"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Word of Prayer - The Persecuted Church

Four years ago, I paraphrased Romans chapter 12 for a project in seminary. Here are several verses which resulted from that work:
When persecution comes, be a blessing people. Pray for your persecutors, rather than curse them...Do not answer evil with evil. Instead, whenever possible, be proactive and consider a response righteous before God and a watching world. I know that there will be times when it seems impossible, but you should make every effort to live in peace with all of your neighbors, regardless of their race or creed. My dear friends, never play vigilante and take matters into your own hands. Leave it to God to be the righteous judge; for it has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, ‘Vengeance belongs to me and is mine to dish out, says the Lord.’ No, if you’re going to play any part at all, you should ‘feed your foes when they are hungry and give them drink when they are thirsty; this lovingkindness may change their hearts and lead them to turn away from their offensive behavior toward you.’ The only way to avoid being overcome by all the evil in the world is to always respond to it the same way God has-with love and generous goodness. (Romans 12:14, 17-21)
While I was working on this particular section, the story dominating every major news outlet involved a raid in Pakistan and the death of Osama Bin Laden. So, as I watched footage of the celebrations around the world, I thought it more than a little ironic that I was paraphrasing Paul's admonition in verse 19-"never play vigilante and take matters into your own hands."

Fast forward to several months ago. At the invitation of their leader, I was sharing this paraphrase with a men's group who had been reading Romans together and were only just beginning their study of chapter 12. Let's just say that the above verses sparked a "lively" conversation. One member of the group in particular was having a difficult time reconciling these verses with what was happening with ISIS in Iraq.

I didn't have any answers then and I don't really have any answers now. In fact, I need to confess that the conversation was enough to make me avoid what has been happening at the hands of these terrorists-as much as I could anyway. 

After seeing the images of the 21 Coptic Christians kneeling in front of their executioners less than two weeks ago, I could avoid it no longer. 

Since then, it seems that stories about ISIS have become more frequent and devolved from unthinkably horrific to worse. Here are some headlines from just the past couple days (from a variety of sources and all I found to be worthwhile reading):

My struggle with all this has always been, "What can I do?" What is happening is so complicated that it is almost beyond comprehension. Thus, I have been content to leave the pundits on news media, with expertise in these matters, to their conjecturing and the arm-chair warriors on social media, with no expertise whatsoever, to their blustering. I resigned myself to thinking that there simply isn't anything I can really do about the persecution of Christian brothers and sisters across the globe. That was until I read something that should not have been revelatory but was and in a most profound way:

8 Things to Pray for Related to ISIS, War, and Terrorism


I can pray. (Lord, please forgive my shortsightedness.) 

Prayer is the first and foremost thing any of us Christians living so far removed from persecution should do. So, I invite you to pray in the manner outlined in the aforementioned article, as I have been as part of my Lenten disciplines. 

I also invite you to pray with me now as you finish reading:
God of the suffering,
and all who stagger under the weight of the cross of Christ,
hear us as we seek to stand with those persecuted for being Christians.
Your cross bearers in other lands are living reminders to us of the cost of discipleship.
While we are at ease in Zion,
they are in an exile of pain and isolation.
While we are feasting on the good things around us,
they keep an involuntary fast.
While we assume a future of well being,
they don't know if they will be alive tomorrow.
While we wear the cross as a piece of jewelry,
they bear it as an invitation to abuse, exclusion, imprisonment even death.
Turn our hearts to them in prayer and acts of compassion and justice.
Thank you for breathing in them and in us
the yearning for sharing one another's burdens.
Loose their shackles and our complacency.
Bind the forces of abuse and violence at work in their persecutors.
In the silence, pray your mercy in us. Amen.
(Source - http://www.gbod.org/resources/a-service-of-prayer-for-persecuted-christians)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Word of Prayer - Ash Wednesday

God of unfailing love and infinite grace,
     you know us better than we know ourselves,
     for you formed us from the dust of the earth and
        gave us life with your very breath.

As we enter this holy season of Lent,
     our season for self-examination and repentance,
     we pray, O God, for eyes to see the inward and outward
        parts of our lives that separate us from you...
        that keep us from becoming more fully the people
        you created and are calling us to be.

Give us strength to then deny those things,
     so we might open our minds to your will, not our own, 
     and fix our attention on you...
     so we might open our hearts to your way,
        the way of grace and forgiveness, 
        and love from the very center of who we are.

Lord, keep us mindful that beyond the transformation 
     of our singular lives our life together also needs
     transformation...the kind that begins and ends with you. 
        Where there is hatred, help us show love.
        Where there is injury, help us reconcile and heal.
        Where there is doubt, help us have faith.
        Where there is despair, help us bring hope.
        Where there is darkness, help us carry your light.
        Where there is sadness, help us find joy. 

And so, as we begin our Lenten journey, we thank you
     for your grace that goes before us...
     your grace that travels with us...
     and your grace that follows behind us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.