Friday, November 27, 2009

Praying it Forward

An Inkling
Tears streamed down his cheeks as he told about the letter.  His mom had just died at the age of 97.  As he was cleaning out her house, he found an old box of letters, one of which was written to him as a baby by his grandparents.  His mom had filed the letter away, and he had never known that it existed.  In the letter his grandparents told him that they were very proud to have him in the family, and that they would pray for him daily to become a Christian, and then to become a pastor.
The man I heard tell about the letter is Gary Demarest, a retired pastor, and a leader among evangelicals in the Presbyterian Church.  One reason that the letter touched him so deeply is that he never really knew those grandparents.  Moreover, his parents were not practicing Christians, and so Gary grew up ignorant of the faith.  By God’s grace others introduced him to Christ as a teenager.  Soon after, he determined that God had called him into the ministry.  He served as a pastor for over 50 years.  Gary was so overwhelmingly grateful for those grandparents who prayed for him that he could hardly tell the story.
All of which leads me to ask:  for whom are you praying?  In particular, for what children are you praying?  Gary’s grandparents never knew how God answered their prayers – at least not in this life.  But answer he did, and in a way that has multiplied blessings across many families and years.  They prayed it forward.
So can you.  So again I ask:  for what children are you praying?  Your own children and grandchildren?  I hope so!  That’s a high calling.  But many other children also need your prayers, which means that those who are not parents themselves can be central to the praying.  Which children does God particularly place upon your heart?  Be diligent in prayer.  God uses such prayers to multiply blessings across generations.
And one more idea:  how about writing a letter to the children for whom you pray, and letting them know?  Gary was doubly blessed:  by how his grandparents prayed God’s blessing forward for him, and by the testimony of the letter.  It’s a wonderful way to serve some people who are very special to God, and in ways beyond our view – and likely beyond our lifetime.  They need it.

And so do we,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Savior For Our Fears

An Inkling
How much of your behavior is driven by fear?  We’d like to think that it’s not much.  But truth be told, fear is one of our biggest motivators.  It’s easy to identify fear-based behavior when there is a clear physical peril – we run for our lives!  But the more subtle fears also prompt a lot of our behavior, and we don’t even realize it. 
Years ago I heard James Mallory, a Christian psychiatrist, describe some subtle fears that haunt men and women, and that twist their relationships with each other.  Typically men fear that they will be found inadequate and controlled, and women fear that they will be used and abandoned.  Of course our gendered identity is more complex than that, but time and again I have seen these fears played out, both in my own marriage, and in those of others I’ve counseled. 
We laugh at the stereotypical male reluctance to stop and ask for directions, but it’s a behavior that arises from deep within (i.e., fear of appearing inadequate).  And how many comedy shticks have you seen featuring a hen-pecked man (i.e., fear of being controlled)? 
As for women, which one wants to be valued only for the “3-M’s” – meals, maintenance, and mating (the fear of being used)?  And so common are tales of wives being dumped for sweet young things that many a wife clings to a relationship that is little more than those “3-M’s” (the fear of being abandoned).
When 1 John promises that God’s perfect love casts out fear, we usually picture some terrifying scene of peril.  And it is true that we need not finally fear terrorists or cancer or assault, for God himself holds us in his perfect love.  But day to day, in our closest relationships, God’s perfect love also releases us from fear.  And as it so often is with our Lord, his approach is paradoxical.
To men that fear they will be found inadequate he offers no assurance of adequacy.  Rather he says, “Of course you’re inadequate.  It’s high time you admitted it and turned to me.”  As one of the male persuasion, I can report that it’s a huge relief simply to go ahead and acknowledge the obvious:  I’m inadequate.  Okay.  There is One who is adequate, and he’s my Savior.  And as for being controlled, that fear also gets unplugged in a paradoxical way.  Jesus calls us to total obedience to him and mutual submission to each other.  How’s that for being controlled?!  And yet therein is freedom.
To women who fear that they will be used, the Savior issues an invitation to join him in serving the very people who are prone to take others for granted.  A willing servant need not fear being used.  And as for being abandoned, the steadiest promise in the whole Bible is God’s assurance that he will be with us.  No matter what others may do, it is literally impossible for a Christian woman to be abandoned!  God himself stays with her.  Thus his perfect love casts out fear.
May it be that we would grow up into Christ in such a way that even our gendered fears fade away!  That fading fear will be matched by a rising reflection of the One who saves us – and who lives free of all fear.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

