Thursday, March 24, 2011

Conversion

The subheading for Acts 9 often reads "Saul's Conversion". We looked at Acts 9:1-19 in church one morning & were asked "Who was changed?". The obvious answer was of course, Saul (or Paul as we now know him). My mind didn't instantly rest on Saul however, my thoughts instead turned toward Ananias & the other believers involved.

We know the story: Saul was headed toward Damascus when he was struck blind on the road. He was told to get up, go into the city & await further instruction. Ananias lived in Damascus. If he had heard Saul was coming, he most likely planned to lay low. He knew who Saul was- no doubt his reputation for persecuting followers of Jesus preceded him wherever he went. Ananias probably heard what had just happened to Stephen as well. That in mind, he questioned God when he was told to go find Saul & pray for him. What believer in their right mind would deliberately seek out Saul of all people? But God told Ananias to go because Saul had been chosen to spread the gospel.

Imagine what Ananias must have been feeling. This defied all logic. He could be imprisoned or killed. But it was a risk he was willing to take because he trusted God. Ananias prayed for Saul & "something like scales" fell from his eyes. He was baptised & preaching Christ in short order. It took some time for the other believers to warm up to Saul, but eventually he was received as one of their own. I think in the end, the greater conversion occurred for Ananias & the other believers. Imagine the faith they would need to have in God to be able to welcome Saul into the fold. Imagine the forgiveness they were required to extend to Saul in light of his atrocities!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Significance of the "O"

The "O": Used before a name in direct address especially in solemn or poetic language, to lend earnestness to an appeal. An expression of surprise, pain, annoyance, longing, gladness, etc. (Webster's Dictionary)

Look at almost any Psalm & you will see the phrase "O LORD" or something very much like it. When we pray, how many of us address God by saying "O God" or "O LORD", "O Most High" (or "O" Anything)?! More often than not these days, we drop the "O" for the comfort of familiarity. Our culture no longer necessitates the use of archaic formalities as it concerns faith. We are sons & daughters of God our Father. "O God" has become just "God". He is the average Joe, the everyday Bob, the helpful Dave. He's Dad, He's Pop. He's our Faithful Friend. But there's a danger in deleting the "O" from our prayer vocabulary. What's to separate God Most High from anyone else in our life? Where is the awe, the reverence for such a One like Him?

We no longer speak like the Psalmists. In order to be relevant in today's world, we need to keep up with the times. Or do we? What would happen if we began addressing God with a simple "O" or other accent of honour? Would it begin to change us? Would it make us mindful of the incomprehensible reality of Who He is? Would it perhaps help us to remember that though we are His dearly loved children, we are also made of dust & dependent on Him for our very lives?

Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cries for help! Don't ignore my tears. For I am Your guest- a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me. Psalm 39:12 NLT

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Value of Worth

The last time I sat in a classroom, I was sixteen. Twenty years later, I'm back. I'm in a different state of the union now, as well as a different state of mind. I had no problem with the academic parts of high school. It was the social aspect that really threw me. As soon as I could quit, I did. I eventually attained my diploma, though many years later.

I was never part of the "in" crowd. I was more your average loner who acquired a few other loner friends along the way. We were the last ones picked for a team, the ones forgotten in a mass of names and faces, the ones to whom the benefits of well placed connections & resources did not apply. This made my school experience very difficult.

The thought of going to college was certainly inspiring, but impossible. My parents couldn't afford it. It had never been on the radar. Even if I did go, I would probably continue to be the loner, the outcast, the invisible. What other people thought of me mattered. Their word was my worth... or lack therof. I would never measure up, so I laid the hope to rest & started working.

Through counseling, I've come to understand that, yes, worth can come from other's affirmations or accusations. However, a person's true worth can't be bought and sold based on circumstances. It's inherent. It just is. Being a loner, an outcast, invisible- these are symptoms of a deeper disease- one that originates in the heart. It's called Hope Deferred. Hope Deferred makes the heart sick. It skews the gauge that measures the value of worth. My hope of acceptance, of having security in life, of being "known" had been deferred for a very long time. It started at home & my peers had merely helped build on the foundation.

