Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

A Miserable Failure

Posted: January 28, 2009 in Bible, change, church, family, life, prayer

Here’s a taste of what I’ve done the past few weeks while I have not been blogging.

1. Fixing a roof damaged by Hurricane Ike.

2. Getting my home ready to rent. (Fixing a roof damaged by Hurricane Ike, repairing plumbing in the kitchen and master bathroom, painting, repairing ceiling pop-outs, putting in new ceiling fans, hanging a back door, etc…)

3. Finding renters without the aid of an agency that would suck out more money than we could afford to lose on the house. 

4. Negotiating with movers for both our house and my car.

5. Looking for schools and homes in a city over 1,000 miles away.

6. Trying to spend time with everyone who wants to say “goodbye.” 

7. Trying to help my 5-year old emotionally negotiate the first major change in her life. (As if I don’t need to emotionally negotiate the same thing.)

8. Working with a landlord 1,000 miles away.

9. Cleaning out the old and embracing the new.

10. A million other things.

Trust me, I’m not complaining. This is a God-ordained move for our family. But it has been a lot to deal with, not to mention the glorious new work that awaits me when I arrive. 

But through this time, I have learned that I’m a miserable failure at one BIG thing: NOT WORRYING. Truthfully, I’m about to give myself an ulcer with all this no matter how hard I try not to.

I’ve never considered myself a control freak, but it is the lack of control right now that is driving me crazy. Someone else will be living in my house, someone else will pack and move my things. Someone else will drive my car to California, and the loss of control makes me worry. I’m experiencing a feeling very similar to the one I had when our first daughter was born; when I realized I was much more selfish than I ever imagined. 

So this morning, I turned scripture in the hopes that something might lower my blood pressure. I read these words: “So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over questions — they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today. (Matthew 6.31-34 The Voice)”

My prayer is to better live these words. I have discovered that Jesus is correct (imagine that) and I cannot add to my life by worrying about it. At every step of the way during this transition, God has been faithful and every prayer has been answered. And answered big! I’m discovering that it is when we do not trust in God and allow “control” are the times when our lives begin to fail, not vice versa.

So, I ask you to pray for me and my family and I will pray for you. Let us remember together that God is sovereign and God is good. Everything else is everything else.

All Things New

Posted: December 31, 2008 in Bible, change, Christmas, life, prayer, spiritual formation

“And the One who sat on the throne announced to His creation: ‘See, I am making all things new. Write what you hear and see, for these words are faithful and true. It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will see to it that the thirsty drink freely from the fountain of the water of life. To the victors will go this inheritance: I will be their God, and they will be My children.’” (Revelation 21.5-7; The Voice)

As Rochelle and I left a half-empty 24 Hour Fitness last Monday, I bemoaned the fact that next week the gym will be filled to overflowing with resolutions. This January there will be a guy or girl next to me on the elliptical machine dripping with sweat whose workout regiment will become a warm dish of hope melted by the end of February.

I suspect hope springs this time of year because most of us are willing to accept notions of newness. New habits. New ideas. New thoughts. If resolution season does anything for us, it reminds us that there are some things that we would prefer to have another way. So, we resolve! At the core, though,  most of us don’t like change, or else we’d have made changes already. We motor from the tradition-laden seasons of Advent and Christmas and come crashing into the change of New Year’s resolutions. I like Christmas better myself, don’t you?

Resolutions aren’t inherently bad, though. Through the years I’ve actually had a few stick. Resolutions, however, aren’t enough to bring about the robust turnabout that humankind needs most desperately – the change from darkness to light  (Acts 26.18). Real change is transformation.

When it comes to spiritual formation, transformation comes in different packaging than many people think. One of the great secrets of spiritual formation is that no one can make themselves more spiritual. What we do as disciples of Jesus is create space, make room, prepare the way, and orchestrate the conditions wherein God can make us into whatever He would have us become. Prayer, silence, solitude, and other spiritual practices (disciplines) do not make us more spiritual in and of themselves. Instead through participation in certain practices, we invite God to encounter us in formative ways that shape us spiritually.  It is God’s work, through the power of the Holy Spirit, when we share in the practices that connected Jesus to God that changes us.

Even a quick perusal of the New Testament demonstrates that God is the One who changes us. Repeatedly, the Bible illustrates that God, the Alpha and Omega, makes everything new, including us. We are made new by the work of God more than the will of persons.  Like cultivating a garden, humans simply create the conditions for growth while God produces the harvest.

As you reflect on the habits you choose to welcome in 2009, I encourage you to make room for the ancient spiritual disciplines. These are simple ways we open ourselves to God in order that He make us new.

