Prayer of St. Francis

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Today, I feel we just need to stop and pray for our world and ourselves this Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Grace and Peace
Steve

May We All Be One

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” – Isaiah 11:1

A friend of mine and her young daughter were walking in a shopping mall when the child suddenly stopped, took a panoramic look around and said, “Look, Mom, we are in a forest of people.”

Her daughter is right. People ARE like trees in a forest. Each with roots: some that run shallow, some that delve deep. Each with branches: some gnarled, some reaching, some drooping. Some are tall and majestic, like the giant redwoods of California. Some are gorgeous like the cedars of Lebanon.

Each with blemishes; each with hue. All turning toward the sun. All with a thick exterior covering vulnerabilities with varying degrees of success. Some snapped in half by failing to bend with the wind. Some with lives cut short like the stump of Jesse.

If I were to draw but a single line to illustrate where we are separate from the rest of creation, I would not know where to place it. Instead, I listen to the counsel of a child and I see the tree in me, and the me in tree, and the me in we, and the we in me.

I begin to pray to the God of ALL creation that we may all be one, but I pause to ponder if, perhaps, we already are, but just don’t know it… yet.

Dear God of all, from what is left of me, may there sprout forth the fruit of what is best of me, and may it blessed be, until I find rest in thee. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

STOP THE SENSELESS VIOLENCE

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“O Lord God to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!  Rise up, O Judge of the earth; render punishment to the proud.  Lord, how long will the wicked triumph?” – Psalm 94:1-3 (NKJV)

People of faith are quite varied in our responses as to how the United States should respond to the atrocities of chemical weapons unleashed on the people of Syria, allegedly under the direction of President Bashad al-Assad.

Some feel strongly that the mass murder in Syria warrants some type of military retaliation, on the part of the U.S. and her allies, that would at least weaken the capacity for any future use of chemical weaponry against citizens.  Others believe that anything short of a full commitment to a regime change in Syria will not make much of a difference.  Still others contend that as horrendous as the tragedy in Syria is, the United States cannot afford to entangle itself in another foreign conflict, given the urgent problems we face at home with our staggering economy, unsustainable energy, educational dysfunctions and health care confrontations.

Whether the issue at hand is atrocity in Syria or genocide in Rwanda or slaughter in the Sudan, there is one moral principle that should guide all of our moral responses.  It is the conviction that vengeance does not belong within the purview of human action.  Vengeance is a designated function that God reserves exclusively for God’s self.

This certainly does not mean that people of faith are to take no responsibly for the execution of justice in the world.  It does mean that whatever actions we take to combat and correct socio-political evil must always be tempered with a profound sense of humility and prayer – recognizing that we too are flawed agents operating in a much broader Providential process to deliver freedom and justice for all.

We must certainly win some victories on the way to God’s ultimate vengeance.  But let us not use any moral victory or moral cause as a license to assume ultimate vindication.  The vengeance of God is what keeps people of faith engaged but not arrogant – both in America and in Syria and all around the globe.

Dear God, Please help us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you, our God, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

PS: I have been at the VA most of the day and not sure what is happening at the Washington Navy Yard. However, it looks like several people have been kill and others wounded. May we, of all faiths, come together to pray that we are not going to be part of killing innocent people – no matter where they are from, what they believe, what uniform they wear, or language they speak. Let’s stop the SENSELESS VIOLENCE.

Take a Look in the Mirror

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5

Every now and then someone will ask me: “How do you know that you’ve been called to be a minister of the gospel?”

I could tell the long story of my calling and my running from that calling until I ran right into Jesus. Perhaps I could answer in the words of Howard Thurman: “I learned to follow the grain in my own wood.” That my calling was in the grain of my being… I needed to recognize that it is there.

Discerning the calling in your life has a lot to do with getting to know yourself.  For me, the calling of God has always echoed in the chambers of my consciousness.

Listening to your own inner voice can at times be more daunting than listening to the voices of others. Searching for all the answers outside of ourselves always gives us an excuse to postpone the hard work of introspection and self-evaluation.

A clinical psychologist once told that her greatest aim is help people to listen to and pay attention to themselves. She says that when a person becomes cognizant of himself and his self-conflictedness, he is well on the road to psychological health.

