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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Introspective Prayer - The Examen by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the final instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a deep thinker and an excellent writer and the prayer technique she chose for this week fits her personality perfectly.  Enjoy McKenzi's explanation of the Examen Prayer and try it out for yourself.
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Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’s blog!

Have you ever heard of St. Ignatius of Loyola?

Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight who lived in the 16th century. On May 20, 1521, he was wounded by a cannon ball while defending Pamplona from French invaders. During his recovery, Ignatius entertained himself by reading a biography on Christ and past saints. He became fascinated by the lives the first Christians led and experienced a spiritual awakening. Once recovered, Ignatius began imitating the saints; he lived as a beggar, fasted regularly, and spent seven hours a day in prayer! Later in life, Ignatius became an ordained Catholic minister and founded the Society of Jesus, known today as the Jesuits. His most famous work, and the one that inspired today’s post, was approved by the Pope for study in 1548. It is called The Spiritual Exercises.

 Among the exercises Ignatius outlines in his piece is his famous Daily Examen. Mark Thibodeaux, a prayer and discernment expert in the Jesuit community, encourages us to use St. Ignatius’s Examen to “review our recent past to find God and God’s blessings in life.” He writes that the most important thing to do is to ask for “insight into what graces we might need to live the next day well.” The Examen is the most introspective, personal prayer method I have come across in my research over the past few weeks. It requires emotional maturity as you look at your actions, words, and thoughts from the Holy Spirit’s perspective and condemn them—not justify them—before asking for forgiveness. Its purpose is to reveal our transgressions so that we can work on fixing them to become more like Jesus. I realize The Examen sounds messy, but don’t worry! It seems St. Ignatius was just as Type-A as I am because he provided us with a structure to follow as we delve into our character before the Almighty.

First, jesuitresource.org says we must pause, breathe, and allow ourselves time to enter the presence of God. As I sat on my bed, crisscross apple sauce, I tried to empty my mind to focus on my quiet time. And while I thought about emptying my mind, I realized I was thirsty. And then I remembered I hadn’t had much water that day. And then I felt guilty for not watering the body God gave me. And then I felt guilty for entering the presence of God thinking about water when the Living Water was right there . . .

Frustrated, I decided to start over. Every time I drew air into my nostrils, I imagined my lungs swelling behind my ribs like balloons before gently emptying the air back through my nose. I counted fifteen breaths before I was finally calm and quiet. Step one: pause and breathe complete!

Step two is a bit more involved. Now that we have acknowledged we are in the presence of God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, it’s time to thank Him. Thibodeaux writes, “I allow my mind to wander as I reflect on the ways God has blessed me on this particular day.” It doesn’t matter how big or small the blessing is, recount it. As I moved through the week, I had fun remembering my day and picking out the smallest details. Some nights I would say, “God! Thank you for sending that scarlet Cardinal to perch on the tree at the end of the deck. He was beautiful!” On my birthday I said, “God, thank you for my parents! They had to work, but they still managed to make my day special with red roses and two cakes!” I relished in the diversity of His blessings, and even felt myself smiling as I told God the ways He’d delighted me that day.

Warmed up with thanksgiving, we turn to step three: invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mistakes and failures of the day. Ugh. Failure is my worst nightmare; it’s embarrassing, you disappoint yourself, and sometimes you even let other people in your life down. So, it’s better to just keep moving, letting mistakes glance off your back without a second thought. Right? Nope. St. Ignatius’s ancient method doesn’t allow for anything to be swept under the rug, shoved into the closet, or discretely hidden in a drawer. It is not in the Holy Spirit’s nature to hide, and we don’t want Him to! We need this daily inspection to keep us in tip top spiritual shape.  

After humbly submitting to the Holy Spirit, we can move to step four. It’s time to review and recognize our mistakes for what they are. I remember feeling my smile stumble as I remembered the times I’d gotten angry when someone wasn’t driving the way I thought they should, or the times I’d allowed cynicism to erode my spirit while reading the news. As Christians, we are meant to be gentle, optimistic lights that point others to God. I can’t be a beacon for Heaven if I’m defeated by one news article or incensed by another motorist’s negligent use of their blinker! And, if I cannot recognize and admit these moments of weakness as failures, how will I be able to admit to worse sins? Even though these two steps in St. Ignatius’s Examen are arduous, they are crucial! Without them we become blind to our imperfections and our pride begins to whisper “Oh, but see, you’re doing well! What do you need the Spirit for?” And that, readers, is a dangerous thought.

But take heart! Step five is easy. Now that you’ve been searched and admitted your failures (good job), you can repent and ask our gracious Father for forgiveness. Thibodeaux makes it sound so simple. If you’ve made a mistake, tell Him and then ask for help moving on and the wisdom to better handle similar moments in the future. That’s the lovely thing about what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Because He covered my sins as a sacrificial lamb, I can sit on my bed, crisscross apple sauce, and ask the God of the Universe for forgiveness . . . and He grants it! The debt is paid!

Now that we’ve thanked God for our daily blessings, been searched and admitted our failures, and been forgiven, we can turn to tomorrow. Step six says to imagine the next day and ask for help making future decisions. Do you have a long commute? Ask God to soothe your frustration before it can boil into anger. Do you find yourself extremely distressed while reading the news? Ask God to help you pray through each headline. If you know you have a big test or interview or presentation the next day, ask God for clarity and calm in the moment. Step six is not an excuse for us to dwell on the future. I can’t teleport to 2023 to find myself a job after grad school, so I leave that problem out of my nightly prayers. A time will come when I begin praying through that anxiety, but I since haven’t even stepped foot on campus as a grad student yet, I know that time is not now. The Examen calls us to pray for tomorrow’s small worries, so we can give them to God and get some much-needed rest.

