Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, and Prayer

With the events in the national news in the recent weeks, an image came to mind from the movie, The Wizard of Oz.  It was of Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow headed down the yellow brick road through the dense forest, chanting “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!  Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!” 

In our case the chant may be “Terrorism, explosions, and flooding, oh my!”  In other words, like Dorothy and her friends, we realize danger may be right at hand.   Evil is not just some abstract idea, but shows up in deathly ways in our quiet communities, or in the anticipated safe haven of a finish line.  Lions and tigers and bears of some sort are lurking about, and oh my, what do we do?

On the heels of the Oz image another scene filled my thoughts.  This one was of Jesus encountering his disciples just after he’d gone up on a mountain to pray.  While he had been praying, he’d seemed transformed by light and two persons from the past (Moses and Elijah) had appeared and conversed with him.  We call the event the Transfiguration and you can read about it in the gospels.

Anyway, returning to his disciples Jesus finds they are frustrated because they cannot deal with an evil spirit that seizes a young boy. The description in scripture makes us think the boy has epilepsy.  The father pleads for his son to be healed, but their efforts accomplish nothing. 

Jesus heals the boy and then the disciples ask “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29 RSV).

Wow!  There are some manifestations of evil that you can only deal with through prayer.  Of course that seems obvious; but think of how we turn to so many other things to “protect” us without even considering prayer as part of our arsenal.  “Only by prayer” can the evil in us (and in our midst) be rooted out.

I am grateful for first responders, who immediately put themselves at risk when evil erupts.  I am thankful for those who work in pre-emptive ways to create and maintain safe environments.  But if we are ever to truly address the problem of evil in our world, it will be through prayer.

 Prayer is not a panacea for the weak.  It is a courageous claim of God’s righteousness and power.  When wielded by mature believers, it becomes a bold offensive move against evil.  Thus in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, once he describes the “armor” of the Christian, he then says “Pray in the Spirit at all times, in every prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert and always persevere for all believers.”  (Eph 6:18)

Pray.  It is the most significant thing you can do.  Pray for our broken world, for our country, for our communities.  Pray for the lost, for the hungry, the hurting ones, and those who feel hopeless.  Pray for the godless spirit to leave us.  There may be times we become overwhelmed with bad news and say, “Oh my!”  But let our next exclamation be, “Oh Lord our God, let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”  Amen.

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Women in Ministry Resource

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a case of the same book, but I’m about to.  It will save me from having to write one, and the list of people I want to give a copy to is getting quite long.  Needless to say, I recommend What’s Up With Paul and Women? highly, and think it should be required reading for anyone in ministry.

In the United Methodist Church we have had women in ordained ministry for a little over 50 years, and yet there are many church members (and perhaps still some male pastors) who have trouble reconciling a couple of New Testament verses with women in leadership.  Jon Zens carefully shows how these verses have been erroneously interpreted – due in part to faulty translation, but mainly to cultural bias – and thus have been used to suppress the role of women in the church.

Many students of the Bible know that the passages showing women in leadership, and in full participation in the ministry of the early church outweigh the couple of passages that seem to restrict their roles.  As always, the cultural perspectives we bring to the text greatly influence how we read the Bible.  If you believe “there is no longer male nor female” in the body of Christ, or if you have experienced women in leadership, then you should know that you stand on a solid Biblical foundation in your support of women in ministry.

If however, you come from a tradition where women are seen as inferior, or if you have never been blessed with a female as a pastor, then you most likely will turn to the “restrictive verses,”  1 Timothy 2:12  and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  For some, the debate ends there, with a line drawn in the sand and the attitude of “you take your verses and I’ll take mine.”

Enter Jon Zens’ little book.  It is a scholarly work, but written for the person without a degree in Biblical studies.  And, I like the fact that he comes from a conservative tradition, one that would normally use these verses in a restrictive manner.  Zens explains the cultural background of these verses and shows how the restrictions placed on women are not “eternal pronouncements,” but apply to a specific situation.

I don’t want to repeat his work here – I’d rather you read it for yourself, and maybe get your small group or Sunday School class to study it.  For too long we have allowed people to live with an erroneous bias against women in leadership.  In many places, women are still being denied the opportunity to live out God-given callings to leadership, and their gifts have been pushed aside.  It’s time we know the solid Biblical ground upon which we stand in support of women in ministry.