After a recent sermon, a friend told me that they love the way I “read” the Bible. They went on to say that I frequently have a different take on familiar passages. What they meant was that, at least in their opinion, I bring fresh light and meaning to scriptures that they had not considered before. Now, I’m not sure how accurate their opinion is, but I’ll take it as a compliment nonetheless.

While I don’t feel as if I have a special take on scripture, I do feel like there are some things readers of scripture can do that will expand their reading and give them fresh bread. These are 10 practices I attempt to hold close as I search the scriptures.

1. Remove yourself from power. Because of my upbringing in the South and other “disadvantages” that came with it, I naturally see the story of scripture from the “outsiders” or “foreigners” perspective. When God tells the Hebrews to destroy a city and kill all the non Hebrews, I’m aware that I am not a Hebrew, and had I been living in that unfortunate city, the God I now worship would have instructed his people to kill me. That changes the way you read the Bible. It gives you a different imagination regarding what God is really up to in the world.

Plus, my ancestors were slaves. Try reading Paul’s instruction about slavery in the light of that fact. What was scriptures teaching to my great-grandparents? Try having an easy reading of the Bible with slave blood in your veins. The Hebrew’s years as slaves in exile become more formative than the reign in Jerusalem. The suggestion: Try reading the Bible as a minority. This one thing alone will radically enhance your reading. Here’s a hint: If your reading gives you more power over others rather than more surrender to God, then re-read.

2. Beware of Injustices. My presupposition is that Jesus becomes flesh to liberate the world (from selfishness, pettiness, death, etc…). As I read the Bible, I’m always mindful of how someone or some group has used a particular text to bind people to a cultural or social moray rather than liberate them. If a text has been used to enslave others or as an instrument to maintain an inequitable social status quo, it at least needs review. Southern Christians abused Pauline texts to maintain segregation. The question we have to ask is whether or not their use is what Paul actually intended. Your views may not change regarding certain things, but the texts should at least be examined.

3. Get Behind the Story. In every text there are a host of things happening. There is a story going on already and a verse or pericope of scripture is only a small part of that story. For instance, if you don’t know what’s going on in my favorite book (2 Corinthians), then you have very little idea about the depth of the teaching. We should be grateful for theologians. They serve the church. We need to explore what they tell us now about then. We need to know what the larger story is. If we don’t then it’s easy to fall into bumper sticker theology. So, if your preacher says, “I’m preaching through Acts.” Then go into your church library or down to the Christian bookstore and pick up the best commentary on Acts. Or better yet, ask your pastor/teacher/minister to share with you his resources. If they don’t,worry!

4. Know What Your Assumptions/Biases Are. It’s hard to read the Bible authentically if you are not aware of your biases. And as you get to know them, you have to be open to them being challenged. Part and parcel with this is the idea that you have to be open to being wrong about previously held conclusions about the text. You move forward if you think you know it already and you can’t move ahead if you’re not aware what you assume. In addition, you need to be aware of what you think the Bible is trying to do. Is it an answer book? Helpful tips for daily life? A grand narrative of God’s actions in the past and future? A pattern for church governance? Lots of questions flow out of this, but we have to know our assumptions first.

5. Read With Your Humanity on Your Sleeve. We have to read the Bible as people. That sounds obvious, but many of us read scripture like machines thinking that we were born exegetes and not people. This occurred to me last year when Larry James spoke at our Men’s Retreat. Larry — in a few short sentences — talked about stuff I knew already about Mary and Joseph and Joseph’s age when Jesus was born and the strong likelihood that Jesus was the  son of a single mom for most of his rearing. That has to change the way you see Jesus, and the ways you see single moms and children. And you won’t believe this, but until that moment, it had not dawned on my that I was the son of a single mom. I had never considered it before. My mom raised my brother and me be herself. Single moms were other people, not us. We frequently read our Bibles and don’t see ourselves in it and it keeps us from seeing ourselves in others.

6. We Would Have Reacted Like They Reacted. As we comb the Biblical text we have to be aware of the fact that we would have reacted like they reacted. This means Jesus is talking to us, Paul is instructing us, the Prophets are shouting at us. It’s easy to be on the side of Jesus, but we are the 9 lepers that didn’t come back. Let’s bring some humility to the way we treat those who didn’t follow Jesus, those who rejected Paul, those who were forced into the right actions under threat and endurance of plagues, and those who show favoritism. They are us and we are them. Another way to say this is to have a “confessional heart.”

