Waiting. No one likes waiting. A Reflection on an Upcoming UMC Judicial Council Hearing.

holy spiritNo one likes to wait. Some people may tolerate waiting better than others, but I am convinced, no one likes waiting. Just visit my hometown in Columbus, OH during rush hour traffic and you will see on the look on everyone’s face that no one likes waiting.

If you are a part of the United Methodist Church, we are in a period of waiting. This week our Judicial Council (our ecclesiastical Supreme Court) is expected to render a decision on the legitimacy of the election of Bishop Oliveto. Bishop Oliveto is a lesbian pastor who was elected to the episcopacy by the Western Jurisdictional Conference last summer. Some pray for her removal and will settle for nothing less than such. Some pray for her confirmation and will settle for nothing less. I have often wondered what goes through the mind of God when God hears conflicting and opposite prayers? A topic for another post.

Others wait, preparing for the aftermath. I fall into the latter category.

We also wait for a special General Conference in 2019 that is supposed to offer a plan for either unity or schism. So like a traffic jam, we wait for an opening in the road, a path set before us.

With the looming Judicial Council decision, I anticipate that there will not be a winner in this battle. People will feel hurt, wounded, neglected, forgotten and confused—on either side, no matter the outcome.

Some will rush to a decision. “That’s it! I’m leaving the denomination!”

Some will rush to judgement. “If they just read their Bible more clearly, they would see this issue the right way.”

Some will mourn. “This is not the church of my baptism.”

The world will look on and wonder, “Who are these Christians?”

While not to minimize the decision of the Judicial Council—they truly have an impossible task ahead of them—I wonder if we as United Methodists redirected just an ounce of our passion about issues of sexuality (on both sides) toward issues of racism, sexism, ageism, Islamophobia, health care for all people, immigration, refugees, human sex-slaves, the lost, hurting, broken and unchurched, would we be as concerned as we seem to be over preserving and creating our version of a “pure church?”

In Acts 15, the church had a big fight because things were getting complicated and messy. So they called a Council meeting. Some present were calling for a pure church, seeking to purify the practices of the Gentiles—the other, “those people.” In the midst of the debate, Peter stands up and calls an ecclesiastical Time-Out. Peter, reminds the gathered to get their eyes off of preserving the  church and to get their eyes on the movement of the Spirit. Peter speaks boldly, prophetically, in words that transcend Acts 15 and resonate with us today. Get your eyes on the Spirit!

When our eyes are focused on the Spirit, we will always be surprised by what God does. What we can be assured is that when the Spirit shows up, it’s not neat and tidy. It’s messy. Organic and freeing! And it requires trust—trusting God knows way more than I/we/or any denomination can know.

So, I wonder, if perhaps the core of my tribe’s problems is a lack of trust in the Spirit? Is this not the Spirit who transforms us to be more like Jesus? Is this not the Spirit of our baptisms who confirms our unchangeable identity as daughters and sons of God? Is this not the Spirit who gives us authority to speak into the chaos of the world? Is this not the Spirit who gives us supernatural gifts to reveal the very mind and heart of God? Is this not the Spirit of the Trinity, who calls us into a community with God and each other?

Is this not the Spirit who is like a wind, blowing to and fro, always out ahead of us?

So as I wait for decisions, plans, and direction, I pray for the Spirit to come and mess up everything—to provide a new way, a way no one was even expecting. I pray that as decisions are made on behalf of the denomination I love and call home, that I will be bold enough to trust that God knows more than I know. I pray our denominational leaders will trust that the Church has always been complicated and messy, and her mess and complications are as mysteriously beautiful as the Spirit himself.

So, I wait. And I pray. Veni Sancte Spiritus.

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Lenten Spiritual Discipline – “The Sacrament of the Now”

