The first line of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer relinquishes all rights to God. It turns over everything. Everything that I did that brilliant, wonderful, amazing, and great is God’s. Everything that I worry and fret over should become God’s as well. (Matthew 6:25-34)
The problem is I don’t believe this. I want to believe this, but I don’t.
Everyday I want to say it is all God’s, but something stops me. I fail to acknowledge God working in my life when I get boastful over what I have done. I fail to turn it all over when I hold onto accomplishments. I fail to give up everything when I want to hold onto my worries that keep me up all night. I fail to give up my pride and ambition. I fail to give up my envy. I fail to give up stuff that takes God’s place. I believe that I have the tendency to reverse Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.
I am no longer yours but mine!
So part of my journey of growth this year has been to pray the Jesus prayer whenever I find myself getting too caught up in things I want to hold onto. When I start to get jealous or worried or proud, I pray, “Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” It has been a powerful stabilizing prayer in my life. Through this prayer I have been able to realize that at my core I am still a sinner in desperate need of God’s mercy.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21 NRSV)
I have always thought of Jesus words in Luke 8 about his mother and brothers as harsh. I mean that is not what you say when your family shows up. How would you feel if your family showed up unannounced? Most of us would overreact in some way, but we expect more from Jesus. He seems to dismiss them outright.
But I think what Jesus is really doing is redefining the word family.
He says to crowd my mother and my brothers(adelphos) are those who hear the word of God and do it. Those who are part of God’s family are related in a deeper way than those in our earthly families. This idea about family continues later in Luke 8 when a woman touches the wings of Jesus garment.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48 NRSV)
He also changes her name from woman(the generic noun gynē) in verse 43 and 47 to daughter(a more specific noun thygatēr) in verse 48. She was no longer an anonymous woman in the crowd. When Jesus addresses her she becomes daughter. She becomes a relative! No longer a generic woman, but a specific daughter.
I wonder when I see people do I see generic people? Or can I challenge myself to look deeper? What if we began to see the people around us as sons and daughters of God no matter what their circumstances are?
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
One of the things I have been focusing on this year is to be less envious. I know everyone wrestles with sin, and I know my big one is envy. It is a killer sin that convinces you that everyone else has it better than you. This year one of my spiritual practices has been reading through Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. After reading it for many weeks I am convinced that this prayer was constructed for people like me who suffer from invidia.
So over the next few weeks I will be focusing a blog post on how each line of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is speaking to me. I pray that you will find the prayer and my random thoughts about it useful in working out your own salvation in fear and trembling.
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” (Luke 7:1-5 NRSV)
Power is on display in Luke 7. A Roman Centurion is named such because he commands a century(100) of men. We can see from the passage that he had a household and slaves. The centurion understood power. He told people to do something and it was done. I am sure with all of his power he had many slaves to command in his household. If one died he could have gotten two more to replace the one.
Yet when faced with the power of death the centurion is not powerful. He becomes weak. He cannot overcome this power but he realizes that Jesus can. So the centurion sends some Jewish elders to him. The response in verse 6(“I am not worthy”) leads me to believe that the Centurion as powerful as he was paled in comparison to who he thought Jesus was. The centurion believed so strongly that Jesus could heal him that he asked that Jesus just say the word like an order given to his troops.
But there is another power on display in this passage as well. This Centurion and the community were so focused on taking care of this one slave that they were willing to risk it all. The Jewish elders went out and looked for Jesus and brought him back. The centurion was willing to surrender all of his authority to Jesus. He submitted his kingdom to God’s kingdom for one simple servant.
The phrase “he is worthy” just kept ringing in my head like a bell. The Greek word is axios meaning having weight or merit. He is deserving. If you keep reading the passage the word comes up again in verse 6 when the Centurion sends the message “that he is not worthy to have Jesus in his house”.
I now think I am beginning to better understand verse 9: When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
A slave is deemed worthy to be resurrected while a Centurion proclaims his own unworthiness. This power on full display. The power to bless others, to offer life to others, to bring Jesus to others because they are worthy.
Who do we deem worthy today? Unworthy? I wonder if it would help our ministry in the church today if we saw those around us as worthy instead of unworthy?
They were furious and began talking with each other about what to do to Jesus. During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. (Luke 6:11, 12 CEB)
While I was reading Luke 6 this brief tidbit about the Pharisees jumped out at me. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and they begin to talk with each other about what to do with him. Maybe a better way to put it is how The Message translation had it, “they started plotting how to get even with him.”
Then I noticed the contrast with verse 11. While the Pharisees plot, Jesus prays. One group stays up all night scheming while the other stays up all night praying. Both of these people are followers of G-d, but they much different ways of showing it.
One seems to think power is something to be controlled so when someone displays power by healing on the Sabbath they plot to get rid of him.
The other thinks that power belongs to G-d so after displaying power he prays to G-d the source of all true power.
In the UMC there can be a lot of talking around this time of year. Murmuring or plotting may be the better word. We can sometimes talk too much about appointments and who we think should go where instead of focusing on what Jesus is doing where we are. I think our infatuation with power can sometimes overshadow our true calling. Our true calling is not to a life of plotting but to a life of prayer. Let us leave behind the plotting life and engage in the prayer life. It’s a much better way to live.
So I would encourage you to be in prayer for our leaders, our colleagues, our friends, our communities, and our congregations.
I know during this time there are a lot of folks that need our prayers.
