Thursday, February 16, 2017

Where do I draw the line

Am I a Conservative or Liberal?
Am I a Republican or a Democrat?
Am I Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?

With all of the latest posts that are hitting the internet, some people may wonder where I draw the line that defines my stance. Well, I want to point out where my line is drawn.

The easy answer to the questions above is YES.

Let me give you some background. I was born to a family to moved due to my dad's Air Force stations. I was born in California. My sister was born in the Philippines. The first home I remember was in Wichita, Kansas. I grew up in southeastern Oklahoma. I saw a lot of the world early in life. I don't remember much about it. My memories don't kick in until we lived in Wichita. But I was exposed at an early age to different places and cultures and races.

In Wichita, my parents divorced. My dad disappeared from my life. My mom worked hard to make a living for us. We weren't rich by any stretch of imagination. We always had a roof over our head and supper on our plate. We were clothed and comfortable and had some of the things that kids desired (my mom indulged my geek love in its infancy by getting me Star Wars figures). I saw that life could be lived with the necessities met and a few little things added along.

When my grandmother died, we picked up our life and moved to southeastern Oklahoma. We visited my grandparents often and spent extended time with them at different points. It was not a new place, but it was a new life. Moving from the city where everything was within a short drive was totally different than needing to make a special trip to get groceries or clothes. Mom started working at home but eventually had to seek a job away from the house. My sister and I learned that we had chores that needed to be done and we had a part to play in keeping the house in order.

My grandfather was in declining in health. He had emphysema. He progressed downward in strength and ability to do things. But he was a great man who showed me some important things in life. It is because of him that I love to cook. It is because of him that I have a tinkerer nature about me. It is because of him that I extend a lot of grace to people.

Living in southeastern Oklahoma, I grew up in a very theologically conservative church. Through the course of my growing up, my mother renewed her faith and began to move to more charismatic Christian experience. Growing up Methodist, clapping your hands in worship would be considered charismatic by some. But I received a firm grounding in traditional American Christianity and a basic Wesleyan worldview. I also began to be connected with people in other United Methodists churches and began to see the bigger church at work.

When I went to college, I was exposed to a different worldview. I enrolled in the history department and met one of the greatest influences on my life. Dr. Davis Joyce was my advisor. He taught with passion about history and historians. What I learned from him, though, had less to do with historical events and persons. I learned to see the world as a place where people have different points of view. I learned from him that just because people have a different point of view does not mean we have nothing in common. I learned from him that there are people in the world who are overlooked, forgotten, and intentionally rejected. I learned from him that someone needs to come alongside those people and tell their stories, be a comforting arm, or stand with them against injustice. He reads this blog and I want you to know Davis that you have have had a huge influence in my life. I thank you and love you as a friend and mentor.

It was also in college that I knew I was to fill the role of pastor. I bounced around a little in ideas of what I would do after college and with my life. It was the example and leading of one person who opened my ears to hear God's calling into ministry. D.A. Bennett was the campus minister at the United Campus Ministry. He was a pastor in a model I had never seen. He showed me that pastors bring their gifts into the setting to which they are appointed. He showed me that in order to minister to people, you need to know what their life is about. He showed me that there is room to explore and discover and fail. He showed me grace when I did the last one. He reads this blog at times, also. D.A., if it wasn't for you, I would be floating along trying to find my place. It was your example and walk that made it possible for me to come to this place in ministry.

Graduating college, I knew that I was to go to seminary. The one I chose was Asbury Theological Seminary. It was built upon classical Wesleyan theology. I had begun to identify as Wesleyan in my theology (thanks again to D.A.'s influence). I felt this was the place to broaden that part of my life. At Asbury, I was able to bring all of the influences in my life to bear on becoming a minister. What I learned of Wesley and his process of developing the theology that would influence the United Methodist Church made me more convinced that I was called into this life. I was shaped as I was to become a minister in this church. All of the things that had risen and fallen, all of the people who had crossed my path, had brought me to the right place.

And then I began ministry. And I found that people didn't believe the same way. And people didn't think that there were forgotten, overlooked, and rejected persons around them. I found people who were content to be comfortable. And some wanted to be more. From that point at the beginning of ministry, I felt that my place was to move my lines.

