Create in me…

Create in mePsalm 51 is David’s cry to the Lord for forgiveness.  It’s one of my favorite passages in the Psalms.  David has just realized his sins against the Lord, which happen to include adultery and murder.

I don’t see myself as a “bad” person.  I’m basically good.  I work everyday, try to be nice to all I meet.  I pay my bills, go to church, put money in the collection plate.  I’m usually slow to anger, letting others be who they are.  So why would I need to repent?  How sinful can a good person be?

I don’t want to think that I’m sinful.  It’s our culture, it’s in the world.  If I am basically good, I’m OK, I’m a “good” person.  But even with what I described above,  God considers me sinful.  What about those thoughts that I don’t act on?  What about the “self-talk” that goes on in my head?  God knows those thoughts.  Paul says in Romans:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:18-20

I need to come before the Lord daily and pray this Psalm.  God knows my heart and if I come before Him, with a contrite heart and pray, He can do wonderful things in my life.  Do you want to join me?

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Fanning the Flame #9–Book Review

One of my assignments for this month’s Fanning the Flame team meeting, was to read and book and write a book report.  Here is my finished product.

PRAY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN

BY Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

 

Richard Pratt, who is a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, examines prayer by dividing it into these three basic components:  God, the Believer and Communication.  Each section of the book addresses one of these categories.

 

Looking at God

  1. View God through the eyes of a servant—recognize our total dependence upon Him
  2. Describe God as you pray—for example when you pray for guidance, you might call Him “good shepherd”; when you pray in grief, think of Him as “comforter”
  3. Use metaphors and comparisons in our prayers—call God “my rock” or “my shield”
  4. Broaden your focus by praying in detail about God’s activity in salvation history, past and present. For example, you could contemplate the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Thinking about the Bible story in prayer will draw you into the sweep of the divine drama that is still unfolding
  5. Being guided by Scripture sense God’s presence by picturing God in His heavenly dwelling.
  6. Remember that God is everywhere, He is with you to protect you. Imagine walking with Him in the garden, and allow Him to take you away from the worries of the world.

Looking at Ourselves

  1. Open your heart honestly to God, praying about all your feelings, positive and negative, without allowing the negative ones to lead you into irreverent grumbling or rebellion
  2. In your mind, paint a vivid picture of yourself and your circumstances: are you feeling lost in the desert, rejoicing on the mountaintop?
  3. Trust in God’s goodness; don’t be motivated by greed or selfishness
  4. Reflect on your personal blessings, and God’s care for the world
  5. Reflect on God’s will with a desire to see the world changed.
  6. Be open to God’s response.

Looking at our Communication

  1. Maintain a proper balance between form and freedom: because God is our father, it is appropriate to speak with Him in an informal, spontaneous way;  because God is our king, it is also appropriate to plan our prayers and speak more formally
  2. Don’t spend so much time taking or writing down requests, that you must hurry through the actual prayer.
  3. Prayer should be urgent and persuasive: focus on God’s people, the world around you, and God Himself.
  4. Take time to tell God the story of what He has done in your life. This gives strength and joy.
  5. Prayer can be more than words: strong feelings may demand weeping or singing, kneeling or raising hands.
  6. Practice prayer—your prayer lives, like any other skill, will only develop if you practice.
  7. Consider taking a prayer retreat, or setting aside an entire day for prayer.

 

Corporate prayers can become lifeless through repetition.  Some suggestions are:

  1. Have a special emphasis for a month, week or quarter
  2. Use prayer to celebrate a special occasion
  3. Plan a group prayer retreat

Throughout the book, Pratt relies heavily on the Psalms as examples and illustrations for his points.

I read this book quickly and that does not do it justice.  Each section includes discussion questions and exercises.  In our vision narrative, Beth Ann mentioned we might have small groups devoted to the study of prayer.  This would be a great book to read and work through with such a group.  If you read it as individually, it would be best to read one chapter a week and taking the time to journal and try some of Pratt’s suggestions.

Martin Luther Quote on the Psalms #2

“The Psalter is the book of all saints, and everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation and apply to his case so exactly that it seems they were put in this way only for his sake …”

Martin Luther

Martin Luther, Church, Pray

 

Sing a New Song

“Happy New Year!” is the common cry of the day, but I prefer to wish people a blessed new year. Not everything that happened in 2017 was happy. On an international and national scale, there were natural and man-made disasters of all sorts, leaving many people homeless and some mourning those dear to them who were lost. On a personal front, my mother died on Easter 2017, I had unexpected heart surgery in July, and without having planned or thought about it, as a result of the surgery, I went from being a classroom teacher to an administrator.

