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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poor Child - Prayer Child

I watched a real time story on television where a local organization sponsored a Christmas shopping spree for underprivileged children at Wal-Mart. Each child was given an adult mentor and $100 with which to buy gifts for family and friends. The mentors were to guide the children in their selections.

The mentors were also told to see that each child bought something nice for herself/himself.

The children were smart shoppers. Their gift choices were wonderfully appropriate and dollar wise. I saw it on TV, the kids running up and down the aisles, excited, laughing, having fun. They chattered happily as they considered, compared, then chose their gifts. They had fun.....

.....until..... came time to buy something for themselves. Suddenly the children’s enthusiasm vanished. The mentors were put to the test. They urged the children to get themselves a gift, something they wanted or needed, something nice.

The children were hesitant, reluctant to spend on themselves. But finally, with their mentors’ encouragement, each child did select a personal gift. And having put that challenge behind them the childrens’ thoughts turned to once again to gift giving. Their joy returned. They were more than happy. They were satisfied. How wonderfully curious that even the poorest child finds greater joy in giving to others than in providing for self

There is a prayer parable here for those feeling small, inadequate, unworthy.

In it we are the children. Happy and eager to pray for others. Hesitant to pray for ourselves. But blessed when we do.

Prayer child, take the mentor’s advice to heart. Do something nice for yourself. Draw near to Jesus. And you will be blessed this Christmas.

# 87 - Ephesians 3 Prayer

Here’s a way to pray for individuals when you don't really know the details of what's going on in their lives. It works for anyone. Use this Biblical language of Ephesians 3, or similar words of your own.
Hear my prayer for __(insert name)__, O Lord.
I pray that you may grant, in accordance with the riches of your glory, that he/she may be strengthened in his/her inner being with power through your Spirit.
I pray that you will dwell in his/her heart by faith, as he/she is established and grounded in your love.
I pray that he/she may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, the breadth and length and height and depth of your love: to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
I pray that he/she may be filled with all your fullness, O God.
By the power at work within us you are able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine. To you be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever, and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in the Trenches

Sojourners first published this Christmas reflection by editor Jim Wallis in 2002. With the ongoing conflicts raging during each passing year, it remains tragically relevant, particularly this year as we think about Afghanistan.

Silent Night , by Stanley Weintraub, is the story of Christmas Eve, 1914, on the World War I battlefield in Flanders, Belgium. As the German, British, and French troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a young German soldier began to sing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” Others joined in. When they had finished, the British and French responded with other Christmas carols.

Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches and met in the middle. They shook hands, exchanged gifts, and shared pictures of their families. Informal soccer games began in what had been “no-man’s-land.” And a joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides.
The generals, of course, were not pleased with these events. Men who have come to know each other’s names and seen each other’s families are much less likely to want to kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless enemy.

So, following that magical night the men on both sides spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then the war was back in earnest and continued for three more bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered – a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.

Jim Wallis concludes, "My prayer for the new year is for a nation and world where people can come out of their trenches and together sing their hopes for peace."

Folksinger John McCutcheon wrote a song about that night in Belgium, titled “Christmas in the Trenches,” from the viewpoint of a young British solder. Here are several poignant verses:

The next they sang was “Stille Nacht,” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I. - And in two
tongues one song filled up that sky - “There’s someone coming towards us!” the
front line sentry cried - All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from
their side - His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright - As
he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s land - With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand - We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well - And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell. - We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home - These sons and fathers far away from families of their own - Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin - This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more - With sad
farewells we each began to settle back to war - But the question haunted every
heart that lived that wondrous night - “Whose family have I fixed within my
sights?” - ‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung - The
frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung - For the walls
they’d kept between us to exact the work of war - Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.

Monday, December 21, 2009

# 86 - A Christmas Prayer

I’m thinking of the prayer a baby would pray. Hold me please. Feed me please. Take care of me please. Sing to me please, and sweetly whisper gentle words in my ear. Love me please, with all your heart. Perhaps the new born Jesus offered just such a prayer as he first looked into the soft, warm eyes of his virgin mother, and first felt the good strong hands of his earthly father. Perhaps it is the prayer he still offers every time he is again a newborn, born anew in every human heart. It’s Christmas. Can you hear him praying? asking of you to be cherished and adored, loved and cared for? “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, be born in us today.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Receiving Christmas

Q. What is Christmas?
A. Christmas is a gift, God’s gift to the world.

So many people think of Christmas as a time for giving. But they are wrong. Christmas is a time for receiving.

Two Bible verses dealing with the birth of Christ come to mind. The first is that "when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of woman ... so that we might receive adoption as God's children" (Galatians 4:4-5).