At the end of the week, I feel my prayer life has been refreshed by this streamlined, introspective approach to prayer. I deviated from the method a bit and chose to perform St. Ignatius’s Examen as a journal prompt after two nights because, as I’ve learned, writing improves my focus. I enjoyed this prayer method because it included God in my day. Every morning, God makes sure we have something beautiful around us whether it’s an emerald green hummingbird hovering above my mom’s hot pink roses or short, encouraging text messages from friends. The Examen helped me remember to thank Him for taking time to fill my day with bursts of joy even as I faced the ugly truth of myself every night.  

I’ve learned, over the course of this three-week experiment, that prayer is a process just as much as it is a conversation, but it never has to be perfect. God is the Father of Lights and the Lord of Armies, yes, but He is also the Wonderful Counselor and our Heavenly Father. Whether you journal or speak into silence, He just wants to communicate with you. What an honor! Ultimately, I feel encouraged in my journey, and I hope you feel the same.

In Christ,

Mckenzi 

Citation:

Ryan, Edward A. “St. Ignatius of Loyola.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 January 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/St-Ignatius-of-Loyola. Accessed 27 June 2021.

“The Examen: A Daily Prayer.” Jesuitresource.org, Xavier University, n.d. https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/jesuit-a-z/terms-e/daily-examen#:~:text=The%20Examen%20is%20simply%20a,the%20presence%20of%20the%20Holy.

Thibodeaux, Mark. “Try the Daily Examen.” Loyola Press, n.d. https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/ignatian-spirituality/examen-and-ignatian-prayer/how-can-i-pray-try-the-daily-examen/

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh

Introduction
My son, Gavin, will turn 23 in just a couple weeks.  He was the very first of my Mom’s grandchildren.  After we had a child, the dam broke for my siblings and the nieces and nephews just started coming one after another.  I’m not very good with names, so it started getting tough to keep up with everyone’s name.  My sister thought she was gonna have twins at one point.  I said, “That’s awesome!” (but I was thinking “How in the world am I gonna tell them apart and remember their names?”)  My sister said, “Yeah twins!  Isn’t that amazing?  And one will be a boy and one is a girl. But I’m not sure what to name them?”

Well, I’m a fixer and an innovator and I’m practical.  So I said, “I think you should call the girl Denise.”  “That’s a pretty name,” said my sister, “but what about the boy?  What should I name him?”  I said, “Denephew.” …Cause then it would be Deniece and Denephew…

That's not really a true story, but I thought it was a funny joke about names.  This summer, we are reviewing the names of God in Scripture.  God has many names that represent His multifaceted character.  And He has told us His names because God wants us to know Him and what He is like.  So through this series, I challenge you to expand your thinking about God.  God is infinite and it is not enough to know Him only in one way.  You should strive to know God better and understand His many qualities. So far, we have learned:

  • God is Elohim – A Triune God who is Three in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • He is El Shaddai – the Almighty, All-Sufficient God who is everything you need
  • He is Abba Father – and you can relate to God like an infant to a loving daddy
  • Today, we learn God’s eternal name – Yahweh

Exodus 3:1-6
1
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Have you hear this story?  God asked Moses to go tell the Pharaoh of Egypt to let God's people go.  God was going to use Moses to lead the Hebrew's out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.

Exodus 3:13-15
13 
But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,[e] the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.

This is my eternal name,
    my name to remember for all generations.

 

Yahweh - I AM WHO I AM
People in the ancient Middle East were very superstitious.  They believed you could manipulate a god if you knew its name.  In Egypt, where Moses grew up, they had many, many gods.  The Egyptians used their gods’ names and magical spells to manipulate nature.  But amidst a the thousands and thousands of Egyptian gods, which one was speaking to Moses from the burning bush?

 

There is only one real God.  All others are fakes or idols or demons.  God reveals His proper name to Moses, which shows He is eternal and He cannot be manipulated.  God reveals His name is Yahweh, and it’s a word that is hard to translate.  It means something like “I AM WHO I AM”.  You get the sense of the unchanging, eternal quality of God’s character.  He is who He is.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Notice that it is also present tense.  It is not, I WAS or I WILL BE.  It is I AM.  God is not some forgotten relic of the past or something we look forward to in the future.  God is RIGHT NOW.  And He is always RIGHT NOW. 

 

One thing that is hard for mortal to comprehend is that God created time.  If God created time then that means at some point time didn't exist.  We can’t imagine an existence without time.  The human mind tries to mark everything by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  Sometimes, we are so consumed by our infatuation with time, we forget to live right now in the moment.  Many people spend years in counseling because of emotional scars from their childhood.  Their past keeps them from living a full life in the present.  Others are so filled with anxiety about what might happen in the feature they are unable to live fully in the present, right now.


God is not like that.  God is the great I AM.  He is always, RIGHT NOW.

 

Yahweh and Jehovah

Ancient Hebrew writing is weird.  First of all, they write backwards, from right to left.  Some scholars think this is because ancient Hebrew was written on clay tablets or chiseled into stone and it was easier to chisel from right to left.  They would hold the chisel in their left hand and a hammer in their right (because most people are right handed).  This made it easier to chisel sentences from right to left.  Many ancient languages that were primarily engraved on stone went from right to left. It wasn't until people started using paper and ink that it became more common to go from left to right (because going right to left would smear the ink on the paper).


