Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Magi's Prayer of Epiphany

Three kings bow before the holy infant The heartwarming image from Christmas cards touches our hearts.

 Of course -- there's a lot to the story we don't know.

 1. We don't know if they were kings. The Bible says they were "wise men" or "magi".

 2. We don't know if there were three of them. Tradition says so, but the only thing we know for sure is that they brought three gifts.

 3. We don't know if they showed up at the manger. Again, the Christmas narrative tells us star appeared two years before. Some scholars say that Jesus, then, was two years old when the wise men showed up.

 As a sentimentalist, however, I'd like to think that there were three wise men and that the star appeared two years before his birth, so they actually showed up at the manger on that special night along with the shepherds (can't prove it -- but then, nobody can disprove it either, and it sure helps with the logistics of Christmas pageants).

 Since there's a lot we don't know about the magi, we must use our imaginations to connect the dots and color the pages. However, I do believe I know the prayer these men held in their hearts as they journeyed to Bethlehem.  In many ways, it's the same thing I hold in my heart today: a prayer with three parts.

 Part One: Where Are You?
 Sometimes in life's journey, we face perplexing and difficult circumstances. There are days when the darkness overtakes the light, the sorrow outweighs the joy, and the questions are louder than the answers. We are prone to wonder: "Where are you, God? I'm looking, and I can't find you." But we are reminded that the Christ child is called "Emmanuel" which means, "God WITH us." Even when it seems like he is nowhere to be found. . . he is now here -- right here -- right now. He is with us. If you have a seeking heart, you will find Christ, because all along, he is seeking you!

 Part Two: We've Seen Your Star
 If you ask "where are you?" with an open, humble and honest heart, you will find the answer. You will see his star. It may not be exactly what you had pictured. You may not get a shout or a lightning bolt from heaven. Perhaps it will be just a whisper or small glimmer of hope. Look for the hope glimmer. Look! You will find it. Through the clouds, his star is shining somewhere, and it will guide you home. "The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious dawn."

 Part Three: We Have Come to Worship You
 We may never get satisfactory answers to life's darkest questions. We may never understand why bad things happen to good people. But, if we can find it in our hearts to trust God anyway -- to honor him first with our lives, we will be blessed with peace.

 Like the wise men, let us bring our gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh:

 Gold speaks of Majesty.
"Jesus, you are the King of Life. It will trust you and submit to your will. You are my Guide." 

Frankincense speaks of Divinity.
"Jesus, I turn my concerns into prayers. I believe you are good. You are my Helper"

 Myrrh speaks of Suffering and Loss.
"Jesus, I give you my griefs and sorrows. I know you are with me. You are my Healer."

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Empty Buckets for a Dehydrated Church

"Dusty, musty, wrapped in the mummy-like grave clothes of formalism and modern theology, without an 'amen' in the soul or a 'hallelujah' upon the lips, without the soft flowing pearls of erstwhile tender tears of conviction upon her cheeks, sits the professing church of Jesus Christ today, like a garden drooping; like a fountain that has ceased its flow; and offers but the poor apology of a bucket of muddy water from a hardly reached well."
-- Aimee Semple McPherson

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Wesley Covenant Renewal Service

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A few years ago I developed a version of John Wesley's Covenant Renewal with updated language for my church based on the works of George Lyon and Jeren Rowel.  We used it the first Sunday of the New Year.

Wesley Covenant Renewal
An Adaptation by Mark O. Wilson from versions of the Covenant by George Lyon and Jeren Rowel