The second verse is that “he came to his own but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, … he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:11-12)

When babies are brought home from the delivery room, it is the custom even today to wrap them in receiving blankets. There is a difference between bringing a child into the world, and receiving a new born into your family. The act of receiving in an intentional, purposeful act, an act that changes the receiver. Being given something and receiving it are quite different things.

The act of receiving creates community, builds relationships, and shapes one’s character. I’m a city kid and not much of an outdoorsman. But imagine that I buy an acreage on which there is some timber. Imagine also that my son decides I need a chain saw and buys me one as a gift.

Well, there are two responses I can make.
1. I can accept the gift I’m given with thanks, stick it in my shed, thinking that I might need it someday. Perhaps I might even get him a gift in return, maybe the gas grill he’s been wanting. (Being given the gift)
2. Or I can receive the gift with appreciation, seeing in it my son’s invitation for me to adjust my priorities and spend some quality time outdoors. Perhaps I might even give him a gift in return, maybe invite him to spend time with me working the timber together. (Receiving the gift)

Most of us are better skilled at giving than at receiving. This Christmas I invite you to spend more time practicing your receiving skills. Make an effort to receive every card and gift given you. And make an effort to receive God’s precious infant gift, wrapping him in the receiving blanket of your heart. The change it will make in you will be so marvelous; it will make the angels sing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

My first call as pastor was to a rural church in a small Pennsylvania town. I remember the Banter family, so handsome, tall and gangly – mom, dad, and both boys. Religious, and so talented they were. David was the older boy, college age and working also. He had a girl friend, Elsa. She was beautiful, tall and, like the Banters, had a heart for God.

Soon after David and Elsa got engaged, Elsa got sick. It was cancer and back then, in the 1960’s, there wasn’t much hope. Elsa improved for a while, then got really bad. She spent days of weakness and sickness in her hospital bed with David by her side. And then finally the news … not long to live.

“Pastor, will you marry us?” they asked. “Will you marry us right here in the hospital?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’d be so honored.”

So with all haste plans were made. The wedding dress, now several sizes too large, was re-made. Flowers, artificial of course, and a wedding cake were purchased. The service was planned. And the lounge down the hall from Elsa’s hospital room was delicately decorated. Elsa’s whole life, every ounce of her remaining energy, was joyously surrendered to the glorious purpose of becoming Mrs. David Banter.

Oh, it was a beautiful wedding. Never have I attended a wedding so holy, so complete, so perfect. The newly weds, Mr. and Mrs. David Banter, exchanged their vows, and kissed, sharing, so long ago, the most bittersweet moment I have ever witnessed.

The wedding was over. Greetings all around and Elsa, so exhausted, was ready for her bed, the sick bed, of course, not their wedding bed. As she and David were leaving the makeshift chapel, they called me over.

“Pastor, will you preach my funeral when I die,” Elsa asked in the weakest of whispers. “We very much want you to do that for us?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’d be so honored.” And just three weeks, I did.

- - - - -

David and Elsa had no regrets. They lived their lives passionately, clear to the end, growing through their pain and problems, showing others how love transcends and transforms, and leaving an amazing legacy of faith and grace.

Imagine what your life, your world would be like if this year you were to celebrate a no regrets Christmas, a Christmas as if it were your last. If we all …… Yes, if we all did, there would never be a more beautiful Christmas than this one.

# 85 - Letters To God

Conscientious Christians grow. Some grow slowly and steadily, some in fits and spurts. Trouble is, not recognizing their gradual spiritual growth many become discouraged. Writing letters to God is a good way to pray, and re-reading them later on is an encouraging way to track the presence of God in your life and your spiritual growth. How re-assuring, during those times when it is hard to pray, to turn to your own written prayers from the past and experience the ministry of your very own words in prayer. How wonderfully affirming it can be to connect with the faith of your spiritual past. Start today writing letters to God. Write often, or just once in a while. Send the prayers off to the Lord in the spirit, but save the pages on which those prayers were written as an encouraging blessing to yourself when the days turn dark.

Monday, December 7, 2009

# 84 - Tranformers Prayer

Transformer Robot Heroes are among the favorites on the toy shelves these days. Their flexible and well engineered joints allow children, by twisting and turning their parts, to transform or reshape them, from looking like a standing robot to looking like a car, a helmet, or a fighting vehicle. We are such toys in God’s hands. If we allow God to transform us, God will reshape us, configuring our hearts, minds and lives to serve the purpose God has in mind for us at the moment. The Transformers Prayer is simple, but not easy. It has been offered in many forms over the centuries. Here is one of my favorites.
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Tenors Salute our Military Heroes

My patriotism soars whenever I watch this powerful music video by the 10 Tenors. Some say it makes them cry. Others just want to stand and salute. The song is Here's to the Heroes: A Military Tribute. And it is such an outstanding and honorable salute to all the members of our United States armed services, past and present.