Help Me Do Better

John 14:14 “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Wesley Chapel UMC in College Grove, TN has a Tuesday morning prayer meeting at 7:15 am. Several of us gather for fellowship and prayer each week and share this time together praying to God for various things. We give thanks, ask for direction, supplication and etcetera. This is an unstructured time. People can pray at the same time, sit quietly, wonder around the church, or whatever else they need to do in order that they may commune with God. Prayer is a spiritual discipline that is vital to our spiritual wellbeing.

Through prayer we build and nourish our relationship with God. Why else would we pray to God who know what we are going to pray about beforehand? Prayer is a conversation with God. All of our relationships are built on communication. The most important of our relationships should be as well. An issue that I’ve often heard as a pastor is that God doesn’t answer our prayers. By the way, God answers all of our prayers. However there are several reasons that it may seem God hasn’t answered our prayers.

Many people spend long hours in prayer but neglect to ever listen for a reply. Remember prayer is a conversation. How long would you talk with someone who never let you speak? God is infinitely patient even in that regard but how do we expect God to answer when we never take the time to look for God’s answer. At least half if not more of our prayer time should be contemplating and listening for God’s answer.

The second reason people miss the answer to their prayers is because the answer is unexpected. God often answers our prayers in ways that we do not understand and are unexpected. Many times God uses the people that are already in our lives to answer our prayers as well. Again we need to take the time to look and see if the prayer is truly unanswered.

A third reason our prayers seem to go unanswered is we tend to forget that no is often a completely understandable and appropriate response to our prayer. Good parents often say no to their children. No can protect us from harm and sinful behavior. God is not a wish fulfillment provider or a genie. No is an answer to a wide range of requests from $1,000,000 to I want to be taller.

The final reason was summed up very well today in the prayer group I mentioned. Often we don’t pray in Jesus name even though we say we are… Let me try to explain. Just because we add, “In Jesus’ name we pray,” at the end of the prayer doesn’t mean we are truly invoking Hid name. When we truly pray in Jesus’ name we are praying as Jesus would pray. We pray that God’s will be done, that we are able to submit, that our actions are pleasing to God, and we are praying not simply for our personal needs but for the Kingdom. Our prayers should line up with our Christian walk. We should pray for our enemies, our foes, and even those we don’t like. Today this was summed up by a man who simply and humbly prayed, “God, help me do better.”

Help me do better. God knows all that happening in our lives. God knows our needs as well as our wants and desires. God knows what aspects of our selves we’ve been working on and those areas that need work. God even knows how we fall short. The prayer to help me be better is great. It encompasses all that we need to say. I have fallen short, I have not given up and am working hard, help me to do better.

My prayer for all of us throughout the world is thus, “God, help us do better.” Amen

This is this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

Fred Phelps

Luke 6:27-28, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

I was talking to a friend yesterday and he lamented the joy people are experiencing at the news that Fred Phelps is in hospice care and dying. I understand not liking what he stands for, or what he has done, but to hate the man and take joy in his death strikes me as much the same type of behavior in which he engaged. Mr. Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas. He is adamantly and vocally against homosexuality and organized protests at people’s funerals. He even proclaimed that the United States was being punished for allowing homosexuality and therefore picketed at the funerals of soldiers whether or not they were gay.

I don’t know anyone that believes it is proper to picket a funeral. To disrupt the funeral ceremony is an affront to common decency. Funerals are a time to pay respect and surround the grieving family with love and support. To mount a demonstration at that most vulnerable time is at the least insensitive and in my opinion downright mean. I disagree with Mr. Phelps on most of his statements. We do agree that Jesus is Lord…

I have never met Mr. Phelps or any of his church or family. I know of him only through the media, news, and a few interviews that I’ve seen. It seemed to me that much of what he was doing is what I refer to as “look at me” behavior. When I taught school many of the trouble-makers were simply engaged in behaviors that were designed to draw attention to themselves. I found that if I were to pay attention to them for positive behaviors the “look at me” behaviors subsided. People in the media know this and also know that Mr. Phelps controversial, loud, and misguided words and actions sold. They sold newspapers and television ads. If the media had stopped reporting on Westboro Baptist I believe they would have stopped as well.