Read more at  http://www.jonzens.com/?page=shop/flypage&product_id=288

Pastor Appreciation Month

From what I’ve read on church signs and Facebook, October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I would think most pastors are like me in that we have little expectation that a month “proclaimed” to show appreciation to one’s pastor will result in much appreciation being expressed.  It might sell more cards at the local Christian bookstore, but realistically, who pays attention to all the other “proclaimed” identities of various months.  I Googled “months with special events” and got a long list on special months.   October alone had 65 entries, including:  Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month; National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; National Chili Month; National Go On a Field Trip Month; National Popcorn Poppin’ Month; Vegetarian Month; International Strategic Planning Month; and, Self Promotion Month!

Cynthia and I did receive a card from a former church member.  It made us feel good to be thought of, and brought to mind warm remembrances of the person who sent it.  But we know that appreciation happens (or doesn’t happen) as life is lived, not according to some arbitrary monthly calendar.  For instance, I got my “Pastor Appreciation Month” recognition just the other night.

It had been one of those “full and frustrating” days.  Because of sinus trouble and fitful sleep, I started the day by missing an early morning prayer meeting.  Feeling bad about that, I rushed through the day trying to stay on top of my list of contacts to make and things to do.  That evening I greeted people at one event at the church and then as I went into a nominations meeting, I remembered another “to do.”

A church member’s father had died and the visitation was that night, in a town about an hour’s drive away.  I still didn’t feel the best and tried to convince myself it wasn’t worth the drive, even though I knew I couldn’t make the funeral the next day.  But, determined to end the day better than I started it, I left the committee meeting early and got to the funeral home just at the announced closing time for the visitation.  Cars were still in the parking lot, so I knew I could at least speak to the church member briefly.

As I stepped inside the front door I looked into a room full of family and friends and saw the church member speaking to someone.  What happened next fulfilled all the hopes of a Pastor Appreciation Month.  As she turned and saw me, her face lit up with delight (and maybe a little disbelief) as she proclaimed, “My preacher is here!”  She immediately came to take my arm and lead me around the room introducing me to all her family members.  She was genuinely appreciative of my presence.

I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that the real impact of my presence was not me, or my personality.  As her “preacher” I fulfilled a representative role and my presence told her on a subconscious level that her church had not forgotten her, nor indeed had God forgotten her.  Her appreciation for that “presence” created in me a feeling of gratitude – a thankfulness that ministry allows me to fulfill that role, and to be with people as a small expression of God’s own faithfulness.

Now, if you’re one of those who takes Pastor Appreciation Month to heart – keep sending those cards and notes and gift cards to your pastor.  Such encouragements are powerful, and needed.  Ministry is so relationship laden.  People’s expectations are sometimes unrealistically high, and often conflicting, so that the weekly diet of every minister includes some disappointment or discouragement.  But, as important as the notes are, every pastor will tell you – we don’t do it for the cards.  We do it for the opportunity to “be there,” to participate in God’s message of love, and to experience with others the amazing assurance that comes from the awareness of God’s presence.  Soli Deo Gloria!

The Wingless Angel of Bethesda

While setting up my office at the church, I needed a hammer.  Most offices have a box of hand tools and odds and ends, so I went looking.  I found it in the cabinet right over the coffee machine, predictably labeled “Tools.”  But inside I discovered one of the secrets of Bethesda.  Somewhere on site, we have our very own broken angel.

 At first I thought the angel wing in the toolbox was there for repair.  You know, like a spare part, in case one of our volunteers comes in one day and obviously needs a little lift.  Anyone who’s worked with volunteers knows they can get that way, especially if they feel they’re being taken for granted.  When that happens, their wings get all ruffled up.  So, it’s a good idea to have a few spare wings available to get them back on flight.

 But, on closer examination, I realized the angel wing in the tool box had a jagged, broken edge.  It was not a spare, but a broken wing.  Immediately I realized the truth. Somewhere, hidden in the midst of this loving congregation is an angel whose wing has been snapped off!