When I was in a group of people who were very conservative, I had to represent a more liberal position. If I was around people who were very liberal, I needed to represent the conservative point of view. I chose to be identified as Independent politically. It isn't to say I don't have an opinion. It was to represent the side that needed to be represented in any appointment or setting. I have to move my lines because all too often I have encountered people who won't look past their own lines to see the bigger picture.

I could be conservative all the time because I hold some very conservative ideas.
I could be liberal all the time because I hold some very liberal ideas.
I could identify with a political party because I support platform items in many different parties.
I could identify with a social position because I can understand where they are coming from.

But I choose to move my lines so I can be a voice for people who aren't being heard. I choose to move my lines to speak a counterpoint for an under represented position. I choose to move my lines so that I can bring some sense of community and belonging for the different sides of a position.

I move my lines because I think Jesus moved his lines. He ate with sinners and spoke to them about living a more disciplined life. He attended the parties of the powerful and reminded them of the hungry and homeless outside his door. He walked with Jews to tell them their Kingdom had come to them. He touched the lives of Gentiles to tell them they were welcome to the Kingdom. He created and reigned from the heavenly throne and he moved into earth. He walked among the men and women, powerful and poor, of this world and moved the line of heaven toward them.

I don't draw a line on where I am because I have to move them too often.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Funerals for the loved, alone, and despised

I had a funeral today. It was a celebration for a 96 year old woman who was loved by her family. I like doing services like those. I had never met the woman. She had not lived in this region of the world since I have moved here. But it was easy to do her service because her family loved her so deeply. They made it easy to find a life worthy of celebration. Since I didn't know her, I could tell you what her personality was or what she believed or how she lived. But her family took her life and painted a picture of who she was. And it was beautiful. It was so easy to see the Gospel through her life and proclaim the hope through faith of the Good News.

I had a conversation with one of the funeral home employees about "difficult funerals". It reminded me of the hardest funeral I ever had to conduct. It was for a person who had no family who lived near. The closest family member was half the country away and was too feeble to make the trip. They couldn't afford to bring their loved one to them, either. The people who knew her were few. And even those weren't super close. When it came time to address the gathered few in that service, there were no memories shared or expressions of love for her. It made it nearly impossible to know who I was proclaiming Good New over.

The beginning of the week, I listened to the reading of an article from Smithsonian magazine. It concerned one of the darkest chapters in modern U.S. history - the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The article was about the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, and it described his funeral. Oswald was buried in Fort Worth. The only mourners who were at the graveside where Oswald's mother, wife, and two children. There were no pall bearers; reporters who had been tasked with reporting on the event were asked to serve. Those who opened the grave had not been told who it was for in fear that they would not be willing to do the work. Two pastors turned down the task of conducting the graveside service out of fear that a sniper would attack anyone participating.

I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to fill the role of being the proclaimer of Good News over the grave of one who was despised by so many. I can only hope that my belief in God, as I hold those beliefs, would overcome the overwhelming sense of what that moment represented to the nation and the world. I can only hope that I would be worthy of the grace that must fill that place and moment that every graveside, no matter whose, represent.

It doesn't matter who is to be laid to rest in the grave. It doesn't matter how they lived or died. It doesn't matter what they believed or if they believed. The grave is an equalizer. We all face its maw. We may no know when we will approach it. It is the last moment any of us has to have a word of grace spoken over us.

For me, I approach a funeral from two directions. The first is to celebrate the life of the one who has passed. I consider every life to be of sacred worth. I feel that everyone is given life as a gift. Some people make the most of the gift. Some people are faced with circumstances that limit their acceptance of the gift. Others have that gift taken from them through choice, consequence, or tragedy. But every life is one that should be celebrated for the very fact that they lived for some length of time. The most emotional funeral I was part of involved the life of a child who never had the chance to see the sunrise or sunset of a day. He never had the chance to draw a breath outside of the womb. But we celebrated his life. Everyone should have their life celebrated.

The other direction I take is to approach it from the other end. I work back to the funeral from the eternalness of life that God offers. There is a lot of mystery (in my theological perspective) on what eternity is or how we pass from this life to the immortal existence. For persons who have no faith or it is unknown what faith they have, I still think there is Good News that should be proclaimed. God's grace is encompassing. I believe that the fullness of eternity is limited. I believe that there is a people God selects who will receive a more complete experience of the eternal life. But I believe that there is a general experience of eternal life that all will know. And for those who do not have the complete experience of eternity, there is still a ministry of God's presence that comes to them.