Another weird thing is ancient Hebrew didn't have vowels, only consonants (vowels weren't invented until much later).  So a name like Bill, would be spelled BLL.  The vowel sounds were just assumed. So God's name Yahweh was spelled YHWH.  Nobody in the ancient world complained or thought it was dumb not to have vowels; they were just thrilled to be able to write down sounds for the first time.


Something else that complicates language is how the sounds of letter can change over time and also in different places.  Everyone in America knows how to pronounce the name JOHN (say it to yourself).  However, if you go to Germany, the same name spelled JOHN will be pronounced Yan, because J in Germany has a Y sound.  If you go to Mexico, it's pronounced Wan, because they give J a W sound.


Another letter sound that shifts arounds is W.  In America, you would say, "What do you want?"  But in Russia, it might be pronounced "Vat do you vant?"  This changing sound of letters has affected the way the name of God has been passed down through the ages and even produced an alternate name--Jehovah.


Starting around 300 BC (the time in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Jew’s became very superstitious about using God’s name.[i]  The third of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.” Or “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7).  A proper interpretation of this is that God's people who represent Him shouldn't misrepresent His character by their bad behavior.  Well, many Jews began to misinterpret the third commandment to believe they shouldn’t even say or write Yahweh at all (even though God said Yahweh was to be His name for all generations).  So, the Jews from 300 BC on began to substitute the Hebrew word for Lord (Adonai) instead of saying or writing Yahweh.  Others would intersperse the vowels from Adonai into the consonants for YHWH (because they had invented vowels by that point) rendering the word YaHoWaiH or JaHoVaH.  This is where we get the word Jehovah, which is common way to say God's name today.  The superstition about saying or writing God's name has persisted throughout the centuries right up until our time.  In most translations, you will find Yahweh translated as LORD, with the word in all capital letters,  Whenever you LORD written in all-caps in the Bible, it indicates the word is actually Yahweh.

 

Jesus is Yahweh
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  However, many people read the Bible and remark that the Old Testament seems much harsher than the New Testament.  Perhaps you have felt that way.  Sometimes people will say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t like the God of the Old Testament.  Jesus is so loving, but God is so vengeful in the Old Testament.” 

 

I can understand how some people could get the impression that Jesus is somehow different from Yahweh in the Old Testament.  However, that’s an oversimplification of the Bible that doesn’t really hold true.  If you study and understand the Bible, you will find mercy in grace in the Old Testament too. For instance, God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt before they were good people.  That's mercy and grace.  You also find judgment and vengeance in the New Testament.  Have you read Revelation?  It's full of God's vengeance and plagues and judgment.  We see "Old Testament" style vengeance and judgement in the New Testament book of Acts too.  Remember the time the Holy Spirit struck Annanias and Saphira dead on the spot for lying to Peter in the New Testament Book of Acts?  (Acts 5:1-11)   And there are many other places throughout the New Testament where we see the God of the New Testament acting just like He does in the Old Testament.  It's just that the New Testament primarily focuses on Yahweh invitation to humanity to be reconciled with God.  Also, understand than the New Testament is less than a quarter of the length of the Old Testament.  So to call the Old Testament harsh and the New Testament sweet is a na├»ve oversimplification.  

 

Jesus in the New Testament and Yahweh in the Old Testament are the same God.  In fact, Jesus even specifically called himself “I AM” (the translation of God’s name, Yahweh).  While arguing with the Jews about what it means to be a child of God and to follow God, Jesus said he was God.  In John 8:58, Jesus referred to himself with the ancient eternal name of God when he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!”  Remember how I told you the Jews were extremely superstitious about God’s name?  Saying God’s name was enough to get a person stoned to death and the Jews in John 8 tried to stone Jesus to death.  However, because Jesus is Yahweh, the great I AM, He was able to disappear and escape unharmed.

 

So many people only see Jesus as their friend or their buddy.  Jesus is a friend for sinners, bu a true friend is someone who tells you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it.  Furthermore, Jesus is more than just your friend.  Jesus is the eternal, all knowing, all present, all powerful God of the universe.  We would be fools to forget it and only think of Jesus as our buddy.

 

The God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament are one in the same. There is no difference whatsoever in the character and actions of the Old Testament and New Testament God.  He is who He is.  Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can disregard it.  The Old Testament focuses more on the power, judgment, and sovereignty of God.  The New Testament focuses more on God’s reconciling mercy, love, and grace.  It’s not one or the other.  It’s both.  That is why Jesus preached throughout the Gospels, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) 

 

The Bad News you don’t want to hear because it makes you feel uncomfortable is that you have sinned, and the consequences of your sin is death and eternal punishment.  The Good News is Jesus/God loves you so much He paid for your sin by dying on the cross.  He took your place.  Therefore, you can repent and be saved.  However, you must repent and let God be the absolute Lord of our life or you are in eternal danger.

 

Conclusion
I want to do something strange as we close.  Right now, you are on Holy Ground in the presence of a strange and Holy God.  When Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “Take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground…” 

 

So now, in the presence of Holy Yahweh in this Holy place, I invite you to take off your shoes…

 

Now, Bow your head and close your eyes.  Imagine that Yahweh is with you right now (because He is).  Feel the heat from the burning bush warm on your skin.  God is calling your name...  He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of your ancestors.  I am the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament and the God of today.  I am Yahweh—the Great I AM.  I Am Who I Am.  I do not change.  You cannot control me.  You cannot make Me who You want me to be, but I can make you into the person you were designed to be.”

