Praying to our heavenly Father on Father’s Day

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I’m leading the morning prayer at Trinity CRC this Sunday and wanted to ensure I prayed for fathers, it being Father’s Day. In looking for good wording, I came across a meaningful prayer by Rev. Chuck Currie which I adapted slightly and plan to include in my prayer.

You reveal yourself to us as Abba, Father. We are your children; you are the perfect parent.

On Father’s Day we pause to remember and thank the earthly fathers in our lives. Fatherhood does not come with a manual, and reality teaches us that some fathers excel while others fail. We ask for your blessings for them all and forgiveness where it is needed. We remember the many sacrifices fathers make for their children and families, and the ways – both big and small – they lift children to achieve dreams thought beyond reach. So too, we remember all those who have helped fill the void when fathers pass early or are absent; grandfathers and uncles, brothers and cousins, teachers, pastors and coaches and the women of our families, too.

For those who are fathers, we ask for wisdom and humility in the face of the task of parenting. Give them the strength to do well by their children and by you.

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There’s a psalm for that

Years ago the Visine marketing people produced clever commercials saying that no matter what problem your eyes were having, a Visine product offered relief: Red, irritated eyes? There’s a Visine for that. Itchy, allergy eyes? There’s a Visine for that. Irritated by contact lenses? There’s a Visine for that, too.

The same marketing campaign could work for the book of Psalms: Happy with how life is going? There’s a psalm for that. In the depths of depression? There’s a psalm for that. Worried about the injustice in Psalms graphic found with Googleour society? There’s a psalm for that. Angry with God? There’s a psalm for that, too.

It was Martin Luther who made this observation: “The Psalms is the book of all saints, and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better.”

I suspect this at least partly explains the popularity of the Psalms: Read long enough and I read myself – I read words I could have written at this very moment of my day and of my life. But more than reflections written in a journal, each psalm is inspired Scripture filled with words the Holy Spirit invites me to pray. Through the psalms, instead of bottling up what I’m feeling, I express back to God the joy or angst of my heart. I’m not left to process it on my own but to and even with the One who gave me my emotions in the first place and loves me more than words can describe.

Reading a psalm a day has been a habit of mine since before that Visine ad campaign. Try it for a while and let me know what you think of the practice.

Encountering Jesus at his table more frequently (part 2)

So what’s stopping us from inviting Jesus to open our eyes by gathering around the Lord’s Supper table more frequently?

Some worry that celebrating the Lord’s Supper more frequently will diminish the preaching of the Word. While it is conceivable that the Lord's Supper graphic found via Googlependulum could swing the other way where the table pushes the pulpit off of center stage, churches I’m aware of in the Reformed tradition that celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently still have faithful preaching. I do not see coming to the table more often as a threat to our historic and enduring emphasis on the centrality of Scripture. If anything, I’d suspect that more frequent participation in the Sacrament will actually help the congregation more deeply comprehend and embrace the Word.

A more common fear I encounter is that the Sacrament will become less special if we celebrate it more frequently. I have two responses to that: First, part of me wonders if that actually wouldn’t be such a bad thing. There is, after all, something very ordinary, very common about the Lord’s Supper. As William H. Willimon observes in his book Sunday Dinner, Jesus specializes in “taking the stuff of everyday life … and using them to help us see the presence of God in our midst” (p. 25). Have we made the elements of the Lord’s Supper “too special,” leading us to think we require “special things” in order to encounter God?

Second, it occurs to me that doing something frequently does not automatically make it less meaningful. The late Harry Boonstra expresses this in a memorable way in the winter 1997 issue of Calvin Theological Seminary’s Forum: “It’s strange that we use this argument about the Lord’s Supper [that increased frequency will make it less meaningful] and not about preaching or praying or singing… It certainly is possible to pray or to sing thoughtlessly and carelessly. But the solution is not to sing less frequently … but to sing with conviction and devotion.” Both the Word and the Sacrament are means of grace God uses to bring his Gospel message to us, yet no one argues we should hear less preaching of the Word for fear it’s becoming less meaningful. (Frankly, between hearing a sermon or joining others for a meal, I’d probably tire less quickly of the latter than the former!)

Think about how we need to eat healthy food throughout the day – typically three meals with additional beverages and snacks in between. Sometimes these are memorable occasions; most often they are routine. Regardless, we eat and drink because our physical bodies need the nutrition. It turns out that our spiritual life “needs feeding and nourishment just as much as our physical life,” as Howard Vanderwell observes in Living and Loving Life, and “much of that kind of nourishment comes from the Lord’s table… Speaking of our need of such nourishment, John Calvin said, ‘Our faith is slight and feeble and unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters, and at last gives way.’

“And so we come to the table: A 72-year-old woman with all her struggles, a young father trying to find balance in life, an 80-year-old still vibrant and eager to be nourished, a teen whose faith is growing, and an 8-year-old boy who knows for sure that Jesus loves him” (p. 71; the quote from Calvin comes from his Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.14.3). They all come (as do I) needing this very ordinary yet also very good food to sustain our spiritual lives.

The advantages of celebrating the Lord’s Supper more frequently outweigh any disadvantages. Why are we content with depriving ourselves or our children or new, freshly baptized believers of the nourishment God longs to give us?

Disturb Us

Somebody once asked me as their pastor not to make them uncomfortable in church. They didn’t want any surprises in the worship services or the church’s ministries. They were comfortable with routine and things remaining predictable.

On the one hand, I completely empathized. I don’t like surprises either. I’m not likely to embrace change when it sneaks up on me unexpectedly. When something comes of out left field, I’m more likely to put my guard up and resist it.

On the other hand, I could hardly keep from laughing. I’m very mistaken if I think I can always predict how God is going to work and what he might call me to do next. If I demand things always go the way I prefer, the way that keeps me comfortable, I’ll miss out on opportunities in which God desires to stretch and challenge me so that I can learn and grow.

I suspect there are many things with which God would like to see me be uncomfortable. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with complacency in my walk with Jesus perhaps caused by getting stuck in ruts of routine. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the selfish things I do that strain my relationships with others. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the consumerism in our culture that would have me believe that buying more stuff will make me happy. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the racism in this country’s institutions as well as in my heart.

Comfort Zone quote found with Google

Recently I discovered this prayer attributed by some to Sir Francis Drake, the English sea captain of the 16th century. Through these words the Holy Spirit prompts me to become uncomfortable while he simultaneously reminds me of God’s presence – which is truly comforting.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

I shared this in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

The adult Jesus

This time of year as we focus on the baby Jesus in the manger, Dale Vander Veen powerfully reminded me in one of his recent e-devotions of what Jesus did as an adult – why He came in the first place and what He is doing today and will still be doing in the new year. Dale did not write this himself but the original author is unknown.

Graphic found with Google

Jesus is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
He is the Keeper of creation and the Creator of all.
He is the Architect of the universe and the Manager of all times.
He always was,
he always is,
and he always will be
unmoved,
unchanged,
undefeated,
and never undone.

He was bruised and brought healing.
He was pierced and eased pain.
He was persecuted and brought freedom.
He was dead and brought life.
He is risen and brings power.
He reigns and brings peace.

The world can’t understand him,
armies can’t defeat him,
schools can’t explain him,
leaders can’t ignore him.
Herod couldn’t kill him,
the Pharisees couldn’t confuse him,
and the people couldn’t hold him.
Nero couldn’t crush him,
Hitler couldn’t silence him,
the latest pop psychology can’t replace him.

He is light, love, longevity, and Lord.
He is goodness, kindness, gentleness, and God.
He is holy, righteous, just, and pure.
His ways are right, his word is eternal,
his will is unchanging, and his mind is on me.
He is my Redeemer, my Savior, my guide, and my peace.
He is my joy, my comfort, my Lord, and my ruler.

I serve him because his bond is love,
his burden is light,
and his blessing is peace.
I follow him because
he is the wisdom of the wise,
the power of the powerful,
the ancient of days,
the ruler of rulers,
the leader of leaders,
the overseer of overcomers.
He is sovereign Lord of all that was
and is
and is to come.

He will never leave me, never forsake me,
never mislead me, never forget me, never overlook me.
When I fall, he lifts me up.
When I fail, he forgives.
When I am weak, he is strong.
When I am lost, he is the way.
When I am afraid, he is my courage.
When I stumble, he steadies me.
When I am hurt, he heals me.
When I am broken, he mends me.
When I am hungry, he feeds me.
When I face trials, he is with me.
When I am beside myself, he is beside me.
When I face loneliness, he accompanies me.
When I face loss, he provides for me.
When I face death, he carries me home!

He is God, he is faithful.
I am his, and he is mine!
He is in control,
he is for me, not against me,
and all is well with my soul.

The Infant King

I don’t think I’ve ever associated Psalm 2 with Christmas before. It’s the one where God, enthroned in heaven, scoffs at sinful humanity’s futile attempts to dethrone Him.

This time of year we celebrate the arrival of King Jesus, a King greater than the Herod of His day or any other power or authority back then or since. Countless monarchs and empires have come and gone; things I have enthroned in my heart instead of Jesus have crumbled (or will crumble) into the dust. However, as God’s Son, one with Father, Jesus’ Kingship is secure. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God makes in Psalm 2 to install His King on earth.

King graphic found at rescuehousechurch.org

A poem I read this week in a book of Advent meditations reminds me of all this. Attributed to Daithi Mac Iomaire, it’s simply titled “The Infant King.” It leads me to worship the newborn King – the true King of kings and Lord of lords – this Christmas season.

And in the corridors of power
and in the palaces of hate,
the despot and his lords conspire
this holy threat to liquidate;
yet all the kings that e’re there were
and all the princes of this earth
with all their wealth beyond compare
could not eclipse this infant’s birth.
A million monarchs since have reigned,
but vanquished now their empires vain;
two thousand years, and still we bring
our tributes to the Infant King.