Archives for the month of: January, 2015

There are times and seasons in life, and my community is in a season of death and waiting for death. Since Christmas we have lost four long-time members of our congregation (including a daughter and mother within days of each other).  There have been deaths in church members’ families in other places, and we have been laboring in prayer with the Hayners as Steve approaches the end of this life. I have also been walking through the valley of the shadow of Alzheimer’s disease with my own family as my Father continues to decline.

This week when we got word that Steve’s death was imminent on the same day that yet another church member died, one of my colleagues wrote “I feel like this day may crack under the weight of eternity.”

As I lay awake processing all of this, a fragment of an old gospel song floated up out of my Baptist childhood: “where could I go but to the Lord?”  I was amazed on googleing it to find that it is connected with Elvis. There is even a copy of The King’s home movies floating around on the internet accompanied by his singing this song!  I laughed at the thought and that cheered me up a little (thanks Elvis.)

Where could I go, where could I go, seeking a refuge for my soul,

Needing a friend to help me in the end, where could I go but to the Lord?

Beyond reason, beyond my ability to make any emotional sense at all out of the weight of death that is pressing in on us, when every door closes, I am so thankful that there is a place to go.

It is a season of death, and also of comfort and eternal life.  Thanks be to God.

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I was having coffee with an associate pastor of a large urban congregation. In the course of our conversation he remarked that “I sometimes feel like we are producing a religious product for sophisticated consumers.”  That made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  “Producing a product for consumers”- is this what I have been doing with my life for the last 30 years?  Everything in me screamed “no!”  But if not this, then what exactly is the goal of all those programs, sermons, classes, Sunday school lessons, mission trips, meetings, etc., etc., etc.?  To put a finer point on it, what do we really want to see happen to people and through them as a result of being part of a church?

After I lived with this question for a while what emerged for me was the phrase “conformed to the image of Christ.” (Rom. 8:29)  The fruit of a faithful church is people being conformed, even better transformed, into being like Jesus.  And transformed people can transform communities.  And transformed communities can transform the world. Further, this kind of transformation is not something that church leaders can engineer and manage like another program.  When it begins to happen, the Holy Spirit will be managing and transforming us instead.

What we can do is to ask different questions, such as “What does God want us to be doing now?” instead of “what can we do with the money we have in the bank?”  We can reorder our common life to create more spaces where people might experience God.  We can reclaim prayer as the foundational activity of the church, an earth-shaking activity because it unleashes God’s power.  We can repent of being religious consumers and pray to be transformed more and more into a community on a mission with God.  When it happens it’s a miracle!

This is what I want to spend whatever time I have left doing.  I think this is what the crazy times we live in call for.  For me, this is what it’s all for.

A woman once confessed to me that she had turned down the call to serve as an elder in her church because she was afraid of being asked to lead prayer.  Some people are more afraid of this than they are of snakes, tornadoes or the heartbreak of psoriosis.  My guess is that they were cowed into silence by those who can and do effortlessly spout out intricate orations to God on a second’s notice.  That is sad because Jesus himself suggested that God likes short, sincere prayers and may even take off points for windy ones.

So for all the saints who feel faint at the thought of their Sunday School teacher turning to them and saying “Sam, would you close us in prayer'” here is the Joan Gray foolproof five step method for doing it in public.

1. Address God.  Say “God,”  “Dear God,”  “Lord” or whatever feels good to you.  One of my favorites, though it is a little long is “Dear Three-in-one and One-in-three.”

2.  State the obvious.  Where are you and what is going on.  “We are here at this committee meeting trying to do the business of your church.”  “We came to circle tonight needing to be together and hear your Word.”  “We are so sad that our good friend Sue is sick.”  Beginners should not make this section more than one sentence.  You can expand as you get more comfortable.

3.  Say what you want.  “We need your Holy Spirit to guide us.”  “We want our sick friends to get well.”  This can be a couple of sentences but keep it short.  You can always cover yourself with a neat line from the Episcopal prayer book: “God give us all the things we need whether we have remembered to pray for them or not.”

4.  Thank God.  It is important to acknowledge God’s providential care for us, so thank God in advance for whatever God is going to do in response to our prayers.  A simple “Thank you, God” covers this nicely.

5.  Say “We pray this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.”  And quit.

Try this out and let me know how you get on.

As 2015 begins I feel the blogging juices bubbling up again.  This makes me happy because I love to communicate and through blogging I can communicate with you from home in the comfort of my bathrobe- what could be better?

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that this Sailing Life blog will have very little to do with actual boats on water.  Instead it will float on the metaphor of the wind as Holy Spirit-God who is always nudging our messy lives/church/world toward good.  Making friends with this Wind seems to me to be the thing that empowers and guides everything else.  At least I find that when I get over myself and let God lead, I seem to end up in more blessed places that I can navigate to by myself.

To get started here’s a nugget from a wild woman of God

We learn through pain that some of the things we thought were castles turn out to be prisons, and we desperately want out, but even though we built them, we can’t find the door.  Yet maybe if you ask God for help in knowing which direction to face, you’ll have a moment of intuition.  Maybe you’ll see at least one next right step to take.

Anne Lamott

Help, Thanks, Wow   (I really like this book)