 

Now talk to Yahweh… or just listen to what He would say to you for a few moments…

 


Amen.



[i] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Praying Through The Psalm by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the second instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a talented young lady who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Samford University with a BA in English and literature concentration.  McKenzi will enter the English Masters program at Auburn University this fall where she will also be teaching and doing research.  Today, McKenzi shares about her experience with praying through the Psalms over the last week and over the weekend while on a trip to Austin, Texas.

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Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’ blog!

As I mentioned last week, most of my prayers up until now have been collections of petitions and intercessions to God. It wasn’t until I began seeking Christ and Christian community on my own in college that I realized prayer was deeper and more complex. Last week, Dr. Floyd’s article introduced the idea of beginning prayer time with scripture. Since opening my prayers with Psalm 63 had been beneficial, I decided this week would be the perfect time to learn how to pray through the whole book of Psalms. 

I began, as anyone would in the 21st century, by Googling “how to pray the Psalms.” One of the first links led me to The Upper Room website and their articles on prayer. According to The Upper Room staff writer, the book of Psalms is known in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the “prayer book of the Bible.” Unlike a normal poetry collection, the Psalms are meant to be used in conversation with God; to praise Him, exalt Him, and tell Him our anxieties. The Upper Room article says, “[The Psalms] teach us to hide nothing from God, but to bring all that is real into the only relationship that can bless and heal the worst in us.” Confirmed in my suspicion that Psalms are the key to a healthy prayer life, I decided to let the “words of the Psalms accompany [me] into God’s presence” this week (“Praying the Psalms”). 

Unlike Dr. Floyd, The Upper Room failed to provide me with specific instructions for praying the Psalms. To their credit, they did include a list of Psalms to pray in certain situations. If I felt contented, for example, The Upper Room recommended Psalm 23. If I felt anxious, they recommended Psalm 70. Though helpful, this list is not a structured method for prayer. Disappointed, I turned once again to Google. To my relief, I stumbled upon “How to Pray the Psalms” by Pastor Benjamin Kandt. Kandt is the pastor of formation and mission at New City Church in Orlando. In his article, he gives a brief explanation of how to—you guessed it—go about praying the Psalms. Though his article is not a prayer method outline like Dr. Floyd’s, I still found Kandt’s observations beneficial. 

The first tip Pastor Kandt gives is “pray through the whole Psalter.” Psalters are collections of Psalms “arranged for liturgical worship in Christian churches” meaning they are intended for public, corporate worship like hymnals (Kiczek). For those of us who do not own Psalters, Pastor Kandt gives instructions for using our familiar Bibles. He gives two methods. To simulate the structure of the Psalter you can, “Multiply the day of the month by five and pray those psalms” (Kandt). Now, if you’re anything like me, you balk at the mention of math, even if it’s a simple calculation. Nevertheless, I whipped out my phone and crunched the numbers. Since it was the fourteenth of June, I was supposed to begin with Psalm 70. Great! But I had a problem: where should I stop? According to his article, Pastor Kandt prayed five psalms in succession. Should I just count up from 70 and pray Psalms 70-74? Perturbed, I decided to review the second way to simulate the Psalter. Kandt writes we can forgo math (hooray) and “start with Psalm 1 and pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. . . [moving] to Psalm 2 the next day.” Needless to say, I chose this method. 

My method selected, I read Kandt’s next tip. His second bullet point says to “make the psalm’s words your words.” Whether the psalmist is lamenting or praising, we are meant to take their emotion in stride instead of hopping around looking for the right words to fit our mood. As I moved through the first seven psalms, I found it difficult to push myself to feel negative emotions, especially when I went on vacation. It’s hard to call for vengeance on your enemies while surrounded by friends. It is important, however, not to skip over psalms of vengeance or sorrow when we aren’t feeling those negative emotions. In Romans, Paul says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12: 5). In other words, we are supposed to empathize with our fellow man. If I can’t even identify with a psalmist’s joy and sorrow, how am I going to do so with my friends’ and family’s. Allowing the psalmist’s phrases to guide my prayers meant my laments were longer, but when I did get to praise God, my joy was brighter.

While we pray through the Psalms, regardless of their tone, Kandt recommends we “meditate on [them].” This step was difficult for me, especially while I was vacationing. Getting up thirty minutes earlier than everyone else to ponder the Psalms after staying up thirty minutes later the night before was not something I really wanted to do. It required a lot of discipline to sit still and reread verses that jumped out at me. Most of the time I could feel my mind trying to wander while I attempted to let God “shine His light” on the passage (Kandt). 

Kandt’s fourth tip is to “memorize the Psalms.” In times of spiritual speechlessness—those nights when you just don’t know what to say to our Father—having the Word stored away will help you articulate what you need to say. Last week, I decided I didn’t have time to memorize anything properly, but I will be circling back to memorization in my private spiritual life. I already have the opening verse of Psalm 63 locked and loaded! 

Kandt’s fifth tip is to “pray the psalms like an apple tree or Christmas tree.” When I saw that line for the first time, I raised an eyebrow at its childish, Bible School vocabulary only to sheepishly force the brow back down after reading his explanation. Those phrases are actually useful! Kandt explains apple picking as choosing “pleas and praises” from the Psalms and making them your own. As an English major, I try to avoid taking quotes out of context to use for my specific purposes, which is what Kandt’s apple picking sounded like to me. That left the Christmas tree method. 

