Lenten Prayer Guide 3.0

I’m catching up with the weekly prayer guides that we’re using with our weekly sermon series and small group studies at West Side during Lent. In the last two days, I’ve posted the first and second Lenten Prayer Guides (from now on, each new guide will be posted on Sundays for the remainder of Lent).

Lenten Prayer Guide

Many times we go through difficult times or struggle with unanswered prayer. We feel forsaken. And we like the psalmist cry out to God:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. (Psalm 13)

A friend of Bill Hybels says aptly: If the request is wrong, God says, “No.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.” If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.” But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go!”

Pray: God help me to recognize and accept your answers of “No,” “Slow,” or “Grow.” Bring understanding, if possible. Or help me to just blindly trust that you know all and you have my best interests in mind. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Recall a time in the past when God said, “No” or “Slow” and it was hard for you, but in hindsight you know it was the right answer.

Pray: Lord, help me grow.
What have a substituted for prayer in my life?
Where do I have unconfessed sin? (Isaiah 59:2)
What relationship conflict is hindering my relationship with you? (Matthew 5:23-24)
Where are my requests selfish/self-centered and uncaring toward others? (James 4:3; Proverbs 21:13)
In the midst of lacking faith, I recall your faithfulness in the past. (James 1:5-8)

Let us again pray with confidence with the psalmist:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13)

Lenten Prayer Guide 2.0

Yesterday, I posted the first Lenten Prayer Guide (I will post this week’s guide tomorrow, then each week’s guide on Sundays beginning with this coming Sunday).

Lenten Prayer Guide

Almighty God, your blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations. And, as you know the weakness of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Where am I tempted? What are my weaknesses? What are my secret sins?

What Scripture can give me strength in my time of weakness?

Who can I confide in; who will be a support, an encourager, and hold me accountable as I face the reality of this temptation in my life?

Lenten Prayer Guide 1.0

During Lent at West Side, the sermon series and small group studies are focusing on prayer. We’re looking at some of the prayers that Jesus prayed, especially during his final week.

I’m providing a prayer guide each week during Lent and encouraging everyone to set apart time daily or weekly to reflect and pray. Here’s the first prayer guide. I’ll catch up and post the other two in the next couple days.

Lenten Prayer Guide

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

Erect a stone. Where and when will I pray throughout Lent? How long will I pray?

The people of Israel fasted and confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Samuel instructed them to “rid yourselves of the foreign gods … and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only.” (1 Samuel. 7:3,6)

What things have you depended upon instead of God? Ask God’s forgiveness.

Thus far the Lord has helped us.

When has God helped you in the past? Give thanks to God.

75 Days of Preparation for Ordination

After submitting our work for ordination in mid-January, I wrote 150 Days of Preparation for Ordination in which I listed some things I’d like to do in the months leading up to ordination in June.

I put the list together because I want to make the most of this time in our lives. The list was fairly intensive but I also stated that I didn’t want to overdo it because I knew I needed rest, too.

Well, with interviews behind us and now that we’ve reach the mid-point, I want to revise the list. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get to Wesley’s Sermons (I wanted to read them before interviews) or Wesley’s Journal before June. But here’s the revised list for the next 75 days …

Pray “Wesley’s Covenant Prayer” (most days)

Read John Wesley: A Preaching Life by Michael Pasquarello (in progress)

Read Reading Scripture as Wesleyans by Joel B. Green (in progress)

Read Why Jesus? by William Willimon

Review Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry by William Willimon (read it at Asbury; just noticed there’s also Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry).

Well, I still have to guard against overdoing it because I am in a year-long mentoring group that’s reading a book a month. And I’m also working on a plan to develop the preaching gift (post forthcoming), which will include some reading. But these are some things I want to read in preparation for ordination.

Sign Language for Kids

I wrote a post on baby sign language in December 2008, ten months after we brought Ethan home from Korea. Teaching some basic signs to Ethan, and now Sarah, has been one of the best things we’ve done with the kids!

