Out and/or Up

“Let my prayer rise before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” So begins the Psalmody in the Lutheran Service Book“Evening Prayer” service, a translation of Psalm 141. It came to mind the other day as I heard a little dust-up on prayer relayed over the radio. 

            Apparently, a major television network’s anchor recently disparaged the thought of praying for someone, suggesting that prayers don’t do anything. I think it was made out of frustration with people who say they’re praying for people in terrible loss instead of promoting some legislation to prevent further suffering and loss. 

I would argue against the “futility of prayer” comment in two senses. Firstly, prayer places whatever is in my mind or on my heart before God Almighty and He can do with it whatever He knows is best for all concerned. He loves us and He raised His Son from the dead: there is nothing beyond His capability. And secondly, since I am intentionally placing things before God, it changes me and my perspective on the issues at hand. It causes me to rely on God in His mercy through Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

            Another thing that has been on my mind is the way prayer is often referenced on the television. As (1) the fires have been raging in California, (2) people have been shot in Thousand Oaks and (3) turmoil has been experienced in other places, I have heard any number of people say something like “Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.” I believe I know what they mean to say – that the people going through such trial and suffering are often in our minds and we sympathize with them and we wish the best for them. 

            But, I believe it’s better to observe the following rule of thumb: thoughts go outand prayers go up, (like incense, as in the Psalmody, above). Our thoughts and our hearts can go out to people, but when we say that prayers go out to them that is tantamount to wishful thinking, and prayers are much more than that. 

Prayers go up to God on their behalf. And as we place their needs before our Glorious and Gracious King, we can keep in mind what C. S. Lewis said of the gift of prayer God gave us: Prayers are not always—in the crude, factual sense of the word—"granted." This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind. When it "works" at all it works unlimited by space and time. That is why God has retained a discretionary power of granting or refusing it; except on that condition prayer would destroy us. It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, "Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school. But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you must come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then—we'll see."(God in the Dock, essay 11 on Work and Prayer). 

After Election Day

            “God grant me the serenity to accept the candidates that I didn’t select, the courage to pray for all of them and the wisdom to remember that God is still on the throne.”

            There. That’s done for a while.

            I pray you took the time to exercise the franchise and cast your ballots this week. We are a most fortunate people to have the regular opportunity to alter our government when we see fit. 

            Now, it’s time to pray (1) for our representatives and (2) for a peaceful acceptance of the decisions we have made in this republic. And the One to Whom the prayers are directed is the God Who is truly in control and has our best and eternal interests in mind.

Saints Among Us

             Years ago I had purchased both the Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Butler’s Lives of Saints to add to my morning devotions. Along with reading the Scriptures I would look up the saint whose day it was on either the Roman Catholic or Anglican calendar so that I might grow from their heroic examples. They’d been recognized by the Church for something significant and I thought I should probably take notice, too.

            As time has gone by I’ve been widening that understanding and appreciation of the saints. I’d always known that Lutheran recognition that all who trust in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins are the saints of God, even though on this side of the grave they will struggle with their sinful nature. But it’s been good to give that wider definition some intentional consideration.

            Who in your life has been an example of a child of God whose witness you’ve grown to appreciate? Have you had grandparents who shared a wonderful confidence that God will work these things out? Have you had parents whose stewardship or devotion were exemplary patterns to follow?

            On this All Saints’ Day I’m taking some time to give thanks to God for: Paul, and his extraordinary zest for working with junior high kids in Sunday School; Janice, whose love for her students was obvious; Alan, in the daily devotions he shared; Carlene, in her growing and vocal appreciation for the book of Romans; Jami, and her wonderful understanding of God’s presence in the difficult times when it appears one’s prayers are not being answered with a “yes”; Kent, and his whole life stewardship; and Arlene, whose counsel was to pray some more when you cannot get to sleep – and “There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. And there is nothing you can do that will make God love you less.”

            I’m sorry to leave this list so incomplete. There are many, many more whose witness to me has helped me to grow in Christ, and I know I will find many, many more in this place. I pray that you can think of such people, today, and lift a prayer of thankfulness to God for His Spirit’s work in and through the saints in your life. 

Changes and a Constant

2018 10 22 Blog

 

            We discovered in our move to Peoria that my alarm clock was no longer working. Thankfully, I’m a light sleeper and the automatic coffeemaker’s signal that the brew is complete has been enough to wake me up from its perch in the kitchen. Still, I’d rather not depend on that faint noise.

