Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Be the Community... In Your Own Small Way

Recently, Rich Melheim had a brief article included in The Lutheran magazine about reaching out to people without a faith community. The basis for the article was the age old question of whether it is right to baptize a baby, whose parents are solely motivated by an overbearing grandparent.  It's the "when are you going to get the baby done" question asked in countless grandparents homes across the country.

Our Theology of Grace says that power in baptism comes from God alone, and is not dependent on the parenting skills and good choices of mommy and daddy.  But our concerns about Cheap Grace call us to share expectations with parents: We expect you to raise your child as a Christian, to be a part of a faith community, to help your child to know about the love of Jesus Christ.  Do we baptize a baby who's parents do not intend to be part of a faith community?

Melheim's suggestion speaks to our call to be disciples. Yes, baptize the baby, BUT allow yourself to be the faith community in your own small way afterwards for the months that follow that baptism.  For as much as I like to emphasize to parents that baptism is not getting your child done... likewise pastors need to recognize that the act of making a disciple is not done after the water dries and the chrism washes off.

Both a blessing and a curse, our world is a whole lot smaller because of social media. Melheim reminds us that being that faith community is really only 12 clicks away.  He suggests monthly, brief, connections with those parents. What used to take a note card and a 46 cent stamp can be done via Facebook, or a text message or an email. Of course, if those parents respond to any of those attempts to reach out it's going to take a little bit more of your time, but isn't that what it's all about?

Community is a collection of friends, brothers and sisters, children of God supporting one another, growing together in faith, and witnessing together the power of Christ in their lives. But let's not forget that community is also a collection of individuals, all with unique gifts and talents to offer others.

So be the community. Reach out to your friends at church. Pray for your neighbors in your town. Inquire how those people you met two months ago are doing, even if they live 1,000 miles away. Be a disciple by making disciples... in your own small way.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Prayer: The Conversation Continues

C. S. Lewis once compared the relationship between God and a person in prayer to the relationship between a school headmaster and a student. The student is given by the headmaster a clear description of what sorts of things he or she can and cannot do. The list comes with an invitation, however. If there is something the student would like to do that is not clearly defined by list then the headmaster is open to having a conversation about the matter. The student may lay out his or her requests for as long as it takes. There will be give and take within the conversation. Once the conversation is over between the headmaster and the student the result will be... we'll see.

In Luke 11, Jesus compares prayer to the relationship between neighbors in a world where hospitality was shamelessly expected for any stranger who would approach your home with a need. A man shows up at a neighbor's door at midnight with a request for bread because a stranger has showed up suddenly at his door and cannot offer him bread because he is fresh out.  The neighbor makes every excuse in the book for not helping the man in need of bread and shuts the door on him.  When the the man continues to knock and continues to remain at the doorway, the neighbor grants him the request.  Ultimately Jesus makes this point: "I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs... how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:8, 13b)!"

Both of these analogies reveal prayer as a continuing and persistent conversation between you and God that lays out specific requests and continues beyond those requests.  This is not prayer as the "Magic 8-Ball" in which you ask your question and then see what turns up in the window after you shake. "It is certain."  Nor is prayer like putting a coin in a Nineteenth Century mechanical fortune teller who goes through his motions as the gears turns and the lights blink to spit out a card with your answer.

Prayer as "Magic 8-Ball" is prayer as a singular event, thrown up into the heavens, waiting to see what happens.  But Jesus describes prayer as continuous.  Had the man in need of bread only made is request and then walked away, the neighbor either never would have granted the request, or when he did finally decide the grant the request the man would not have been at the doorway anymore to receive the gift of bread.

One of my favorite lines of the Bible is Paul's concluding words in 1 Thessalonians: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for that the is the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)."  Praying without ceasing is the continuous and persistent prayer with God our Father that Jesus both teaches and models.

Did you catch that? I said "with" our Father and not "to" God our Father.  Prayer is continuous because it is conversation. The parables of Jesus about prayer compare it to conversations between neighbors or between a parent and a child. Prayer should play out in way similar to if I were talking with you face to face.

So does that kind of prayer look like the famous picture of the old man strenuously praying for his daily bread, or like a little boy knelling next to his bed praying for Aunt Jane and her knee replacement surgery? Yes it can... but the conversation continues. It means dwelling in the presence of God even while you eat that meal or feeling the presence of God even as you doze off in that bed ready for a good night's sleep.

Again I want to lift up the relationship between children and parents. On a beautiful afternoon three children are playing at a playground while their parents watch. They play for hours, having so much fun.  They know the boundaries. Don't leave the playground. Don't push your little sister. Take a breather if you start coughing.... things like that. The parents watchful eye is upon the children the whole time and every once in a while the parents have to yell "stop that" or a child comes and asks to go to the bathroom near by. There are moments of tears and moments of pure joy. At one point mommy pushes her son on a swing. It's a great afternoon at the park and while the kids are on their own to play on whatever equipment the choose and with any of the other children, as they choose.... they do it all while dwelling in the presence of their parents.  

What if prayer looked like that?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


It's my birthday today. I came across a couple baby photos of me as I was working in my garage yesterday. I forgot that I had them. I know them quite well, they are the definitive baby pictures of me. I think my grandma might have had them on one of her shelves in her apartment. My parents have them out on display as well. But for the first time I did a double take yesterday: Are these really of me, or are they of my dad? After only a few seconds I reassured myself that indeed they are me... a much younger and smaller me.

It's my birthday today. I am grateful for all the ways that God has given me an abundant life. God has led me to where I am today and has blessed me with an amazing family and a wonderful life. I think about all the directions that little guy could have gone. I can remember many of the watershed moments that changed me for better and for ill. I know there are many more I neither remember nor understand just how significant they were. There were dark moments and times of dread. Those valleys could have defined me. But they don't. God made me. Christ defines me. The Spirit encourages me.

It's my birthday today. Late last night God presented me with a Psalm I know like the back of my hand. Psalm 121, more than even Psalm 23, is my staple and rock in bringing words of hope to people who are hurting and dread what they are facing ahead in their life. Last night, when Valerie and I entered a time of prayer it was Psalm 121, 122, and 123 that God presented to me. "Oh no," I thought, not Psalm 121. "Maybe its actually 123 I need tonight." But it was Psalm 121 that The Spirit presented us with and it is my song this morning.

It's my birthday today. I wonder what God has in store for me and my family. What's next? I know it's life in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Kingdom of the Possible. I know it's life with a call toward compassion and not contempt. I know God will be my inspiration and my light, an ever present help in times of trouble. Of course God gave me Psalm 121 to guide me and to guide Valerie.

I lift up my eyes to the hills,
from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved.
He who watches over Israel will neither slumber or sleep.

The Lord is your keeper.
The Lord is your shade and your right hand.

The sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil.
He will keep your life.

The Lord will look over your going out
and your coming in
from this time forth and forever more.