Friday, July 29, 2011

AND WHOM AM I SPEAKING TO?


Ellen DeGeneres was on TV the other day. I watched her dial a male nurse at work. This guy had sent her a message saying that they shared the same birthday and would love the opportunity to spend their birthdays together.

At first, she pretended to be a staff member from her office calling to speak to him. When she finally identified that it was her talking, the man shrieked in the phone and could not contain his excitement.

She was going to fly him in to share their birthdays together.

When we pray, it’s important to know whom we are speaking to. It makes all the difference in the world.

In Jesus’ prayer lesson He told us to speak to our Father. God is not just my personal father as an only child, but also a shared father. I have many brothers and sisters. Sometimes I speak to my Father alone. I also speak in the presence of my brothers and sisters. We share God. Jesus tied the family dynamic together when He said,


Mark 11:
25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The Father of forgiveness expects the family to behave accordingly. This family has some house rules. Forgiveness hangs over the door on both sides, coming and going.

Perhaps the Pharisees public prayers lost sight of ‘our Father’ and became ‘me as a guardian of all things religious’.

Perhaps the prayers were directed more instructionally to the listeners than as an inclusive family message to an approachable father. Jesus said they prayed to be seen of men.

We need to guard our public prayers from acts of performance. We are not praying to the crowd but to the Father.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IS THERE A SEMINAR THAT CAN HELP US?


Religious leaders, politicians and people in the marketplace selling their wares surrounded Jesus and the disciples. Everyone had something to say and their own way of saying it.

Jesus commented on the public display put on by religious leaders when they prayed in synagogue and on street corners. It was quite a production number. Tongue-tied disciples felt the pressure to follow their leaders. Thank goodness Jesus relieved them of the pressure to perform like that.

Still, prayer is important. If Jesus could point out the ridiculous, what about the genuine? Jesus kept going away alone to pray, so what happened in His private time? “Teach us how to pray,” they asked. He was the leader they wanted to learn from. And a few pages later, they are sound asleep at Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer meeting.

Maybe they felt the way I do about praying. God is pretty important and definitely part of the soundtrack of my life. I’d like to talk to Him and have an intimate discussion, but find myself awkward and pensive at times. I’ve seen the way others pray in public and wonder if I’m supposed to do it like that. I don’t want to be phony, but I wouldn’t mind the attention of others shouting ‘Amen’ to my performance. And then I fall back to earth and feel awkward about the whole idea.

Without pre-writing the script, Jesus gave a quick lesson on how to pray. We have forever since referred to this as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ or the ‘Our Father’.


Matthew 6:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.


I want to absorb this teaching. I was trained to dissect Scripture in order to understand it more. Though, sometimes it feels like taking apart frogs in Grade 11 biology.

There are these inner parts that we can identify, but the frog is lifeless. The formaldehyde is an unappealing odor on a hot afternoon near the end of the school year.

Have you ever felt that way about approaching prayer? The truth is we need Holy Spirit to help us pray. Prayer and Scripture are not lifeless, but they can be dry as bleached bones unless God’s Spirit breathes into us.

If prayer is going to have any substance for us, we need to make up our mind about some things.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

PARALYSIS OF THE TONGUE


Awkward, pensive moments… you are with someone important. You are in a setting where you want to talk with them and are not sure what to say.

A few years ago I stood alongside the stage at Hart Plaza in Detroit. My friend Ryan Richardson and I had just heard the gospel singer Russ Taff sing a few songs at a festival. We walked up and said hello and expressed appreciation.

And then, my tongue had a stroke and lay paralyzed in my mouth. What could I say to Russ Taff that he hadn’t heard before? I owned and listened to many of his solo recordings. His music was part of the soundtrack of my life. I felt as if I knew him through his music. Now I felt like a geeky kid in grade eight going on his first date. What was with that? We sometimes find ourselves wanting to communicate, but unsure of ourselves.

How many words never leave your cranium? Some people’s heads may explode if they don’t soon say something to relieve the pressure. I understand the quiet ones. They don’t like to post on Facebook either.

I see some who jump into conversation effortlessly as if the whole world were their best friend and cared deeply about the flow of words coming from their mouth. After a few minutes, I catch myself looking into their face and nodding in agreement. Even though my ears have gone deaf and my eyes are glazing over, I pretend to be interested. I like to think that everyone’s important, but my own needs are winning in this moment. Mister Oblivious continues to talk until he sounds like the adults on a Peanuts cartoon. Wah-wah-wah…

Come to think of it, I’ve noticed people sometimes giving me that nod and knowing look. It’s a great face they make before falling asleep during a sermon.