            So, Jami was on a mission to buy a new one the other day. To her surprise she found only one or two models of alarm clocks at Target; the same was true at Bed, Bath and Beyond. They just don’t make many alarm clocks any more.

            Some have been surprised that I don’t use my phone as an alarm. I guess I could if I would silence all the rest of the alerts (see “light sleeper”, above). Then, too, I prefer waking up to a classical radio station instead of a buzzer, if possible. If that’s available on my i-phone, please let me know!

            All of that reminded me of the constant march of progress or technology. Along with the alarm clock I guess I could lament the demise of the buggy whip manufacturers. There cannot be many of them anymore, either. They are simply not in great demand. 

            Or, I could consider the tools of my trade. I continue to use the volumes lining the shelves in my study. But I no longer compose a letter, sermon, or Bible Class without the word processing of my computer. And I rarely deliver a sermon without a power point presentation, or something like it. 

            There are blessed advancements in this world, thanks to technology and brilliant people. But, Tim Elmore suggested an important caution for our age in his recent book Marching Off the Map(page 208). As he compared various ages through which our economies have moved, he noted certain strengths that were needed in each. He put it this way:

            Historical Era                                                   How People Differentiate Themselves

1.    Agricultural Age                                              1. Stronger muscles

2.    Industrial Age                                                  2. Stronger machines

3.    Information Age                                             3. Stronger minds

4.    Intelligence Age                                              4. Stronger morals

            Thankfully our morals, our ethics, and our values have a constant, unchanging source in our Lord Jesus the Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, this loving Savior Who gave His life as the sacrifice for our forgiveness is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) He is the trustworthy source of all truth and value Who has said of Himself in the Revelation of Christ Jesus to St. John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).

            While things change with remarkable speed all around us, take the time on the Lord’s Day to be with God in His House, amidst His people. There He will share with you His unchanging love, a source of constant peace and security in every age, world without end. 

            It’s been a little over two months since we moved and I was desirous of not only getting an Illinois Drivers’ License but also registering to vote. So, I walked into the DMV the other day. I had most of the required paperwork, but I hadn’t been able to locate my Social Security Card. That put an end to that afternoon’s quest: no social security card, no way forward.

            The next day I went to the Social Security Administration office on Pioneer Parkway. After a little over an hour waiting for my number to be called I walked up to the window. I presented my completed application and my Nebraska Drivers’ License. After a few clicks by the affable fellow on the other side of the counter, he looked at me and said, “It would appear you’re not a citizen of the United States.” I’m sure my eyes got wide as saucers (an expression which most certainly dates me). “Do you have any proof that you’re a citizen?” I answered something about not much more than what he’d already seen, although I could get my State Department Birth Certificate created when I was born in Quezon City, the Republic of the Philippines. He shook his head. I was dumbfounded; what was I going to do as a 56-year-old undocumented alien? He then asked, “Do you have a passport?”

            Yes! I have a passport! Bingo, I’m back on track. I can bring it back tomorrow and continue the process.

            But that raised more questions. How did I get a passport without what the state of Illinois regarded as necessary proof? How had I lived so long without these difficulties? It also explained why I had to send in my birth certificate three years ago when I had another difficulty being approved for a certain status. 

            Thankfully, I got the same guy behind the counter when I returned this morning. He was very good-natured as he handed me my completed paperwork and congratulated me, “You are now a citizen of the United States!”

            The lessons I am taking away from this are: I have taken my status as a citizen of this country for granted; I am grateful for people who not only explain problems but also help to find solutions; and, I will need to find a better place to store my new Social Security Card when it arrives.

            We each have a citizenship in heaven by God’s grace (Philippians 3:20). It is easy to take such status for granted as we chug through each day, but my, what a precious thing it is as we reflect upon it. God has placed us in this communion both to keep one another accountable, but also to help restore one another (Galatians 6:1). Thankfully, it’s not a piece of paper which assures us we belong but simply the faith, engendered by the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. It’s good to belong in this kingdom with you! 

We'll get there

“We’ll get there.”

            This was said to me by a fellow red-clad fan leaving the stadium known as “The Big House” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last Saturday. We made eye contact, smiled weary smiles, and she said, “We’ll get there.” 