With the Christmas tree method, you simply “[hang] your pleas and praises” from the Psalm’s words. As I allowed the different psalms to inform my mood and length of my prayers, I was glad the Christmas tree method was so customizable. For example, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man / who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” I read the verse and then began hanging my plea and praise. I prayed, “Father, help me turn from the counsel of the wicked and listen to Your good instructions instead.” Here, I pleaded for salvation from wicked counsel and praised God’s goodness. With that branch decorated, I moved on to the next verse. By the end of the passage, I felt like I’d had a fulfilling, deep conversation with someone close to me. 

The sixth and final tip is to “pray the Psalm through Jesus & with Jesus.” This tip works in tandem with the third, meditation. As you’re sitting there, eyes closed, attempting to mull over a specific word or phrase that stuck out to you, imagine Jesus doing the same thing. When I lamented, I imagined Him lamenting in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when I praised God, I imagined Jesus praising Him after performing miracles to reveal His glory. I felt closer to Jesus because I realized I was praying the same words He would have known, loved, and used two thousand years ago. This revelation added an extra layer of fervent awe to my prayers even as I struggled to be still during meditation. 

At the end of the week, my prayer life felt a little dehydrated. I started strong, Christmas tree-ing every Psalm I read, all three times I read it, but by the end of the week, I was just throwing random ornaments at the passage as I let my eyes scan the words. Autopilot praying isn’t fair to God, and it definitely isn’t going to help our relationship flourish. I think Pastor Kandt’s tips are useful, but they would benefit from having more structure or at least a journaling session as the final step. Though disappointed, I appreciate the challenge that praying the Psalms posed. Wish me luck as I attempt to follow my third method this week. I’ll let you know how it goes! 

In Christ,
Mckenzi Marlow


Citation:

Kandt, Benjamin. “How to Pray the Psalms.” praypsalms.org, Medium, 16 July 2017, https://praypsalms.org/how-to-pray-the-psalms-60484747091a 

Kiczek, Steven. “Cataloging Biblical Materials: Differentiating Psalms from Psalters.” Princeton University Library’s Cataloging Documentation, Princeton University Library, https://library.princeton.edu/departments/tsd/katmandu/bible/psalmpsalter.html 

“Praying the Psalms.” The Upper Room, upperroom.org , 2021, https://www.upperroom.org/resources/praying-the-psalms

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Names of God - Abba Father

Introduction
A few weeks ago, a friend told me a funny story I thought you might like.
God said, it’s not good for man to be alone.  So God brought various animals to Adam to see what he would call them and see if any would be a good companion for man, but none were a good match.  So God made a companion for man.Now, you know God created a woman from Adam’s rib to be his perfect companion. But here’s a funny joke about God’s trial run.

First, God said, “I will create a companion that will reflect My perfect love for you.  Regardless of how
selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this companion will always accept you just as you are and will love you as I do, no matter what.”  
And God built the animal and it came up to Adam wagging it’s tale and licking his face.  And Adam said, “Since you are a reflection of God’s love, I will name you ‘DOG’!” 

Everything was going well, until a Satan complained to God. “Dog loves Adam so much he will become puffed up with pride.  Dog thinks Adam can do no wrong!  Adam needs to learn humility!”  

So God created Cat to be Adam’s companion along with Dog.  And Cat would not obey Adam.  And when Adam gazed into Cat’s slitted eyes, he knew man is not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility.  And God was pleased.  And Adam was pleased. And Dog wagged it's tale.  And Cat didn’t care one way or the other. 

This summer, we are studying the names of God from the Bible to learn what God is really like.  God is infinite, and His character is vast.  I challenge you to expand your thinking about God and consider the many beautiful facets of His character.  Most of all, I want you to follow God as the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose. 

So far, we have learned that God is Elohim—that He is many and one, both plural and singular.  This is something beyond human language and logic.  Thus is the mysterious character of God.

We also learned God is El-Shaddai—that He is Almighty and All-Sufficient; He’s all you need.

Today, for Father’s Day, we consider the name Jesus used for God; a name we can use too—Abba, Father. 


Romans 8:15-16

15 
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Abba Father
According to Dr. Deborah MacNamara: “Cross cultural research on baby’s first words shows that the clear winner is Dada. Tardif and colleagues found in over 900 babies, age 8 to 16 months from English, Cantonese, and Mandarin speaking homes, Dada was the most common first person identified. Mama is not far behind…”[i]  This is surprising because most linguists agree Dada is harder for babies to say than Mama.  MacNamara goes on, “When mothers are the primary attachment, babies are still quite fused to them well into their first year of life. The first separation they see from themself is to their father. Dada is usually the first person they identify outside of the mother and baby bond.” 

Romans 8:15 says that because of what Christ did for us on the cross, we can call God “Abba, Father.”  Abba is the Aramaic word for Father.  Actually, Father may not be the best translation.  Abba is an easy word for babies to pronounce.  Babies don’t say “Father”.  They say, “Dada” or “Papa” or (in Aramaic) “Abba”. 

So in this Scripture, we see that Christians have the right to go before the Infinite, Immortal, Holy, Lord of the Universe, and call Him Abba (or Dada).  That’s an incredible revelation if you think about it.  So many people feel dread in God’s presence or like they have to talk to God with very religious language.  I am always perplexed when I hear someone pray to God using King James type language: “Oh Lord God, we bow before Thee and ask for Thine help!”  Who talks like that?  Why would Christians talk to God like that?  Especially when we understand He is our spiritual Dada! 

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Yes, God is holy and infinite and immortal.  But He is also a loving Father, a perfect Father, who shelters and protects and welcomes his little children into His arms.  If you trust Christ and believe His teaching, come to God like He is your perfect Father, because He is. 

