Just wanted to give a slightly overdue plug for Keith Cuthrell's Sunday School class, currently running in the auditorium at 9:30 am. If you're the kind who likes to be passive, this class isn't for you. Every week, Keith has challenged us to reflect on some aspect of our life in Christ. What I mean by that is he has given us a thought-provoking question and asked us to write the answer as it applies to our lives. Don't fear. Whatever you write, you don't have to share with anyone else. It's strictly a chance for you to do more than just sit and listen to someone else. I'm getting a lot of positive feed back about it. If you're not coming to our Sunday morning classes, it's worth the effort required to make it there by 9:30 on Sunday morning. Between Len Driskell's great class on Leviticus during the first quarter of 2010, Keith's class now and the other classes we have planned for the year, there are great opportunities to learn about God and ourselves. See you Sunday.
Last Sunday I preached on Jesus' command that his followers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. I talked about how difficult and "unnatural" an act it is to love our enemies rather than seek revenge. Immediately following worship Andrea Bolton told me about this video. Since then, Sharon Tomey mentioned it as well. You would have seen it on Sunday if I'd known about it beforehand. I'll just let you watch the video and meditate on it. It really makes my point quite nicely. Great, now when someone tells me they're praying for me I'm just going to be paranoid.
A couple of weeks ago, when Rachel and I were hunkered down in a foot of snow in Charlottesville, reveling in our weekend of solitude, one of the movies we watched was Julie and Julia. It’s adapted from two books--Julia Child’s autobiographical My Life in France and Julie Powell’s memoir of her daily attempt to cook a different recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child is played by Meryl Streep. It’s probably cliché to love Meryl Streep, but I do anyway. She’s just as amazing in this as she is in everything else. I love what AO Scott says about her in his review of the film: "By now this actress has exhausted every superlative that exists and to suggest that she has outdone herself is only to say that she’s done it again.” Streep captures Child’s lust for life so well. In one scene, she springs out of bed early in the morning [I can’t recall, but I don’t think an alarm even goes off] so she can set about doing what she loves—cooking great food. I have since wondered, “When is the last time I sprang out of bed in the morning?” And why don’t I? In the interest of keeping it short, I’ve decided that it has a lot to do with how I feel about what I have to do. Did you get that? What I have to do. When Julia Child jumps out of bed, it’s because she’s found something that she gets to do. Isn’t it easier to get more excited about a privilege than an obligation? And so I’ve noticed lately that it helps to remember what a privilege it is to care for my kids and get them to school and come to work at our church. I’m still not popping out of bed, but my attitude is a little better. I think the same thing happens with meditation. That’s the spiritual discipline we’ll be talking about on Wednesday night as we begin talking about Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. The most common reaction I get from people who try meditating on scripture or on their relationship with God is, “This is hard work.” Yup. It’s not easy for a lot of reasons. We’re going to talk about that on Wednesday night. But one reason is because it’s often more of an obligation than a privilege. It’s hard to meditate on God’s presence when it’s something I do out of obligation and there’s something else I would like to be doing. Or, more importantly, there’s something else I feel like I should be doing. It’s the difference between presenting a report to God and resting in the presence of God. It’s the difference between making myself get out of bed in the morning and falling into bed at the end of the day. Which sounds more appealing to you? Anyway. There’s a lot more to be said about meditation, and we’ll be talking about it tomorrow night. But more than just talking about it, I’ll be encouraging you to practice it--maybe not during class, but sometime during the week. If you come to class and listen to me talk about the spiritual disciplines, you’ll get something out of it. But not nearly as much as if you actually practice them yourself. And I know I’ll learn a lot more than I would just hearing the sound of my own voice. In the meantime, I hope you’ll stop running around and take a moment to practice being in the presence of God. “The Light of God surrounds me. The Love of God enfolds me. The Power of God protects me. The Wisdom of God guides and directs me. Wherever I go, God is.” 1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. --Psalm 139
One of the best books that I've read recently is Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton recounts a childhood spent traveling about Europe in the early 20th century and his American education at prestigious Columbia University. But it is mostly a story about his journey to faith. In 1941, on the cusp of an exceptional literary career, Merton entered a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky and embarked on a life of meditation and writing. He became one of the most renowned Christian writers of his era. (I was actually given an extra copy for Christmas a couple of years ago. If anyone wants it, it's yours.) I just wanted you to have some context before I shared one of his prayers with you. This is from his book, Thoughts in Solitude: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Let me tell you what I absolutely love about this prayer: its unflinching honesty. This prayer hasn't the slightest bit of pretense. Merton has no need to act like he has all the answers or that he's Super Christian. This is the modern day equivalent of the tax collector's prayer in Luke 18: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This morning we'll be looking at a verse in Colossians in which Paul encourages his audience to "devote (themselves) to prayer (4:2)." I've been trying to figure out why this is so difficult a challenge for me. I pray semi-regularly. But to say that I'm devoted to prayer, I don't know about that. I think that there are a variety of reasons. But one of them is that I still have a hard time being this honest with God. When I can be this transparent, devotion to God isn't a difficulty, it's a privilege. I hope you will devote yourselves to prayer this morning and that you will experience God's blessings because of it.
Men, mark your calendars. The next prayer breakfast is Saturday, Aug. 16th at 9 a.m. As always, please bring a breakfast dish to share. For more information, see Tim Zane.