Within our first few months with Ethan, we taught him some basic words. But once Ethan began talking, we didn’t sign as much. After we brought Sarah home, though, all of us picked it up back up, and we have learned even more (40+ signs).

Signing with the kids has been fun. More than that, though, it has been a huge help in communicating with the kids. We remember once when travelling with Ethan in the car when he was a baby, instead of crying because he was hungry, he signed the word “more” (which he normally used when he wanted more food while we were eating). Now, Sarah does the same. She may sign “cold,” “eat,” or “milk,” rather than cry. There’s still crying and whining, of course, but not as much as she would otherwise!

Last Christmas, Ethan (3.5 at the time) and I attended a Ministerium lunch gathering. While we waited for our food to arrive, we practiced signing—that was much better than chasing him all over the room and keeping him out of the Christmas decorations (I did some of that, too)!

But even though we’ve used sign language, we could be more intentional with it. We’ve always known there were benefits to early sign language use/development, but after doing a little research, I want to do more!

Signing Time looks like it has some good products, including items for infants, toddlers, and young children.

Finally, here are a couple of news stories (with short videos) worth checking out that have run in the last few days on using sign language with young children: Sign language can help boost a baby’s brain development and Baby sign language growing in popularity.

As these reports (and others) point out, sign language is not only good for communication and fun, it also helps with a child’s long term mental and emotional development (and I’d argue that “emotional quotient” and “adversity quotient” are more important than “intelligence quotient,” but that’s for another post!).

If you’ve used sign language with your children, please tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

God’s Call to Ministry

We’ve been doing a lot of reflection as we near the end of our ordination journey. One of the areas I’ve been thinking about is calling—God’s call to ministry.

My understanding of God’s call have evolved over the years. When I was in Kindergarten, I knew that God called people to “preach” (my grandfather was a preacher). In my five-year-old mind, I thought God only called a few people so I figured the odds of God calling me to preach were pretty slim. But a decade and a half later, I began processing God’s call on my life.

Even though I started out thinking of God’s call as a “call to preach” (which I noticed recently is the language used in the early Methodist books of discipline), I have come to believe that all Jesus followers are called to ministry (see UMC.org’s The Ministry of All Christians).

I now understand my call more specifically as a call to leadership in ministry. Two Scripture passages come to mind when I think about leadership in ministry:

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul writes that God gave leaders responsibility to equip the church for ministry:

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4.11-13)

Acts 6 records a crucial time in the history of the church when leaders needed to start focusing on their calling and releasing ministry to others:

About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” This proposal pleased the entire community. They selected Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith. (Acts 6.1-7)

As I said, my understanding God’s call has evolved over the years, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Last year’s Training Day for provisional members, featuring Rev. Tom Berlin, was helpful in further clarifying my own call. As I reflected on what I am passionate about, I realized that my heart is to lead people to serve Christ in the world with warm hearts and active hands!

How do you understand your call to ministry?

“Shaped By the Word”

One of the books we read in the Doctor of Ministry program at Asbury a few years ago was Shaped By the Word by M. Robert Mulholland. Mulholland challenges readers to move from an informational approach to reading Scripture to a formational approach.

An informational reading of Scripture tends to focus more on “doing” more than “being.” It’s more quantity oriented than quality oriented. Readers who approach Scripture for information come to Scripture on their own agenda, which hinders the reader from being changed by the text. This approach is more “analytical, critical, and judgmental” (52), and “characterized by a problem-solving mentality” (53). Obviously, this shouldn’t be the primary way we approach Scripture.

Formational reading focuses on quality more than quantity. The reader seeks to allow the passage to work in one’s life, and ultimately, to be mastered by the text. In this way, “the text becomes the subject of the reading relationship,” so that the reader may be “shaped by the text” (57). This requires humility, as we go to Scripture to be “shaped by the Word” and conformed to the image of Christ, allowing the “intrusive Word” to shape our lives.

The goal of reading Scripture is spiritual formation. Mulholland defines as “the shaping of our being in the image of Christ” (102). Mulholland describes it as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (25).