Did you have a good father?  If you did, you know something of God’s character.  No matter how wonderful you father is, he is only an imperfect reflection of the God Christians call Abba.  Not everyone had a great father.  If you had problems with your Dad, I want you to know, Abba Father is the perfect Dad.  He will never let His children down.  Everything you wish you father was for you, God is and more. 

Are You A Child of God?
Now I need to make something clear.  Not everyone is a child of God.  This is something that confuses many people.  It is quite popular these days to say, “We are all God’s children.”  Now that may be true in a general sense because we are all created by God.  And it is true in the sense that no race or nation is more important to God than any other.  We’re all equal before God in this respect.  But Romans 8:15 says, “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” Why would God need to adopt us if we are already His children?  God needs to adopt us because sin has separated us from God.  

Sin is not just a minor separation.  Sin is an absolute separation.  It’s not that God left us.  No. We left God through Sin.  And the separation caused by our sin completely severs our relationship with the Abba Father.  God is not a Father to those who do not follow Christ. 

The Pharisees were surprised to hear this truth from Jesus in the 8th chapter of John.  As biological descendants of Abraham, the Pharisees believed God was their father through Abraham.  Jesus set them straight.  He said their evil actions showed they were not God’s children; the devil was their father.  Being part of the family in the Kingdom of God is not biological.  It’s about faith and choice and action.  It's a choice we make to repent and follow Jesus as Lord. It's a choice God makes to adopt us and save us for eternal life.

Sin separates us from God.  But the Good News is, Jesus we can be adopted into the family of God.  God wants to be your perfect Abba Father.  He wants to love you and nurture you and protect you and bless you, and give you eternal life, but you have to choose Him.  You have to turn to Him through Jesus Christ. 

Now, if you are not a child of God—adopted into God’s family because you turned away from your sins and put your faith in Jesus death for you on the cross—the conviction you feel before God is justified.  It’s no wonder you dread His presence.  You feel guilty in God’s presence because you are guilty.  But when you pray, “God, please forgive my sins!” and you invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life, then you are no longer a fearful slave.  You are adopted as a child of God.  You can call God “Abba Father!” just like Jesus does.  In fact, Jesus is your brother! 

Galatians 4:5-6 it says, “God sent [Jesus] to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 

This tells us that Jesus own spirit comes to live inside a Christian’s heart when they become a Christian by believing in Jesus.  So when God looks at a Christian, He doesn’t see a sinner.  He doesn’t see someone who has hurt Him or rebelled against Him.  He doesn’t see in a Christian anything that would upset or disappoint Him.  If you are a Christian, God sees Jesus in you and God calls you His child and you can call Him “Daddy”.  Isn’t that amazing! 

Invitation
And so today Jesus pleads with everyone listening.  If you want God to be your Abba Father, you have to make a choice.  Why don’t you make that choice today?

Here's a prayer you can pray that can help you make that choice today.

Abba Father, I'm sorry I've been living my life my own way.  I repent of all that today. Please forgive me.  I want to follow Jesus as my Lord from this day forward.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and show me how.  Surround me with Christians who can help me and hold me accountable.  Cleanse me and and heal me so I can become more and more like Jesus.  For it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Prayer As A Spiritual Journey by McKenzi Marlow

Today, I am pleased to share the first instalment in a series on prayer by a member of my church, McKenzi Marlow.  McKenzi is a talented young lady who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Samford University with a BA in English and literature concentration.  McKenzi will enter the English Masters program at Auburn University this fall where she will also be teaching and doing research.  I plan to post McKenzi's blogs each week on Wednesday.  I invite you to follow along!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’s blog! 

My name is Mckenzi Marlow, and I have recently graduated college. Idling between college and grad school, I asked Pastor Chris if there was any way for me to get involved with the church this summer. To my surprise, he asked me to do a blog series on prayer. For the next three weeks, I will be attempting different pastors’ prayer methods, recording my progress, and sharing with all of you here. Though I’m nervous for the challenge of communicating my thoughts on spiritual things, I am excited to dive deeper into my own prayer life and grow closer to my Heavenly Father. 

For this week’s post, I checked out Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s prayer method. Dr. Floyd is the Senior Pastor of Cross Church and founder of the Cross Church School of Ministry. In an article I found on Crosswalk.com, Floyd speaks of prayer as a “spiritual journey.” Before I read that phrase, I’d always thought of prayer as simple communication with God, like sending a passive report to your boss once a day to check in and make sure your requests are being heard. Dr. Floyd, however, understands prayer as an active expedition into our spiritual lives. When we pray, our “spiritual destination” is open communication with God, but to “reach [it] effectively and consistently” we must have a plan (Floyd). If there is anything I need after a year of pandemic and pandemonium, it’s consistent, effective communication with my Creator, Lord, and Father. 

Though the act of prayer is more complex than I had imagined, Dr. Floyd assured me his plan was “simple, sequential, specific, and spiritual.” To my delight, he was correct. Usually, my prayers, whether silent or aloud, become confused or distracted by other thoughts in my head instead of staying engaged with God. Floyd’s method not only helped me talk to God, it gave me an ordered, specific way of going about it, and if there’s anything my Type A brain loves it’s order and specificity. 