Could it be that our greatest discoveries are really the discoveries we make about ourselves? Could it be that that the greatest challenges we face are actually the challenges that are innate to who we are? Could it be that the discernment of our life calling is really an invitation to explore the deeper meanings  of our own lives?

A young seminarian went to hear a lecture by Howard Thurman. He wanted him to sign my book (‘Jesus of the Disinherited’), but more importantly, he wanted him to give him some spiritual guidance. Our young seminarian said: He looked at me and wrote these words in my book: “You know the path. Walk in it.” Being told what Iwealready know was not really what we are looking for, but it does make us begin to take more seriously and to look more closely at the man in my mirror.

Dear God, it is amazing how our journeys in life keep leading us right back to ourselves  and right back to you.  Help us to follow your leading in and through Jesus. Amen. 

Grace and Peace

Steve

God Always Helps

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through His grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

The teacher who was working in the children’s hospital was asked to visit a boy who was in a burn unit.

His regular instructor had said, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework, so he doesn’t fall too far behind the others.”

The hospital teacher went, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found. The boy was in a clean room. He was swathed in bandages and in incredible pain. As gently as she could, the teacher introduced herself and the purpose of her visit this way: “I’m the hospital teacher. Your teacher at school asked me to help you with your nouns and adverbs.”

The next day a nurse asked the substitute teacher: “What did you do to that boy?”

Before the teacher could offer any explanation, the nurse continued: “We were worried about him. But ever since you visited him yesterday, his entire outlook has changed. For the first time since he came here, he’s actually fighting. He’s responding. He’s got a new lease on life.”

What had happened?

The boy eventually shared he had given up. He felt hopeless and helpless. But when he thought about the teacher who had come to see him, he realized the school wouldn’t waste its time, money and concern by sending someone to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy.

Would they?

Pretty perceptive, don’t you think?

Now it is just possible that you, or someone you know, has suffered a loss, or feels lonely, or is suffering under pain that is unrelenting. It is equally possible that a voice, an unwelcomed, unfriendly voice is saying, “You’re alone. You’re lost. Nobody cares or can do anything to assist you.”

If that is the case, may I suggest to you that while you may feel hopeless and helpless, God is not. Just as the boy knew that no one would waste a teacher’s time on a dying boy, you should know that God would not sacrifice His Son for a sinner who was beyond the scope of His love and ability to forgive, restore and make whole.

The truth is there is no such person. In every situation and circumstance of life God can and is willing to help.

Please, please do not let the evil tools of discouragement, depression and doubt drive a wedge between you and the Lord who loves you. Jesus is there, always. He has answers. He who has lived, suffered, died and risen to save your soul can help you even now with every earthly concern and catastrophe. Believe it. There comes a time when no message is more true or more needed.

Dear Lord, I give thanks I have limitations and You do not. That means when I encounter that which is humanly overwhelming You can still help. Truly, there is no sin too big for You to forgive, no situation so hopeless that the peace of my Savior cannot correct or conquer it. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen. 

Grace and Peace

Steve

Ask, Seek, Knock

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” – Luke 11:9

Do you believe that? I have known a few people whose prayers have gone unanswered. Jesus’ words might not be exactly what they are leaning on as they try everything they can think of and nothing seems to work. And yet I have also known a few people who were doing great, except they were dying. Their spirit and attitude were strong. They bring hope to others, even though their own situation is rather hopeless.

When Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you,” he did not say exactly what it is that will be given. When he said, “Seek, and you will find,” he did not say exactly what it is that you will find. When he said, “Knock, and the door will be opened,” he did not say what will be on the other side of the door.

The hardest part of prayer, for me, is surrendering to the mystery of that to which I pray. Our prayers may not be answered in the way we wish. Sometimes I am simply not okay with that. But I believe God is okay with me not being okay with God. I believe God will answer prayers, but in God’s own time and in God’s own way.

In our prayers it is often we who are transformed, no matter the outcome of that for which we pray. And then, disarmed of demands and expectations, we find ourselves able to welcome the acceptance and other blessings that we didn’t even know to pray for.

Dear Lord, Thy will, not mine, be done. For Sweet is Thy will, sweet is Thy will. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Handkerchiefs All Over the Place

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” – Hebrews 11:29-38

We Protestants need more saints.