That being said, the happiness of people regarding his forthcoming death is disturbing. One may not like his positions, statements, philosophy, or theology. One can hate his actions, deeds, and speeches. To go the extra step in celebrating his death is very much like Mr. Phelps’ actions. We are called to love even our enemies. We are called to pray for those who persecute us.

It is an interesting thing to try. If you get really angry with someone. So angry that you in fact feel hate toward them, pray. Then pray some more. As you earnestly pray for them some interesting things begin to happen. It is impossible to hold hate in your heart for someone you are earnestly praying for. I don’t mean praying that they go away or get hurt. I mean that we are praying that God blesses them just as we would like God to bless us. Several things begin to happen. Hearts begin to soften. Sometimes it is even the other person’s heart. Sometimes we see deeper into the situation and understand that they are coming from a different place. Sometimes we just learn to accept that we cannot change the other person. It is however exceedingly difficult to hate someone for whom you are praying.

My friend asked me what I thought of the people that will undoubtedly protest his funeral. I really hope that no one protests with a malignant heart. Mr. Phelps had a heart that hated an entire group of people. Why would anyone want to return his hate and have that hate live on through their own hearts? I told my friend that I would consider going to Mr. Phelps’ funeral with a two sided sign. On one side the sign would read, “God loves you.” The other side would say, “God forgives you.”

When I think of all the ways in which I fall short I am thankful for those two statements. I cannot fathom the depth of God’s love, nor can I understand why God loves us. It is clear however that God does love and care for us. I am reassured by the thought that with all Paul did to the early Church prior to his conversion he was forgiven and loved. If God can deal with that, maybe God can deal with my shortcomings too.

Just this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Tom

Good Samaritans

DSC00069Luke 10:30-37, “Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I have been blessed. Specifically blessed by the people that God has placed in my life. Bishop Bill McAlily of the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church planned a trip to the Holy Lands and encouraged a group of us to go. There were about 35 people, mostly ministers awaiting ordination or recently ordained, traveling together on what was called “Yellow Bus.” We were part of a much larger group, 210, visiting various sites in Israel. The blessing of being able to travel to the Holy Lands was multiplied by the incredible group with which I was able to travel.

All of the people on Yellow Bus experienced the Bible and life of Jesus in a new, fuller way. Personally I had many very moving experiences. Unfortunately Bishop Bill McAlily fell near Jericho. He fractured a couple ribs and was rendered very uncomfortable. I pray that he is feeling better as of this writing. The place that he fell was on the road that goes between Jerusalem and Jericho. Coincidences to another travel along that road were not lost on us. When we saw the Bishop lying there we all very quietly passed by on the other side…

In all seriousness some people in the group that saw him fall got him to a small store that was close by. The bus took the rest of us there and we were able to render first aid, although I wished there was more I could have done other than encouraging him to go to the doctor. How people responded was truly wonderful. Keep in mind that this occurred in the West Bank, an area controlled by Palestine. Remember too that we are Americans. The owners of this small shop gave the Bishop juice, water, and ice. They allowed him to sit and did everything in their power to ease his condition. (Make him more comfortable.) The owner the bus company took the Bishop to the clinic by car. As we loaded onto the bus several people offered to pay for the juice and water. We were turned down. These gentle people provided radical hospitality to someone in need. They didn’t think of themselves, only of the man in pain. They showed compassion and love of neighbor. The parallels to the story of the Good Samaritan are striking.

We can learn a lot from these events. When we reach out in love, care, and compassion our differences are laid aside. In those moments our differences simply don’t matter anymore. The question that begs to be asked is if the differences don’t matter at that point, do they ever matter? Our earthly, human differences are inconsequential in the heavenly realm. Let us all remember to lay aside our differences and work for the common good of all.

And please keep Bishop Bill McAlily in your prayers. May he experience more radical hospitality and have a speedy recovery.

This is this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Tom