Prayer: Growing in relationship with the God who loves you

Today’s post is written by Easter member Dorie Erickson: 

ThereMother and Daughter in Prayer Ministry Stock Photo - Smaller Copy are many books that have been written about prayer.  It is an innate, spontaneous communication with the One who made us.

For many years I have been interested in and fascinated by prayer and the power of prayer.  It is an awesome gift that God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier should want to commune with, talk to, or listen to me, a tiny speck of humanity.

Prayer is as natural as breathing (in fact, is it not breathing?), and taking in the presence of God, who has created our amazing universe, given us life, beauty, love and grace.

As a child I was taught the usual rote mealtime and bedtime prayers at home, Sunday School, and Confirmation.  As I grew older I was blessed with extended family members who prayed spontaneous “off-the-cuff” prayers.  They both frightened and excited me, especially when the pray-er used my name or other family names audibly in prayer.  It became very personal.

Pray without ceasing--Easter Lutheran Church MN

As a young adult my private personal prayers consisted of seeking God’s comfort, blessing, help, forgiveness and direction in life.

It was not until I’d been married that I learned to pray out loud with another person. My husband and I began to pray aloud each one on alternate nights before we went to sleep.  We continue this practice to this day.  But, at first my cheeks would burn in the dark of the night when I would open my heart to God aloud.  There are nights when I can’t remember whose turn it is to pray and I just want to listen and perhaps doze a bit.

Sometimes prayer becomes a “have-to” instead of a “want-to”.  Always God knows our hearts and cradles us in God’s own Love.

There is much more to praying than verbalizing words. True, prayer is talking to God, listening to God, but it also is manifested in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching God with all of our senses.  It is the awareness that God loves us and has chosen to dwell within each of us that impels us into an ever-growing relationship with the Beloved One.

In His Presence Christian Stock Images - Smaller Copy

 

About the writer:  Dorie Erickson is a wife, mother, and grandmother who enjoys reading and sharing books, small group studies that stretch her mind, music that feeds her soul, and nurturing long-time friendships as well as new ones (usually over lunch!).

 

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What I Learned from a Muslim

By Lisa Nofzinger with Umair Usman

Editor’s note: Many of us at Easter Lutheran Church community wonder about people of other faiths/religions. What do they think and believe? How do they live and pray?  In this blog post, Lisa Nofzinger interviews her new friend Umair Usman, via e-mail. Umair lives in Pakistan and is a member of the Islamic faith (they met online via social media LinkedIn).  Umair graciously agreed to be interviewed for our blog.  

 

Lisa:  Describe your faith.  What is your relationship with God like?  How does this relationship help you in daily life?

Umair with mother & brothers (Umair on right)

Umair with mother & brothers (Umair on right)

Umair:  Hi Lisa, Great we could do this. For everyone who doesn’t know me, I am Umair Usman, I am 28 years old and I live in Lahore, Pakistan. I of course am a Muslim.  Islam, by its very definition means to submit one’s will to God. For me however this goes beyond simple will and includes submitting ones objectives, purpose, ego, dependence, everything to God.

My relationship with God is probably not as strong as it should be though. I pray as regularly as I could and try follow the basic tenets of Islam, such as fasting in the month of Ramazan (Ramadan). However in daily life, my biggest relationship to God is probably being mindful of how ‘weak’ I am as a being created by God and how dependent I am on him for security, sustenance, success etc.

Right now I am striving to accept this weakness or dependence on God, so I can in a way be practicing my religion in daily life, by asking him for help, 24/7.

 

Umair with his dad (visiting India)

Umair with his dad (visiting India)

Lisa: What is your view of Christianity?  How is your faith similar and what are the differences?

Umair: Jesus is a very important figure in Islam, in fact we cannot be Muslims if we do not believe in Jesus. We believe, Jesus, much like the prophets before him (Moses, Abraham, etc.), brought God’s message to the people, and they and their message have to be respected.

The major difference in Islam and Christianity is probably the view on Trinity, or that Jesus was God’s son, while we regard him as one of the most important prophets. We do however believe he was born through a miracle and Mary was a Virgin. This is something we surely believe. Overall, I am not too much of an expert on comparative religion but I can safely say that there are more similarities than differences among Christianity and Islam.