In this context, I do not mean saint in the way the Apostle Paul used the term as inclusive of all of the people of God. Rather, I am referring to individuals of faith whom the church points to and says, in essence, “Pay attention to these lives.  Take inspiration from them. Try, as you are able, to follow their example.” I am thinking of Frederick Buechner’s definition: “In God’s holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief.  These handkerchiefs are called saints.”

Sometimes, when I listen to Protestant preachers (which, of course, includes me), it can seem as if we have concluded there are only a small handful of people whose lives reflect God’s glory. The Roman Catholics have over 10,000 canonized saints.  By my count, we Protestants have as few as five: Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonheoffer. Of course, these individuals are great examples of faith.  They are saints, to be sure.  But when their names are invoked so often, and other examples drawn upon so seldom, it does not help us envision the range of ways one’s life can reflect God.

So I envy the Roman Catholics their saints because they have many people of history to whom they can point. The sheer variety of saints in the Roman Catholic tradition stretches the imagination to encompass the multitude of ways a human life can manifest the Holy Spirit.

Who are some of the saints you have encountered recently? I think back over the churches I have served in the last forty years and I see handkerchiefs all over the place. These were people of grace, love, forgiveness, and encouragement. They touched and changed my life throughout my ministry, and quite frankly, I probably would have done lesser work for God without their touch upon my life. Some of those saints may be reading this blog tonight. Thank you for walking with God and making this journey of faith. You are still continuing to make a difference.

Dear God, give us more saints. We need all the inspiration, instruction, and encouragement we can get, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

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Easy To Die

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Jesus was the last person Sundar Singh was looking for as a late teenager in India at the turn of the 20th Century. After all, Jesus was the “foreign god” of the Christian teachers at his school. A zealous Sikh, Sundar had publicly torn up a portion of the Bible to protest its claims.  One night as he prayed he became conscious of a light shining in the room. He looked outside to make sure it was not someone shining a light. Gradually the light took the form of a globe of fire and in it he saw the face of Jesus. Sundar threw himself on the ground and surrendered His life to Jesus.

The following months proved to be very difficult for Sundar and his family. Becoming a follower of Christ was not taken lightly by his family nor his community. He was excommunicated. He cut his hair, a gesture that did not make things any easier with his family who were convinced he had renounced his Sikh heritage.

A month after he was baptized in the year 1905, he took the vow of a sadhu. He gave away his meager possessions, put on a saffron robe and became a barefooted wandering man of God. Among Christians the world over, this barefoot Sadhu was later called the “apostle of the bleeding feet” because the soles of his feet were often covered in bloody blisters. The life of a sadhu is hard and entirely dependent on God. Sadhu Sundar Singh’s needs were met entirely through the kindness of people he met wherever he went.

Sundar Singh is credited as the first missionary to cross the Himalayan Mountains to take the gospel to Nepal and Tibet. At 36 years of age he made his last trip over the mountains. He never returned and is assumed to have been a martyr for Jesus.

In his diary left behind he had written, “It is easy to die for Christ. It is hard to live for Him. Dying takes only a few minutes—or at worst an hour or two—but to live for Christ means to die daily to myself.”

Dear Lord, help me to live worthy of the calling as your disciple. Show me the cross you want me to carry today, and to do the “hard” thing: die to myself and live for Jesus and others who need His love. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

PS: To follow this blog go to the top left of the page and click on the word “Follow.” Then you will be notified every time I send out a blog.

Joy and Peace

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:15-16

Have you ever met anyone who just radiated goodness, niceness and pleasantness?

In the course of my life and ministry I have been blessed to know a number of such people. They have not always been super-smart, ultra-talented, mega-blessed, or natural leaders. On the other hand, these folks seem to be welcomed just about any place they go. That’s because without working at it, they have the ability to make almost everyone feel loved and at peace. Now if you’re paying attention, you may have noticed that both of the preceding sentences have a qualifier. I said, “just about any place” they went and “make almost everyone feel loved.”

I put in those qualifiers because it seems that even the best people in this world have someone who dislikes them.

As evidence of that, I point out that around 1:30 a.m. in the morning on Friday, July 26th, somebody vandalized the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This they did by deliberately throwing green paint at the statue of our country’s most beloved and probably best president. They also followed up with throwing the green pain on the altar and organ at the National Cathedral and on the statue outside the Smithsonian.