Daft Punk is an electronic music duo from France that rarely performs on TV. Even Stephen Colbert couldn’t get them to perform on his show. So I was looking forward to see what Daft Punk was going to do at the Grammy’s.
It was amazing! One of the best performances of the night. Everyone was standing and dancing and having a good time.
But something struck me during their performance.
They were not the center of attention. In fact they shy away from the center of attention. Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Nathan East and Omar Hakim were on the stage. Most of the performance was pure old school magic with Stevie Wonder taking solos, switching keyboards, and firing up the crowd. Daft Punk for the most part were backing musicians. They were hidden behind screens for half the performance and received far less camera time than those on the stage. Everybody knew it was a Daft Punk performance, but they were not in the main attraction.
I picked up on three things that Daft Punk can teach church leaders:
Collaboration is key. Daft Punk brings in people to collaborate with. They are producers who parterner with other producers, musicians, singers, and artists. Just one look at their newest album offers a who’s who list of people they collaborated with. Who can you collaborate with to make the church better? What are some areas you are weak in that others can navigate more successfully?
Promote others not yourself. I am introverted, but my guess is Daft Punk is extremely introverted. They succeed in an extroverted business by promoting others. This feeds back to more and more folks wanting to collaborate with them. It serves to diversify the stage experience and shines the light on others who may have been forgotten. Are we in the church promoting ourselves as leaders or are we helping people discover their life in Christ? Who do you need to promote in your church? What are some ways you can be a better cheerleader instead of a figurehead?
Mystery is important. On the rare occasions that Daft Punk is seen in public they are never seen without their robot helmets and wardrobe which protects their identity. It also contains a sense of mystery. Who are these people and what are they like in real life? I believe once the church started trying to explain away all the mysteries we lost something. In order to seem seeker sensitive we became ordinary and normal. Daft Punk shows that it is okay not to be ordinary and normal. We can be mysterious and people will still seek out the church. What is the value of mystery and wonder in the church? What are some things in your church that need to reclaim their sense of mystery and wonder?
One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.” So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. (Luke 5:1-9 CEB)
When I read this verse I am reminded of my own sinfulness and unfaithfulness as a minister of the Gospel. Too often we spend time trying to get church people to come to church. Our churches for the most part are set up to attract other people who like church. Even when we plant churches we are really just planting a newer improved model of what has worked for us in the past. Open up another box and they will show up we tell ourselves.
I have begun to see this as fishing in the shallow waters. There is very little risk involved. Sometimes it actually works and we get fish to swim out of other people’s nets and come into our nets. The problem is this shallow fishing is that it has become full of boats and nets that are newer than ours and have more technology than ours and more skilled fishermen than ours.
Jesus tells Simon Peter to row out a little further, into the deep water. Simon Peter starts to complain master I have worked hard and caught nothing. I remember all those times that I have complained about the other fishermen in my community especially the ones with the new fancy boats that have taken my fish. I complain and tell Jesus it’s too hard.
Those fish in the deep are messy.
Those fish have never been in a net before so you know they are going to be unruly.
Those fish don’t look or act like the fish that I am used to.
Those fish might require us to change our nets and boats entirely.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
I find a lot of noise in my life. My neighborhood is noisy. I live in what most people would call the “bad part of town”. We had a drug dealer across the street from our parsonage until he was busted by the cops about a year ago. Stereos are always loud in the neighborhood. You can hear people cussing and fighting on the streets every single day. It is a noisy place to live.
My kids are noisy. They talk much louder than any normal person should talk. Their indoor volume is definitely set to 11. Not only do they talk loud, but they watch TV loud and play loud. So as you can see the house is very noisy.
But do you know where the most noise comes from in my life?
I spend way too much time letting the voices in my head speak. You know the voices. The ones that whisper to you that you can do something you shouldn’t. The ones that say you can get away with doing something wrong. The ones that make you feel haughty or mean. The ones that tell you to envy what others have. The ones that make you covet.
These voices are much louder than anything else in my life, and these voices are the reason that I keep returning to God each day in prayer.
What are the voices in your life that you need Jesus to hush?
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14 NIV)
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man.(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Today we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. His prophetic voice is one that continues to push us forward in our journey with Jesus. Every year I take time on this day to reread his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. More than anything else in Dr. King’s legacy this letter is addressed to those of us in a pastoral profession. Every year this letter is tough for me to read because I forget.
I forget how I have failed to stand up for the neglected.
I forget how well I have it compared to others.
I forget to act with mercy and justice.
I forget that I am an agent of transformation.
Dr. King’s voice reminds me most of John the Baptist. His persistence calling us back to the right way once more.
And I need to be reminded of what I should do.
What is John the Baptist and Martin Luther King, Jr. telling you to do?
A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Imagine what it would be like to wait your entire life for one single event. Simeon waited his entire life just to see Jesus, and then he sings:
“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
Simeon wasn’t the only one in the Temple.
The prophet, Anna, was also there waiting for this incredible event. Can you imagine this 84 year old widow praying and fasting in the Temple night and day? Every single day! She knew something was going to happen and wanted to be ready. As soon as she saw Jesus:
She began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Two people expressing so much joy and thanksgiving for one event. Simeon is so happy that he says he can die in peace. He knows that God’s plan is being fulfilled and the redemption is here. Anna is so overjoyed that she cannot contain it. This 84 year old widow starts talking to everyone who will listen about Jesus!
Why have we turned Jesus into such a cliche when clearly he is so much more amazing than we can even begin to imagine? These two people saw this little baby and knew God had just changed the story.
When has your story been changed? How did you react?