In a world filled with voices, communication is very important to us. Not that everyone wants to open up… sometimes we like to keep things to ourselves. But, even hermits may feel the need to talk to themselves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: JESUS, MY FATHER, THE CIA AND ME



Before I give you my thoughts on Ian Morgan Cron's newest book, let me make an offer. I will send a copy of this book to the first person with the greatest number of these characteristics:

- raised by an alcoholic father
- had a parent who worked covertly for an Intelligence Agency
- raised Catholic
- attended Young Life, Campus Life or some student ministry during high school years
- partied hard

Email me at revkevinrogers@hotmail.com with your score out of 5. Highest entry wins the book.

Now to my thoughts...

Ian Cron strikes me as the coolest Episcopal priest I ever came across. Not that I know any, but if I did I would think he stands out.

He writes with the humor of Garrison Keillor and hints of Woody Allen. He is theologically trained but does not write a treatise. Instead, we find an auto-biography that brings us to a quiet place at an altar. His testimony reminds us that broken people are healed by a broken Lord.

This is his journey with Christ from childhood, through addiction and depression to parenting and priesthood. I was struck by the simplicity of his gospel and huge gaps in the story. We learn very little about his seminary years or how he came into the priesthood.

But the gaps make sense because Ian turns himself inside out with vulnerability and intention. I was left with the impression that Ian Cron is one who reverences The Name in the same way that Jews would not utter God's Name.

Great read. Couldn't put it down.

_____________________




"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: GOD WITHOUT RELIGION



I could not put this book down. Without previous knowledge of the author, I assumed the book would be a pendulum swing rant against the things we do not like about Westernized Church life.

What I found instead, was an excellent treatment of key passages of scripture dealing with the Ten Commandments, the New Covenant, Tithing, Baptism, Pre-destination and so on.

Andrew Farley is a masterful storyteller who makes theology personal and memorable.

If you know someone who has been burned-out by church life and legalism, buy this one for Christmas. But do yourself a favor and read it first.





"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".  




Sunday, July 3, 2011

TOO UGLY FOR PROSTITUTION

A couple weeks ago, I was in the old city area of Montreal. Amidst the quaint cafes and wide cobblestone streets, I observed several street performers. Musicians, buskers and comedians entertained the tourists and collected money for romanticizing the environment.

Sometimes you give to a busker because you are truly entertained. Other times, you give because you feel sorry for them. While a few are truly gifted performers, others appear to be beggars with a gimmick. The out-of-tune guitar and crackly voice singing Neil Young worse than Neil Young might inspire a handful of change in the open guitar case.

And then, there are honest beggars. A few will tell you that they want money to buy beer, food or pay their rent. One of the begging men in Montreal held a sign that read, ‘Too ugly for prostitution.’ Now, that’s honest.

If you ever had to beg, you know that your presentation is everything. You need to compete for the attention of the softhearted passerby. You need their money before they spend or give it elsewhere. You count on the fact that plenty of people have spare change and will give it to you if you ask in the right way.

Some people approach God in a beggarly fashion. They hope that if they ask the right way or impress Him in some way, they will receive mercy from on high. Many people who came to Jesus had this approach. Desperation moved them to attract His attention in demonstrable ways.  And it works.

But there also spiritual street performers. They demonstrate their religious behaviour in public ways to persuade you of their closeness to God. There is a right place for public prayers and preaching effectively. But what happens when people put on a prayer, preaching or worship performance to gain admiration for themselves?


Matthew 6:
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.


Sometimes we think that putting on a show will lead to a reward. We actually believe that if the right people see us being godly, they will elevate us to public esteem. We are deluded like the American Idols who make it on the show just to be laughed at. But, we think we can really sing, pray or give spiritual advice—if only the right people would notice..

Might we better hang a sign around our neck that says, ‘Too ugly for prostitution’? We do not need to impress anyone but God. We do not need to put on a show for any passerby. We do not need to sell ourselves.

What we really need is to discover the fulfillment and protected secrecy of the closet. When we are hidden away with God, we can reveal all of our neediness, ugliness and loneliness. In the secret place with God, needs are met and beauty is bestowed.

In God’s presence, you soon discover that you are not a beggar or a prostitute. You are not just tolerated but welcomed. You do not have to perform. You can be yourself with God.

Do you have a hideaway? When was the last time you snuck away unnoticed to be with the lover of your soul?

You sneak around in the dark to fulfill the desires of the flesh. Why not sneak away into a closet of prayer? You can wrestle your demons alone or you can wrestle an angel and be forever changed. You can avoid relational intimacy for fear of rejection or you can surrender to God’s embrace and be healed by love.

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