 

Umair's sister-in-law with nephew & nieces

Umair’s sister-in-law with nephew & nieces

 

Lisa: What do you want us (Christian, Minnesota people) to know about you, your family, your religion, your country?  Our church has had some seminars on topics like Islam, Charlie Hebdo, and race but there is a lot of misinformation out there about Islam, especially in American media.

Umair's mother

Umair’s mother

Umair: I am lucky enough to have been brought up in a family that had always been very open-minded, educated, well-traveled, not just by Pakistani standards, by any standards. I grew up in a business family interacting with a lot of foreigners and eventually went for higher education to the UK. My family, especially my mother always made sure I followed Islam but also appreciated the good in everyone around me. She herself was not only tolerant, but even curious and appreciative of people of other faiths and therefore we grew up to be curious and appreciative as well.

However, the reality of Pakistan is that it is mostly a developing country, with high rates of illiteracy and poverty. People do not even know Islam over here properly, let alone basic education of other disciplines. As Pakistan is not very cosmopolitan people are hardly ever exposed to a broader perspective of the world and people. This has often made the average person in Pakistan feel like a victim, for example, a victim of the great powers such as the UK or the US. Of course, politicians being politicians have also done their part in putting blame for their own poor performance on ‘external’ factors that a gullible, uneducated society readily accepts.

As for terrorism and intolerance, I can write a half a book on the topic, but to keep it relevant (and non political), I have always told people to view global terrorism like any other crime. No matter what the crime, its basis is in inequality and poverty. It seems hard to digest this idea, but it is easy to understand that an educated, employed youth has naturally little to do with terrorism or any crime for that matter. Inequality, on a global scale, is one of the most basic drivers of Terrorism or international crime– and like any crime, I believe it should be dealt with by force as well as by eradicating poverty, inequality and giving people opportunities.

 

Lisa: And anything else you care to share? 

Umair: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to do this with you. I have always been immensely curious and it is just a blessing to be able to do this with you. Me here in Lahore, Pakistan and you there in Minnesota!  May God bless us all!

Umair's niece celebrating birthday with her friends

Umair’s niece celebrating birthday with her friends

 

About the writers: Lisa Nofzinger attends Easter Lutheran Church, lives in Eagan and works for the state of Minnesota.  Umair Usman lives in Lahore, Pakistan and is key accounts manager for the Usman Carpet House.

 

A Prayer for Pentecost

Today is the Feast of Pentecost in many Christian churches. Here is a poem-prayer I wrote this morning as I was thinking about Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to spend some time praying and pondering this sacred mystery with me.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

(click on images to enlarge)

A Rainy Day Pentecost Prayer

On this day of Pentecost, a cloudy sky dimly shines through the window
while I sit here, sipping my cup of tea,
gentle raindrops falling on a wood
of bright green leaves.
No tongues of fire
or windy skies,
but that is
how it is
sometimes.
God comes
not only
Raindrops on puddle--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Boardin excitement
and special
effects, but
also in a
drop,
in the quiet,
to still our souls
and remind us
that the Divine,
the Holy Spirit,
is Holy Presence,
truly “God-with-Us”
in Spirit form–everywhere–
both near and far
and high and low
and deep within my heart,
and your heart, and the hearts
of people living on the other side
of the globe–maybe even of the universe.
Yes, Lord, pour out your Spirit afresh on us,
on all of us, renewing our lives and the earth,
raining down on us like raindrops, soaking deep
into the soil of the earth and the soil of our souls.
May this rain of the Spirit bring new life, an ever-growing
communion and holiness within and among us, more and more each day.

Flower with raindrops--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

About the writer: Julie McCarty is a writer, spiritual director, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. In her spare time, she is learning the art of photography and painting. Visit her at Spiritual Drawing Board, www.spiritualdrawingboard.com .

Humility, Headstones, and Headless Corpses

Parenthood is crazy hard sometimes. In part because children hold your heart hostage in the most beautiful and frightening ways. Being asked the really difficult questions by people who call you Mommy, that’s when things feel especially slippery. I do my best, but honestly sometimes I wonder who is teaching whom.

In Matthew 18 the disciples came to Jesus and asked “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”. In verse 4, with a child upon His lap, Jesus answered by saying, “So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Humility. Humility and the greatest in the Kingdom. How do I lead them?

Ever notice the beautiful way a child can simply accept circumstance in spite of adversity?