An Inkling
            The Post Office may not be carrying mail on Veterans Day (November 11), but our E-News is still flying!  Still, it’s well not to treat Veterans Day like just any ol’ day.  We want to honor our veterans!
            Veterans Day began 90 years ago today.  On the previous November 11th (1918), an Armistice was signed that ended the hideous slaughter of World War I.  President Woodrow Wilson designated the next November 11th as Armistice Day, a day set aside to honor those who had served in the war. 
In fact, Wilson and others had hoped that these veterans had fought the last big war, the “war to end all wars.”  It was certainly horrid enough to make everyone shudder at the thought of another.  But another came, one even more ghastly – World War II.  This time no one was so glib as to call it as the “war to end all wars.”  And sure enough, the Korean War soon followed, and then Vietnam and several others, leading up to our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Even if smaller, every one of these wars is horrid.  To recognize the ever-growing roll of veterans, in 1954 our nation changed the holiday’s name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
Across the centuries Christians have dealt with wars in many ways.  Sadly, some have acted as if our faith had nothing to do with it.  But gratefully most have recognized war’s evils, and have tried to respond accordingly.  Some have refused to participate at all – pacifists.  Thankfully our nation has allowed for conscientious objectors.  That, as much as the strength of our nation, makes me proud to be an American.
But many more Christians have participated in the Armed Forces, seeing some wars as unavoidable – the lesser of evils in a broken world.  Such Christians have sought to corral war’s chaos with “Just War” principles, and to some measure they have succeeded.  In the process they have secured our freedoms as a nation.
We as Christians can join with all Americans in celebrating the sacrifices of those who have served to preserve our freedoms.  As they say, “freedom is not free,” and thousands have paid with life or limb.  That is a huge gift, for which we must thank both God and the veterans.  We especially celebrate the service of our St. Giles veterans.  If you’re a Vet, check out their monthly meeting -
There will never be a war to end all wars, but there is a Savior who will end all wars.  Until he does, we serve him by doing all that we can to foster peace – prayer, bridge building, negotiations, and yes, service in the armed forces.  The challenges of both peace and war give urgency to our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  It can’t be too soon.

Thanks Vets!                                                                                   

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modified Christians

An Inkling
A couple of weeks ago I was visiting with another Presbyterian Minister, and in the course of conversation I referred to St. Giles Church as “evangelical.”  He responded, “And we’re not?”  Granted, it’s not the first word that comes to mind as I think about the church he serves.  But his readiness to claim the term made me think.
The modifiers with which we nuance our identity frequently obscure as much as they clarify.  That’s because these words pick up baggage along the way.  Wisdom would suggest that we use fewer such adjectives, and let the proper nouns carry their own freight.  “Christian” says quite a lot on its own. 
But sometimes we need to specify our beliefs and commitments with modifiers.  If we’re to do so, then we must also have periodic conversations about what we mean by our modifiers, and that’s to the good, for we are thereby forced to clarify both our thinking and our vocabulary.
So with that in mind, let me clarify some modifiers that I use for myself these days.  I’m a liberal, conservative, evangelical, charismatic, feminist, Presbyterian – which might lead you to add one more modifier:  schizophrenic!  But here’s what I mean:
I’m liberal.  Some use the word to describe those who discredit the scripture.  That’s not me.  By it I mean that I try to be open to diverse opinions. 
I’m conservative.  It’s not that I’m opposed to change.  I just want to conserve what’s true and best. 
I’m evangelical.  Though some use the word politically, I don’t.  Rather I mean that I’m confident in the good news of Jesus, and I welcome others to follow him too.  (And in conversation with my pastor friend, I was also using the word to mean a full trust in the scripture’s teaching – one of the great divides in our denomination.)
I’m charismatic.  It’s not that I roll in the aisles, but I’m open to all that the Spirit would do to enliven us and equip us for ministry.  (We need all of the help we can get!) 
I’m a feminist.  Some would cast women and men as just alike and ready for all the same roles.  I don’t.  But I do support the long overdue efforts to recognize the full range of women’s gifts, and to see that they are treated fairly in every setting.
I’m a Presbyterian.  Of all the modifiers I bear, this is the one that causes me the most angst, due to the current dysfunction of our denomination.  But for centuries it has been an effective arrangement for serving Christ, and it remains the one to which I’m called.
I’m sure you have your own modifiers for me!  Let’s continue to talk and clarify who we are, what we believe, and what we want to do as “modified Christians.”

No mere Christianity,