Prayers for the pandemic

Coronavirus graphic found with Google

It’s hard to find words to express what’s in my heart in light of the illness and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve come across numerous meaningful prayers offered by others. Here are two of the shortest and simplest and (in my opinion) profoundest.

Prayers with Children
God of love and hope,
you made the world and care for all creation,
but the world feels strange right now.
The news is full of stories about coronavirus.
Some people are worried that they might get ill.
Others are anxious for their family and friends.
Be with them and help them to find peace.
We pray for the doctors and nurses and scientists,
and all who are working to discover the right medicines
to help those who are ill.
Thank you that even in these anxious times, you are with us.
Help us to put our trust in you and keep us safe. Amen.
– from the Church of England


Prayer for the Christian Community
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God, giving and loving,
wherever we are, whatever it costs
for as long as it takes wherever you call us.
Barbara Glasson, Methodist Church (London)


More prayers:

:: Prayer for a Pandemic by Cameron Bellm

:: A Pray to God in Anxious Times by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

:: Prayers for People Affected by the New Coronavirus
:: by Kathryn Reid, World Vision

:: CRC Centre for Public Dialogue

Why do I preach?

Attending Pastors Day at Inspiration Hills was definitely a highlight of my week. Led by Reformed Church in America pastor Seth Sundstrom, it focused on honing our sermon preparation skills.

At one point Seth had us all take 20 minutes to answer this question:
Why do I preach and what do I hope to accomplish through it?
It took me 5-10 minutes to come up with this response:

1.
I preach
to give the Holy Spirit a forum –
fallen and broken,
yet willing and available –
to grow my listeners (starting with me)
into people who follow Jesus
more closely,
more loyally,
and more lovingly.

Because I still had time left over, I decided to try writing more responses. There is some overlap between them, but I think they each express something unique getting at why I preach:

2 (option A):
I preach as part of God’s work of changing me,
changing my listeners,
and changing the world
to be more like Christ.

2 (option B):
I preach as part of God’s work of changing me,
changing my listeners,
and changing the world
to align more with His Kingdom values and purposes.

3.
God uses my preaching to grow His beloved church
into the beautiful bride and effective ambassador
that He knows it is and made it to be.

4.
I preach because God reveals glorious things in His Word
that the church and world need to hear
and that I cannot keep to myself.

When we reconvened and were asked to share what we wrote, I chose to read 2B.

::– –::– –::


The following day, I decided to do a little research into how other theologians and preachers have answered Seth’s question through the ages. Here are some responses that resonated with me and contribute to the reasons I’ll get up to preach tomorrow morning:

I preach to restore the throne and dominion of God
in the souls of my listeners.

– Cotton Mather (1700s), quoted by John Piper

I preach to humble the sinner,
to exalt the Savior,
and to promote holiness.
– Charles Simeon (1800s), quoted by Peter Adam

I preach in order to explain and apply the Word of God
to the people of God
in order to prepare them for service,
unite them in faith,
and foster maturity and growth.

Peter Adam (1990s)

God uses my proclamation of the Word
to comfort, challenge, correct, inspire, and deepen
the faith and life of God’s people.
The Worship Sourcebook (2000s)

I preach to make the spiritual bones of God’s people
more like steel,
to double the capacity of their spiritual lungs,
to make the eyes of their hearts dazzled
with the brightness of the glory of God,
and to awaken the capacity of their souls
for kinds of spiritual enjoyment
they didn’t even know existed.
John Piper (2000s)

I preach because through it
the Holy Spirit effects change,
gives grace to weak and weary sinners,
and elicits faith in the hearts of God’s people.
The goal of my faithful preaching of God’s Word
is none other than the holistic conformity
of God’s people into the image of Christ.

Leah Baugh (2010s)

Preaching graphic found at challies.com

O Sordid Town of Bethlehem

Until recently, if you’d have asked me what I imagined the town of Bethlehem to have been like in Bible times, I would have described a pleasant hillside village on a cool evening surrounded by peace and quiet. I assumed the Christmas story takes place in a sort of wholesome US Midwest small farming town, where people are generally friendly and values matter.