Introduction:  Historical background of John Wesley, and the purpose for the covenant renewal.
Hymn:  “Come Let Us Use the Grace Divine” written by Charles Wesley especially for the covenant renewal.
LEADER: "Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten" (Jer. 50:5, RSV).
LEADER: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy name through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us now pray together the Lord’s Prayer.
LEADER and PEOPLE: The Lord’s Prayer
THE SCRIPTURE LESSON: John 15:1-8
LEADER: My dear friends, fix these three principles in your hearts: (1) that things eternal are more enduring and real than things temporal; (2) that things not seen are as certain as the things that are seen; (3) that upon your present choice depends your eternal destiny. Choose Christ and His ways, and you are blessed forever; refuse Him, and you are undone forever.
And then, my friends, make your choice. Turn either to the right hand or to the left; Christ with His yoke, His cross, and His crown; or the devil with his wealth, his pleasure, and his curse. Then ask yourselves, "Self, you see what is before you; what will you do? Which will you have, either the crown or the curse? If you choose the crown, remember that the day you take this, you must be content to submit to the cross and yoke, the service and sufferings of Christ, which are linked to it. What do you say? Would you rather take the gains and pleasures of sin and risk the curse? Or will you yield yourself a servant to Christ and so make sure the crown?"
Do not delay the matter. If you are unresolved, you are resolved. If you remain undetermined for Christ, you are determined for the devil. Therefore, follow your hearts from day to day. Do not rest until this matter is settled once and for all. And see to it that you make a good choice.
Next, begin your journey with Christ. Adventure with Him. Cast yourselves upon His righteousness. You are exiles from the presence of God and fallen into a land of robbers and murderers. Your sins are robbers, your pleasures are robbers, your companions in sin are robbers and thieves. If you stay where you are, you perish. Christ offers, if you will venture with Him, to bring you to God.
Will you say now to Him, "Lord Jesus, will You take me?
Will You bring me to God and bring me into the land of promise?   With You I will risk myself. I cast myself upon You, upon Your blood, upon Your righteousness."
This is coming to Christ as your Priest. And by this you now renounce your own righteousness. Do you deeply sense your need of God’s grace in Christ? Whether we are already forgiven sinners, or still far from God, let us confess together our total dependence on Him.
CONFESSION
PEOPLE: We acknowledge a deep sense of our need. We see ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior. The Spirit of God has awakened us, for we have cried out, “Lord, where am I?”
Is there no hope of escaping from this wretched state? I am but dead, if I continue as I am. What can I do to be saved?"
LEADER: Being made aware of his sin and his danger, a sinner will look for help and deliverance, but he will look everywhere else before he looks unto Christ. Nothing will bring a sinner to Christ but absolute necessity. He will try to forsake his sins. He will go to prayers, and sermons, and sacraments and search out if there is salvation in them. But all these, though they be useful in their places, are of no help. His duties cannot help him; these may be numbered among his sins. Ordinances cannot help; these are but empty cisterns. They all tell him, "You knock at a wrong door; salvation is not in us."
Do you now utterly despair of your own goodness, or do you trust in anything but Christ?
PRAYER
PEOPLE: Lord, be merciful to me. What shall I do? I dare not remain as I am, and I cannot help myself. My praying will not help me. My hearing will not help me. If I give all my goods to the poor, if I should give my body to be burned, all this would not save my soul. Woe is me. What shall I do?
LEADER: You must let your sins go. You must let your righteousness go. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He came to seek and to save those that are lost.
Friends, will you now risk yourselves for Christ? You have this threefold assurance:
First, God’s initiative. He has taken the first move. God the Father has appointed and sent Christ into the world to save sinners. Jesus Christ is the One whom God the Father has made our Savior. He is redeeming and reconciling the world to himself.
Second, God’s command. This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Third, God’s promise. "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and whoever believes on him shall not be disappointed.
Now, because we have this threefold assurance of God’s initiative, command, and promise, we may now be bold to risk everything for Christ and to make ourselves totally available to Him.
The leader and people shall pray together:
LEADER and PEOPLE: Lord Jesus, here I am, a lost creature, an enemy to God, under His wrath and curse.
Will You, Lord, take me as I am, reconcile me to God, and save my soul?
Do not refuse me, Lord, for if You refuse me, to whom then shall I go?
If I had come in my own name, You might well have ignored me; but since I come at the command of the Father, do not reject me.
Lord, help me. Lord, save me.
I come, Lord.
I believe, Lord.
I throw myself upon Your grace and mercy.
I trust Your saving death alone to save me. Do not refuse me.
I have nowhere else to go. Here I will stay. I will trust You, and rest in You, and risk myself for You.
On You I lay my hope for pardon, for life, for salvation.
If I perish, I perish on Your shoulders. If I sink, I sink in Your ship. If I die, I die at Your door.
Do not bid me to go away, for I will not go.