Since hearing about that event, I’ve wondered just what would it take to make an individual so angry that he would take his frustrations out on a piece of stone set up to honor a good man who had been martyred in the service to his country? And as I was thinking about such folk, I also ended up thinking about Jesus.

I thought of Jesus because, well, God’s Son lived, suffered and died. He did so for the grouchy, gloomy Gus as well as the soul who is filled with sweetness and light. When Jesus rose from the dead, He did so to bring peace to the hearts of those who seem to subsist on a diet composed completely of sour grapes and those whose mouths are filled with honey.

The point I am trying to make is this: It’s easy for you and me to give thanks to the Lord for those who make us smile and give our hearts a warm glow; it is far harder for us to pray for those whose dark shadow seems to radiate gloom to everyone around them… especially toward us.

Let us ask that all of us will be changed. May we all, as St. Paul encourages, be filled with thankfulness in our hearts toward God.

Dear Lord Jesus, when you were born the shepherds were told that event was “good news of great joy” (see Luke 2:10). When you rose from the dead, your disciples were filled with joy. May that same joyful spirit touch those Christians who today find themselves living in a cloud of cheerlessness and those hearing news that is hard to deal with, in and through Jesus. Give us all your peace deep, deep inside. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Condos and Bracelets

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Let me begin tonight by offering a very deep and appreciative thank you to all who shared in comenting on us making it 48 years together. I am so thankful Shirley allowed me to live.

Yes, we are at the beach (Myrtle) and, as always, you run into all sorts of people. Last year while here, Shirley purchased a safety chain and one small charm for a Donatella bracelet she received as a gift from Stephen, Joy and the kids years ago. It is like the Pandora Bracelets but a little different.

Last year these items were purchased here in Myrtle from Reed’s Jewelry. Well, the safety clasp would not fit – it was too small, and so was the charm. Shirley waited to come back down here to make exchanges or get things fixed.

With receipt in hand we make the long journey down to the mall south of Myrtle beach. It is a thriving mall. The people at Reeds would barely give her the time of day. “We can’t fix it, your time limit is up – notice on your receipt it says ten days. However, we can sell you a $180.00 Pandora bracelet.”

I wasn’t in there or else I may have revealed my retired status. Shirley was nice, disappointed, but kind.

The next day we were in another mall – North Myrtle – a mall that is not doing quite as well. We passed another Reed’s store. Shirley reached in the pocket-purse (that is what Abby calls it) and pulls out the little plastic packet with all her bracelet stuff in it and heads for the store. This man is nice and accommodating. He wasn’t able to refund her money or fix it, but he made a trade for something else. Guess what that nice man did? He won back a person who would have never walked in another Reed’s store again. I should have gone in the store and thanked him.

We all have the opportunity to say the right words, take the high road, and do the right thing. It is harder to do… but in the long run you make yourself and those around you winners.

The other day, as we were going out to dinner, I looked at the name plate of the owner of the condo across the hall from us. Now these are condos in the $450,000 and up category. As I was looking two people walked up. I said, “I was just looking at the name of the owners of this condo.” Their reply was “We are the owners.” So, with nothing else to say, I said: “You must be Charles and Sarah Brown?” Quickly they said “Yes, we are.” and moved into their condo and loudly turned the dead bold. It was so noticeably loud we were sure that they thought us to be the strange people across the hall who were plotting a way to break into their home.

Today Shirley stopped and talked with Sarah in the hallway about a place to get a good haircut. In their conversation she learned that Charles was a former Marine who served in Vietnam in the 1st Marine Division in Da Nang. He took a pin off his jacket, gave it to Shirley and told her to tell me: “Semper Fi!”

Why is it that so many times we accept the first impression we have of people and things. What a loss if we had never walked into that second Reeds Jewelry Store or stopped to talk with Sarah and Charles? We would have been the losers had we not taken that second step.

Next time we have a bad encounter, perhaps we need to be reminded that we can make a second effort that just may change everything into a whole new adventure where friendships are made and conflict ended.

Dear Lord, thank you for inviting us always to go that extra mile, to speak that word of kindness, to hold our tongue when our thoughts are unfavorable, and to speak words of grace and love, kindness and forgiveness, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

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