My first response was to drop into “pastoral fix-it” mode.  In other words, I was thinking, “Well, we’ll just have to find this person and get this wing re-attached.”  But how will we know who it is?  Real angels hide their wings until needed.  Looking through the pictorial directory (which I’ve done a lot of lately) won’t help.

 My second response was to wonder, “What in the world happened to snap off this wing?”  Was it an insult, a trauma, rejection, a failure, perfectionism gone awry, or maybe exhaustion that led to a careless accident?  Whatever it was, you know the incident left some wounds, some hurts to carry around, hidden inside.

 So, here’s what we know so far.  The people of Bethesda appear to be normal, fine folks, but one of them is really an angel with some history.  This person, whose only desire is to serve, has a hidden hurt, and can no longer lift self or others in flight.

The challenge is obvious.  Our words and actions will have to replace the lifting power of the broken wing.  And since we don’t know which person is the hidden angel in need of a wing, we’ll have to lift up every person we encounter.  Come to think of it, that might not be so bad – if we really get the hang of it, we might even become a refuge for anyone with broken wings.

Thoughts on Packing To Move

When our children finally come

Fresh burdened with grief’s duties

To sort and pack the debris of our lives,

They will find the book, the aging book,

The tedious book of English lit.

 

And without us there to give it testimony

It will go to charity, or be tossed on the heap.

They will not see the young lovers we were

On a blanket, on a spring-laced hillside;

They will not hear me reading sonnets of love

Nor see you smiling with sparkling blue eyes.

 

Or again, they will not know those days of recovery

When your sinuses were packed with gauze and pain.

And then, how I read you verses of nature

By poets long removed from pain, and life.

 

They might, perhaps, pause in their purging

To open its covers and see our notations;

The way we did when packing to move,

When the book, the aging schoolbook,

Brought our flurry to a tender halt.

And again, we relished the familiar lines

Of iambic pentameter, or lilting prose.

 

There is much in life that cannot be kept.

Which is why we send these moments ahead,

Boxed for our eternity, our poetry of life.

Quo Vadis?

That’s the question I have been asked on a regular basis lately.  Quo vadis?  Where are you going?   It’s a question I’ve dealt with for a long time, and it’s been around a lot longer than I have.

The answer most folks are looking for has to do with the church to which I’ve now been assigned.  When I’ve answered, Bethesda UMC in Powdersville, another question follows:  “Where’s that?”  I explain that Powdersville is a community without borders that serves the crucial role of keeping Greenville, Anderson and the Easley/Clemson area from merging into one big metropolitan area.  The quizzical look on their faces seems to lock into place at that. 

So then I seize the opening and press on:  “It’s like the Kingdom of God.  It’s everywhere, but you have to know what you’re looking for.”   Finally, I relent and tell them to open Google maps and find the epicenter at the junction of SC Highways 153 and 81, go a mile west and there’s Bethesda, or, as it’s known in Hebrew, the House of Mercy.

I kinda like that too – especially the double meaning – telling people I’m headed to the House of Mercy in a community without borders.  

Quo Vadis?  Where are you going?  You’ll probably hear more about this question from me.  My encounter with it is not nearly as dramatic as the legendary encounter that Peter the Apostle had with it, but it’s still pretty important to me. 

The legend says that Peter was headed out of Rome during the persecutions when he met the risen Christ on the road, headed into Rome.  Peter asked Jesus, “Quo vadis?” and Jesus answered, “To Rome, to be crucified again.”  At that, Peter turned back to Rome to face his own martyrdom.  

It’s a risky thing for a follower of Christ to ask, “Where you headed, Lord?” 

 A few months ago, I wouldn’t have even thought of Powdersville as a place to live out my call to ministry.  But many years ago I asked my Lord, “Quo vadis?,” and this time the answer I got was,  “There’s some loving people who gather about a mile west of 153 and 81 that I like to spend time with, why don’t you join me there?”   And so an exciting new journey begins – as together we keep asking and answering the question, “Where are you going?”

Hello world!

Back to the blogging world after a couple of years away.  Every now and then you may find a post interesting, and if so, leave a comment.  The comments are encouraging, even those that take exception to what’s been written.  And often they enlarge the thought or give a new perspective, which is something we can all use.  And by the way, thanks for visiting.