Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thank God for His Church!

"I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem" (122:1). My feet have been standing there too, as well as our family's on both sides. Some are in and out for various reasons, but the pattern is established and I am glad to this very morning that once again I am going to the house of the Lord.

What would my life have been--indeed what would it be even now--apart from God's house? Those who disregard that house only end up diminishing themselves. The sadness is not that they rail against it so much--though some do that as well--but that they see it somehow as irrelevant. The Lord's day is no longer his. It has become theirs--to sleep in, lolly gag around the house, go shopping, or whatever else.

When asked why he was always going to church one of our forebears said simply, "Because I'm afraid of what I might miss if I don't!" One could do without some of church life, of course, especially when clergy or lay folk try to superintend it as if it were theirs to rule. But that would be to miss the fact that the church is the house of the Lord, a place he inhabits by his grace--where his Word is proclaimed, however feebly at times, and the blessed sacraments shared. Those who come to it with the same gladness of heart as the psalmist seldom leave without feeling blessed.

Thus it has been for me since childhood. So may it continue to be for me and mine--and you and yours--until the Lord himself comes in person to gather the faithful and establish his kingdom on earth.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Prayer and Perspective

Early this morning I rose to one of my monthly tasks these days, praying through the psalms for next month, and preparing to publish them under the "Prayers" link on the home page of my website at

I never cease to be amazed and blessed by this process, soon two years running, using the psalms designated for each Sunday of the Church Year. No matter where I find myself month by month, both in circumstance and mood, I am lifted out of myself to see life in greater perspective--just by reflecting with the psalmist on God's glory, faithfulness, and grace.

Well into the season of Lent by the end of next month, the themes center on opening one's soul in confession both of our sinfulness in God's presence and our faith in his redeeming grace. To confess either without also confessing the other is to miss the blessing of both. How can grace be experienced, for example, by anyone who hides from his or her great need of it? And what if one, confessing that need, is left only in the somber shadows with no relief?

Thus does God's word deliver us, not by efforts of our own to deserve his deliverance but by simply recalling and receiving again the deliverance he alone offers the penitent. What is required in prayer is not our effort so much as our willingness to open ourselves up as we are to him as he is. The hymnwriter said it well: Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed; the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast (The Covenant Hymnal, 1973, No. 345).

The days of Lent this year will be different for me, having prayed through these psalms. Pray with me through those already posted for this month as Epiphany came to its end and Lent has begun. And after March 1, look for more to lend you the same blessed perspective they have offered me in praying through them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ever Feel Left Out?

Few things bless me more in ministry than the children of the church. From my earliest days as a pastor, through all those years as an editor and publisher and in every place I have served since, they have both warmed my heart and challenged my faith. Even when they do not speak, they speak just by being who and what they are. No wonder Jesus rebuked those who wanted in his presence to shunt them aside.

Stories abound in my relationships with children and youth over generations--some funny, some sad, and some memorable for other reasons that need not be shared here. What has seemed remarkable to me in all of them--or mostly all--is that they have never shunted me aside when and if I have come to them with love and respect for them as God's children.

Before preaching from the Epiphany text in Luke 4 on Jesus' return to his home town in Nazareth, I asked them if they ever felt "left out" as he soon did. I wanted them to know that all too often even in our lives "Jesus Stands Outside the Door" (Hymnal, No. 327). The look on their faces confirmed what I have come to know about each of them. In their childlike way there is room in their heart for him. Will their continuing presence in our lives cause us to be as childlike in our faith and love for the Lord? Watch their faces and be blessed as I was--and challenged.

Cildren's Moment - 1/31/10 - Jesus in Nazareth from rooted wings on Vimeo.