Embracing an Answered Prayer

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About three and a half years ago I began to pray the “Litany of Humility” from a handbook of prayers my then spiritual director had given me. The prayer is written below:

Oh Jesus! Meek and humble of heart hear me
From the desire of being esteemed deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being loved deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being extolled deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being honored deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being praised deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being preferred to others deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being consulted deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being approved deliver me, Jesus

From the fear of being humiliated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ignored deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of not being secure deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being despised deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebuked deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being wronged deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being betrayed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being suspected deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being hurt deliver me, Jesus

That other be more loved than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it
That in the opinion of the world, others would increase while I decrease
That others be chosen and I set aside
That others be praised and I unnoticed
That others be preferred to me in everything
That others become more holy than I provided that I become as holy as I should

Now, as I reflect upon my situation, I realize God has answered my prayer. The problem is that I was not prepared for the answer. Thus, being unprepared, it is hard for me to embrace and rejoice in receiving what I asked for. I made the mistake of not counting the cost. How foolish of me.

By not being prepared, I find myself in a deepening depression when I am criticized, ignored, and hurt. This reaction is itself a state of sinfulness from which I must repent.

It is not easy being in a state of constant physical pain and then experiencing what I perceive as being an emotional wound. God never said it would be easy. In fact, Jesus warns us that this road is a difficult road indeed. Still, I need to embrace this answered prayer by not projecting my emotional mess and physical situation on others. I need to remember that I am receiving an opportunity of grace and should not blow it with fits of self pity and sarcastic remarks to others. To embrace this answered prayer with thankfulness and trust is the challenge I now face, Jesus help me please, Amen.

Have mercy on my Thoughts

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner.

As I was driving to Abilene, Texas to have a procedure done by a back surgeon. I tried to keep my mind off the surgery by allowing myself to just float from one topic to the next. The problem with this type of thought surfing is that it can be a perfect time for the Evil One to attack.

As I drove mile after mile, I first struggle with the directive of Jesus to love our neighbor as yourself. I have always had trouble with this. I believe I need to love my neighbor a whole lot more love than I love myself because I really do not love myself that much. So my thought surfing lead from one negative thought to another about the phoniness, the sinfulness, the foolishness, and destructiveness of my life for the past five decades. As I thought, the depression I began to feel deepened.

So then my mind went scapegoating. My first focus was the dubious character and malevolent activities of my former district superintendent. I could write some really dark stories based on my thoughts about her. But of course, thankfully,  came the conviction followed by the prayer of seeking forgiveness that added to the proof of just how stupid I can be. The Lord knows all about my feelings and I need to leave my thought on her with him.

The next target drifting into my thoughts were others that were involved in destroying my ministry (if you could call it that) and who forced me into poverty, horrible physical injury, and create in me the desire to sue them.  I serioisly prepared to do this and had ample evidence to win but I back down because that is what they would do so I thought. In reality, God just said no. Well, I least I did on thing right, I think. But these thoughts and all their negativity would not stop and I was getting close to complete despair as I drove. Not a good place to be.

I felt I had only one hope. Repeating the Jesus Prayer. So I began: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breathe out. Breathe in, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breath out, repeat. Again and again I developed the intentional rhythm and focus to continue this prayer for 40 miles until I reached the surgery center.  The dark thoughts were gone and I felt a bit a peace while I waited for my turn to be sedated and injected.

Every day of my life is a battle against my thoughts. Every day is a battle but the awareness I gain is both painful and redemptively truthful. I am an intuitive and likely function mostly under the seer/lover archetypes so I lean to the addictive which produces much of my negative shadow.

Being in this state gives me an awareness of when I am being played by politeness and conventionality. I can sense when people really do not want to be around me and I do not want to be anyplace when I am not wanted. This means I need to be sensitive to expectations that will not be fulfilled and not become to upset by those I bore or worse. They are not the ones to be scapegoated. The only scapegoat I have for my current state is my self.

Until I work through the mental mess and psychic potholes in my life I am going to be very vulnerable to attacks. I will be fighting my thoughts. I will be easily wounded and more self depreciating. But I know, as the pilgrim discovered, there is a prayer for this and every situation that changes the direction of thought to the One who can handle all that comes.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen

 

That Brighter Day

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

The struggle to surrender to righteousness is not a simple as making a decision. Anyone who believes otherwise is entering the realm of self delusion. The truth is that it takes hard work to move beyond the cheap grace of today’s prevision of good news. Salvation is a moment by moment process that is continually being attacked by a nature that is like completely corrupt. As Scripture rightly says, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12 NRS)

I am sick of those who say only focus on the positive. Focus on the power of redemption as if it were a form of magic that mystically transforms us into beings of light. Yes, focus on redemption, but understand the way to righteousness depends on God’s righteousness and a continual process of reflection, discernment, and decision. Repentance means going the other direction and this direction is the narrow road. “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14 NRS)

One of the deadly sins is that of apathia or sloth which is a failure to carry out one’s spiritual  responsibility. It is to take the easy path of painless religion, convenient religion, the social religion that deceives and deludes. It is a path the requires very little and has the mantra, free grace.