This isn't Universalism. This is Revelation chapter 20 and 21. The nations stand outside the recreated city of God and are ministered to from the leaves of the tree of life. I am not sure how that is to transpire. I just see it in that book as the only image of eternity. But if this is the case, then there is a chance that no matter who is laying at the opening of the grave will experience God's eternal presence.

I don't preach hell at funerals. I don't need to. There are plenty of opportunities to give up on hope in life. There are plenty of experiences in life where people don't get to hear Good News spoken over them. For the pastor who was conducting the service over Lee Harvey Oswald, there was enough hell surrounding that grave. No more needed to be proclaimed.

It would not be easy. It sometimes isn't easy to speak that Good News over people who haven't killed a world leader and much-loved President. It is sometimes difficult to speak a word celebrating someone's life or declaring the Gospel when you have no one who remembers them, no one honors them. But they are still worthy of having that grace spoken.

So I hope that if the day ever comes, I will be able to proclaim the Gospel over anyone who rests at the mouth of the grave. I ask that I can lead people in the celebration of a life of sacred worth and into the hope of a god whose presence is eternal and will be big enough to touch anyone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What right does a man have on a woman's life?

This morning, I was apprised of an article of legislation that has come before the Oklahoma House of Representatives Public Health Committee. HB1441 was tabled previously, but now comes up for consideration in committee. The substance of this bill would make it a law in Oklahoma that a woman must seek permission from the possible father of an unborn child to be aborted. This bill would also allow a man who was named as the father of such an unborn child to require a paternity test be performed to prove his sirehood.

Here are the points of HB1441:
A. No abortion shall be performed in this state without the written informed consent of the father of the fetus.
B. A pregnant woman seeking to abort her pregnancy shall be required to provide, in writing, the identity of the father of the fetus to the physician who is to perform or induce the abortion. If the person identified as the father of the fetus challenges the fact that he is the father, such individual may demand that a paternity test be performed.
C. This section shall not apply if the father of the fetus is deceased and the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed or induced signs a notarized affidavit attesting to that fact.
D. This section shall not apply in cases in which a woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed or induced was the victim of rape or incest and the pregnancy resulted from the rape or incest, or in cases where the physician determines that the carrying of the fetus places the woman's life is in danger.

(emphasis is mine)
Let me clear something up front. I am not a fan of abortion as a method of pregnancy control or birth control. I believe that every individual human being is to be respected as a person of sacred worth and identity. And as a member of the society under the Constitution of the United States of America, they are afforded certain rights that are theirs by right of their personhood.

That being said, this bill is not about abortion. This about diminishing personhood.

I know "pro-life" arguments say that this stands in the gap of the unborn child, who has no voice in this decision. I would not take away the due consideration that an unborn child's personhood should be considered when contemplating abortion. But I don't want to lose sight of what matters in this legislation.

First, a woman is required to obtain the written consent of a man to undergo this procedure. This should be recognized as an insult to women in this nation or anywhere. A woman does not require permission to have any healthcare procedure performed. There are some dangerous precedents being established here. It isn't too far away from this to say that any woman in a significant relationship with a man would need his written consent for any life altering procedure. And in our nut-job litigation nation, can you imagine the damage that would be done if a rapist sued a woman because she aborted unborn child he sired and aborted? If you don't think that is possible remember this: rape is about power and control, not sex.

Second, a man has the right under this law to require a paternity test. This is humiliation of a woman. It is putting her word into question. We are not ever going to settle the "he said, she said" arguments of intimate encounters in a legal way. So let us say for argument sake that a couple has an intimate encounter, a fling, a hook-up. It has no lasting meaning when it happened. It was that moment lived out for the moment it was. Then she becomes pregnant. That wild powerful intimate moment now becomes a battle over the value of a woman's word because she is required by law to bring the "father" to the point of giving his permission. If he challenges her word, her value as a person is destroyed exponentially. Sex is not something that is to be taken lightly. It is something that should produce honor in both parties. In any case where sex results in dishonor, then the gift that God intended for sex has been turned into the sin that Satan can use to destroy and deceive.