            It had been a long afternoon. A new coach and a program in sorry shape had been drubbed 56-10. But she encouraged us, “We’ll get there.”

            You can imagine this phrase being spoken by a parent from the front seat of the car. It’s a raging storm outside and the child in the back seat is worried. “We’ll get there,” comforts the driver.

            Perhaps you can also hear this said to an elderly friend, one who is wondering “why am I still here?” It’s a plaintive question, asked by those whose spouse and friends have already gone to be with God. In terms of her query about joining the company of redeemed in the presence of God: “We’ll get there.” Maybe not anytime soon, but “We’ll get there.”

            It could well be used as someone deals with the day to day struggle of living as God calls us to live. For every step of progress there are times we encounter two steps of frustrating reversal. Still, “We’ll get there.”

            Amid the persecutions of Christianity that are predicted for us in Revelation, might it be assuring to hear “We’ll get there”? God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13). “We’ll get there.”

            That “We” in these last three paragraphs does not refer to a rabid football fanbase. It refers to us, the Body of Christ - any group of Christians in whom the Holy Spirit resides. It is this Spirit which “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the Christian Church,” as the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed assures us (Luther’s Small Catechism). And He “keeps” us, with Jesus Christ. “We’ll get there.”

            When the way ahead looks dark, when the burdens are heavy, and when you wonder whether you truly can go on, refresh yourself in God’s Word so that the Spirit of the living God can encourage you with the truth that “We’ll get there.”

Books...and influence.

            It’s been good to get here to Peoria and to have most of the unpacking finished. Most of it. Many thanks to the people who have been asking how Jami and I are getting along. We appreciate you asking after our well-being!

            One of the comments made during the move was echoed at both the church study and at home: “The Winters have a fair number of books.” The mover who helped that Thursday evening at the church added the question “Do you know all that’s in these books?” My answer was, of course, “No. But that’s why I keep them. I can refer to them when I need the information they have.”

            It dawned on me last night that all of those heavily loaded apple boxes full of books may have left an impression on our children. The contents of those boxes might be a part of the reason our daughter, Mary, is an academic reference librarian at a medical school and our son, Chase, is a language arts teacher in a high school. Those books and the stories and information they conveyed were obviously valued by Chase and Mary’s mom and dad. Why else would we lug them part way across the country with us? 

            What things of value did your folks pass along to you? What are the things that were important to them that you find are still important to you?

            By the same token, what ideas and values are you passing along to the next generation? What do your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews glean from their contacts with you regarding what you think they ought to know or have?

            We read in Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.We can certainly see and hear in toddlers the effect of our example in their mimicry. That kind of influence continues through the formative years and beyond. 

            God bless you as you set an example in your worship, devotion, prayer, and study patterns. They are a blessing not only for you but for those around you, as well. 

Deadlines

            Each of us has operated under deadlines. There are fixed times within which inoculations must be administered, students must be registered, and budget requests must be submitted. I did notice in Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary that the secondary definition for “deadline” is a perimeter around a prison which a prisoner crosses at the risk of being shot. May we never know that sort of deadline!

            I’ve operated under many of these deadlines with you. As a called worker, I’ve also known deadlines for submitting worship themes to church musicians and worship arts coordinators so that music and liturgical pieces can work more effectively together. We’ve got deadlines in place to make certain that Katie has all the information she needs to keep the screens and the Priority One up to date and informative. 

            Now, with this initial “issue” of the Winter Blog on Redeemer’s website, we’re adding another deadline, though this one will largely be self-imposed. It is my hope and goal that this blog will be added to perhaps every ten days to two weeks, initially, and then with greater frequency (hence, the deadline). This will be a place to share devotional thoughts as well as to delve further into serious issues. 

            Our God has worked with deadlines in His efforts to reconcile us back to Himself. St. Paul reveals the expert timing of our God in this mission: “In the fullness of time, God sent for His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) 

            There is also a deadline looming before us in this mission, though we don’t know its exact terminus. “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,’In a favorable time I listened to you,and in a day of salvation I have helped you. "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:1-2). Now is the time for our witness to others, our ministry to them in God’s name and for their salvation. 

            Again, we don’t know the final deadline, only that it’s coming; or better yet, that Jesus is coming. What we do know is the grace in which God would redeem all to Himself through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And we have the assurance that His Holy Spirit will be of inestimable value in the words we share and the service we bring.