I believe we can grow in our faith but the road is more like that of Abraham, Job, Paul of Romans chapter seven and Jesus rather than Joe knows church. At least for me, the path of righteousness only comes when I do not trust myself, do not feel empowered or secure, but when I reflect on the battle between my old nature and the powers and principalities. It is painful. It is filled with times of seeking to move from self loathing to fear and trembling. Yet, this struggle is worth the reward that is promised. It is worth a future with a brighter day.

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

Spiritual Direction?

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me

Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

 

In our current days of disconnect and distraction, of comparison and consumption, seeking to grow in one’s faith can be exceedingly hard.

Now there are plenty of books, manuals, videos, and people claiming to be gurus who promise to lead us toward a deeper relationship with Christ, but I cannot help but wonder if they are the blind leading the blind. Perhaps they have been so deluded in their own reality, so deceived in their pseudo locutions of spiritual insight that the have crossed over into the fantasy of self-deception.

There are times I wish I could talk with someone who lived in the years between the story of Malachi and Matthew. What was it like when God went silent? What techniques did the spiritual gurus of that time offer?

There are clues in the likes of Simeon and Anna. They were old. They had an expectation and were wondrously surprised when God came into their presence. It is the living in the hope and expectation that sustained them. A faith developed through the Scriptures they had and the hope they came to embrace in their hearts.

I strive to read every book I can on spiritual direction and the “Christian” spiritual experience of every noted mystic I can find.  By Christian, I mean that which is based on the good news of the incarnation of God that has been preserved and believe by the faithful in all times and places. For me, Christian is a word meaning follower of Jesus who has made the commitment to be a disciple who tells others of the birth, life, death, resurrection and promises made by Jesus.

I put emphasis on the word “Christian” because much of what is passed off as spiritual direction today is much like current politics, swinging either to the fringe right or the fringe left.  I just left an organization that was started by Christian spiritual directors and has now drifted into a hodge-podge of eclectic psychology and new age magic of which I have no desire to be affiliated. On the other end are the Trump-ites whose idea of spiritual direction is MAGA, stockpiling arms, and building walls for the glory of Jesus.

Most of my life I have been trying to find those paths which we lead me closer to God. I am convinced the harder I try, the more difficult the journey gets. I am becoming more and more convinced that the more you try to find and follow the light, the more you attract the darkness. I have also discovered that I am no match for this darkness.

So,

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me
Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

The Wise Choice

“Persevere in labors that lead to salvation. Always be busy in spiritual actions. In this way, no matter how often the enemy of our souls approaches, no matter how many times he may try to come near us, he’ll find our hearts closed and armed against him.”
— St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage

It is an easy mistake to make. You get busy. You become tired. You seem to not have enough time, and thus become susceptible to illusion that you can not make your practice of spiritual disciplines you primary goal of you day. This is exactly what the enemy is hoping for.

There is no cease fire in the spiritual war raging around us. No peace treaty, no neutral zone, no place that we can let down our guard concerning our souls. Once we allow a weakness in our spiritual life develop, the enemy will quickly use it to attack.

I have come to believe that we need to develop a mindset like that of the desert Fathers and Mothers. They look at their culture and understood the power it had in influencing human beings toward lives that did not honor God. So they went to the desert to spiritually survive. We need to create our own deserts of time and place that gives us labors and actions that can help us escape the powerful influence of our own cultures.

Some would say, “I go to church to do that!”

I am sorry, as a pastor for 40 years in two, now three denomination, I have found the church has chosen to compromise. Some of turned to politics. Some have turned to market shares and statistics as their means of self-evaluation. Some have become social clubs founded upon cultural preferences and self oriented consumer “needs.” No, the local church is not the place to find the spiritual strength to become what we are called to be. As part of the universal church we can still find nurture and guidance in the rituals that offer us an opportunity to encounter God, but even then discernment is needed.

In the desert, the Fathers and Mothers developed community. They developed a community of accountability and spiritual survival. I hope we can do the same. I believe this would be a wise choice.

Lectionary sermon 10/20/2019

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

There are many people, even people who proclaim to be Christians and pastors who are supposed to proclaim truth, who that believe the Bible is no more than a book, maybe a good book, but just a book nothing less.

Even though the church has believed in the authority and trustworthiness of the sacred Scripture since the time of Jesus up until the last century, more and more people no longer believe the Scripture is relevant for their lives.