Third, go back and read C. It is good to know that a woman has freedom to seek a procedure if the sire of her unborn child is dead. But to have a notarized affidavit signed as a testimony of this is ludicrous. Honestly, why don't we just have her father sign it and get back to an Old Testament authority over women's lives. She can't claim authority over her own life, so she has to have a legal binding document that gives her authority.

Can you see where the idea of abortion is now lost? Can you see that this is not about a woman's body or an unborn child's fate?

This is about dignity and human rights. This is about the subjecting of women to another authority, higher authority, wiser authority - a man or a man's authority.

I do not want anyone to think I am arguing for abortion. I am arguing that this is a demolishing of women's respect and independence. It would rankle me to the core if I thought that my wife had to have my written permission to do anything with her body. She is on my health insurance plan. My children are on my health insurance. I MUST be informed of anything that my minor children, who are in my care and custody, have done to their body. My wife is a free and independent woman who is intelligent and wise in her own ways. She does not need my authority to accomplish anything in her own health care. But I trust her enough to believe that any decision she would want to make about her body would be discussed, as her life and mine are intertwined. What is good for her is good for us. What is bad for her health is bad for us. But she would not need my permission to have something done.

Here is my great fear - this is going to walk back the rights of women to independent. I see that this could be used to argue for any health care decision that may impact a husband's perceived rights on his wife's body. THOSE DO NOT EXIST! A husband and wife have a mutual partnership in caring for one another but that is not a right to her life in any way.

If this makes it out of committee and into the House for a vote, this will be a dangerous declaration for the people of Oklahoma to allow. Every person is imbued with certain rights as a member of the society of this nation. The greatest is to be an individual person.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A New American Tale

They stumbled through the cold night. The trees of the forest did little to stop the snowfall. The journey had been difficult because they could not keep the cold from their finger and toes. The suitcases they carried held the few belongings they were able to gather when they left their home. That was months ago. That was hundreds, thousands, of miles away. 

It couldn't be helped. To live in their home would mean death. To escape into an unknown land offered more hope than the certainty they faced if they remained. Their suitcases held all that was left of their home and their life before.

"Before" wasn't just a time. It was a way of life. It was a way of life without fear. It was a way of life with some measure of hope. In that time, they were not worried about who hated them. They had plenty of food. They even had jobs that supplied their needs. They had friends and family who could be called upon to laugh or cry together. 

Now it was just this little family. The baby was wrapped in extra clothing to keep her warm. They took turns pushing the stroller so that their fingers would not freeze around the handle. It was 5 degrees. But they didn't own heavy winter coats. They didn't have thick, ski worthy gloves. Their shoes were more suitable for the Fall temperatures they were leaving. 

But they had to keep moving forward. They knew that there was a chance at life, hope, freedom if they could only make it a little farther.

But the headlights of a vehicle stopped them in their tracks. They would have tried to hide. They were too cold to move quickly. And there was no way to run with the stroller. They knew they had been caught.

But would it be the guards who would drag them back to the land they were trying to flee? Or could it be they had made it far enough to be in this new land of hope?

It would not be hard to believe that this could have been a story of a family from 19th Century Russia or Germany. It would be easy to understand if this was the story of a family from 1930's Germany or Poland. But this is the story of a family from the weekend newspapers.

Their story is one that is being told to bring attention to the tragedy of refugees in our world. They represent the people who are moving from home and homelands in search of better life in order to escape the cruelty of a change of regimes and power.

In another time, this could very well be the middle of a story about an emigrant family finding their way to the United States in hopes of beginning that new, better life. In fact, for many of us, that is how our American tale began. Our families left home and homeland to seek out the shores of these united states to rebuild from the meager belongings they were able to bring with them. Some had arduous journeys. Some faced overwhelming physical difficulties like weather or sickness or injury. And we are the living testament to the "...and they lived..." story of our ancestors.

But that is not the story of this family.

This is the story of a family who left Syria to escape the conflict that has sent thousands seeking safety. The family of three had escaped from that land and did find their way to the United States. Perhaps they felt that there was hope for them here. Maybe they saw the possibility of a new life. But instead of building that new life, they were afraid to stay here.

I don't know this family. I heard about them and many like them. This family, in particular, was fleeing from the United States north to Canada. They were trying to make it to Quebec.