But there have been blessings: My second granddaughter was born in May; the change in job is definitely better for my recovery (way less stressful, and fewer hours!), and I am finding that the new job is actually where I am supposed to be at this time in my lfe. I recognize God’s hand in all that has come to pass.

So as we enter a new calendar year, with no idea what may be in store, may we always remember to praise God, and with the psalmist, sing a new song:

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Have a blessed new year, knowing wherever it leads you, God is with you always.

 

Stewardship of Our Roles #2

As I was looking for a filler to finish off our church newsletter this morning (yes, I am the editor), I came across this poem I wrote years and years ago.  I thought I’d share it as it speaks to our many roles in life and how to handle them.

A Modern Day Psalm

Dear Lord,

Does life really have to be this hard?

I just want to be myself for a change instead of someone else’s

Wife or

Mother or

Daughter or

Employee or

Boss or

Whatever it is I spend most of my time being.

Sometimes my relationships seem to be strangling me instead of fulfilling me …

I want to be free

I want to please myself.

The trouble is I’m not really sure who I am or what pleases me

I’m to accustomed to being all of those other people instead.

Maybe I can find myself and You, too, if I really pray.

Maybe there’s a place for me in Your plan.  Me the wife, and mother and daughter and sister and all the other Mes.

Maybe You’ll tell me if I listen.

 

Stewardship of My Reading

“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”  1 Corinthians 10:23

Anyone who reads our blog regularly knows that I am an avid reader.  I read all sorts of things:  suspense novels, historical fiction, novels that address ethical questions, legal thrillers, nonfiction books about the brain, mental illness and other medical issues, spiritual autobiographies, books on prayer and other aspects of Christian living, the Bible (of, course) and more.  None of these books are “unlawful” and sometimes I use my reading time to just relax and take my mind off my responsibilities and the stress of everyday life.  Of course, we learn something even when we read books that seem merely escapist — we increase our vocabulary, travel to foreign cultures, grow in understanding people very different from ourselves, etc….I’m sure you could add to the list.  However, it is also true that some books are more edifying than others.

Gracious Uncertainty: Faith in the Second Half of LifeMost of the time I am reading two books at once:  one that is just for fun, and one that builds me up in some way.  I read my serious book for a bit first thing in the morning (when I’m fresher) and the other one throughout the day and before bed. Right now my morning book is called, Gracious Uncertainty: Faith In The Second Half of Life by Jane Sigloh.  In the forward, Jane is described as a “wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, poet, vintner, cook, gardener, and story keeper.”  The book is a serious of short essays, starting with a memory about her spiritual life, many from her childhood and youth.  It has inspired me to look back on my own spiritual journey and consider writing some of those memories down for my children and grandchildren.

I also try to do my Bible study early in the day.  I’ve been reading through the book of Acts (that’s what we’re studying in our Tuesday morning class at church) and parts of 1 Kings (our Sunday School unit this quarter is called ‘Kings and Prophets–we’ve been using material from Concordia Publishing, if anyone is interested).

My point in all this is simply:  if you’re a reader, like I am, be a good steward.  Read to relax, but also try to also spent time with things that are truly worthwhile.  Don’t have much time?  Pick a book like the one I mentioned or a devotional that has short chapters or essays and read one a day.  Read through the gospels in small bites.  Read a Psalm each day.  Then think about what you’ve read.  Write down quotes or verses that strike you.  Talk to others about what you’ve been reading. Build yourself up.

P.S.  The Lutheran Ladies recently signed up to be B&H/Lifeway Bloggers, and review new books.  Look for our book reviews on our blog and B&H Publishing website.  Hopefully our reviews will point you toward some edifying reading!

Through the Generations

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”  Psalm 145:4

There’s another type of unity in the church we haven’t discussed yet, and that is the unity between the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven) and the Church Militant (those of us still fighting the battle here on Earth).  In case you are wondering, when Lutherans say “saint” it does not refer to certain particularly holy people:  we believe all Christians are both saint and sinner.

It is our responsibility to pass the faith on to the next generation.  In the founding documents of our church (St. Paul’s Free Lutheran of Leitersburg, Md) our forbears expressed the desire that their children would remain true to the evangelical faith and confessions of the church and would pass it on to succeeding generations in the community.  That’s been going on for 190 years now.  Those of us at St. Paul’s may not be physical descendants of those charter members, but we are certainly their spiritual descendants.  When I worship in our old sanctuary, my voice and my prayers are joined with theirs.  I can feel that unity.  Some Orthodox churches feature paintings of saints on the columns and ceiling of the church:  a reminder that those who went before are still with us.

In our Lutheran communion service we say “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your name” …another important reminder that our fellowship includes those who have gone before us.  We may not think about it often, but we should.  It’s a source of peaceful strength.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

Who are your witnesses?  Who are you witnessing to?  Please send us your stories.