From my book, Embracing Charlie (circa 2010, Charlie’s question of his “crossed-up” tubes is in reference to his congenital heart defect-Transposition of the Great Arteries)

file0001330232053 Riding in Cars ~ We were out for a drive through the city, my babies and me. The day was sunny and fresh. With the windows down, cool air blew through the Jeep’s cab. A voice from the back interrupted our cruising music: “Sophie, why did my tubes get crossed up? I mean, how did that happen to me?” My finger promptly hit the off button on the radio. Charlie was five, and he preferred to ask the big questions of his big sister first. I suspect he figured he was more likely to get it straight from her. I was on edge. I hoped she would answer him well. He believed her every word. If Sophie said it, then it must be true, because she was eight and she knew lots of stuff.

“Well, buddy, I guess it just happened like that. They must have got crossed up when you were in Mom’s belly,” she said, giving it little thought.

“But why? Why did they get crossed up?” he questioned again.

“I guess that’s just how you were made, Char-Char,” she answered. Moments of silence passed in the back seat, while I held my breath in the front.

“Mommy?” he called out, throwing his little voice to the Jeep’s front. It was a “listen to me” plea, as if I hadn’t been waiting on his every breath. “How come my tubes got crossed up, how come?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, buddy. I don’t really know how that happened. Things like that just happen to babies sometimes,” I said.

“Well, did something like that happen to Sophie when she was a baby? Were her tubes crossed up?” he questioned.

“No, sweet boy,” I softly replied. We drove along in silence, letting our thoughts drop where they may. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked.

“What are all those things?” Charlie said, breaking our silence once more. He was pointing out his open window at the hundreds of stately headstones tightly packed next to one another beyond the white, cast-iron fence of a grand old cemetery.

“That’s where all the dead people are,” Sophie said. See, she did know lots of stuff.

“What? Where are they?” he questioned.

“They’re buried under the ground, and those big crosses and stuff have their names on them,” Sophie said in her “I know stuff” matter-of-fact way. I looked back at him in the rear view mirror. His face was covered in question, eyebrows raised like Come on, there’s no way all those things have dead people under them?! But Sophie had said so. . . . More silence, more processing.

“Mommy, your friend Kelli died because she didn’t wear her seat belt, right?” Charlie said, moving on.

“Well, yes, buddy, that’s right, she died in a car accident,” I answered.
Then, using the Arabic word for “Grandma,” Charlie asked, “Mommy, why did Teta Jacqueline die?” His wheels were really turning now.

“She was old, honey, and sick. Remember, she had a disease that made it hard for her to breathe?”

“So are Kelli and Teta Jacqueline buried over there under the ground?” he asked.

“No, hun, they’re not buried in this cemetery. There are lots of cemeteries all over in different places. People are usually buried near the city they lived in.”

When Charlie learns something of interest, he’ll share it in a rather theatrical way. With the white iron fence disappearing in the distance behind us, he extended his hand toward the cemetery and announced, “You see all those dead people, Sophie? You see them? All of those dead people have their heads chopped off!” I shook my head reflexively, as if to rattle his sentence loose and knock it out. I was certain I must not have heard him correctly.

“What? No, they don’t!” Sophie replied.

“Oh, yes, they do, they totally do! You see, Sophie, when you die, your soul goes to heaven to be with Jesus. But only”—great dramatic pause on only—“your body stays here. So, your head gets, well . . . chopped off.” He said it dramatically, making a cutting motion with his hand across his neck.

Conversations rushed back to me, and now they made perfect sense. Charlie had repeatedly asked me what happens to you after you die, and each time I’d tell him, he’d look at me with the most bewildered expressions. Repeatedly I’d said to him, “Just your body stays here, but the you that makes you you, that place in your heart called your soul, it goes to heaven to be with Jesus.”

And so, we spent the remainder of our sunny drive discussing how you actually don’t get your head chopped off after you die. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t steer the conversation away from headless corpses. I was forced to admit that there was the possibility that somebody buried in that cemetery died because their head was chopped off, and they, in fact, would be buried without their head attached.

Crossed-up tubes, headstones, and headless bodies—you can’t prepare for this; I was just along for the ride.

Jesus, we call on You ~ As we face the crazy hard challenges of this life, may the beautiful humility that each of us carried as a child uncover itself again and bring us peace. Amen.


Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for ten years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Prays. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

Learning from a Cat

Today’s post is written by Lisa Nofzinger:

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)

In December 2012, when I moved to my apartment in Eagan, I looked on petfinder.com to find a feline companion.  My previous cat had passed away in April 2011 of kidney disease and I missed him.  I looked through the pictures and stories.  I considered getting a one year old female cat, but the one I was most interested in was moved to a foster home two hours away.

So I kept looking, and I felt a pull toward Mr. Jingles, a 6-month-old kitten who had been a stray, and came into a vet’s office after getting a parasite, possibly from eating a diseased crayfish.  He was severely underweight, but had been treated and was available for adoption.  I called and made an appointment to see him.  On December 17, I brought him home.  The first few weeks he ran around and knocked over lamps at night, and then he started sleeping with me and eventually became a lap cat. Jingles cat --IMG_0133

I do not know anything else about Jingles’ history.  I do think he had contact with people at some point.  He is almost three and has calmed down a lot, but still can be wild on occasion.

I believe that Jingles has learned to trust me.  I treasure the time we spend together, sleeping side by side or me watching TV while he is on my lap.  He enjoys being petted on his terms, and looks to me for food.

As I write this, I am on a medical leave from work.  It is expected to last several weeks and may go longer.  I exhausted paid leave so am unpaid.  I do worry about money, and look at my savings, and then I remember how much Jingles trusts me.  The Bible tells us that we can trust God to provide for our needs one day at a time.  God wants us to come with our needs as my young cat comes to me.

 

Lisa Nofzinger attends Easter Lutheran, works for the state of Minnesota, and lives in Eagan with Jingles. 

 

Words

Words.

Words can be complicated.  They can hurt or heal, divide or unite. Foster understanding or cause great misunderstanding.

I have been hearing words on the news about Baltimore this week like thugs, looters, rioters.  Riots. Uprisings.

Last week, when there was so much death in the seas between Africa and Europe, we heard people described as migrants.   In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other hot spots, we hear people referred to as villagers.  People from Central America and Mexico are called illegal aliens.

These words all serve to separate them from us.  They are villagers, we are suburbanites.  They are migrants, we know people who are immigrants or refugees.  They are rioters, thugs, looters.  We know fans who got carried away during celebrations (and happened to hurt cops and burn cars and buildings). They were having riots, we have demonstrations.  Us versus Them.  Separation.  Distinction.

Hmmm.  They are not like us, making it so much easier to judge and criticize.  What were they thinking? We wouldn’t do such a thing.  They are problems.  We are law abiding citizens.

But wait.  What if we called them our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters?  What if we thought of them as our neighbors?  What if we replaced all those “they” words with children of God?  Then how would we react?

Children of God protested the killing of an innocent man in Baltimore.  Children of God are fleeing war, putting their children on a rickety, overloaded boat and risking everything for a better life.  Children of God were victims of a terrible earthquake.  Children of God are starving, thirsty, without hope. Children of God are walking hundreds of miles through Central America to our border for a chance at education, health care, good jobs, stability.

Now they sound like us, don’t they?  Turns out, there is no they.  We are all us.  Together, all children of God, all loved, all valued, all important.

Next time you watch the news or listen to the radio, replace the words migrant, villager, thug, rioter, looter with children of God, and see how it changes your perspective.  It’s the first step to changing the way we act, the way we treat others, the way the world works.

Try it, and comment below what happens.

God’s Great Dance Floor

Today’s post is written by Vision Board member, Chris Cairo:

IMG_3904Recently my wife and I went to the Chris Tomlin / Tenth Avenue North / Rend Collective concert: it was awesome. I’m posting some pictures, but you will have to go to my Facebook page to see/hear the videos (there are 12, as I got carried away).

This was our second concert within a week, as we had gone to Maroon 5 on the previous Monday. Maroon 5 had a lot of energy, but this energy was different.

I cannot begin to explain the feeling of being at a concert with over 10,000 other Christians:

Everyone singing.
Hands raised to God.
Praying.
Worshipping God.

IMG_3964

God created us to be in community, with Him, and with each other.

My favorite song of the evening? “God’s great dance floor”:

“I feel alive, I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor”

The Target Center was alive!

The energy last night? In Matthew 18:20 it says; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”

The Holy Spirit maybe? Yeah, I think so.

IMG_3963

“I feel alive, I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor!!”

Where or when do you feel alive with God??