So, how do I know that they were afraid? Ask yourself what would make you pack your three year old child, and all of your belongings, then face a winter storm with temperatures in the single digits and 18 inches of snow? What would cause  you to avoid a staffed border crossing to make your way through a forest? What would cause you to leave the land of "freedom" and risk your child's life?

I can only think that they were so afraid of living here that they were willing to risk their child's life, their own physical health to go somewhere they felt they would be safer or welcomed.

We have fallen as a nation. Where once our nation was the highest hope of freedom and acceptance, now people feel they must flee from our borders. They are fleeing, I believe, because they are afraid of what may come for being different. Or to just be blunt - because they are Muslim.

Some of this is to be laid at the feet of our President. He has degraded the safety of immigrants and refugees by declaring that Muslims are to blame for terrorist acts. He has empowered raids across the nation to round up persons without proper documentation. Those persons, who are deemed a threat to safety, include mothers of children and young men and women who have lived most of their youth out as "typical teenagers" and typically are not Muslim. He has pointed to immigrants and refugees and made them suspects of being insurgents hiding in bedraggled clothing.Yes, some of the fault lies with the man who has assumed the voice of power.

But a lot of the fear is to be laid at the feet of the American people. We have created this climate of xenophobia - fear of the stranger. We have created this climate of rejection of Muslims out of ignorance. We have engineered the downfall of the American dream by declaring that America is for Americans. And for many, this climate has been nurtured under the banner of American Christendom.

I would like to hope that Americans and Christians in America would wake up to the damage that has been done and demand, "ENOUGH!" I would like to believe that we could rise above the political divisions and join together in seeing that there are greater issues to be dealt with. I would love to see all churches in this nation put the flag down and pick up the Kingdom. I would be foolish enough to hope that we could hear the commands of Jesus Christ clearly enough to love all people - Muslims included - and build a place for all people to be welcomed. I would hope that we, mostly all descendants of immigrants who sought a new life on these shores, would put down our walls and join with people to build new lives.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Thoughts on prayer

As I have been dealing with the current sermon series on prayer, I have had to learn some things that I hadn't known before. I have had to evaluate some things that I have held close over time. And I have found some comfortable assurance regarding what I believe about prayer. I felt that putting some of those thoughts down (the ones that I have made the effort to make note of) would help me move into the deeper understanding I have of prayer. So, in no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on prayer.

Speak from the heart
When I enter prayer, it is with a very clear assumption that God knows everything about me. The seeds of my thoughts, long before they become the fruit of my action, are known to God. God has already watched me hatch thoughts and conceive plans and execute deeds. So when I come to prayer, there is no reason to hide behind anything. Justification is hollow. Reason is noise. Speaking from the honest places in my life is the only authentic prayer to bring.

I also find that when I pray, I speak differently. My everyday speech is more colloquial. I speak with a diminished vocabulary. I don't dig into the side of me that is natural, but the side of me that is adapted. When I pray, though, my speech becomes more formal. I use the vocabulary that is more natural to the academic and intellectual pursuit of knowledge I desire. That isn't to say that I talk down to people and up to God. I have just found, over time and experience, that the language that is natural to me sometimes builds a wall when I use it around others. I temper my vocabulary to make sense to as many people as possible.

God knows who I am talking to
When I enter into conversation with a person, one-on-one, they know I am speaking with them directly. When I enter into prayer, God knows who I am talking to. I may use God's name as a means to acknowledge God. I use God's name to pay tribute to what God has done or how God works in/through/around my life. I do not need to repeatedly speak God's name to God.

I do have a bit of a pet peeve with the repetitive use of God's name in prayer. It bugs me. And I know that for the people praying that way it is authentic communication with God. I just keep dropping back to the image of a conversation with someone, though. If I were having a conversation with someone and repeatedly used their name in the conversation, I can only imagine how annoying that is. If you don't believe me, ask any mother who hears, "Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma. Momma," all day long.

