Surround Yourself With God’s Love

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I’m often challenged by what I hear people saying to themselves. Whether it’s my own negative self talk or those around me, I’m reminded that God might have other ideas about how we should treat God’s people—including ourselves! The Bible reminds us of God’s love when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” (John 3:16) or “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” (Psalm 136:16).

God tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves—which means we have to love ourselves first. Sometimes I find myself in need of a tangible sense of God’s love for encouragement in the journey. I need prompting to move from negative speech to positive expressions of love not only for others, but for myself too. I have found a prayer shawl to be an effective means of focusing my attention on the love God has for me when I might be struggling to feel it myself.

I first learned about prayer shawls when I read Paths to Prayer by Patricia D. Brown. She has directions on how to make a traditional prayer shawl, as well as possible prayers to go along with it. You can make a shawl by choosing its components carefully, as Brown suggests, or choose something you already have that you love. When you wrap yourself in your shawl, feel God’s arms surrounding you like a hug filled with the love of a parent, sibling or friend. Maybe you cover your head like Susannah Wesley did, in order to have a moment of respite from the busyness of life, a moment of quiet between yourself and God. Perhaps wear it during times of worship, celebration or lament as a reminder that you are not alone; God’s presence is always with you. Take the opportunity to speak kind and gentle words to yourself about God’s love for you, words of forgiveness and encouragement, whatever is happening in your journey. Try praying something like this prayer I found online: “O Loving One, renew me this day in your love. Grant me life as a gift of your faithfulness; Grant me hope to sustain me. May this shawl be for me a sign of your loving, healing presence. May it warm me when I am weary; may it surround me with encouragement when I am discouraged. May it assure me of your care and comfort, when my loved ones and I are in pain. May it remind me that You love me and that I am surrounded by the prayers of others.” (http://www.vinjechurch.com/cms-uploads/help%20others_21_663393903.pdf)

You can find information about the Prayer Shawl Ministry at The Church of the Resurrection at http://www.cor.org/fileadmin/users/prayer/Knitting_devotions1.pdf. This includes patterns for knitting your own prayer shawl as well as prayers to use with prayer shawls.

–Kelly Hansen, Resurrection Prayer Ministry

Remember, we are deeply loved…

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This week in worship, we will explore the power that words can have in our family lives. As I reflected on the topic, I began to feel for all those in our community for whom this weekend will be particularly painful—reminding them of the ways they have been wounded, or have wounded those closest to them. While many of us tend to hide the ways we have hurt or been hurt by our families, these hurts cut deep.

Karen A. McClintock writes beautifully about shame in her book, Shame-less Lives, Grace-full Congregations. She defines shame as “a feeling of unworthiness in the sight of God or significant others.” (15) While it is normal and healthy to feel guilt, acknowledging we have made mistakes, shame is different. Shame paralyzes us—it is present in the moments where we feel that we are the mistake (22).

For many of us, the way our families have treated us, or the hurtful ways we have treated them, have made us feel “shame-bound.” Hurtful words have been given power in our lives. We feel “unworthy to the core” and “unredeemable because of unacceptable thoughts, feelings or experiences.” (23) Can you relate to this at all?
Shame is a powerful force that often takes root when we hear hurtful messages from our loved ones. Do any of you have areas where you don’t think very highly of yourselves? Look a little deeper, and you are likely to find shame.

Addressing the areas we feel as shame, and coming to love ourselves as God loves us, is a very difficult process. It may require counseling help from a pastor or a professional counselor. But I also believe it is one in which prayer can be helpful. In Jesus’ ministry he explained: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”(John 10:10). This week, I challenge us to recognize the areas of shame in our lives, and commit them to God in prayer. Ask God to heal you from the self-hatred or unworthiness you feel. Remember, we are deeply loved and God’s love for us isn’t dependent on anything we do or leave undone. Invite God to give you the strength to forgive and love yourself.

You are loved.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling, Pastor of Prayer

Communion and Community

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Each week, I have the humbling opportunity to serve communion to those who come to the Firestone Chapel after the worship service lets out. As I stand with the elements of bread and juice, I am challenged to think about the meaning of communion. Seminary provided me with the words to give some fancy theological description of communion, but the folks who partake in communion have taught me more about the meaning of this act than any book or professor ever could. Some come to the communion table with deep joy that God’s love offers them new life each day. Others come with a sense of gratitude, remembering it is God’s love that sustains us. Many come with the intention of repentance and recommitting their lives to Christ. In the faces of those taking communion, I see doubt, peace, anger, grief, happiness and fear. All of us are at a different place in our faith journeys, and God is with us in every season.

 
Something I often find striking when I talk with folks about communion is that many are afraid to come to the table. Some feel spiritually inadequate, others have serious doubts, many are going through tough times, and some are wounded—having been excluded by a church community in the past. Part of the beauty of communion is that all of us—in moments of joy or concern—commune at the same table, in need of God’s love.

