Pray, Praise, Serve

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Our Pastor Paul is retiring. Last Sunday he gave his last official sermon. He was just back from Africa and he told us about the resiliency and gratitude of the folks from Tanzania. He told us of the tremendous hardships they have endured. He told how he asked the one of the Christian radio leaders how he kept going and going under the terrible circumstances. The radio worker replied that he stuck to three words: pray, praise and service. Pray for guidance, praise the Lord, and serve man.

The elephant in the room of course, is that this also describes Easter’s own leader, Paul himself. It could have been a sermon about himself.

The fourteen years that I have known Pastor Paul? They started with Calvin’s baptism. Pastor lifted Calvin’s little baby body high above his head at the alter–symbolically offering Calvin to the Lord, and simultaneiously scaring me to death–in that new mother sort of way.

Pray, praise, and service. Really that is the central theme of Pastor Paul’s life. When I think of service to man, I think of Paul.

I will miss his sermons. But not really–because I actually remember almost every single one and there are a dozen of which I could rewrite the outline. The sermon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I don’t remember the year. . . well actually it was 2002. . .the catch line. . . was “heaven is not a place of leisure.” God has us here to serve. And that might put us out of our comfort zone, again, and again, and again.

He can stand up and say those works to the suburban congregation because Pastor Paul put his money where his mouth is. Most of that money and those mouths being in Tanzania.

Pastor Paul’s sermons have pushed me out of my own comfort zone more than once. Heaven is not a place of leisure. Heaven is a place of service. And it’s right here.

Pastor Paul is facing some of his own challenges with his health. So, he’s in our prayers. I remember a lecture series he gave on resiliency. I still have the notes tucked in my Bible. Pastor Paul is a resilient man. He knows all about that.

Prayer. Praise. Service. God wants us out of our comfort zone. Resiliency.

Thank you for living all those words and blessings on your retirement, Pastor Paul.

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Children Explain Prayer

This summer, our sermon series at Easter Lutheran Church has been exploring the topic of prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

 

Julie McCarty is a spiritual director, writer, budding artist, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. In her free time, she enjoys nature photography, painting, gardening, and taking long walks with her husband Terry. Julie also blogs at www.spiritualdrawingboard.com  and posts religious and spiritual encouragement on Facebook at Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty

 

 

 

 

 

Cultivating Prayer: Just Do It

(Today’s reflection comes from an Easter Lutheran member who wishes to remain anonymous.)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
          –Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)

This bible passage is often used at weddings and funerals. I’ve always felt they were poetry. Yet, while they sound beautiful, they were hard for me to understand. I know there’s a time to mourn and a time to laugh but what was the point?  Verse 1 says there’s a time for everything but the verses continue to illustrate points which are 180 degrees apart; diametrically opposed. Is the Bible saying that “Times for Everything” are just the very high and very low?  Until recently I simply let the poetry flow, appreciating the love conveyed yet not really understanding.

Then, a few weeks ago a BRAINSTORM hit me during a sermon – yes, there’s space between weep and laugh; tear down and build; silence and speech.   But who shows up there?? Our loving God is there!  Not just in our highs and lows, ALL the time!  There IS a time for everything–He is waiting for us in every space of our lives, waiting for a deeper relationship.  It’s during that time we cultivate our relationship with God.

To work on that cultivation I am pondering over some notes I took during a recent sermon on prayer—will you join me?

Prayer:

  • Draws us into deeper relationship; it is intensely relational.
  • Is a time to cultivate the relationship.
  • Is a time for speaking the truth, being honest.  (We might be afraid we aren’t getting the prayer “right” or “using the right words,” but what really matters is about having an honest relationship with God.)
  • Gives permission for God to work in our lives.

All this makes me think of that NIKE slogan, “Just do it!” When it comes to prayer, I’m leaning toward “Just cultivate it!”

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May you be blessed while cultivating your relationship with God!

 

 

Deep Empty Spaces

Illness, Injury, Addiction… Prayer. When we go to Christ with these we do so with the heaviest of hearts. Perhaps because these things we have little control over. Perhaps because they can threaten everything. Sadly, we all have our season-finding ourselves here.

kalnik 050I’ve cried out for the life of my child. I’ve petitioned Jesus to touch my son, to miraculously make him whole believing that He is the same living God today as yesterday.

I’ve asked Him to guide the hearts of his Doctors and Nurses. I’ve asked for healing through medicine and in their hands.

I’ve been broken and empty with no accord left on my own. I’ve called on Him to pick me up and move me forward.

Healing comes in so many ways.