Grace and Peace. I pray that you are well as you continue to practice your Lenten disciplines. Each week I have been writing about Lenten disciplines that I have found useful in my own spiritual growth. I’ve encouraged you to practice silence, the nightly Examen, Lectio Divina, and what I call festooning the Psalms.
hand-washing-dishesThis week, I want to encourage you to practice what I call the Sacrament of the Now. While denominationally (United Methodist) we recognize two sacraments-baptism and communion, I believe God pours out his presence every day. The Sacrament of the Now is a daily practice in which we intentionally become aware of God’s presence through the mundane, normal acts of our day.
One of my favorite books that speaks about this is called “The Practice of the Presence of God” by a 17th Century Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence. When Brother Lawrence entered the monastery, he envisioned a life of deep theological reflection, writing, and becoming a spiritual giant among his peers. However, when he arrived he was assigned kitchen duty. While initially disappointed, Brother Lawrence began to see how the mundane tasks of cooking, cleaning, and scrubbing floors could be an act of worship to God if done with the right frame of heart and mind. Eventually, pilgrims from all over the world came to Lawrence’s kitchen to seek spiritual wisdom. Among these pilgrims were diplomats, government officials, and the Pope.
Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”
Lawrence practiced the sacrament of the now by becoming mindful of God’s presence in the present ordinariness of life. Practicing God’s presence is a mindset that believes God is always active and making  Himself known to us through practical means-just like God is known and experienced in the communion bread and cup and the waters of baptism.
So how do we become more mindful of God’s presence in the ordinariness? This one is harder to practice because there is not one way of doing it. However, there are some practical things I would like to provide that will help you on this journey.
  1. Begin the day by offering your day to God. Perhaps pray a prayer along these line:
    God, thank you for bringing me to a new day filled with new opportunities. I give you this day as an act of worship. Help me to be mindful of your presence with me throughout the day. I offer everything I do today, my work, my conversations, my interactions with others, my thoughts, and my life to you as an act of worship. May it be pleasing and acceptable to you. Amen.
  2. If you work, arrive five to ten minutes early and pray in the car before walking into the office. Pray for the day and the people and work in the day.
  3. Throughout the day when you find yourself doing a normal task, give God thanks for meeting you in the moment. Acknowledge what you are doing, even if it is as simple as pulling staples, as a sign of love and devotion to God.
  4. Throughout the day, pray for your coworkers that God would bless them. Pray for your boss, your company, your clients and customers. If you don’t work, pray for the people you interact with at the grocery story, the bank, or any place you visit. If you are a stay-at-home-parent, thank God for your children, your spouse, and your home. As you make lunch or clean, pray as you offer these activities to God as worship.
  5. At the end of the day, practice The Examen again. Identify how your day was different as you practiced being mindful of God’s presence throughout the day. Where did you see God? How did your interactions with your coworkers, children, or strangers different when you were more mindful of God’s presence?
  6. Give God thanks for the day. Offer it again to God as an act of worship. Ask God to give you another day to rise and meet the needs of the world.
Again, there is no one way of practicing this discipline. It’s more of an intentional awareness in offering God your daily activities. When we do this, folding laundry, doing dishes, filing paperwork, meeting with clients, driving to and from work, or engaging with coworkers it becomes an act of worship.
For further reading on the sacrament of the now, I would encourage you to read:
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris.
The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean Pierre de Caussade.
Common Sense Spirituality by David Steindl-Rast.
I pray you meet God this week in the mundane acts of your week.

Lenten Spiritual Discipline – “Festooning the Psalms”

Each week, I write an E-News letter to my congregation. During Lent, I am writing about differing Spiritual Disciplines to try for one week. I mean to upload these to my blog each week, but forgot.  Oops. So, I am going to do it now.