 
I believe communion is a measure not only of God’s love, but a benchmark by which we, as a Christian community, can gauge our love. At Resurrection, all are welcome to the communion table. In the act of communion, we acknowledge that we all share in common the need for God’s love. If we truly believe this, it has radical implications for our community. It calls us to actively welcome and offer love to all in our community–not just those who look like us, act like us, are emotionally well, have their faith perfectly figured out, would fit in in our neighborhoods, who share our economic status, our race, our sexual identity or our theology—but all of God’s people who come to the table.

 
So, you may be wondering, how does God’s love, revealed in communion and the foundation in which we discover our call to love one another, relate to prayer? Dorothy Day, a theologian, nun and social activist paints a beautiful picture of how we can create this sort of communion community—a community of love. She writes:

 
“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.
We know God in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of
bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

 
This week, I invite us to think about and pray for any people we have excluded from our “table” in the past. Who might the God of love be calling you to get to know and to extend love to? Who can we include more fully into our church community, our social groups, and our families? I challenge you to get together with one of these people and share a common meal. In preparation for the meal pray that God would give you the patience to listen, the wisdom to understand and the grace to lovingly receive someone you perceive is different than you. When it comes time to eat together, share your stories. This one small, simple act can go a long way to correct injustice, create peace and express the unfathomable depths of God’s love for all of God’s people.

 
–Rev. Katherine Ebling, Pastor of Prayer

A Graced and Joyful Journey

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Recently, my husband Scott and I climbed to the top of Observation Peak at Zion National Park. It was a four mile uphill hike on rocky terrain and switchbacks. I needed to stop every so often to catch my breath, and I needed a walking stick for support. There were times that I really wanted to quit and turn around, but I didn’t because I received encouragement from fellow sojourners who told me how close I was to the top. The experience of this journey along with our sermon series on work has given me opportunity to pause and reflect on my own personal vocational journey.

First, a calling doesn’t necessarily have to lead to ordination. My daughter Kacie frequently tells me that serving as a cardiac ICU nurse makes her feel like she is doing the work of Jesus, because she is serving those who can do very little for themselves. In addition to my deep love and calling for pastoral ministry, I have been called to jobs that do not bear the stamp of ordination, such as baby sitting, scooping ice cream, customer service, motherhood, teaching in the public school system and as an adjunct professor. On the other hand, I have worked at jobs to which I was clearly not called, such as retail sales, waitressing and typing. My journey has been marked with successes and failures, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.

Second, my journey has been consistently marked by faith. Sometimes the encouraging words of fellow sojourners have strengthened my faith and sometimes even by blind faith. On July 1, I will be transitioning out of Church of the Resurrection, and with faith as my walking stick, moving toward something to which God is calling, but I can’t quite see the top yet. Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I keep framed in my bathroom so that I can see it every morning when I wake up. I’ve shared this prayer with you before, but I think that it is fitting to repeat:

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.

Thank you for allowing me to journey with you through the GPS, exploring the mystery of prayer. If you would like to stay in touch, my new email is revnancypauls@gmail.com .

I will conclude with words of Margaret Silf from her prayer book “Wayfaring.”

“I would like to wish you a safe journey along these Gospel roads, but ‘safety’ is not always compatible with the ways of God or with the adventure of prayer. And so I wish you, instead, a graced, and a joyful journey through the darkness and the light, the rock faces and the mountain-top wonderment.”

And let it be so.

Rev. Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Hearing God

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“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” –1 Samuel 3.9.

 When I was a little girl, God spoke to me regularly. When I was four, I remember sitting on the Morse Avenue beach in Chicago playing in the sand, and I recall thinking how amazing it is that God created each grain of sand different from the next. Here is a picture of sandat 250x magnificationsand

 

I remember thinking if God created each grain of sand, how much more lovingly, God created each individual person in the world. God spoke scripture and truth into me before I even knew there was a book called the Bible. As I got older, my childlike faith became more analytical, and the religious teaching I received made me doubt the authenticity of my experience and forget how to listen to God. Yet, listening to what God is saying is just as important in prayer as talking to God. A good relationship with God in prayer consists of both speaking and listening to God.

God speaks to us in many ways, possibly in as many ways as there are people to talk to. However, a primary mode of God’s communication is through the words of scripture. It is easier to hear what God is saying to us by slow, deliberate meditation on short verses of scripture rather than reading a couple of chapters. God also commonly speaks to us through dreams, practical every day life experiences, and mystical experiences. A mystical experience to me is the same thing as an uncanny coincidence that can’t be explained. It is when the veil that we picture between heaven and earth becomes so thin that the physical realm and the spiritual realm feel like they are intersecting for a brief moment. Maybe you have had an experience like this and know exactly what God is trying to say, but for me, these experiences simply give me the encouragement and assurance that our loving God is present and accessible and here for me in my neediness.