From my book, Embracing Charlie, Chapter Titled “Talking to God”

“Have you been home yet?” Karen asked from the other side of the Isolette. Karen, Charlie’s nurse, was with us for most of the time we spent in the NICU. She even volunteered to work double shifts in order to be with Charlie. She knew cardiac care. She was confident and skilled, and had a less flowery, no-coddle approach. She was single, full-figured, and somewhere in her thirties. She had short, blonde, heavily styled hair that somehow suited her no-nonsense attitude. I became attached very quickly. I was thankful for her, less flower and all.

“Not yet,” I replied, “but we talked about going home today to get some clean clothes and things.”

“You need to prepare yourself the best you can for how difficult it will be to go home without your baby,” she said. “Parents don’t always anticipate the emotional impact of going home with empty arms.” I heard her, but I was quick to dismiss it. How much harder can this get? Besides, we had known for months now that having to leave him at the hospital would be a real possibility.

A few hours later, Paul pushed open the heavy hospital door leading onto the top level of the parking ramp. We stepped out into the day, and I instinctively took a deep, cleansing breath of fresh air. I stood with my eyes closed and my face toward the sky, the cool spring breeze on my cheeks. I had gone days without stepping outside.

I heard it in the distance at first, the whooping, repetitive sound of a helicopter’s propeller. It became louder and louder. I opened my eyes and, still gazing skyward, saw the halo effect of the circling propeller above us. The red emergency cross came into focus as the helicopter gently landed on the rooftop next to us. It was an impressive sight. Paul and I looked at one another with sadness. Somebody’s baby was in that helicopter. Maybe their baby was fresh and new, or maybe their baby was fourteen years old. It was someone’s baby all the same, and their lives were upside down too.

“It’s not the first one I’ve seen land,” Paul said to me. “I’ve seen them come and go a few times when I’ve been out here talking to God.” “Talking to God” meant a little more than prayer for Paul. I don’t mean to imply that he wasn’t actually doing that—talking to God—because I am sure he was. It’s just that if he went out to “talk to God,” he did so with either a cigarette or a cheap cigar.

Paul had confessed to me how his nicotine relapse occurred. It was late in the evening on the day of Charlie’s birth. The dust had just started to settle from the chaos of the day. With his nerves unhinged, Paul walked out the front doors of the hospital, cut across the traffic on Chicago Avenue, and walked into the convenience store kitty-corner to the hospital. He walked up to the cashier, who sat behind a heavy pane of bullet-proof glass. Without hesitation, he asked for a pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter. It was his first pack of cigarettes in more than two years, an addiction he had worked tirelessly to overcome. He didn’t even make it back across the street; instead, he sat on the curb, gas pumps behind him and city traffic in front of him, tapped his box of Reds on the cement, and lifted his first cigarette from the rest. He sat, he inhaled, and he talked to God.

Each mile we drove away from the hospital felt like twenty. I stared out the car window, watching the world move by. Our world had suddenly stopped, while the rest had the audacity to keep humming along. Half an hour later, we walked into the silence of our empty house. I sat on the staircase leading up to our bedrooms while Paul busied himself with our bags and mail.

I was attentive to a hollowness tucked deep inside me. It was the same place that had whispered for life when I knew I wanted my babies. Now there was emptiness, and it intensified with the absence of Sophie’s footsteps. I was exhausted in a way I’d never experienced. The middle of my chest was heavy, as if something were pressing on my heart. The heaviness had come the moment Charlie was taken from me, and it had stayed with me ever since. Paul looked over to me from the stack of envelopes and said, “It’s going to be okay. He’s going to be okay.” Then he set them down, came over, bent down, and held me. I sobbed, and I sobbed, and I sobbed. I told him that I knew he was right, Charlie would be okay. Still, I expressed how awful the pain was, how the suffering seemed unbearable, how I felt helpless in his suffering because, even though I was his mom, I couldn’t make it better. I was broken too. I sobbed until my eyes ran dry and I’d flooded Paul’s broad shoulders.

As Paul eased away from me, I continued to lie on the stairway. I pushed on, inviting Jesus to heal me, to give me strength. I asked him to embrace me in my brokenness. My body was limp and heavy with exhaustion, just like a sleeping child who is scooped up into her father’s arms. I recognized his presence, not by his scent or the softness of his shirt collar. I recognized him by the calm that blanketed me. My eyes opened and closed drowsily until, finally, I surrendered to the fatigue. This is the part where, as a child, I would let my head drape heavily over his shoulder. There was magic here. He was strong and steady under me. His strength moved us. I was just along for the ride. It was the safest place in the world, the embrace of my Father. He took me up, readily and gladly.