7. Read in Community. You might have noticed that the Bible creates a community and is best read in community and was read and spoken to communities initially. The Bible is read best in fellowship and informed discussion (shared ignorance for 1-hour on Sunday morning is not the same thing). In community notions can be affirmed, challenged and enhanced. In authentic community the Bible comes alive as we see it lived in the lives of others.

8. Read On Your Knees and in A Posture of Obedience. Interpretation doesn’t work because we are clever. It occurs because God reveals Himself. If the Bible is read without a robust spiritual life and deep prayer we may be missing a great deal. Again, my presuppositions come into play: If it’s merely an answer book, then there is no need for spiritual life. Simply read and do. But if the Bible is trying to create a particular kind of person who lives in a particular kind of community with a particular mission in the world, then more must be done. Bible reading, I assume, is asking us to do and be something that we would not have done or become without having read the Bible. For that, I need intimacy with the God revealed in the Bible.

9. Read for the Sake of Reading. People in my profession often find themselves fingering through scripture in preparation of a class or sermon. This is unfortunate because it’s when we are reading for the beauty of the narrative that God often jumps up and surprises us. Here’s where I put in a plugged for The Voice. As I’ve re-read the gospels this Advent, The Voice, and it’s imagery have grabbed my heart and drawn me back into the story juts like when I was a kid. And I’m excited about who Jesus is all over again.

10. Look For Distress. The Bible causes distress. When the events it recounts occurred there was distress. After Guttenberg there was distress. In each text there is something that should cause distress for the reader. It always has. Certainly, there are comforting passages, but there are just as many distressing parts that call us to change everything; to repent. In fact, there is only one true Bible study question: What in my life would have to change if I were to take this text seriously? The Bible changes our lives and we don’t always like it.

Well, those are some of the ideas/commitments I bring to Bible reading. And surely there are some bad thoughts/assumption in there and some important things I totally missed. What can I say? I’m human. At any rate, I hope this helps reignite some of our passion for the Bible. And now I will give you my BIG tip that some people don’t like, but I think is most important.

** Beware Bibliolatry. I don’t understand what people mean when they say they “love” the Bible. In my view, the Bible is a way — a primary way — that God is revealed, but at the end of the day, I want to spend time with, to lavish in the love of, to worship, and to serve God, not the Bible. God is most clearly revealed in the Bible, I get it. But the Bible is not the endgame. To make it such is idolatry. God is the endgame.

An Advent Prayer

Posted: December 16, 2008 in Christmas, missional, prayer

Today, we return to the pen of Walter Breuggemann and his wondeful book of prayers, “Prayers For A Privileged People.”

Newborn Beginning…after Caesar

The Christ Child is about to be born,
the one promised by the angel.
Mary’s “fullness of time” has arrived.
Except that the birth is scheduled
according to the emperor:
A decree went out that all should be numbered.

Caesar decreed a census, everyone counted;
Caesar intended to have up-to-date for the tax rolls;
Caesar intended to have current lists of draft eligibility;
Caesar intended taxes to support armies,
because the emperor, in whatever era,
is always about money and power,
about power and force,
about force and control,
and eventually violence.

And while we wait for the Christ Child,
we are enthralled by the things of Caesar –
money…power…control,
and all the well-being that comes from
such control, even if it requires a little violence.

But in the midst of the decree
will come this long-expected Jesus
innocent, vulnerable,
full of grace and truth,
grace and not power,
truth and not money,
mercy and not control.

We also dwell in the land of Caesar;
we pray for the gift of your spirit,
that we may loosen our grip on the things of Caesar,
that we may turn our eyes toward the baby,
our ears toward the newness,
our hearts toward the gentleness,
our power and money and control
toward your new governance.

We crave the newness.
And while the decree of the emperor
Rings in our ears with such authority,
give us newness that we may start again
at the beginning,
that the innocence of the baby may
intrude upon our ambiguity,
that the vulnerability of the child may
veto our lust for control,
that we may be filled with wonder
and so less of anxiety,
in the blessed name of the baby we pray.

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The Non-Writing Life

Posted: November 18, 2008 in church, family, home, life, prayer, preaching, speaking

I’m not dead!! If you were beginning to worry where I’ve been, I want you to know that the Grim Reaper hasn’t yet caught up to me. I’m still alive and kicking. The reason for my blogosphere absence is because (1) I haven’t had time recently to post, (2) I haven’t had anything to post, and (3) I think Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook” is so powerful that I wanted people who haven’t read it to get a chance to — folks typically only read the top post. I know the essay/letter is long, but if you haven’t read it, you should.