So how do we know if what we hear is really God speaking or if it a concoction of our tricky egos? To summarize Bill Hybels, in Too Busy Not to Pray, here are some great suggestions:

  1. Promptings that come from God are consistent with his Word, the Bible. For example, a prompting to cheat on an exam or your income taxes is never from God.
  2. God’s promptings are usually consistent with who he made you to be. So knowing myself now for half a century, if I think I hear God telling me to put skydiving and running a marathon on my bucket list, that is probably my ego trying to prove itself and not from God.
  3. God’s promptings usually involve servanthood. Really, God, you still want me to work every weekend when all my friends are at the lake? Ok. Fine.

Bill Hybels also teaches us to question promptings if they require us to make a life changing decision in a short amount of time, if they require us to severely jeopardize our family relationships or important friendships, or if more mature Christians, advisors or counselors think it’s not a good idea. The longer we practice speaking and listening to God in prayer, the more competent we become at discerning God’s true voice. When I was young, I was not even aware that it was God speaking to me. Now, looking back on that time with fresh eyes of faith, I realize that God speaks to us all the time.

This week, take a moment to reflect on these quotes from Maya Angelou as you begin your prayer.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

 

 

 

Blessing

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When everyone was being baptized Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  Luke 3.21-22 (CEB).

This week in worship we complete our journey through the gospel of Luke. At the start of Jesus’ public ministry, God pronounces a blessing upon Jesus as he comes up out of the baptismal waters of the river Jordan. The word “blessing” comes from the Latin word benedicere which means speaking well or saying good things of someone. This blessing sustained Jesus through all the admiration and condemnation that followed. Jesus never lost the knowledge that he was cherished and blessed by God

Likewise, each one of us is a child of God who God created and calls beloved. Often it is hard for us to hear the blessing Jesus heard, the blessing we, too, are to hear. It is easy to become victims of our disappointments and our disillusionments. Sometimes we might even feel like we are more cursed than blessed, and it is hard to hear the good words God is speaking to us through the demanding voices our world.  However, through prayer and presence, we can learn to claim our blessedness and as we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a secure sense of well-being and true belonging.

In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” He is not speaking about an audible voice, but a voice that can be heard by the ear of faith, the ear of the inner heart. With time, the faithful discipline of quiet time in prayer will reveal that we are blessed ones, a truth that begins to shape our daily lives.

Another way to claim our blessedness is to receive the good things others say of us. It is so easy to believe humility requires us to brush off compliments, and it is difficult for us, as busy people, to truly receive a blessing. The blessings that come to us through words of gratitude, encouragement, affection and love are gentle reminders of that strong, but hidden voice of the One who calls us by name and speaks good things about us.

Finally, claiming our own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. Barbara Brown Taylor says in An Altar in the World, “Pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the justice of your own cause for mercy; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love—this is to land at God’s breast. To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity.”

This week, may…

The Lord bless you, and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine on you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance on you

And give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26                        –Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Prayer Walking

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Throughout the gospel of Luke we see the disciples keeping company with Jesus as they walk from town to town. Jesus pauses frequently in the course of their journey to teach the disciples lessons about what God’s kingdom is like; a place where healing, wholeness, unity and the welfare of all prevail.  In the same way, we can add feet to our prayers by prayer walking.

Adele Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, says, “Prayer walking is a way of saturating a particular place and people with prayer, such as the office, the conference room, your home, the school the hospital and government buildings.  The immediacy of context can fuel prayer and offer a way for listening more deeply to God, and to what God’s concerns for this place might be. This discipline draws us out of prayers that are limited to our immediate concerns and into a larger circle of God’s loving attention.”

Calhoun suggests that like the disciples, you might walk through your home in the company of Jesus. Pray for each room and what happens there. Notice if recognizing Jesus’ presence there changes your interaction.  Spend some time walking with others through your workplace. Pray for your colleagues, the custodial staff, the delivery people and the kitchen staff. Offer yourself to be Jesus’ hands and heart in this place. Visit the playground and school near you. Walk through it in the company of Jesus. Pray for those who work, play and study there. Think about what is in the heart of God for this place.

By God’s grace, the qualities of the Kingdom of God are available to all of us today. This week, as a Lenten practice, I invite you to take a walk in the company of Jesus, and with him pray that healing, wholeness, unity and the welfare of all prevail.

Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

1st Sunday of Lent

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Today is the first Sunday in the season of the Church called Lent. The primary purpose of Lent from the earliest church was to prepare candidates for baptism at Easter. Lent was designed to help the church encourage these candidates to turn away from sin and live more fully into the way of Christ.  In other words, Lent is designed to help us live out the mission of the Church and the mission statement of The Church of the Resurrection:  To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.

