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Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Continual Presence of God

“The most excellent method…of going to God
 is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men,
and (as far as we are able) purely for the love of God.”
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.

     I am reading again the wonderful small book, The Practice of the Presence of God. It is actually a collection of thoughts, sayings and various conversations with a Roman Catholic monk known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Born as Nicholas Herman, in the French village of Herimenil in the province of Lorraine, in 1611 his name was changed when he entered the monastic life. This book followed his death and was prepared as a guide for others in movement toward a deeper relationship with Christ.

     Brother Lawrence’s life as a monk began with a difficulty common to each of us - sustaining a period of prayer all the while being interrupted by straying thoughts. This was a source of considerable frustration for him and one to which he gave considerable effort and reflection. His final solution to this difficulty was a simple one: he developed the habit of continual conversation with God. Whether at prayer or at work or at leisure, it became his practice to focus his heart and mind on God. Throughout the day, Brother Lawrence acknowledged the continual presence of God; thanking God, praising God, and asking God for God’s grace to do whatever was required of him. Rather than prayer being something done at set times during the day, it became a continual conversation with God as Brother Lawrence went about his daily tasks.

     For the first fifteen years of his monastic life, Brother Lawrence was assigned “kitchen duty” for which he had a natural aversion. Yet, from his “practicing the presence of God” all during his awake hours, Brother Lawrence resolved that he would seek to please God in whatever responsibility was assigned to him. He approached everything he did – including kitchen work – prayerfully. The result was joy even in the smallest tasks.

     Often I hear good church people make the comment that they are simply too busy to pray. Perhaps Brother Lawrence has a helpful word: resolve to acknowledge the continual presence of God throughout your day and speak to God as if God were standing right next to you. Further, with the realization that God is ever present, try completing every responsibility given to you with the sole purpose of pleasing God. The result may be increased joy throughout the day – even while cleaning the kitchen.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Be Kinder Than Is Necessary

“Be kinder than is necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
Heather Brogowski in Woman’s Day, August, 2013

     Wonderful words! These words should be posted on everyone’s bathroom mirror as a reminder of how we should behave throughout the day. We seem to need reminding because personal experience suggest that we all have a flawed default setting, it seems that we quite naturally speak of others – or to others – in a critical, complaining manner. What is that about? Why do we spend so much time huddled with a few others complaining about something or someone?

     My suspicion is that we are critical because all is not well with our lives. We have suffered a loss or brokenness and are experiencing grief. Perhaps we are disappointed or fearful. It may simply be that someone was recently unkind to us and we are not processing it very well. Whatever is going on in our hearts, the words above are true; everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

     The reason we are unkind to others is because we have become wrapped-up in our own wounded souls and can no longer see that others are also suffering from wounded-ness. So we behave badly. These words from Brogowski remind us that it isn’t just us who are hurting, so is everyone else. If we are not careful with our words and behavior, we will simply multiply the hurt of everyone. As a pastor let me say, Satan would be most pleased with that!

     What are we to do? Brogowski is absolutely correct; we must be kinder than is necessary particularly when we are not feeling so well ourselves. It just may be that if we share a kind thought or gesture, our own wounded souls may begin to experience healing. Satan, naturally, won’t be pleased. That is because kindness to others has a way of drawing heaven a little nearer.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Invited to God's Kingdom

“We appealed to you, encouraged you, and pleaded with you to live lives worthy of the God 
Who is calling you into His own kingdom and glory.”
I Thessalonians 2:12 (Common English Bible)

     Notice the tense of Paul’s writing – it is past tense. Paul is reminding the church in Thessalonica of his previous visit with them. Additionally, he wishes to underscore his teaching while he was with them. Perhaps Paul has heard, as we have, that repetition is the mother of all learning. Here we see the heart of Paul; if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ our lives must demonstrate evidence. As Paul writes, he has appealed to them, he has encouraged them and has pleaded with them to truly live as persons who belong to God. There is a hint of frustration here.

     If we are truthful, we all could do a better job of living lives that bring honor to Jesus Christ. Paul is that honest. In another place, Paul admits that he holds the honor of being the greatest sinner of us all. And in I John, we are told plainly that if we don’t honestly admit that we stumble from time to time, we simply are not being truthful. So there is no argument, we all could do better.

     This all begs the question, why these words from Paul? Though we can’t answer with certainty what is in the heart of Paul as he writes these words, there is evidence that Paul is concerned about their effort, or the lack of it. Never does Paul have the illusion that we can be perfect – though he does say in another place that striving for perfection is a worthy goal. Nor does Jesus expect perfection. Jesus simply calls us to be “holy.” Understand that “holy” doesn’t mean “perfect” but to be “set apart.”

     If we are to be “holy”, which means in the Bible to be “set apart”, then what is clear is that there is an expectation of “effort.” The question becomes, “Are we even trying to be different from everyone else? Do we still complain when everything doesn’t go our way? Do we still spend more time being critical of people rather than lifting them up and encouraging them? Are we careful about how we behave and the words that we permit to come over our lips? How do we manage our financial resources? Is our giving to the church an appropriate response to God’s work in our lives? It’s not perfection Paul seeks. It’s effort. It seems that the church always has some people who give little effort to living differently from the world.

     During my ministry in Texas I had someone tell me that they had been invited to a dinner in the state capital with the governor. Immediately, they became occupied with thoughts of what they would wear and if their table manners were up to what they needed to be. The invitation resulted in “effort.” Paul tells us here that we have been invited into God’s kingdom. Are we asking the right questions of ourselves as we prepare for the occasion?


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Clarity of Purpose

“Intentionality in the leader results from a compelling sense of mission”
Reggie McNeal

     What separates great organizations from ordinary ones is clarity of purpose. This is true for churches. Many churches are simply consumed by the urgent demands each day brings, responding to the felt needs of it members and repeating what was done last year. All of this is done without questioning if the church’s mission is advanced by all this busyness. These churches remain stagnant in membership and spiritual vitality for a few years before a gradual decline begins. Then one day, the church leaders question how they will pay the power bill. I see this dynamic being played out currently with a once prominent south Florida church. Their lack of focus has resulted in attempting many good things that has exhausted their staff and depleted their financial resources.

     There is another kind of church, of course. Membership and worship attendance remains strong and there is a palpable energy that is contagious. I have not seen one church like this that lacked a clear, compelling sense of mission. Most striking is that a majority of the membership is aware of the mission of the church and is active, in some measure, in advancing that mission.

     The New Testament Book of Acts instructs the modern-day church of God’s intention for the church, what I will call the four central tasks of the church. These tasks are:

* Bring new people to faith in Jesus Christ and membership in the church. (Connect)
* Provide a clear pathway for people to grow as obedient disciples of Jesus Christ. (Grow)
* Equip and mobilize members in ministry according to their God-given gifts. (Serve)
* Provide a comprehensive ministry of care for all people. (Care)

     For this congregation to move toward becoming an “Acts” church, a change in how we think about church will be required. Perhaps the primary change will be to abandon all thoughts that have to with “what I want from the church,” replacing them with thoughts, “what can we do to advance the four central tasks?” This, of course, requires that we stop saying that we don’t like something, but, rather, questioning if an idea moves the church toward God’s purposes. This isn’t really so difficult when we accept the notion that the church isn’t “my church that exists to serve me” and remember that it is God’s church that exists for people who aren’t yet members.