These people obviously have a different perspective and faith than that of the Psalmist who proclaims, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.” (Ps. 119:105-106 NRS)

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason is that people do not like what the Bible has to say. In the Old Testament lesson for today, Jeremiah speaks to the concept of individual accountability. According to Jeremiah 31:27-34, we cannot blame others for our actions. Jeremiah lets us know that God is not a psychologist who says we are victims of our heredity or our environment. God is not lawyer who gives us loopholes and legal definitions to make behavior legal. God is not a philosopher who postulates the positions of what is good or bad. God defines what is good and what is not and reveals this in the Scripture. Maybe this is the reason so many are seeking ways to undermine Scriptural authority. They want to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They want to make excuses for their behavior or failure. They want a loophole for themselves.

If Scripture is not the authority for Christian life and faith, what is? Our feelings? Our reasoning? Our traditions? Without the authority of Scripture, without its guidance, our foundation for faith is relative and open to deception and delusion.

The history of faith is filled with misinterpretations of the Scripture that have been destructive to the faith. Image how much more destructive such mistakes and fallacious concepts would mislead the faithful without the foundational authority of the orthodox trust of Scripture. I believe we are seeing this in our western culture.

Paul understood this and gives this exhortation and warning to Timothy. First, Paul tells Timothy (and us), “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NRS)

Then, Paul tells Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NRS)

It is hard enough in this life to struggle against all we human beings face. However, when a person chooses to ignore the foundation of Scripture that God has lovingly given us, they open themselves to myths that will leave them empty and alone in times of crisis. They will leave themselves open to deceptions they cannot even imagine with a destiny no human being would ever desire if they understood the consequences Scripture clearly spells out.

Those who discover the purpose of the Scripture relish in the understanding it gives and the perspective it offers. Only embracing the presence of God exceeds its presence in the life of those who love God. Scripture communicates God’s love. It communicates God’s care and compassion. It also reveals the mistakes we human being make. It warns us against foes we cannot even see. It describes the pitfalls of ignoring its teaching. It makes us aware of how wonderful and how fragile how life can be. It is the Word, a written revelation which points to the incarnation of God as one us, what this means and what this offers.

God makes us a promise, spoken in the Old Testament and reaffirmed in the New, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11 NRS)

You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you. (1 Pet. 1:23-25 NRS)

This Word gives us hope, in a God who loves us and responds to us in times of celebration and times of sorrow, in times of joy and times of difficulty, a word we can always trust.

In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus tells a parable of an unjust judge who ends up doing the right thing because of the persistence of a woman who will not be denied. The point of the parable is to remind us that if this judge will give justice out of irritation, imagine what a God who loves us, seeks us, gives us His world and who sent his Son to become one of us to lead us to salvation will do.

This is the good news we are given in Scripture, “Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn. 14:23 NRS)

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Lk. 11:9 NRS)

Upon this we can build a foundation of faith and hope. Amen.

Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Follow Trump

“Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8 NRS)

After listening to the prayer offered at the Value Voters (i.e., religious Trump republicans) I had to ask myself, “What kind of training in moral theology did “pastor” Brunson receive in seminary?” Not only was his prayer a mockery of praying to God who loves the poor and oppressed, he also pretended to have his eyes closed as he read from a visible paper he was holding in his hand. Who was the show for? I have never heard a prayer skirt the edges of idolatry so closely while “praying” for the president. I believe if Micah had been present he would have cried, “What are you thinking!”

Yes, I will agree that President Trump has pushed for some of the things those whose devotion to the Republican party often overshadows their commitment to Jesus, but to believe that the person elected to lead this nation has any idea of what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God is ludicrous. I do not know which hypocrisy was worse, the prayer or the man for whom the “prayer” was offered pretending to be “blessed” by it. President Trump may not go down in history as the worst president, but certainly he will be in the running for the most immoral and as far as being the president who told the most lies, no contest.

Morality as a standard for our “values” has become quite strange. Morality should flow from the love of God which is the truth of God. This love should fill us with gratitude and humility considering the grace we are given. To be moral is to understand justice rooted in love not selfishness. It is to understand mercy as caring, not conceit. It is to walk with God not think we are god.

It seems to those who believe President Trump is a chosen agent of God. I have a question for those people.  Is it moral to lie if it raises doubt about one’s actions and tries to divert responsibility for one’s actions?  Is it moral to abandon people to be slaughtered simply because you can and it will help you make more money? Is it moral to use the tax dollars of this country to manipulate another country into helping one’s one political agenda. And these are only this leader’s most recent activities for which Brunson prayed (I find it ironic that Brunson was held as a prisoner in Turkey and now prays for the man who is allowing Turkey to commit ethnic cleansing).

I do not like to get into political controversies, but when such irreligious mockery takes place so publicly I feel it is wrong to be silent. Yes, we are to pray for our political leaders. We should pray that they are guided by God. However in this case, I think we find evidence for the truth of Scripture that tells us who dominates the political realm of this world. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8-9 NRS) So I pray for President Trump that he is awakened to truth and if not I pray that he is impeached.