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While I’ve been away, my wife, Rochelle, and I have spent a lot of time talking and trying to discern where God is leading our family. For a while now we’ve been feeling the pull to expand what we do, and now we feel both pulled and pushed. Therefore, we ask that you join us in prayer about the move of God and the Palmer family.

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I’ve been talking with a wonderful literary agent about writing a book shaped around the idea of the radical reconciliation preached and proclaimed by both Jesus and Paul. What do you guys think? Is it worth my waking at 4:00 a.m. for 6-12 months to hammer that out? If so, what areas of reconciliation should we explore? Here’s my beginning list: Race, gender, religions, and race again. What would you add? E-mail me or leave a comment.

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This past weekend I was out speaking at the Redwood Church in Redwood City, CA. They are a wonderful congregation, geared to loving and serving their neighbors. If you’re ever in that part of the country stop by and visit them. And tell them Sean sent you by.

Weekend Reflections

Posted: October 27, 2008 in books, church, grace, politics, prayer, preaching
Tags: , ,

I spent some time yesterday with Todd Hunter, former national director for Alpha USA, who know consults and leads 3isEnough. He graciously preached for our congregation yesterday and had lunch with my wife and me plus another couple. Todd’s first book, “Christianity Beyond Belief” releases in February 2009. From all indicators, the book looks to be fabulous. What’s more, Todd had a lot of wisdom for young, rookie writers. I’ve now heard the exact same advice from both Todd Hunter and Brian McLaren. Maybe I should listen.

Todd spoke about the the post-modern, post-Christian turn and the need for churches to launch new missional initiatives lead by post-modern natives. This, I think, will be terribly difficult for many churches, but he is right on the money.

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I love facebook, but I have become very distressed by my friend’s treatment of one another, and, at times, myself, concerning politics and the coming election. I’m beginning to think two things: (1) Many of us seem incapable of civil, responsible, respectful discourse, and (2) Though most of my “friends” are Christians, many seem to think that the hope of our country and the world lies in Washington rather than the Kingdom. What’s more, some seem to get the daily talking points from their political party of choice and don’t mind spewing them — with venom — on other people they say they love.

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A Monday Prayer

Creator God, bless our week. We ask that our words be seasoned with your grace, that our eyes see what id truly important, that our feet carry us to those in need. Lord, may we in all things turn our hearts to you and allow you to shape are thoughts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In so many ways my wife, Rochelle, is my inspiration. More than the dismissive “wing beneath my wings,” she is the very breath that gives me life. She challenges my thinking (which is the reason I married her). She refines my rough edges,  tells me when I’m off base, and lets me know when what I’m about to say or write shouldn’t be said or written.

So today, I’m posting a prayer she wrote. The prayer itself is about a year old. It appeared on Edward Fudge’s GracEmail last year and was reprinted in at least one church bulletin with which we have no connection. Though the prayer is a year old, the ideas are as fresh and needed. Here you go…

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Heavenly Father, our Redeemer, Friend and Lord,

We come before you to worship you. We live to bring glory to your name, to testify that you alone are worthy and righteous, full of truth, the Giver of life.  You alone are God.  We, your children, stand before you in need of your grace, for we have sinned against you and against your creation.

We confess that we have allowed our thirst for truth to be satisfied by what is false.
We have traded our desire for what is holy and accepted what is common.
For this, we seek your forgiveness.

We confess the sins of our lips, for words spoken harshly to others, for words spoken about others, and for our failure to speak of you to those around us in need of your love.
For this, we seek your forgiveness.

We confess that we have ignored the poor and the orphan.  We have forgotten the prisoner and the widow.
We confess we have sought justice for ourselves and left the foreigner, the minority, to fend for himself.
We confess we have used our resources to meet our own desires and have not dedicated them to your purposes and glory.
For this, we seek your forgiveness.

We confess that at times we have made ourselves the judge, deciding what sins are forgivable and what sins are not…
We confess acting as judge, claiming to know who is included in your kingdom and who is not…
For this, we seek your forgiveness.

O, Father, we are in need of your grace.  In this moment, through this service, renew us.  Transform us.  Make us selfless and courageous, that we may step boldly into and participate in your redemptive work in the world.

We thank you for your steadfast love that grants us new mercies each day.
We thank you for your redeeming love that allows us to know you, to know others and that allows us to love freely, without prejudice or hesitation.

Now, to You, O Creator, King of all ages, immortal, invisible, the only true and living God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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P.S. There’s some language in the prayer she might change now, but you’ll have to talk to her about that.