Leader:
Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.

Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.

In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:

People:
Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.
Leader:
Be satisfied that Christ shall give you your place and work.

People:
Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:

put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

Leader:
Confirm this by a holy covenant.  To make this covenant a reality in your life, listen to these admonitions:

First, set apart some time, more than once, to be spent alone before the Lord; in seeking earnestly God’s special assistance and gracious acceptance of you; even if you have already given your life to Christ.

Consider what your sins are.

Consider the laws of Christ, how holy, strict and spiritual they are, and whether you, after having carefully considered them, are willing to choose them all.
Be sure you are clear in these matters; see that you do not lie to God.

Second, be serious and in a spirit of holy awe and reverence.

Third, claim God’s covenant, rely on God’s promise of giving grace and strength, so you can keep your promise.  Trust not your own strength and power.

Fourth, resolve to be faithful.  You have given to the Lord your heart.  You have opened your mouth to the Lord and you have dedicated yourself to God. 

With God’s power, never go back!

And last, be prepared to renew your covenant with the Lord.   Open your hearts, then, to the Lord as we pray:

Covenant Prayer:

O righteous God, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive my unfaithfulness in not having done your will, for you have promised mercy to me if I turn to you with my whole heart. 

I do here covenant with you, O Christ,
to take my lot with you as it may fall.

Through your grace I promise
that neither life nor death shall part me from you.


I make this covenant with you, O God,
without guile or reservation
.

If any falsehood should be in it, guide me
and help me to set it aright.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours.  So be it!

And Let this covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven.

Amen.
The Lord’s Supper shall be served.

Congregation:  “O For a Thousand Tongues”

Benediction: 
Jude 1:24-25, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wide God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forevermore.  Amen.”

Monday, December 31, 2018

As We Welcome 2019

Here we stand at the threshold of the New Year. 2018 will soon be passed and packed away, living only in the attic of memories.  Looking ahead to 2019, I can guarantee one thing: a lot of living will go into it.


How will it turn out? Only God knows. This chapter may be drama. Perhaps it will be romance. Action adventure. Comedy. Tragedy. Mystery.

Next December, upon reflection, you will be able to describe the events of 2019 – but not now. The best you can do is throw your shoulders back, trust God, and march right in.

You see, although you don’t know anything about the upcoming months, God does – and He will be with you as you travel from mountain top to valley.  Nobody knows what tomorrow holds, but we do know WHO holds tomorrow.  Despite our moments of anxiety, discouragement, lonliness, or sorrow, God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

An anonymous writer captured this idea with these inspiring words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,  “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”   And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Transition from one year to the next calls us to:

1. Sober Reflection. 
2. Sane Calculation. 
3. Serious Resolution. 

So, don’t let yourself. . .

Fret – when you’re doing the best you can.
Rush – when success depends on accuracy.
Assume – evil of someone unless you have the facts.
Judge – another person’s motives.
Belittle – others with your actions and words.
Quit – in the face of difficulty
Allow -- bitterness and resentment to remain in your heart.
Make -- excuses for not doing what should be done.
Waste – time and energy on things that don’t matter.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

When the Song of the Angels is Stilled

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
-- James Thurman

Friday, December 07, 2018

Time for a Temple Cleasing


I have a need
of such clearance
as the Savior effected in the temple of Jerusalem
a riddance of clutter
of what is secondary
that blocks the way
to the all important central emptiness
which is filled
with the presence of God alone

-- Jean Danielou

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Lien Among the Pots

In her devotional, Edges of His Ways (1932)the great missionary, Amy Carmichael (1932).wrote the following based on: Psalm 68:13:

Though ye have lien among the pots. . . .