Lent is the final stage of labor before new birth, a final incubation before “hatching” into new life. Over the past month we have prayed and discerned about how God might use Church of the Resurrection to live our mission and build our future. The season of Lent is the time for us to fulfill our role as “midwife to the Spirit.”

Take time today to look back through the pages of your 10,000 Reasons Devotional [or GPS link] .

What prayers or spiritual practices fed your soul? Have you discovered a prayer practice which you would consider continuing through the season of Lent, such as daily scripture reading, silent, contemplative prayer or fasting as a way to draw closer to God and grow your spirit?

Gracious and Merciful God,
In this Lenten season let us learn new ways of living.
May we fast from words that pollute and feast on words that are kind.
Let us fast from judging others and feast on building others up in love.
Let us fast from despair and feast on an attitude of gratitude.
Let us fast from hatred and jealousy and feast on kindness and compassion.
Let us fast from thoughts of illness and feast on the healing power of God.
May we fast from worry and feast on hopes and dreams.  Amen

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

They Gave Willingly, Joyfully, and Sacrificially

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MalawiA poignant memory from our Church of the Resurrection mission trip to Malawi was at an elementary school in a remote village.  Our team packed up the van in the morning with peanut butter sandwiches and bottles of Fanta for lunch before setting out to the school.  We received a joy filled welcome from the 600 school children and the head master before starting our health screenings. When it was time to break for lunch, our team went to the van to eat our sandwich. It was at that very moment when the concept of true hunger became disturbingly real for me. There was neither a morsel of food nor a drop of water anywhere in sight for the school children or teachers. Then I learned that the children most likely did not eat breakfast in the morning and might or might not get a bowl of boiled maize for their evening meal. The van driver took us further away from the school, but large groups of children followed us, peering into the windows to watch us eat. Needless to say I not only lost my appetite, but also became deeply troubled by the injustice of it all.  I was frustrated that that these beautiful faces were suffering with hunger and malnourishment and I couldn’t fix it. Turning to Christian   tradition for help, I found that fasting could be an appropriate response to this injustice.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which Christians sacrifice their natural desire for food in order to spend time seeking God regarding a specific issue. The intention is that all the time that would be spent acquiring, preparing and consuming food will, instead, be spent in the presence of God through prayer, worship or meditation on the Word. Fasting allows us to see how little we absolutely need in a consumer world. Also, the heightened sense of awareness obtained through hunger serves as a reminder of the purpose of the fast, which is to replace the feeding of the needs of physical hunger with the feeding of one’s spiritual hunger by drawing closer to God.  In addition, we become sympathetic with those who are genuinely hungry through fasting.

I believe that our vision to touch 10,000 inner-city children by our school partnerships over the next twenty years actively addresses hunger and other consequences of poverty.  This week I invite you to consider fasting one day this week as you pray about making your sacrificial commitment to this vision.  If you are healthy, a traditional fast is to abstain from food upon waking up, and then to break the fast with a light dinner that evening. If that is not a possibility, then skipping one meal or fasting from electronics all day is another option. We would to hear about your experience with the discipline of fasting. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment on our prayer blog. 

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Click here at www.cor.org/prayervigil to sign up to pray at the 49 hour prayer vigil preceding Commitment Sunday.

 

The House of the Lord, the House of the Church

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This weekend in worship we will hear the plans and aspirations for our permanent sanctuary.  A sanctuary is a sacred or holy place.  It is a place where we gather as God’s people to encounter God and from which we are sent to be salt and light in the world. According to dictionary.com, a sanctuary can be any place of refuge or safe haven or a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.

Contemplative Christian prayer is a spiritual practice of silence in which we can find refuge from the demands of our daily life and rest in God. Contemplative prayer is silently abiding in the Spirit with the goal being our transformation in Christ. This simply means growing deeper in the love of God and neighbor, so that we might be salt and light in the world. Rev. Dr. Robert Martin, Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C teaches that contemplative prayer is necessary for incarnational leadership. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:16-17, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?… For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” So it makes sense to me that we can also find sanctuary by silently abiding with the Spirit who lives within the sanctuary of our being.

This week I invite you to practice the spiritual discipline of contemplative prayer, or silence. Find your favorite place to sit and imagine God sitting in a rocking chair across from you. All you need to do is show up and say nothing, just be silent.  Really, that is all you need to do for twenty minutes three to five times this week. If you are utterly sincere about surrendering to the Godly nature of the present moment, something will happen. It might not happen immediately, but pay attention to what is awakening during the week.

We would to hear about your experience with the discipline of silence.  You can join the conversation by leaving a comment on our prayer blog.

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Click here at www.cor.org/prayervigil to sign up to pray at the 49 hour prayer vigil preceding Commitment Sunday.


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