prayer journalGrace and peace to you. I pray this week’s E-News finds you well. Each week I have been encouraging you to practice a new spiritual discipline for a week. Disciplines are ways to tune our hearts to hear the voice of God. We’ve practiced silence, an Examen, and Lectio Divina. This week, I want to introduce you to what I call festooning the Psalms. I don’t know where this tradition has come from, or where I even learned it, but I find it to be extremely helpful.
The Psalms are some of the greatest Biblical literature we have. They represent the breadth of human emotion. Like poets and songwriters, the Psalmists sought to put into words the many nuances of spiritual life. Often using imagery and symbolism, the Psalms are meant to solicit an emotional response, not just a cognitive understanding of God. The Psalms are experiential and refuse to gloss over the struggles of humanity. While the Psalms were set to music, I like to think of them as prayers offered up to God. Festooning the Psalms is a practice in which you write your own prayer using your connection and experience with a Psalm.
Festooning is an old word that often is used around Christmas time. It means to decorate a Christmas tree with garland. It’s to “dress it up.” Festooning a Psalm is interpreting a Psalm in your own words. It creates a conversation with God that first draws from the Psalms itself, while adding one’s own personal touch to it.  This exercise isn’t meant to take away from the Psalm’s original meaning, nor is it meant to rewrite the Psalm.  Rather, the process allows you to have a personal connection with the Psalm and to foster communication with God.
It’s pretty simple. It takes about 10-15 minutes. Here’s what to do:
  1. Create a quiet space for silence and reflection. Bring your Bible and a journal or pad of paper. I also like to light a candle to welcome the light of Christ.
  2. Open with silence. Quiet your heart and mind. Ask God to meet you in this moment, and ask the Spirit to illuminate God’s word for you.
  3. Read a Psalm slowly. A good one to start with is Psalm 139. Sit in silence after reading, much like in Lectio Divina.
  4. Group the Psalm together by verses. For example, Psalm 139 can be grouped in this way-vss. 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-24. You can also do this verse by verse if you like.
  5. Read the first section again, slowly. What does this Psalm say to you? What stirs inside of you when you read it? What prayer or thoughts might be bubbling up within you as you read it.
  6. Festoon a section. Here’s an example for vss. 1-6:
    O God, you know every depth to my being-even the parts I like to stuff deep down and hide from the world. You know what I am up to every moment of every day. You’re present with me when I get up in the morning, when I go about my day, and when I lay down at night. I wonder, why I don’t notice you as often as you notice me? You know every thought in my mind, even the ones I am embarrassed to admit. You know every word that will come out of my mouth. You are intimately connected to me, even if I am unaware. You surround me, protect me, and keep me safe. How could I ever understand the depths of your being as you so intimately know the depths of mine? 
  7. Once you have written your thoughts, move on to the next section and repeat steps 5 and 6.
  8. Once you have completed all the sections of the Psalm, read your festooned prayer out loud to God as if you are reading God a letter.
  9. Journal about what this experience has meant to you. What themes came up as you wrote your festooned prayer? Is there something in your prayer that you may want to explore more? Is there something obvious that is unsettled within you? If so, I encourage you to talk with someone you trust about it-a pastor, friend, counselor, or Spiritual Director.
  10. Close your time with silence. End with thanking God for the time you two had together.
I love this practice. I find that the prayers that come from within me are raw, honest, and illuminate key areas I need to focus on in my spiritual growth. I pray that as you write your festooned prayers to God, you experience a deep intimacy with Him.
Happy Festooning!

Lenten Discipline – Lectio Divina

Each week, I write an E-News letter to my congregation. During Lent, I am writing about differing Spiritual Disciplines to try for one week. I mean to upload these to my blog each week, but forgot.  Oops. So, I am going to do it now.

prayer-and-meditationSo far this Lenten season I have encouraged you to practice silence and an Examen. I hope they have been fruitful spiritual exercises that can continue to deepen your walk with Jesus. This week, I encourage you to practice a different form of reading scripture called Lectio Divina, or sacred reading.
There are times when I read scripture and when I am done I think to myself, “What did I just read?” I often wonder how some texts are applicable to my life. Lectio is a way to approach scripture to not just read it for information’s sake, but to digest it and take it into us. Eugene Peterson provides a great image for Lectio. He likens it to a dog chewing on a bone, sucking out all the marrow on the inside.
 
Lectio is a Benedictine practice. St. Benedict was a lay person who started a monastery during the 6th century. Monastic life revolved around The Rule of St. Benedict. This rule is practiced by monks and lay people throughout the world today. Part of the rule was to practice Lectio Divina.
 
Lectio is simply a devotional way to read scripture. It has four stages: read (lectio), meditate (meditatio), pray (oratio), contemplate (contemplatio). It takes about 10-15 minutes to practice by intentionally reading a small text repeatedly and listening for the voice of God.
To start I would encourage you to read Psalm 63:1-4.  Below is a guide help you.
READ (lectio)
  • Find a quiet spot.
  • Read the scripture, slowly. I prefer reading out loud.
  • Repeat the passage 2 to 3 times.
  • What word or phrase speaks to you?
  • Allow 1 minutes of silence between readings.
Meditate (meditatio)
  • Read the scripture again.
  • Reflect upon the passage.
  • What is Christ saying to you personally in this text?
  • What does this passage mean for you? Journal your thoughts/insights.
  • Allow 4-5 minutes of silence, actively listening for God.
Pray (oratio)
  • Read the scripture again.
  • Let your heart respond to God by talking to God about the passage.
  • What do you want to say to God about this passage or its meaning for you?
  • Allow 3-4 minutes of silence.
Contemplate (contemplatio)
  • Read the scripture one final time.
  • Surrender yourself to God.
  • Rest in God’s presence by not talking, but listening for God’s still small voice.
  • Allow 2-3 minutes of silence.
  • Conclude with The Lord’s Prayer.
As someone who is trained in analyzing scripture for sermons, Lectio has proven to be a great way for me to feast on God’s Word for my own spiritual growth.
I pray that you hear God speak to you as you practice Lectio Divina.