By the time I was sixteen, I felt like a senior citizen trying to race my peers up a flight of stairs. Everyone else seemed to rush past me. I was tired, out of breath. The task at hand was overwhelming & my "body" was wracked with pain. So I gave up. My heart was sick & everyone acknowledged it, but no one knew how to help me. Afterall, they had their own crap to worry about. I hung out on that stair well for a great many years... stuck.

Now, as I walk through a campus bustling with bright eyed teenagers & twenty somethings, I feel transported to the stairwell once again. But I'm not that same geriatric kid... I am merely an observer, moving in the flow of my present life. I'm taking the elevator this time. As I ascend, I watch the floors tick off, one by one. My hope, health & understanding of my inherent worth are being restored daily. I'm gaining momentum. I'm thirty-six and I'm a student. This time, I'm not going to school to find my worth, but to celebrate it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Common Prayer

I recently acquired a copy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Its quite daunting if you come from an evangelical background. I have very limited experience with the idea of liturgy or "common prayer" (that is, written prayers everyone says together), but the experience I've had has been deeply meaningful. I'm currently learning how to pray The Daily Office.

Some people scoff at the idea of "canned" prayers. I used to be one of them. I used to think them worthless, the work of men, uninspired & unnecessary. I used to think the idea of praying from a book was old fashioned, restricting, and lacking faith in the Living God. It seemed empty... a discipline one held for the sake of appearances or tradition.

Common, by virtue of popular definition means anything ordinary, mediocre, or merely acceptable. That is, it happens all the time, every one does it, its nothing new. However, the primary definition of "common" actually means "belonging to & equally shared by two or more or all in question".

I have plenty of experience with evangelical prayer meetings. More often than not, they're common by popular definition. They're dull, dry times the faithful few get together to sing some songs & pray for the church. We pray for families, we pray for finances. We pray for the healing of hurting backs, aching feet, wounded hearts. And then we go home, having perhaps cried some tears or received some uplifting encouragement from a friend. I admittedly leave bleary eyed, ready for a nap! We call this corporate prayer because we've all gathered together for a common purpose: to call on the name of the Lord on behalf of ourselves & each other. I've scarcely known anything else & I'm not trying to discourage these types of prayer meetings. However, discovering the practice of common prayer has become an anchor for me in the endless sea of prayer requests & intercessions, even my own.

Its a comfort to know that others in the world are praying the very same words. There's time to be silent, to reflect & meditate, to confess sins, & to receive forgiveness. There's time to read the Word, to offer thanksgivings & praises as well as intercessions. Most of the prayers come from the Bible. Others come from ancient creeds & services. All are meant to inspire the heart Godward. I experience the prayers in different ways daily. Because life happens, I don't pray the same every time. This keeps the experience "fresh", alive, & breathes new life into my weary bones. Its been a challenge to learn, but well worth it.

Not For the Birds

The Book of Common Prayer covertly employs the "ACTS" method of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication. I say covertly because it doesn't specifically contain the acronym or it's instruction. "ACTS" however, changes everything. It puts God first. This is adoration. And then I acknowledge that I am made of flesh, dying daily, renewed daily. I confess my sins & doubts. I offer my thanks for Who He is & what He's done for me. Finally, there is supplication. My requests are now spoken in light of the kingdom. God is magnified & my requests are suddenly small & manageable. In Matthew 6, Jesus says I am worth more than the birds & God knows what I need...

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Some benefits I've discovered from praying with The Book of Common Prayer (Specifically The Daily Office) include: Scripture readings appointed for each day take me through the OT, Psalms, & NT. I learn how to respond to & pray scripture in new ways. Set times enable prayer to become an necessity & expectation like eating & sleeping. I know I am praying with believers around the world & through generations of history. It reminds me of who God is & who I am... It keeps me focused, anchored on the purpose of prayer, engaging in relationship with God. It keeps my prayers biblically based.

Prayer isn't for the birds. Prayer isn't for God. Its for me. Its for you. May we learn to seek His Kingdom above all... that we may do whats right, love mercy & walk humbly with our God.