I think we sometimes feel as though we had. Perhaps we have been especially eager to press through and up into the clear air, and meet our Lord in the radiant, intimate way granted to others, and we do not seem to have been able to do so. The more we looked towards Him Whom our soul loveth, the more we saw His dazzling purity, the more we felt “among the pots”, sooty; like him who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven”; like him who said, “Woe is Me! For I am undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

“Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” It is the sun striking down upon the bird that gives that look of silver and gold. I have never seen it, on our doves and paddy-birds flying across the sky, without wonder and comfort that passes words. There is nothing too good for His love to do. Love transforms the thing it loves. The look of love transforms. We have lain among the pots; we have not risen to our opportunities. “I am undone” seems somehow to describe our condition. And yet our Lord, our glorious Lord, comes with this word to us, holding it out, as it were, in His pierced hands: “Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Prayer for Growing Older

"
Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will someday be old.
"Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every occasion.
"Release me from craving to try to straighten out everybody's affairs.
"Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details-give me wings to get to the point.

"I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains. Help me to endure them with patience.
"But seal my lips on my own aches and pains-they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
"Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.
"Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint-some of them are so hard to live with-but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.
"Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all-but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end."
Author Unknown

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Hymn for Stressful Times

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

 In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

--  John Greenleaf Whittier


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Insecurity Breeds Toxicity

"You cannot effectively lead from a heart of insecurity.
Security encourages debate; insecurity fears debate.
Security encourages criticism; insecurity fears criticism.
Security welcomes diversity; insecurity builds walls.
Beautiful challenge of self-awareness today."


-- L. D. Buckingham in Zoom conversation with my Launching Your Ministry Class.   Notes from Paige Rouse.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Devil Doesn't Mind This Kind of Christian Work

"Satan is not necessarily opposed to all Christian work. He cares little how zealously we busy ourselves at good things so long as we do not work in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is often pleased if we work so hard and so long that we begin to fret and worry. He is happy if we undertake more work than we can saturate with prayer. He would not seriously oppose if every Christian were a tireless worker -- so long as he worked only in his human energy and was not empowered and anointed by the Spirit of God."

-- Wesley L. Duewel

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving is an Attitude


Thanksgiving is not a holiday -- it's an attitude! If it's just a holiday for us, then we let ourselves off the hook. "I'll celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year, and be a grouch the other 364!"

Actually, Thanksgiving Day is simply a reminder of how we should live every moment.  It is a special day to celebrate what we are called to be all year long!

Thanksgiving is "Thanks-living!"

Did you know that thankfulness and mental health go together? Counting your blessings brings healing, inner strength and emotional well-being. Everything goes downhill with negativism and self pity.

How does a person cultivate a thankful heart?

1. Go hunting for small blessings.
Your life is packed with millions of small treasures! Sometimes, petty annoyances distract us from the abundance of joy.

2. Focus on what you have rather than what you wish you had.
Perhaps you don't have everything you'd like -- Is this really the end of the world?
Think about this: you are more wealthy than the majority of the world's population. Or consider this: You have a thousand times more stuff than the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock. Contentment is not found in the accumulation of things. It is a matter of the heart.

3. Quit waiting for someone to serve you, and commit yourself to serving others.
Make it your goal to encourage and inspire others. Think "Here to Serve" when you walk into a room. Jesus said that the "greatest" person is the one who serves. If investing in servanthood was good enough for Jesus, it should work well for the rest of us.

4. Become a generous giver.
Generous people are always the most happy individuals around -- they have discovered that giving brings tremendous fulfillment. Someone once said, "Give until it hurts." But I don't think it works that way. Instead, we ought to say, "Give until it feels great!"

Killing your inner stingy miser is the only thing that hurts -- once you get past that, giving is a joyful adventure!

5. Go on a complaint fast.
Intentionally refrain from complaining and criticizing. If a complaint or criticism comes to your mind, grab it, handcuff it, stick it in jail, and replace it with a praise.

6. Smile.
Your day automatically goes better when you face it with a smile.  It makes you feel better, and look better too! All of your friends will thank you for smiling. Who wants to look at a scowling face?

7. Pray and read the Bible regularly.
If your problems are big enough to stew over, they're big enough to bring to God in prayer. Good things happen when people pray. The Bible is filled with faith inspiring, love motivating, and hope producing passages. A daily dose of God's love letter brings strength for every situation.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love is in the Listening

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for others when we learn to listen to them. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But those who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either; they will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit they be not conscious of it. Those who thinks that their time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and others, but only for themselves and their own follies.”

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together