Lenten Discipline – Daily Examen

Each week, I write an E-News letter to my congregation. During Lent, I am writing about differing Spiritual Disciplines to try for one week. I mean to upload these to my blog each week, but forgot.  Oops. So, I am going to do it now.

The-Daily-ExamenGrace and peace to you. I pray your Lenten journey is off to a great start. I greet you from Cannon Beach, Oregon. I am here for a week in class for my doctoral program.
As I mentioned in last week’s E-News, Lent is an invitation to practice new spiritual rhythms in order to draw you deeper in your spiritual life. To help with this, each week I am writing about a spiritual discipline and encouraging you to practice it for one week. By the end of the 40 days of Lent, I hope you find one or two practices that will help sustain your spiritual growth.
This week, I want to encourage you to practice what’s called an Examen. The Examen was a spiritual practice taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In essence, the Examen is a daily-often nightly-rhythm of examining your day and noticing when you felt the most connected to God (consolation) and when you felt the furthest from God (desolation). The Examen is a great time to journal and record your feelings, thoughts, memories and experiences throughout the day. It’s a pretty simple but powerful exercise, especially in our fast paced society.
Here’s what to do:
  1. Find a quiet spot, free from distraction.
  2. Begin with silence. Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind what He wants you to see.
  3. Give thanks to God for your day. Say your thanks out loud by telling God why you are thankful.
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your consolations. Write down in your journal the moments in your day when you felt close to God and/or others. Pay attention to your emotions as you record your thoughts.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your desolations. Write down in your journal moments in your day when you felt distant or disconnected from God and/or others. Pay attention to your emotions as you record your thoughts.
  6. Choose one feature of your day and pray about it.
  7. Give thanks to God for your time with Him, and express your gratitude for tomorrow.
  8. Rest in God’s peace.
An Examen is a great practice that helps you look over your day through a new lens. It is impactful when you notice how often God is a part of your day, and how easy it is to become disconnected with God throughout your day as well. After one week’s time, read back through your journal and see if there are any common themes throughout your week. Make note of those themes because it might be the Spirit’s way of shedding light onto some areas in your life that are going well, or areas that need your attention.
I can’t wait to hear about your experiences with practicing a daily Examen.

Some Lenten Disciplines – Silence

Each week, I write an E-News letter to my congregation. During Lent, I am writing about differing Spiritual Disciplines to try for one week. I mean to upload these to my blog each week, but forgot.  Oops. So, I am going to do it now.

SilentYesterday many gathered for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is 40-day journey that leads up to Easter. It’s an introspective time of year when followers of Jesus participate in spiritual practices that strengthen their spiritual lives. Practices include fasting, abstaining from certain foods or activities, increasing one’s time reading scripture, serving the poor, providing hospitality, or increasing one’s amount of rest.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to feature a spiritual practice that has been life-giving for me. I encourage you to try each practice out for a week. Let me know what your experiences have been.
One practice that continues to be most meaningful to me is silence. Initially you might not think that one must practice silence. For me, however, I love to talk, I am continually surrounded by people (including my own kids), and I genuinely love to socialize. Silence is something that does not come naturally for me. Yet, I have found sitting in silence, intently listening to the small voice of God, to be refreshing and deeply impactful.
The late monk Thomas Merton wrote in his book Thoughts in Solitude:
My life is a listening, [God’s] is speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this,   my life must be silent. Hence, silence is my salvation…Let me see, then, the gift of         silence…where everything I touch is turned into prayer.
To start practicing silence, begin with five minutes, and each day gradually increase the time. Begin by shutting off any distraction, like silencing your cell phone. Sit in a comfortable position in a place where there are minimal distractions. Maybe that’s in your home, in your office, or even in your car before you drive off to work. Slow your breathing, and invite God’s Spirit to speak. It’s always a good idea to set an alarm on your cell or a clock for however long you want to sit in silence. That way you aren’t distracted by looking at the clock. After your time has expired, thank God for the period of silence, and for speaking to you during it. Even if you didn’t “hear anything,” thank God for speaking. God often speaks to our soul long before we “hear” it or understand it.
Journal about your experience. Answer questions like:
  • What distracted you?
  • What refreshed you?
  • Did your mind wander toward any specific thoughts? If so, that might be an area of your life the Spirit is saying needs more attention.
  • Did you hear anything from God?
  • What did you feel during the silence? Uncomfortable? Distracted? Relaxed? Why do think you felt the way you did?
  • How do you feel afterward?
Again, I encourage you to try this spiritual practice. It’s not as meaningful for some as it is for others. But try it.
Throughout Lent, my prayer for you is that you grow more in love with God and your neighbor.
So enjoy the journey!!!

