Friday, February 20, 2015

3D Lent

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMComm
     Lent is a multidimensional spiritual journey.  A variety of religious dynamics converge during Lent to make it a uniquely powerful opportunity for renewal and growth.  The blessings, drawn from each discipline, are multiplied by blending them into a mixture of private reflection and public engagement. 
     One dimension of Lent is our quietly secretive withdrawal from normal activities to make room for fasting, prayer and alms-giving. Lent invites us to give up some of our normal daily habits to make room for more sacred enterprises, some of which may become enduring changes in lifestyle.  Spending extra time in prayerful devotion heightens our awareness of the divine presence and freshens our personal relationship with God.  Charitable contribution of our time and resources bends our focus toward the needs of family, friends and neighbors, clarifying our success and failure in loving others as Christ has loved us. The more secretive we are about these aspects of our spirituality, the more our Heavenly Parent who sees us in secret rewards us openly (Matthew 6:4,6,18)
     The public dimension is also an important part of Lent, empowering personal and corporate growth along with a witness to our faith.  The Transfiguration reminds us of the importance of shared experiences, even of prayer (Matthew 17:1-9).  While Jesus cautions us not to be hypocritical, warning that anything done in public has the potential of limiting the benefits, most of the events in the Gospels and Acts took place openly.  Additional worship services, Bible studies, retreats and other group programs the Church emphasizes as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection serve to unite the faith community, strengthen our witness together, and enrich our individual discipleship.
     Spiritual housecleaning is another crucial dimension of Lent.  Through the year, our schedules fill with all sorts of things that diffuse our attention and detract from our discipleship.  Many of these are intrinsically good and wholesome, but they crowd out our calling like the proverbial seed that fell among the thorns (Mark 4:7).  Our lives can easily become cluttered with thoughts and feelings as with material objects.  Annual renewal includes sorting and divesting of unnecessary burdens, liberating ourselves for holiness and service.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God(Romans 12:2).  (Romans 12:2).  
     Lent equips us to face ourselves honestly and make the inward and outward changes required for reviving our spirits.  At the end of these few weeks, our self-examination leads to celebration of the new life we share in Christ.  Some of the changes we make during Lent will be lasting, while others will fade as the year unfolds. We are reminded of who we are, where we have come from and where we are going, as we repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Teach Us to Pray

Photo by Mike Dubose,
United Methodist Communications
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  Matthew 7:8 & Luke 11:10

          Jesus invites everyone to pray.  Prayer is the most ecumenical, interfaith, intercultural enterprise of humanity.  No one is excluded from the promises associated with prayer as envisioned and taught by Jesus.  All people everywhere are invited to turn to God in whom “we live, and move, and have our being,” and to communicate with God as children of our divine parent (Acts 17:22-31).  We each are invited to pray according to our best understandings. With the liberty of this invitation comes the responsibility to learn more about prayer, and the assurance of its increasing effectiveness as we implement the practice.
          Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, as a gift to those who want to know how to pray.  One great feature of this enduring prayer pattern is that it consolidates so many prayer principles from throughout the Bible in general, and specifically those taught by Jesus Himself.  Each part of the Lord’s Prayer unpacks a whole dimension of spirituality, leading to boundless exploration and infinite application.
          Prayer has always been offered as a practical element of solution to any and all challenges.  Jesus pointed out that some forms of prayer are empty and void, and in Paul’s words, “having the form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).  Yet, Jesus also promises that sincerity, persistence and diligence will transform our prayers from empty words into powerful and effective contributions.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b)
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           Briensburg UMC is launching our new Online Church School & Learning Center with “Teach Us to Pray” as an ongoing peer learning group for sharing information, prayer concerns, news and discussion about prayer.  The study is offered in conjunction with the similar Pastor's Lenten Study on the Lord's Prayer (starting tomorrow, a couple of weeks early).  Everyone is invited to participate.