I gathered myself from the staircase and moved forward. I washed clothes, gathered some things, and avoided the stillness of my babies’ bedrooms. Then we hurried back to the hospital, where everything was just as it had been upon our departure. I sat at my son’s bedside and asked Jesus to scoop him up, to embrace him in the same way he’d embraced me.

kalnik 037This human experience is mysterious at best. Perhaps after our petitions we are still stricken. Maybe our loved ones still suffer even after our endless requests. Maybe we experience miraculous healing. Perhaps our healing comes after years of prayer.

Maybe we are left scarred.

Some things leave hurts so deep that only Jesus, who can give sight to the blind and heal the unclean, can reach in and fill those deep empty spaces. We aren’t likely to be the same. I would dare to say that I am more than I ever was before.

One of my favorites,

Psalm 147:3 He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.

Burdens are sure to come. Let us turn to Him with our petitions and our broken hearts. Let Him bind up our wounds.


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. You can follow Mindy on her personal blog, embracingcharlie.com. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

Dear God, Help!

Dear God HelpThis past Sunday, in our sermon series on the power and practice of prayer, we ask the question “How Do We Pray for Guidance?” This blog post is a reflection on that question.

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What Would Jesus Do?  The bracelets became popular in the 1990’s.  Like any other phrase that gets overused, it tends to lose its intrinsic meaning.  Instead, it becomes another slogan.  We see WWJD –and rather than asking ourselves the question, we would move past it.  Oh, that again.

The purpose of the bracelets was to remind us that God knows the answer to our dilemma, to seek out God’s help with a solution, to believe God really will help, and then do something that lines up with God’s teachings.

When I was a little girl, my dad would tell me if I had to make a decision, the harder thing to do was the right thing to do.  I have relied on that small piece of advice throughout my life and it hRailroad Tracksas never failed me.  It has worn me out, enriched my life, taken me on twisted paths with dark corners and cobwebs, and always shined a light on something I needed to know.

My dad was not a religious man.  He didn’t attend church except for baptisms and weddings.  Despite that, he taught me how to seek solutions to my dilemmas, in a manner consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  I’ll never know if that was his intent or why he never came to church with us, although he drove us faithfully every Sunday.  He died when I was 10, too young to ask about that reasons behind his words.  I believed his words as I believed what I heard in Sunday School.  I took it all to heart without question.

Jesus on the cross

Jesus never took the easy way.  From associating with outcasts to dying on the cross, his choices, although the right ones, were always the harder choices. When we look to God for answers and direction, it takes me back to what would Jesus do?  While its WWJD bracelets may have lost their shine, the question remains boldly telling.

humilityWhen we take our challenges to God in prayer, we must first relinquish our power and accept that God has the answer for us.  We can’t go seeking a rubber stamp for our own opinions.  We must go with an open heart, a willingness to listen and the humility of knowing that we know very little.  If we go to God seeking a second to our motion, full of pride and knowing, our hearts and ears will hear nothing.  God’s voice needs a humble listener with a certain acknowledgement that God knows the answer.Ask God 2

Next, we must ask for help from God, admit our confusion and lay it all out there.  Never mind that God already knows what we want, we have to make the ask.  We have to first humble ourselves in acknowledging our limited knowing and then humble ourselves further by saying we don’t know what to do.  The extra step of asking cements our humility and clarifies for ourselves what we are truly seeking.  Being forced to ask the question, candidly and with careful thoughtfulness, often helps to identify the real quandary and opens us to receive the answer.

When we have removed the arrogance of our own ideas and knelt our ears in humility, God’s voice will bellow into our hearts.

Keep Faith 2

When we ask God for help, we have to keep faith that God really will come through for us.  Proverbs 4:18 says, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” The more we seek, the more we will see God’s direction.  The more frequently we ask, the keener the insight we will have about what it is we are asking.  With every prayer, God’s voice will become more distinct and our path will get brighter and brighter “like the full light of day”.

Finally, when we have asked God for help, humbly, truly and repeatedly asked, we have to be prepared to take action.  Hard StepsSeeking guidance is powerful but nothing happens without taking the path God has lit for us.  This is what my dad spoke so well.  We have to do something.  Make the harder choice of doing rather than continuing to contemplate or complain.  Take the steps to resolve our problem in a manner that lines up with God’s teachings.

So how do we pray for guidance?  What would Jesus do?

  • Bathe in Humility.
  • Make the Ask.
  • Keep the Faith.
  • Take the Hard Steps.

That’s what Jesus would do.  The Bible tells us so.

Autumn is a writer, educator and a non-profit consultant. More importantly, she is a wife, mom, grandma, cousin, friend, neighbor and owned by a dog and two cats. Check out her blog at https://enterwithagentleheart.wordpress.com/.  You can also reach her at amlubin@gmail.com or find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yellowwoodpathways