Trinity Praying
There are many people who put much stock in praying in the name of Jesus. And I am not saying that is wrong. I prefer to see prayer as communicating through all three revealed persons of the Godhead. God has been revealed to us through three distinct persons who work in complete unity. God the Father, God in Flesh Jesus Christ, and God in presence Holy Spirit. I also all three at work in our individual prayers. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is at work on/in our spirit to bring all that God offers to us. But the Holy Spirit also brings our prayers before God. Romans 8:26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.The Holy Spirit takes our infantile mumbling and turns it into something deep and significant. The Holy Spirit brings our prayers before Jesus Christ, who stands in the presence of God and intercedes on our behalf. Romans 8:34: It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. In that passage, the intercession pointed to is our greater need for forgiveness and redemption. But Christ continues at the right hand of God beyond the one time sacrifice to remain and intercede on our behalf. The Holy Spirit brings our prayers before God and offers them to Christ. Christ, in the role of the Highest Priest, then offers our prayers to God as an offering and sacrifice. Revelation 5: 8, 8:3-4  
When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
God, who reigns from the throne of heaven, receives and hears the prayers that we have prayed. Those prayers and heard and answered. And I don't believe that it is too far fetched to believe that our prayers are answered in a method that returns via the same course in which they were offered.

When I pray, it is with the Trinity in mind. It may be a prayer addressed to all three in union as one. It may be to individual persons in their roles or purposes that are fulfilled in/through/around our lives. It may be specifically to one person of the Trinity, but the other two are acknowledged. And sometimes I pray knowing that "God knows who I am praying to." (see previous point above)

Prayer is focused on God
It would be so easy to say "my prayers" and mean it. But "my prayers" become MY prayers too easily. They can become about me without any conscious thought. I have to remind myself constantly that my prayers are God's prayers. God is the subject. I am just present within them by the invitation of God. God wants to hear from me. God wants to be part of what is happening in my life. But I am still aware that if God is not the focus of my time of prayer, I am just thinking. That is what makes the power of prayer and the power of positive thinking two separate experiences.

Praying with God as the focus is faith. It is putting first the idea that we are not alone in the universe, that there is a god who is exists, and that God is at work in our lives. The power of positive thinking is important. Maintaining a positive mental image of results is necessary for our mental and emotional health with some benefit to our physical existence. Prayer is maintaining a positive faith that there is something more than this life that intersects with daily living. Our life is shaped around that "something more" and it is God.

Prayers should be specific as possible
As a worship leader, I understand the necessity of a time within our worship when prayers of joy and concern are expressed. As a theologian, I look at those times of prayer and know that they miss the mark. Prayer should be specific. When speaking the power of God into someone's life, our requests should zero in on the needs that can be addressed to fulfill the will of God the most. In many of our requests, they are a name with a circumstance. But people are unique beings encountering unique circumstances with a multitude of different reactions and resources. By just speaking the name of someone and the vague circumstance that they have encountered, we miss the power of prayer.

The will of God should be the outline of our intercessions. In the back of our mind, when we lift another and their circumstance to God, we should remember how God wants to approach this. How is this circumstance contrary to the good that God desires? How is this contrary to the life God provides? How is this destructive of God's image within that person? How would the power of God best be used to reveal God in/through/around the person? What sin stands in the way of God's power being realized fully in/through/around the person's life? What part of the person's life does God need to bring the glory of God to realization? Based on what you understand of what is happening, what could God do to transform the person's life? What role does Jesus or Holy Spirit play in making this prayer known to God? How are you going to be part of the answer to this prayer for the person? What will you do to bring God's good will to pass?

Praying for someone is a heavy burden to bear. It requires the full responsibility of taking up another person's life and bringing it before the Creating/Redeeming/Sustaining God. When we enter God's throne room, it may be as a beloved child redeemed by Christ and emboldened through the Spirit, but this is still THE God who was and is and shall always be. It is a weighty venture we carry out.

Pastors are not professional pray-ers
I refuse to be the only person who prays in a gathering of people. There is nothing in our faith or systems of theology that requires that when two or more are gathered together, the pastor always prays. The same Holy Spirit that dwells within me dwells within all people. Jesus Christ died, was raised, ascended, and intercedes on your behalf just as much as my behalf. When the pastor does the praying, it isn't healthy.

It isn't healthy because it is allowing fear to rule. Some feel that in speaking out loud they will say something wrong. God will always get the prayer right. Fear is an unhealthy reason to let the pastor pray.

It isn't healthy because others do not see your example. We are each responsible for training up other believers. We are responsible for allowing them to grow through watching our example of what we are supposed to be in Christ. It isn't healthy to "hide our lamp under a basket".

