People of the Book

“Your life may be the only Bible that someone else reads.” For me that’s a mighty intimidating statement, yet in today’s world, it carries an element of truth. Society has great expectations of those of us who are identified as Christians. They want us to live good lives. They want us to be caring. They want to set us apart as special. Our faith is supposed to have transformed us, to have made a difference in how we live. When we fail to live up to those expectations, society labels us hypocrites.
            As Christians, we know we’re not perfect. We try to do what we think God expects of us. We know we often fail. Like everyone, we live busy lives. Things overwhelm us. There are people that we find easy to love, but also people we wish we had never met. We know living our faith isn’t easy.
When I’m faced with someone whose sharp words have made deep gashes in my soul, I don’t want to offer forgiveness. When I hear about terrorists planting yet another bomb, or rival gangs killing an innocent bystander, I feel anger and disgust. I don’t want to see these perpetrators of violence as God’s beloved children.
When we read the Bible carefully, we learn that the Biblical characters were just like us. They, too made mistakes. At times, they were accepting and caring. At times, they deliberately weren’t. Most of the time, they knew that God was with them, pushing, prodding, trying to lead them.
Saying the words, “Lord, I believe” is not enough. Being a Christian means hearing the Word and being transformed by it. Transformation is a slow process. We often wobble back and forth between God’s way and our way. On our best days, with God’s help, we do become God’s Word for others. We truly are people of the Book.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Does Anyone Still Pray?

Besides grandparents and ministers does anyone still pray? A teen submitted this question to the United Church Observer. It’s dogged my thoughts for the last week.

My first answer is yes, of course people of all ages still pray. My friends, some of whom are teens, some in their thirties and forties, pray regularly. They ask for God’s help concerning exams, crises and life in general. Probably, the main reason I know they pray is that I am a retired United Church minister. They feel safe in telling me. Also, my friends tend to be people who attend church, or sing in the Gospel Choir. Prayer is a part of their personal culture. What about the rest of the world?

When we listen to the news, we learn that all over the world people of every religion pray at least in a formal way. That’s why churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are popular targets for terrorists. I’m sure if we had the opportunity to interview them, even the terrorists would say that they pray.

There is no shortage of prayer in this world. Lots of us talk with God every day. We plead with God. We bargain with God. We give thanks to God. Sometimes, when frustration or pain overwhelms us, we yell at God. The problem is that we often fail to recognize that prayer is a conversation.

A real conversation requires listening. Maybe the question is, “Does anyone listen to God today?” In the Bible, we are often told to listen to God. In Moses’ words we hear, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to God’s voice, and hold fast to God. For the LORD is your life, …  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Begin incorporating listening in your prayers. Be assured, God does speak today.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Every morning at breakfast, Tom and I join hands and pray. Instead of bowing our heads, we look into each other’s eyes. Tom begins with “Thank you, God, for my “just right” Jan.” I add, “and my wonderful Tom.” We go on to give thanks to God for food, family, home and friends, followed by offering up the people and events that are uppermost in our minds. Our breakfast “Grace Prayer” takes only a few moments. Some might think this is romantic, some that it’s ridiculous. For Tom and I, this short prayer time means that whatever the day brings we’re together on it and God is with us.
Our morning prayer reminds me to pay attention to Tom, to remember that I love him. Why, then, would I bother with Valentine’s Day. After all, I’ve heard it said that Valentine’s Day is just another money grab. It means nothing. It’s foolishness.
For Tom and me, Valentine’s Day gives us another opportunity to show that we love, value and respect each other. We know that God has blessed us with our relationship. Life experience has taught us that relationships do not prosper if they are left unattended. Just as a plant cannot grow and become more and more beautiful without water and sunlight, our relationship will only shrivel and become flat without love and care.
            There used to be bill boards that said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Praying helps. Prayer is one of the nutrients needed. Speaking words of love and doing actions of love are also essential to a healthy relationship. I suggest you use this Valentine’s Day to add to the ways that you nurture your relationships with spouse, children, family, and friends. Endeavour to be a blessing to at least one person that you love, on that day and every day for the rest of 2012.
St. Paul tells us “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).

Physical Fitness

Last September, I started on a program of daily physical exercise, just twenty minutes of strengthening and stretching my tummy and leg muscles. I’m happy to report that I’ve lost five pounds – not much over five months, but my joints feel great, loose and supple. When I told others about my new health regimen, I said, “It’s easy. Tom and I do the exercises together first thing in the morning, in bed.” Everyone laughed. I struggled to explain. The most important part of the program for me is that we do the exercises before breakfast. Exercise on an empty stomach seems to kick-start my sluggish metabolism for the entire day.
            Our faith life functions in the same way. For nearly thirty years, I have started each day with God, through prayer, scripture and daily reflection. These exercises get my spiritual being rolling for the day. Similarly to my body, missing intentional exercise for my spirit means I don’t have the strength to resist today’s temptations, the stamina to withstand today’s trials or the gratitude to enjoy today’s gifts.
            All you need for this spiritual program is a Bible, preferably one in modern English for ease of understanding, a book of daily reflections, and time. (I also need pen and paper.) It’s the time that is most difficult. Thirty years ago, I started getting up a half hour earlier than the rest of our household so that I could have special quiet time with God. At first, it felt like a huge sacrifice. Eventually, that time became a precious gift. Today, as I settle into retirement, once again I struggle with time. Often, I give in to my love for late nights and need to sleep in. I’ve learned that if I don’t start with God, the day disappears and I’ve never got back to my prayer time. My morning reflection time is a sacrifice as well as a precious gift. It’s well worth every single moment.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35)