A Breakthrough from Breakthrough Prayer

breakthroughprayerThis weekend, I was invited to meet with a leadership team at a local United Methodist Church in Northwest, OH. I was asked to lead a training on Breakthrough Prayer. I define Breakthrough Prayer as bold, audacious, God-sized prayers inviting the Holy Spirit to breakthrough walls and unleash a movement that changes both the congregation and the community surrounding the church. It is my strong conviction that implementing a Breakthrough Prayer Initiative in a local congregation is central in helping a church move toward health and vitality. Churches are hungry for a “plug-and-play” program that is going to miraculously pull a church out of decline or stagnation. I have yet to find that program. However, I firmly believe that a church cannot experience health until the spiritual atmosphere and culture of a congregation begins to change.

One of my favorite things to teach church leaders is the power of prayer walking. Prayer walking is exactly as it sounds—walking through spaces, touching items, and calling upon the Holy Spirit to saturate the space. There is something deeply powerful about walking while praying. Israel walked around the city of Jericho before the walls came down! During prayer walks, I encourage leaders to look around while they walk a space and to listen for the Spirit to speak about the space or the ministries that use the space. I encourage them to ask the Spirit to remove any walls that would hinder the effectiveness of the ministry. It’s a fun exercise and one that I have found to be meaningful for both the participant and for the ministries that are covered in prayer.

The church I worked with this weekend is in decline. Their leadership recently read “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” by Thom Rainer. It’s a sobering book and one I highly recommend. After reading the book, their leadership came to the realization that if things do not change spiritually in their congregation, their end is certain. Wisely, their pastor, a remarkable leader, realized the only thing that can save their church is a spiritual reawakening. She recognized that the church needs to be “on their knees” for lasting change to come.

At the end of my training, I asked the leadership to prayer walk the facility, followed by a time of debriefing. Throughout the morning an older gentleman silently listened. I never felt like he was disengaged, but I wasn’t sure if he was connecting with what I was saying. As we gathered to debrief the prayer walk, I asked the group about their experience. The silent gentleman surprised me when he spoke up. He shared that he prayer walked the upper level where there were empty children’s ministry rooms. I didn’t even know they had an upper level. He shared that he walked the long hallway weeping over the emptiness of the rooms. He wept again as he shared his experience with us. For years, the rooms have been empty even although within a couple mile radius of the church the average age is 34. He wept how they neglected their mission to raise up the next generation. He wept that they had become so insular that they forgot the great commission and their Biblical obligation to teach children about Jesus. Others wept as he spoke.

I felt his grief and I grieved with him. It’s a story far too common in local United Methodist congregations. What he said next surprised me, however. He said he was going to go home and keep praying about HIS ROLE in reaching the children. He didn’t pass the responsibility or blame onto anyone else. He didn’t use his age as an excuse. He confessed his own apathy and lamented the apathy of the entire congregation. Instead of being a part of the problem, he decided to be a part of the solution. He grieved what used to be while looking forward to what could be.

It was a holy moment.

I left that training, not proud of anything I said or did, but proud of a church leader who “got it.”

The thing about Breakthrough Prayer is that often the person praying experiences the greatest breakthrough. My prayer for this congregation is that the Spirit continues to breakdown walls and unleashes new life into the church and community. With leadership from people like this man and his pastor, it is an even greater possibility.

If church leaders and church members, who bear my name really humble themselves, turn to prayer first before programs and easy solutions, earnestly seek after my face, and confess that they have neglected the mission, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive, restore, and heal their church and their community, unleashing new life (2 Chronicles 7:14, paraphrased).

Veni Sancte Spiritus.