Artwork by Carol Sheli Cantrell

It turns out that the Bible paints a startlingly different picture of Bethlehem. The place is first mentioned in Genesis as the location where patriarch Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel sadly dies in childbirth. After that, the next two stories with references to Bethlehem come in the book of Judges. These stories are filled with idolatry, injustice, rape, and murder that culminate in civil war. Then right on the heels of that comes the story of Ruth which begins with a famine in Bethlehem that makes a local family flee to a foreign country. We learn in 1 Samuel that the great king David is from Bethlehem. But we’re first introduced to him as the youngest son of Jesse who doesn’t even bother inviting the kid to the feast when the prophet Samuel asks to meet all of Jesse’s sons. In 2 Samuel, Bethlehem is under the control of the Israelite’s enemies, the Philistines, at that point in history.

We read about Bethlehem once more in the New Testament soon after Jesus’ birth in that town when King Herod goes on a murderous rampage in an effort to destroy “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” The despot kills all the children in Bethlehem 2-years-old and younger.

To summarize: Stories in the Bible connected with Bethlehem are filled with extreme sadness and sin.

Yet despite its sketchy history, God chooses Bethlehem as the birthplace for His Son! I see in God’s choice of Bethlehem a picture of God’s redemptive purposes – His tendency to rescue the most hopeless of situations.

I head into Christmas fully aware that I do not have the perfect family that people might be inclined to think we have based solely on the smiling faces on our Christmas photo card. Our home is not always a haven but sometimes a place filled with stress and short tempers. There always seem to be temptations vying for my attention and opportunities for me to mess up and hurt others.

Yet I need not despair: If God can bring something (Someone!) good out of Bethlehem (of all places, it turns out!), then God can use me and whatever mess I find myself in. The Good News is that God specializes in redeeming bad places, relationships, and situations.

Which, of course, is why Jesus came to Bethlehem in the first place.

These reflections appeared in last week’s Rock Valley Bee.
They are an adaptation of something I blogged for Christmas 2015.

Dressed for the holidays

Tuxedo graphic found with GoogleIt’s that time of year when you dress up for Christmas programs, concerts, and parties.
In one of his daily e-devotions, retired pastor
Dale Vander Veen reminds me of some apparel that’s always in season and should always
be worn regardless of the occasion.

“Therapy”

Occupational therapy. Recreational therapy. Massage therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Anger management therapy. Holistic therapy. Hydrotherapy. Psychotherapy. Group therapy. Physical therapy. Aromatherapy. Magnetic therapy.

A large clothing store suggested… apparel therapy. When you’re down, buy a gown. When you’re blue, get something new. How about hair therapy? When I’m blue, get a new do. (Note: Not recommended for men like me who lack the necessary raw material.)

God recommends apparel therapy. When I loathe, I should clothe. When I mess up, I should dress up. What shall I wear today? In one of his richest epistolary gems, Paul parades this collection on the fashion walkway. I can clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, thankfulness, wisdom, and singing (humming suggested as a sensitive substitute). Nothing flashy, nothing faddish. Always seasonable, always reasonable. Someone next to you wears the same outfit? Thank God and move a little closer!

And did you notice? All pieces of “The Classic Collection” mix and match to perfection. I can wear the entire wardrobe every day – and never appear out-of-date. Above all, I must not forget the final touch. “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

…With the prayer that today you will find your heart therapy
in the wardrobe of Jesus.

Ruth the risk taker

Ruth graphic from timewarpwife.com

Each time I read about her, I’m singularly impressed by the Ruth of the Bible. I admire her as a loving risk taker.

Out of love for her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth risks leaving her family, her country, and her culture to move to Bethlehem. Widows did not have it easy in ancient Israel, and things would have been even more difficult for an immigrant widow like Ruth. Yet she declares to Naomi:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.

These brave words echo down through history, sometimes even making their way into wedding vows today.

Once in Bethlehem, Ruth does not passively wait around to see what will happen next. She takes the initiative, suggesting to Naomi that she go out and find work and food for the two of them. Destitute people in Israel (often foreigners and widows) were permitted to pick up leftovers from the edges of the fields during harvest time. Perhaps recognizing those leftovers would not be enough for both her and Naomi, Ruth takes another risk and asks the foreman if she can gather grain from among the sheaves behind the workers who were harvesting. Instead of being told to remember her proper place, Ruth is allowed to work among the harvesters. Landowner Boaz recognizes the spirit and not just the letter of the law meant to help the poor and he ensures Ruth is both welcomed and protected among his workers.

Naomi soon perceives that Boaz may make a fine husband for Ruth and she concocts a plan that looks like a marriage proposal. Naomi carefully instructs Ruth with what to do and say, but when the time comes, Ruth veers away from the script Naomi provides her. Ruth asks not only for Boaz to consider her, but to embrace his role as the entire family’s guardian-redeemer, making it possible for Naomi to reclaim her family’s estate. Out of love for Naomi, Ruth risks challenging a powerful landowner to fulfill his duty for Naomi’s family regardless of how costly it will be for Boaz.

Ruth is rewarded for her love-filled risks: She finds a stable food source for herself and Naomi, she restores Naomi’s honor in Israel, and she herself finds a place among God’s people that will be remembered for all history.

The apostle Paul calls God’s people to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Some might argue that headstrong, risk-taking Ruth is not very submissive. I disagree. She perhaps is not always very compliant, but I nevertheless see her as one who, instead of looking out for her own interests, looks out for the interests of others – a good role model for myself and my selfish tendencies. She submitted to the God of Naomi and discovered how to submit to others while still taking the initiative. She sets a great example for both male and female Spirit-filled followers of Jesus today.

Read the entire story of Ruth – at only 4 chapters,
it’s a quick and exciting read. To dig deeper into this story,
I recommend Carolyn Custis James’s book,
The Gospel of Ruth:
Loving God Enough to Break the Rules
.

Rules that Set Us Free

I would guess that most of my readers are familiar with the 10 Commandments. Maybe you can even list some of them off by heart. (You can find all ten in Exodus 20.)

But do you know why God gives us these commandments?

Some people think God gives these commandments as a test: If we obey them, he may give us a reward. Other people imagine God as someone who wants to take away our fun, 10 Commandments graphic found at society6.comand laying down rules is one step in that process.

I don’t see God that way. I believe God gives us the 10 Commandments for the same reason the park officials installed fences in front of the cliffs along the Tunnel Mountain Trail I hiked earlier this fall in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Those fences kept me safe. They told me how far I could go to enjoy the views and take pictures without falling and injuring (or even killing) myself. Similarly, the 10 Commandments teach me what’s safe and what’s not. It lists behaviors and actions that prevent me from harming myself and others.

But the fences in Banff National Park not only prevented me from going somewhere dangerous; they also told me where I could enjoy myself and have fun. Everywhere on this side of the fence was fantastic for At the top of Tunnel Mountain with my colleague Dan Hoogland from Fredericton, New Brunswickgetting exercise as I hiked and for basking in stunning scenery. Similarly, the 10 Commandments explain to me how to enjoy life. I have the most meaning and contentment in life when God is central and I treat others with dignity and respect. I experience joy and fulfillment and even fun as I love God and love others (to summarize the 10 Commandments).

I believe that God created the world and that he created me. As the original designer, he knows how things and people work properly. The 10 Commandments convey that wisdom to me. They are not a means God uses to enslave me; God gives them to me so I can experience the wonderful freedom he created me to have.

Like God’s people in ancient times who were freed from slavery under a cruel dictator, God frees me from slavery to sin. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on the third day guarantee my sins are forgiven, giving me new life today and for eternity. In profound gratitude for this, I embrace God’s will for me (including the 10 Commandments) so I can please him and discover how he indeed wants what’s best for me.

These thoughts put into writing a children’s message I gave several weeks ago at Trinity CRC and this is the column I submitted for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
-\

Humility prayer

Last month I enjoyed attending a conference for pastors in Calgary (with a daytrip to Banff!) organized by the Pastor Church Resources office of the Christian Reformed Church. Our worship time included the prayer below, adapted from the Litany of Humility, a prayer attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, who likely drew from earlier sources. The words are memorable and powerful; I’ve found myself returning to them numerous times since the conference.

From the desire of being praised,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the desire of comfort and ease,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being criticized,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being passed over,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely,
deliver us, Jesus.
From the fear of being hurt,
deliver us, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than ourselves,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and we ourselves set aside,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and we ourselves go unnoticed,
Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
make our lives like Yours.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
strengthen us with Your Spirit.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hands graphic found with Google
help us put our
self-importance aside
to learn the kind
of cooperation
with others
that make possible
the presence of Your
Abba’s household.