Monday, June 27, 2011

Prayer in Times of War

I got to thinking about this the other day after a conversation with someone who was upset with me for praying a peaceful outcome in the ongoing round of conflicts in the Middle East - Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya. He had figured out what God was up to in the region and had fit it all neatly together into his scenario of the end times. His theology did not include a peaceful resolution in Iraq. He was upset because I suggested that his theology might be wrong.
I do not pretend to know what God is up to regarding the end times. But I do think I know what God is up to regarding Muslims. Specifically, He loves them and is not willing that any of them should perish, but that they all should come to repentance - the same thing He desires for Buddhists, Hindus, “Christians”, Mormons, atheists, and anyone else we might care to name. If I want to pray as Jesus would pray if He were praying, I need to pray for the redemption of Iraq and of Palestine and of Iran and of Libya and of Syria - with the full reminder that it is ultimately the kindness of God that invites repentance.
Clearly God can - and has - used military messengers to discipline and chastise both His children and their enemies. Judgment is clearly in His hand. But short of a specific prophetic word that over-rides the command of Jesus, our whole heart needs to be set on the discipling of the nations – primarily by immersing them into the full reality of the Trinitarian Universe. We dare not make judgment calls that are not ours to make. Especially when God himself has demonstrated his reticence to judge until mercy has had its full day in court.
So, how might we pray as Iraq lurches from one instability to the next, and Israel contemplates trading settlements for peace with an unreliable neighbor, and Iran postures nuclear defiance, and Palestine ekes out subsistence level living? We can pray for the spread of the gospel by any and all means possible. We can pray for those who make for peace. We can pray that those who devise against peace find themselves caught in their own traps. We can pray against the systemic evil behind terrorism. We can pray for our brothers and sisters caught in impossible situations and victimized for their failure to align with either side. We can pray for the innocents who are as victimized by their own armies as they are by any outside enemy. We can intercede, praying that He withhold judgment to allow as many to hear the gospel as possible before the end of the age. We can pray that God’s kingdom come - that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yesterdays Flash

My dad, pen in hand, standing over the crib of my newborn son, writing down the statistics that mark the reality of his arrival.

Christmas Eve two weeks after his birth, I hold him and read the long familiar narrative now made alive in a new way – there’s something about a baby at Christmas.

I speak at the funeral of the man after whom he is named, praying that my boy might embody some of this good man’s gentle grace and greatness. Knowing now, prayers answered.

Watching him kneel on the bench and peer intently at the upside down music on the piano, hands poised over the keys – concentrated music making in toddler form.

He flies across the gym floor in his walker, flung with perhaps unnecessary vigor from one end to end by his two older brothers – all three of them laughing out loud.

Raking leaves into a boy sized pile into which he burrows, nothing but the top of his blond head visible – and the sudden explosion of laughter and life as he leaps up for the fun of doing it all again. And again.

A freak-out moment in kindergarten when the crayons won’t go back in the box in the right order, which only his mom knows. A sign of inherited and learned perfectionism.

A maroon flash, chasing the ball up the field, determination written all over his face.

His smile at being recognized for the hours of hard work with an older brother and friend to become the most improved basketball player on the team.

Jokes that make no sense but are funny anyway – to him, and, thus, to us.

Long legs stretching out, carrying him further than the boy in the next lane who seems to require twice as many steps to cover the same distance. He doesn’t run to win, but because he loves to be on the team.

Watching him from a few rows back, his hands raised, his head thrown back – worship flowing out of his very soul.

Delighting to talk of the kids he had played with in Mexico.

The casually cool way he sits in his car – deeply cautious and careful . . . most of the time. When he is not distracted.

And then, last night, his name called – a diploma awarded – a milestone passed. High School. Done.

Yesterdays flash. And are . . . gone.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Faith

He watches
     through tears
     that will not
     his son

His hand
     shakes so
     knife held
     above his

His heart
          the torn
     stained with
     his son

He watches
     love pierced
     his son
          alone . . .

There is
     no greater
          a Father’s
          release of
          son to
     what might be.

     faith . . .

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Celebrating Pentecost

Tomorrow, much of the church across the world is celebrating Pentecost Sunday - the day the Holy Spirit breathed life and power into the Body of Christ assembled in the upper room. He came to empower them to live their ordinary lives in such a way as to give vibrant witness to reality of the resurrection of Jesus. He came to break down the barriers between ages, genders, and social and economic classes, and to push and prod the fledgling church to embrace ethnicities and cultures very different than their own.
His coming is recorded by Luke as being accompanied by signs that would signal to any person schooled in the Old Testament that God had broken in - tongues of fire and the sound a rushing mighty wind. The reversal of the curse of Babel - where the nations were divided by their inability to understand one another’s language - is signaled by the empowerment to speak in tongues so that everyone can hear the glories of God being proclaimed. Speaking in tongues became the sign for the early church of the Spirit’s immediate presence, as He baptized not only those in Jerusalem, but also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
So powerful was the experience of speaking in tongues that some branches of the early church began to regard it as a mark of superior spirituality. To correct that error of spiritual pride, the apostle Paul suggests that speaking in tongues is usually a matter of prayer or praise and, if it is done in a public service needs to be interpreted so that everyone can benefit. At the same time, he wants to encourage those who have that gift to use it fully and freely - because it is beneficial personally and corporately. Of course, it must always yield to love.
At the same time, while it may be initial, speaking in tongues is inadequate evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Believers must be constantly seeking to be being filled with Holy Spirit as an ongoing process. He will partner with them to transform their natures. This change will be signaled by the growth of the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.
So let's celebrate Pentecost Sunday tomorrow, by living Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled, Spirit-empowered lives every day!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Fragrance of Home

A couple of weeks ago one of my friends had a stem of lilac blossoms radiating their heady perfume from a vase on her desk. She had carried it back with her on a flight from the mid-west and, even though it was beginning to fade, the rich fragrance was enough to carry me back home. My dad planted the lilac bush at the north west corner of the house and for years it served as the official marker of the arrival of spring. Its sweet and strong aroma will be forever linked to the lightness of being that spring meant after a long, cold winter. Just the subtlest whiff is enough to lift my spirits.

Scent memory is like that. Researchers tell us that our sense of smell is among the most indelible of the senses, with the closest direct connection to our emotions. Apparently, our brains organize scent information based on emotional responses to life circumstances. The phenomenon of aroma-therapy indirectly builds on this. There are companies that will custom design perfumes for you and for your house, each of which will conjure up specific feelings.

Because scent also creates a sense of place, with all the emotions that go along with that, it is not surprising that many of the most popular scents are those of the kitchen – vanilla, apple pie, cinnamon. I don’t think anyone has done it yet, but it won’t be long before there is a candle named “Frying Onions”! It was years after I left home that I discovered my mom would start to fry onions – even if she had no specific use for them -  because the fragrance would delay the question, “When’s dinner?” and would buy her a bit of time while she thought of what to prepare!

The worship of the ancient world – Jewish, Christian, pagan – was filled with scents as well as with sights and sounds. The aroma of a burnt offering would mix with the intoxicating blends of burning spices in carefully crafted incense.

No wonder Paul uses this image when he writes to the church at Corinth that believers are to be a scent memory of Jesus – the sweet and pleasing “aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor 2:14) The mere presence of Christ followers permeates the culture with a powerful reminder of Him. Some will be repelled by the stench of death – others, drawn by the fragrance of home – depending on their own unknown scent memories of Jesus, dead or alive.