Immaturity

Immaturity barrels forward into the fray not knowing what lies ahead. Here, its bold as a lion. Consequences be damned. Give me my prey! Immaturity is also stubborn & fearful, refusing to move so much as an inch if all the conditions for the journey are not met. It can be a fickle, class-A procrastinator. In short, immaturity is an unpredictable, toothy beast whose head one may stroke in the moment & whose presence ought to be avoided in the next. There's no telling what it will do. Its all over the page, living by wit or by whim. When one has the fortune to discover within themselves this beast, its a sobering occasion. Can it be tamed? Or will it devour me?

We often think of immaturity in terms of developmental milestones. Each stage of life- toddler, adolescent, etc., on up to adulthood has its own developmental milestones to be attained. Most walk the road in community & pass these milestones with little fanfare, while some take the path through the forest & avoid the milestones altogether.

I took the path through the forest. It was less traveled, quiet & safe. I could still see the road from where I was. For the most part, my path paralleled the road. But there were times I had to improvise. When everyone else had a bridge, I had to walk a ways to find a shallow part to cross. They stayed dry & were on the other side in no time. I got wet & came trembling from the water. I clamored up the bank & sloshed on my way till I dried out. I used to feel angry about it. I used to feel sad. But now I feel a little hopeful, a little bold, a little scared as I make my way back through the trees. I've seen what my immaturity has cost me & I'm heading toward the road. I'm going back to move forward. And this time, I have an entourage waiting to guide me.

Its one thing to be immature & ignorant about it. Its another thing entirely to know it & acknowledge it. Its not necessarily a bane to one's character or worth. What matters is the awareness of its presence & what one does with the information. Will I choose to stay in the dark & keep doing things the way I've always done? Or will I take a risk & plunge myself into the light to experience new life? I've made my decision. I'm circling back, retracing steps others took a long time ago... steps I should have taken but didn't. Now that I'm older, I can cover ground more quickly. This doesn't have to be a long, drawn out experience. What matters is the experience itself.


A Prayer by Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Worth of The Curse

Joel 2:25a NIV “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..."

I've heard this verse quoted many times in relation to suffering, loss, mistakes made & mistakes on the mend... I'm wandering through my own wasteland of sorts... I've seen my share of locusts in life. But I find it interesting that whenever someone brings up this scripture, there's a line that remains unspoken, like an elephant in the corner.

It goes like this:
Joel 2:25b NLT "It was I who sent this great destroying army against you".

That "I" is God. No one wants to hear that. God is benevolent afterall. Hes the Father of lights who gives good things to His children. This statement has the potential to mess with us, to prove our fears that we're at the mercy of some maniacal cosmic dictator. We can't dare consider that God is the author of our losses. We can't fathom that He would stand by & let us endure such pain.

We want to hear about our fortunes being restored. We want to have peace instead of anxiety. We want to know we'll be filled, not famished. We want justice for the wrongs done to us. But what if God, the very One to Whom we cry out, has "set us up"? What would be the point? Consider Job. God allowed Satan to inflict Job with all kinds of suffering. He faced loss & suffering simply because God was out to prove something- that Job was blameless. What a great way to reward someone for their faithfulness! In the end, even though Job had lost it all, God restored everything & then some. Was God unjust? No. Why? Because truly, Job was at His mercy. Did Job come away from the ordeal bitter or reverent? Do we find him full of pride at the end of the story? Was he reveling in the justification of his innocence, or was he instead humbled? What if Job HAD come away bitter, puffed up with pride in his own righteousness & justification? He would have surely missed the blessings that God had for him.

In my own life, I've had my share of losses, mistakes & injustices endured. They seemed like a curse in the moment. But now that some years have passed between me & those things, I have a better perspective. I'm beginning to see the worth of the curse. God sent (or allowed) a great destroying army of circumstances against me so I would cry out to Him. I'm far from blameless, but like Job I can say, " I had only heard about God before, but now I have seen God with my own eyes." Job's trials revealed his humanity & the corruption of the world around him. But more importantly, Job's trials revealed God's presence in the midst of it all.

My God, He is Lord of the locusts, Lord of the recompense.