Dr. Floyd breaks down his process into three easy steps. The first step is simple: read your Bible. According to Floyd, “The Word of God and prayer go hand in hand.” I’m embarrassed to admit that in my eighteen years as a cognitive Christian, I had never thought to pick up my Bible before I prayed. I had heard of praying through the Psalms before, so Monday night I grabbed my black leather Bible and flipped to a random page. My eyes scanned, “You, God, are my God / Earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63). Apparently, God was glad I’d finally figured out how to text him back. I continued to use this Psalm to open my prayers each night, and as I grew more familiar with the neat lines of black text, I grew more familiar with my Father. 

If the first item on Floyd’s list is simple, the second is more so: Pray. In the Crosswalk article, Floyd outlines some principles for us to follow. To begin, we should confess our sins. I wasn’t sure how to do this since I know I sin a lot in a day, sometimes without even realizing it, but I don’t necessarily keep track. I decided to do a blanket confession. I also asked God to reveal each sin to me as it happens so we can work on eradicating those together. The purpose of my walk with God is to become more like Jesus; though I know I can never be perfect, I can at least try to be good. The best part is, I know God hears my confessions and accepts my repentance each time I stumble. 

After confession, Floyd says to praise God. That one’s easy! Or is it? God has done so much both in the Bible and in my own life. . .how can I manage to praise him for everything? Floyd recommends we focus on three of God’s attributes. This week I chose His patience, goodness, and power. In my Bible, I flipped to moments in Genesis and Exodus that exhibit His power. I chose to listen to “Good Good Father” to meditate on His goodness. For patience, I reminisced about all the times in my life He had to patiently wait for me to turn back to Him. As Floyd’s method became routine for me, I noticed each of God’s attributes are linked together. Saving the Israelites from slavery with ten plagues is an example not only of His awesome power, but of His goodness and patience as well. 

After we confess our sins and praise God, Floyd writes we must thank Him. This week I thanked God for tiny things in my life like the double rainbow I saw coming back from the gym, and the women’s Bible study I’ve been able to find community in this summer. Next come petition and intercession. I tend to confuse the two categories, but Floyd defines petition as “prayer on personal needs” while intercession is praying for other people. To my delight, he even provided us with a schedule for intercessory prayers! I found following it to be rewarding because I was able to devote equal time to each subject instead of rushing through everything on my prayer list without a backwards glance. I’ve included the rotation below: 

              Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s Weekly Intercession Rotation:

                             Sunday: World missions/missionaries

                             Monday: Lost and unchurched

                             Tuesday: the United States

                             Wednesday: Friends

                             Thursday: Christian leaders

                             Friday: Your local church

                             Saturday: Relatives 

Petition and intercession were familiar to me, since most of my past prayers have involved a mixture of the two. For his final prayer step, Floyd devotes an extra category to requests “so critical [they require] daily attention from you for a specific time or until the crisis has passed.” These are called urgent requests. I didn’t have any this week, thank goodness, so I chose to skip this part though I appreciated Floyd’s separation. I tend to throw everything into the urgent category without a second glance, but differentiating between intercession, petition, and urgent reminded me God has everything under control. I was able to relax and simply enjoy speaking to Him. 

The third and final step in Dr. Floyd’s prayer method is: journal. I was surprised to see that the type of entry Floyd encourages is a one page letter to God. He explains letters are “concrete” and “[provide] a sense of relief from your burdens,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Floyd writes, “As you document your walk with God. . .your faith in the power of prayer will increase.” At the beginning of this week, I was hopeful. I mean, that’s what this whole blog project is about: Mckenzi rekindling her faith in the power of prayer. And here, at the end of the week, the night before this blog post is due, I’m elated to report I already feel a sense of plush peace when I begin to pray instead of exhausted duty. I flipped back through my letters before editing this post, and I noticed the ones from the beginning of the week are concerned with petitions and intercessions. At the end, however, they are odes to God’s attributes and His love for me. The letters grow more personal as the days pass, and I am thankful I finally feel as if I have a true intimate relationship with a Heavenly Father even as I serve the Great I Am. 

I found Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s prayer method to be easy to follow and successful in deepening my relationship with God. This Monday, I’ll be attempting to follow a new prayer method. I am excited to grow even further in my relationship with God, and I hope by the end of this project I’ll be able to create my own personalized prayer method using all of the techniques I learn. 

Until next week,

Mckenzi 

Works Cited:

Floyd, Ronnie. “How to Have a Personal Prayer Plan.” Crosswalk.com, Crosswalk.com, 19 May 2017, https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/how-to-have-a-personal-prayer-plan.html

 

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Names of God - El Shaddai

Introduction
Ashten Webb was the children's director of our church until she moved to Huntsville, Alabama when her husband, Matt, got a new job.  Ashten did a great job here and we love her Matt.  They just announced the birth of their fist child on social media.  They named their son Gabriel.  When you see the letters “EL” imbedded in a biblical Hebrew name, it usually means the word god is imbedded in the name's meaning.  Do you see an “EL” in Gabriel’s name?  Gabriel means: "God is my strength".

This summer, we are studying the names of God from the Bible to learn what God is really like.  God is so much more than you may know.  God is infinite, and His character is expansive.  Through this series, I challenge you to expand your understanding of God and consider the many beautiful facets of His character.  Most of all, I invite you to follow God as the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose.

Genesis 17:1-6
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God
Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.
 2 I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”

3 At this, Abram fell face down on the ground. Then God said to him, 4 “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! 5 What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!

El Shaddai
The passage reveals two names of a famous man that three world religions call father, because he is revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  
You may remember, Abraham started life with the name Abram.  God called Abram to leave his homeland in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern day Iraq) and travel to a new land (the Promised Land, Israel), which would be Abram’s new home.  Abram obeyed and was faithful to God all his life.  