Mulholland is passionate about helping readers allow their “word to be shaped by the Word of God” (37). When our word begins to be shaped by the Word, “our word will become the word God speaks us forth to be in the lives of others. Increasingly we will become God’s, spoken forth into the life of the world” (46).

Scripture is to be experienced. As we experience God’s Word, we are shaped by it in ways that lead to spiritual transformation!

Cabin Fever 2011

It has been a long, cold winter here in central Pennsylvania. But yesterday was a really nice day — mid-60s, mostly sunny. So, after lunch, I took the kids outside to pay in the backyard, and to clean it up before nap time on our day off.

The kids enjoyed their time outside. Sarah was able to play on the small climbing wall and sliding board without much difficulty for the first time. Ethan enjoyed seeing the toy lawnmower that he hasn’t seen in a long time!

It was good to get outside, especially since temperatures are expected to drop back into the 40s today!

Early Methodist View on Use of Time

Early Methodist editions of the Discipline included instructions on how preachers should use their time profitably. The 1784 Discipline offers the following instructions (written in question and answer format, common practice in early Methodism) in a section titled, “Of employing our Time profitably, when we are not travelling [sic], or not engaged in Public Exercises.” Here the questions and answers …

1. What general Method of employing our Time would you advise us to?

We advise you, 1. As often as possible to rise at four. 2. From four to five in the Morning, and from five to six in the Evening, to meditate, pray and read, partly the Scriptures with Mr. Wesley’s Notes, partly the closely practical Parts of what he has published. 3. From six in the morning till twelve (allowing an Hour for Breakfast) read in Order, with much Prayer, the Christian Library, and other pious Books.

2. Why is it that the People under our Care are not better?

Other Reasons may concur; but the chief is, because we are not more knowing and more holy.

3. But why are we not more knowing?

Because we are idle. We forget our first Rule “Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed; neither spend any more Time at any Place than is strictly necessary.” I fear there is altogether a Fault in this Matter, and that few of us are clear. Which of you spend as many Hours a Day in God’s Work, as you did formerly in Man’s Work? We talk, talk—or read History or what comes next to Hand. We must, absolutely must, cure this Evil, or betray the Cause of God. But how? 1. Read the most useful Books, and that regularly and constantly. Steadily spend all the Morning in this Employment, or at least five Hours in four and twenty. “But I have no Taste for reading.” Contract a Taste for it by Use, or return to your former Employment. “But I have no Books.” Be diligent to spread the Books, and you will have the use of them.

Notice the emphasis on growing in discipleship in the first question through a morning routine …
4:00 a.m. Meditate, pray and read. (repeat at 5:00 p.m.)
5:00 a.m. Breakfast
6:00 a.m. Read (till noon)

I believe there’s a connection between idleness and apathy. It’s as if early Methodist leaders wanted to ensure that preachers weren’t plateauing, but were constantly growing. They were part of a movement, after all, that believed in going on to perfection!

The emphasis on reading is expanded in the third question—spend all morning reading. This is so important, according to the Discipline, that if you have no taste for reading, you should “return to your former employment.” (Ouch.) This work requires growth (and therefore, reading).

The early Methodist emphasis on growth challenges me. I need to read more. Leaders are readers!

Approved for Ordination!

Today, we learned that we both have been approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination in The United Methodist Church. This marks the end of one (long) chapter in our lives—and begins a new chapter!

The Board’s action will need the approval of the clergy session at annual conference in June. After final approval there, ordination will take place at annual conference, Saturday, June 11, 2011—86 days from today!

In the meantime, we still have three more (easy) requirements: (1) attend a Training Day (on church finances) in a couple weeks, (2) attend an overnight retreat with the bishop in May for all who will be commissioned or ordained at annual conference, and (3) attend our third and final Learning Covenant Group session with peers in the process (this was a new requirement this year; future ordination classes will have eight sessions). But we just have to show up for these!

We are grateful for all who have supported us along the way, especially for your prayers!