It isn't healthy because we are hiding our true spiritual gift. Some are powerful prayer people. They have been granted this gift by the Holy Spirit to be used in the body of Christ. They are better than others at this because God wants to use them. It is unhealthy to allow false modesty step in the way of the power God has given you.

It isn't healthy because the pastor isn't in this alone. The body of Christ does the work of Christ in the world. The pastor was ordained by God by the Holy Spirit to empower and train up those in the church to do the work. It is unhealthy because expecting the pastor to do the work of the church goes against God's will for the Church.

Those are some of my thoughts on how I approach prayer. I am still learning. I am still faulty in some arenas and by no means an expert. But this is some of the ways that shape my way of prayer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

If your happy, do you know it?

What makes you happy?

I have a lot of things that make me happy.

My children doing something that is funny or self-less or being good at what they do.
My wife laughing or singing or living into her greater self.
Figuring out a complex issue.
Playing through a session of Dungeons and Dragons.
Comic books, an new action figure, or finding a movie on television or Netflix that takes me back to a younger point in my life.

Do you know what makes me unhappy?
Those same things.
I don't mean the things that are in that list. I mean that my children, wife, a complex issue, a session of Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, figures, and television are just as capable of making me unhappy. They are just as likely to flip the happiness switch either way.

Happiness is fickle. Happiness depends upon circumstances that change. Some times rapidly.

Yesterday I was cruising about the internet and found a number of articles that focused on being happy and the pursuit of it. I feel that people may be looking for something that is a moving target.

I don't put much stock in being happy.

I seek, instead, to find joy or contentment.

Joy, in my personal dictionary, is the deeper state of knowing that there is always better days or things in front of you. It isn't optimism. I know it isn't because I'm a pessimist. It is looking at the future with the conscious affirmation that even if today is bad, tomorrow holds an opportunity to offer something better. Joy is the well from which happiness takes a shallow drink. Happiness claims that this is the better moment. But when the circumstance changes, we know that the moment we exulted in wasn't as good as it seemed. Joy is lasting because it is always on the horizon. It is always there to be looked forward to.

As a Christian, I have faith in a God who is real and eternal and righteous and holy and good. I have faith that God has provided access to the greater reality that exists outside of the natural/physical world. I have faith that there is a time when all of the physical world will be unraveled and the greater reality will come into prominence. That greater reality, what many call "heaven", is a source of joy. Even when everything in this world is falling apart, there is something better that is coming.

This is what the early Christians who experienced real persecution were looking at. This is what the martyrs of the early church were being transported to in spirit; singing as they suffered. It is the hope of this greater reality that produces a joy that is unshakable within us. The circumstances of this day, this moment, do not change the ultimate reality that we will experience. Some days it is easier to find joy than others. In some times of difficult circumstance it is harder to hold onto. But I am not one of perfect joy, counting all things joy.

That is where contentment comes in so handy. Contentment has really been overlooked. And it is what I am worst at living out. Contentment is the essential state of finding that everything at hand to meet the needs of life is enough. I am not content enough most of the time. But there are moments when it breaks through. I realize that everything at hand is enough to live. When joy is in short supply, I look around to see what is at hand. And as I fix my eyes on the things that are in my life, that expand my life, I begin to settle down. Contentment is a great way to rediscover my joy.

Contentment is not, however, a means to discover happiness. Happiness will always be looking for another switch flipping moment of something changing in our circumstances. Contentment leads us to the place where we discover we are not dependent upon our circumstances. Contentment recognizes that when life can continue without interruption, then that is enough. Contentment and joy can go hand in hand. What I have today is enough for tomorrow will be better. What I have to allow me to live until tomorrow will be rewarded. What I have that makes these moments in life possible paves the way for the greater reality that will come.

Happiness is overrated. Sure, the biochemicals that are released in the body give our mind a jolt of feel good, but that is all it is. Happiness is a natural reaction when certain switches are flipped in our body's biochemical factory. Joy and contentment are choices that we make. Happiness can go away just as quickly as it arrived. Joy and contentment are where we choose to dwell and we cannot be moved if we don't allow ourselves to be moved.

So I hope to be perfect in this some day. I hope that I can walk with my eyes fixed on the future, greater reality so that today's sorrows will pass without dimming my eye. I hope that I find the dwelling of contentment that will allow me to rest on the "enough" that I have at hand.

And maybe I can be happy once in a while.