Abram lived up to half of his name; Abram means “Exalted Father”.  People looked up to Abram.  He was respected by everyone as a wise and honorable man.  Abram was exalted, but Abram did not have any children of His own and he was 99 years old when God promised to make Abram a father of countless descendants. 

God gave Abram a new name to remind him of God’s promise.  God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of Many.”  Now, how is it possible for a 99-year-old man to start having children?  Well, you might be thinking, maybe Abraham has a young wife?  Nope.   His wife, Sarah, is 90 years old (Genesis 17:17)!  And God promised Abraham would have a son through his 90-year-old wife, Sarah! 

As a father who is 47 years old, I don’t have the parental energy left like I had when I was in my 20s and started having kids.  I can’t imagine having a child in my 90s!  However, what Abraham and Sarah wanted, more than anything, was to have a son to carry on their legacy of faith and God is more than capable to make it happen.  So God reveals one of His many names to show He is perfectly capable of giving them a biological child.

God says, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’” The Hebrew name is El-Shaddai.  You see the letters “EL” imbedded in the name. You already know El means “God”.  God is not a mortal being.  He is immortal.  He is God. The second Hebrew word is Shaddai.  This is most often translated as Almighty, but one word just doesn’t convey the full nature of the meaning.  Shaddai is often thought of as “All-Sufficient.”  If God is Almighty, then He is completely sufficient to turn a 99-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife into parents (and He is All-Sufficient to give them the energy to raise the child).

Shaddai
The Hebrew word Shaddai comes from the root word shad, which means “breast”.  Now, the ancients weren’t talking about chicken breasts. The ancient Hebrews had in mind the life-giving, nourishing breast of a mother sustaining an infant. Have you ever thought about the helplessness of a newborn infant. Sure, it’s cute and all, but how is this thing going to survive? It has no teeth.  It can’t use its hands to feed itself.  It’s completely helpless! 

In the ancient word, they didn’t have baby formula and bottles, but God gives infants a mother.  She holds it to her breast to keep it warm and safe. With her breasts, the mother is able to nourish the child with everything it needs to grow healthy & strong. And this, also, is an image God gave about Who He Is. He said, “I Am El-Shaddai—God Almighty, God All-Sufficient.”

When Jesus came in the New Testament as the perfect embodiment of Divine God on earth, Jesus talked about Himself using imagery that echoed God’s Name to Abraham. What did Jesus say? He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35).

Jesus also said he was the Water of Life and once told the woman at the well, “Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:14)

I have personally experienced the Almighty, All-Sufficient power of God throughout my life.  You don’t have time to listen to me list all the ways God has provided a way for me when there was no way.  So I will share only one. 

I got my first full-time job after college when I was a young father in my early twenties.  I was finally earning enough money to take care of my young family.  It was also at that point that I was absolutely sure God was calling me to leave my career and answer a call to full-time ministry as a United Methodist pastor.  

The first step was to go to seminary.  So I called the office of Candler School of Theology at Emory University and asked how much it would cost to attend their seminary.  That lady on the phone said $17,000.  I swallowed hard and ask, "Is that $17,000 per year or for the whole degree?"  She replied, "No. That's $17,000 per semester."  Now, I probably paid less than $10,000 for my entire undergraduate engineering degree and this lady was telling me I'd have to pay $17,000 per semester (and it takes a minimum of 6 semester to graduate from Candler with a Masters in Divinity degree).  What's more, I was gonna have to quit my full-time job to pursue this degree and calling.

I hung up the phone, bowed my head, and prayed, "Lord, there's no way I can afford this.  If You're calling me to be a minister, You're gonna have to make a way, because I can't do it."

Well, I did go to seminary and God was sufficient.  Through grants and scholarships and the generosity and support of people and churches, almost all of my seminary tuition was covered.  I am still paying on student loans, but they are loans from my undergraduate degree.  I have no debt from my seminary degree.  God is good!  He is El Shaddai--God Almighty, God All-sufficient.

Well, my finances might not mean a hill of beans to your life.  What you’re facing right now may make my example look like child’s play.  After 20 years of ministry, I have heard so many stories of the struggles people face.  Maybe you're wondering how are you going to take care your children with special needs.  Maybe you don't know how to take care of your sick spouse or face the cancer or the death of your best friend.  Are you care for your aging parent, wondering how to to face your fear or find forgiveness or let go of shame?  

God is El-Shaddai—He is Almighty, All-Sufficient God.  He can look a 99-year-old childless man in the eye and say, “I’m changing your name to ‘Father of Many’ because I’m promising to give you a son and so many descendants, you won’t be able to count them.”

God is not just talk.  He delivers.  He is El-Shaddai.  God did it for Abraham and God can do it for you.  God is all we really need. He is sufficient. Even if you feel as week and helpless as an infant, God is sufficient for your needs.  He is the source of life and can provide everything you could ever want or need, so much so that you could even leave behind everything you have and follow Him and not lack anything so long as you are following God’s will for your life.

Invitation
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

If you want to experience the Almighty, All-Sufficient Power of God in your life, you can’t keep following your own selfish path.  You see, God told Abraham, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”  And Abraham trusted God and followed God’s plan.  And we are still talking about Abraham 4,000 years later.  Three world religions (nearly 4 billion living people today) call Abraham “Father”.

The key is to put your faith in God, through Jesus Christ.  You have to “leave behind” your own self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested plans and follow God’s plan for your life. 
You will never regret it if you do.  But you will regret it for eternity if you don’t.