“Theology on Tap” – Sept. 7

Our next gathering of “Theology on Tap” will be Thursday evening, Sept. 7th at 6:00 (at Heirloom Restaurant). We’ll be discussing a topic that has perplexed and bewildered Christians for 2000 years:  war and peace. On the one hand, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and to love our enemies. On the other, he also calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which may necessitate defending ourselves and others in war. The Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated film Hacksaw Ridge explores this rich topic.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss who, due to his Christian faith, was a pacifist and conscientious objector to war, and yet enlisted in the army during World War II to serve as a combat medic — eventually to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The film was in theaters at the end of 2016, and is now available on Netflix, Red Box, and other venues for viewing. I encourage you to watch it if you can. But even if you’re unable to see the movie, join us next Thursday, Sept. 7th for a drink, delicious food, wonderful discussion, and great fellowship.
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“Let Us Pray” – Mother Teresa’s Prayer

There’s nothing quite like walking into a bakery, to be greeted by the sweet smell of fresh breads and pastries. Or waking up to the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee and sizzling bacon. If you linger in the bakery for a time, or stand by the bacon as it fries, there’s a good chance you’ll carry the fragrance with you for a while – a wonderful reminder of where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced.

Paul writes that our lives are to be “a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2: 15). This only happens when we linger in close proximity to Jesus himself, so that his fragrance sticks to us. We do this through our time spent with Christ in daily prayer, meditation, the study of God’s word, and the living out of our faith. The closer we get to Jesus, and more time we spend with him, the more his aroma will seep into us – and others will see Jesus living through us.

As I close my series on prayer, Mother Teresa offers these lovely words to Christ, thanking him for the privilege of being his perfume to the world. Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
None of it will be ours.
It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching,
not by words, but by our example;
by the catching force –
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.
Amen.

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“Let Us Pray” – Martin Luther’s Prayer

Numerous research studies over the decades have shown that the less intelligent an individual is, the more likely he or she will overestimate their cognitive abilities. On the other hand, the wisest people are those who understand just how much they don’t yet know. This is not false humility, but a true desire to be a lifetime learner. I would suggest the same can be said regarding our faith lives. Those who are most spiritually mature, sincerely longing to grow closer to God, are the ones who best recognize their deep need for Christ. For instance, look at the life of Martin Luther.

There are few Christians in history who labored, studied and sacrificed harder for Jesus than did Luther. And yet, when we read his prayer below, we see that he imagines himself as one who is so far away from Christ because of his sin, doubt, and weakness. Luther’s prayer is a wonderful reminder for us that no matter how hard we might work, how smart we can become, or how much we may achieve in life, we are incomplete without the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. Let us pray:

Behold, Lord,
An empty vessel that needs to be filled; My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in faith; Strengthen thou me.
I am cold in love; Warm me and make me fervent
That my love may go out to my neighbour.
I do not have a strong and firm faith;
At times I doubt and am unable to trust thee altogether.
O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in thee.
In thee I have sealed the treasures of all I have.
I am poor; Thou art rich and didst come to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; Thou art upright.
With me there is an abundance of sin;
In thee is the fullness of righteousness.
Therefore, I will remain with thee of who I can receive
But to whom I may not give.  Amen.

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“Let Us Pray” – A Prayer for our Country

While the United States was founded on many Judeo-Christian values and principles, freedom of religion was also instrumental to the birth of our nation. Thus, Thomas Jefferson wrote of a “wall of separation between Church and State.” But however high this imaginary wall may be, its presence has never stopped Christians from praying for our country.

Today’s prayer was written by Charlotte’s own Billy Graham. I like this prayer, though one can see how it might be easily politicized, by both conservatives and liberals in America; each with the hope of using Graham’s words to further their own political agenda. The terrible mistake we make in this nation is attaching God to one or another political party, thus demonizing those who happen to belong to the one opposite from us. There was great wisdom in Jefferson’s idea of this “wall of separation.” Tony Campolo suggests that blending the Church and State is like mixing ice cream with manure: “it doesn’t affect the manure much, but it really messes up the ice cream!” How true. Bringing politics into our faith does nothing but poison and corrupt it. Indeed, it should be our faith determining how we live out our politics, and never the other way around.

I believe Graham’s words, when prayed properly, rise above politics, precisely because they show the need for us all (no matter where we stand on the political spectrum) to acknowledge our sin and humble ourselves before God. Let us pray:

Our Father and our God, we praise You for Your goodness to our nation, giving us blessings far beyond what we deserve. Yet we know all is not right with America. We deeply need a moral and spiritual renewal to help us meet the many problems we face. Convict us of sin. Help us to turn to You in repentance and faith. Set our feet on the path of Your righteousness and peace. We pray today for our nation’s leaders. Give them the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do it. You have said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” May this be a new era for America, as we humble ourselves and acknowledge You alone as our Savior and Lord. This we pray in Your holy name, Amen.

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“Let Us Pray” – Breath Prayer

Prayers can be lengthy, carefully-crafted forms of art and poetry, like those we’ve explored so far in this series. Then again, prayers can also be concise and succinct. Introducing…..the “Breath Prayer.” The breath prayer is an ancient form of prayer practiced by Christians since at least the 6th century. In breath prayers, a short and simple phrase is simply repeated; either in repetition or at various times throughout the day.

Traditionally, a breath prayer may consist of a simple salutation (calling on a divine name): God, Lord, Christ, Jesus, Holy Spirit, etc.; followed by a brief expression of praise or request. For example:  “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” or “God, I thank and praise you” or “Holy Lord, be with me now” or “Lord, forgive me and give me peace.” Breathe in as you call upon the name of God, and breathe out as you give God your praise or request. Thus, it is a prayer you can offer in one breath. Personally, I offer breath prayers many times during the day. For me, they’re like constant check-ins with Christ; letting him know how I am, what I’m feeling, thinking, and experiencing.

Though it certainly wouldn’t be considered a classic breath prayer, one I’ve really liked for the past few years comes from writer Anne Lamott. In her 2012 book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne lays out for us a pretty great breath prayer right in the title. When we pray “help,” we’re surrendering to God and admitting our sinfulness and inability to make the world right on our own. In praying “thanks,” we recall the overwhelming blessings of life – even in times of difficulty.  “Wow” is our praise of God; when we look at the sunset and expanse of the night sky, when we sit down to supper and are surrounded by people we love, when we remember Christ’s sacrificial love for us all. Anne’s prayer may not fit the traditional mold of a breath prayer, but it’s a good one to try. Let us pray:

Dear God:
Help, Thanks, Wow. 
Amen.

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