration to me: Frederick Beuchner; Ellen Davis; Stanley Hauerwas; Richard Hays; James Howell; Madelaine L’Engle; Anne LaMott; C.S. Lewis; Richard Lischer; Brennan Manning; Henri Nouwen; Eugene Peterson; Chaim Potok, Barbara Brown Taylor; J.R.R. Tolkien; and Samuel Wells.

Musically I would have to name: Suzanne Brewer, Delirious, Dryve, Fred Gramman, Keith Green, David Nevue, Andrew Peterson, Matt Redman, Ten Shekel Shirt, TenTimesFast, Waterdeep, Charles Wesley, Dar Williams, Samuel Wolcott, U2, and, well, the list could go on and on.

God has provided me with amazing opportunities on my journey to live in cultural and social settings beyond my own. When I started the journey, I did not know that I would serve in churches, war zones, and relief settings across the U.S., Europe, East Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and Central Asia. With each place I serve, the desire increases to serve the global Body of Christ and help Christians to live their faith authentically within their culture. In each place, the Holy Spirit unites us and empowers us to proclaim the Kingdom that is both now and not yet, as we live as emissaries for Christ the King now while we wait for His triumphant return in final victory.

To list all of the friends, professors, and other mentors who have allowed me to be a part of their journey would take volumes, and I think, goes beyond the current context of writing.

My life as a Christian only makes sense when located within the larger story of salvation history. Countless friends have joined with me, and have allowed me to join them, in prayer, encouragement, challenge, inspiration, joyfulness, and mourning. Together, we journey in God’s love in Christ. Our lives are not an isolated moment in time, rather our lives fall in line with God’s sweeping trajectory of Creation and redemption which has a history before us and will have a future after us. God knows us intimately – our potential for greatness and our propensity for failure – and God still loves us. And by grace, God invites us to join in His holy work of healing the World.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Catching up in Quebec

We had a chance to spend two days with a college roommate of Dan's and his family. Sam and Dawn currently live in Quebec with their three kids as the family learns French. They plan to live in Congo (DRC) and fly with an organization called MAF.
We had a fun time tubing, eating, laughing and watching the three oldest ones run around. Our Caleb and their Charlie sat and stared at each other.
The photos try to capture a bit of our time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized