Thinking Out Loud

November 6, 2018

The Fifth Friday in the Month

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a church deacon, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings — affectionately called ‘McGings’ — on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. He also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I spent my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding on where he could walk nearby while Claire was gone and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

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September 27, 2018

A Worship Liturgy on Sin and Forgiveness

For the past few months, Ruth has increased her role as a contributor to Christianity 201. For last Sunday, she provided not only text, but two images and two song suggestions. After taking the time to format everything, I decided to share it here as well.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

September 21, 2018

Prayer Requests in Writing

Prayer is a language unto itself, but it also uses language, and not unlike the emails and Facebook status you may have checked before reading this, it is language which, while it can be visibly seen, usually isn’t.

The reason is that most of our prayers are spoken, or perhaps cried out, or even breathed.

Still, some of you keep a journal where your prayers are written out. Seeing them often makes what is an invisible practice more tangible.

Others of you perhaps have been in a service where you wrote an immediate need or a long-term longing of your heart on a sticky note which you brought forward and placed on something at the front of a church sanctuary or perhaps on a piece of colored paper which you pinned to a wooden cross.

Seeing the above scene in Europe* reminded me of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Wikipedia reminds us that,

Today, more than a million prayer notes or wishes are placed in the Western Wall each year. Notes that are placed in the Wall are written in just about any language and format. Their lengths vary from a few words to very long requests. They include poems and Biblical verses. They are written on a wide variety of papers, including colored paper, notebook paper and even bubblegum wrappers, using a variety of inks.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, receives hundreds of letters yearly addressed to “God, Jerusalem“; he folds these letters and places them, too, in the Wall.

Online services offer petitioners the opportunity to send their notes to the Western Wall via e-mail, fax, text messaging and Internet; the note is then printed out and inserted in the Wall. The Israeli Telephone Company has established such a fax service, as have a number of charitable websites.

But the above replica (if that’s what was intended) is made of plaster covered over with chicken wire, in a place available to all people all the time.

It’s a more tangible expression of what we might normally just say, and then the element of walking away, and leaving our request with God is also significant.

Some churches have a prayer request book in the lobby. Others have an email to which you can send requests. Still others will share requests in the main weekend service, although that practice is widely disappearing.

Does your congregation have a vehicle whereby you put either a physical or a community presence to your petitions to God?


*Picture above, taken by Ruth, is of the Heiliggeistkirche Lutheran Church in Heidelberg, Germany

July 8, 2018

When Doctrinal Considerations Take a Backseat

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 am

Tim Challies is, without doubt, the most-read Christian blogger in Canada. Furthermore, his site, Challies.com, regularly appears in the top ten lists of North American Christian blogs; frequently in the top spot.

Yesterday I dropped by the site only to learn that Tim has been battling nerve damage for several weeks that is rendering him unable to type and unable to sit. Knowing that his blog is also his full-time job and source of income, I realized the seriousness of this. I simply take for granted the ability to type posts daily as I’m now doing, but I’ve never remotely monetized the blog and don’t depend on it to cover food, clothing and shelter. Maybe that’s why this resonated. His wife Aileen has been typing his daily a la carte feature (similar to our link lists) and some volunteers have typed other columns.

Tim’s tag line is “informing the Reforming” which puts us at doctrinal odds, but in moments like this, such considerations fade in importance and so I immediately prayed for him. Conversely, I hope Tim would be open to accept the prayers of people with which he might otherwise disagree theologically.

…and so, Lord, we ask your continued blessing on all that Tim Challies does online, both for his own community and for people like me who represent his wider readership. We ask you in the weeks ahead to touch him physically and allow him to experience the blessing of healing, for Your honor and glory.

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

December 5, 2017

Praying to Who?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:51 am

The woman was returning her shopping cart to the outside of the grocery store, as was I. She was talking to her friend.

“They did the tests yesterday and now I’m just waiting for the results. So we’re praying.”

I wanted to interrupt and say, “Praying to who?”

You see, in the town where we live, the Sunday morning church attendance is about 5% of the population and among the five churches I would consider Evangelical, it’s 1% of the total number of people here. Seriously. I’ve visited all the churches in question. Many times. The Evangelical percentage is 1%. In a town about an hour east of Toronto.

I’m sure she would have said, “I’m praying to God.”

I would have then asked her which God she had in mind, with the added question, “Does He know you?”

Or perhaps, “Do you know him?”

Maybe that wouldn’t have been helpful. The percentage of people who have a deep Christian faith and spirituality but don’t attend church is high and growing constantly. She could be one of those. Church attendance doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to MacDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

But it’s interesting how people who might not profess any faith publicly will speak about prayer in moments of crisis…

…Until I remember that I do something similar myself. Not that I am engaged in constant wickedness outside of my church and blogging life, but there is a very small sense in which I dial down potential carnality in times of crisis and panic. I steer clear of the border between things that honor God and things that serve my own desires. I tend to be more focused spiritually. And if something is befalling me personally, I’ve written elsewhere that I tend to be a nicer person — a better person — in those moments when I am battling illness.

It’s not that I start praying to a God with whom I’ve had no communication up to that point (in a long while) but rather that I am made more aware of my spiritual deficiencies and double down on the faith I was already professing and practicing…

…The woman at the grocery store might have a deep faith. She might read her Bible more than I do and sing in the church choir for extra points. But statistically, that’s not the case here.

I hope her prayers get answered and her results are pleasing to her. I hope she knows the one — the one that I know — that she is trusting to hear her prayer.

In fact, I don’t hope it, I pray it to be the case.

 

January 1, 2017

Opening Prayer

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

lords-prayerLet’s kick off a new year by opening in prayer…

…For many of us the school day began with the playing or singing of the national anthem followed by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, also referred to by Roman Catholics as the Our Father. In the longer, commonly used version we recited, I found it interesting to observe that there are three words repeated twice, two are nouns and one is a verb.

The first word is heaven. It’s interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in Matthew 6:9 all the English translations kept the same word. You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required. Jesus is shaking up the prayer paradigm with Abba or Father, a form of address with unprecedented familiarity, but then we’re reminded that God dwells in eternity, that he is wholly other. He exists beyond what we can see, beyond what we can know, even beyond what we can process. One theological dictionary states, “the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness.” Solomon wrote, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” (I Kings 8:27)

The prayer forces us to look upward.

The second word is kingdom which somewhat bookends the prayer in the commonly-recited version. Standing before Pilate, a crown of thorns on his head, beaten, mocked and ridiculed, it probably didn’t look like Jesus was establishing a kingdom. But this was the heart of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17); we’re reminded that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35) and the word is reminiscent of this Old Testament text, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:11).

He is establishing an invisible kingdom. But we, the gathered assembly of believers and followers are the visible representation of that kingdom here on earth.

The prayer forces us to look outward.

The final repeated word, the verb, is forgive. Elsewhere, also speaking on prayer, Jesus taught, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) It’s interesting that in a prayer describing the infinitude of God’s dwelling place and the vastness of his kingdom we see a petition for forgiveness, tied to the way we forgive others. It reminds me of Isaiah who is confronted by the majesty of God only to realize the contrast to his own sinfulness. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The prayer forces us to look inward.

What better way to begin a new year than to forgive those who have hurt us, offended us, or trespassed against us.


For a longer, 3-part version of these thoughts, click this link.

 

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.


Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

February 26, 2016

Book Makes Praying for the World More Intimate, More Personal

Today I want to recommend a book to you that was not given to me for review nor do I have a copy in front of me as I write this; but it’s one in a book genre that I feel is essential reading for any individual or family who wants to expand their prayer focus farther than their own immediate family and friends; beyond their own city or town.

Brian StillerBrian Stiller is what I would call a Christian statesman, a phrase which I take to mean a person who is both well-versed and widely-traveled and thereby is unusually forthright when it comes to the political,  economic and spiritual conditions and issues in various parts of the world. As Global Ambassador with the World Evangelical Alliance he is also the former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NAE) and former President of Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Brian at each of these stages and he was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for a magazine when he was at EFC, and there were things he said that day which I can still quote verbatim.

His book, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Bethany House, 2016, paper) would fall into the same category as the popular Operation World which is an exhaustive index of the countries of the world and the particular challenges each presents in terms of the spread of the gospel.

However, where Operation World is exhaustive, Praying for the World is personal. Brian Stiller shares from his own experiences, having visited the various countries covered in the book. The book is thereby somewhat autobiographical, but I would argue that Stiller’s write-ups for each are both subjective and objective at the same time.

Of the 52 chapters, not every one is about a unique nation:

  • 3 deal with prison ministries
  • 1 is a general perspective
  • 1 is about global prayer initiatives
  • 1 looks at The Pope
  • 1 looks at a religion rather than a nation, in this case Islam
  • 2 repeat a country; Vietnam and Rwanda each have two chapters

By my calculations, that means 43 countries remain; countries that most of us will never visit at all, but in this one book we’re afforded the opportunity to see these nations and their needs through Brian Stiller’s eyes. The 52 chapters may be read in any order, or consulted for reference. 

Each section contains:

  • an overview of that country
  • Brian’s ‘dispatch’ from that nation; the main essay
  • a key Bible verse
  • specific items for prayer
  • a suggested guided prayer

The potential uses for Praying for the World are many, but would include everything from your family prayer time, to giving to your missions committee, to having a copy in your church library.

Brian C Stiller - An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World

 

 

January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?

 

Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

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