An Evening Prayer

Almighty God, you who are eager to find and to hold each one us,

we call out to you as the darkness of night begins to surround us.

May the light you so freely give remain within us and before us

even in the deepest depths of the coming night.


You who reach for us and bend toward us as we grope around

the dim edges of life sustain us and keep us.

Hold us this night and every night ‘til the morning comes

and we find ourselves bathed in your glorious light forevermore.


Village of Hope in the News

Yesterday’s Associated Press article is in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times today.  There is newer piece up at the Right Side News. If you read Dutch, you can follow the Boonstra family at  Acties Boonstra.  If you are a Twitter person, you can follow VOH news at SaveVOH. The VOH parents have schedule a news conference for Monday and will be posting updates at the Village of Hope website.  If you have not done so yet, you can join the face book group at Save Village of Hope.

Please Pray for these Children

According to this BBC article, an orphanage in Morocco was closed by the Moroccan government.   The orphanage cared for 33 children.  33 children who are now no longer living with the only families they have ever known. You can only imagine the trauma and distress that they must be experiencing in the aftermath of the orphanage being closed. Please remember these 33 children when you pray.

Wishing for a Windy Christmas

Sometime during my elementary school years, my mom collected enough proof-of-purchase seals to send away for a Jolly Green Giant kite.  Next to my Sprite race car, the Green Giant kite was the most amazing toy I remember getting from collecting box tops and such. Actually, now that I think about it the kite probably exceeds the Sprite car. The car never really ran consistently though it looked really sharp. The kite on the other hand needed only the slightest of breezes to take off into the sky. Before the Green Giant, I had never had much success with kites or found them to be much fun, but I still remember the thrill of that Green Giant kite soaring 150 to 200 feet into the sky.

I thought about that long ago Green Giant kite this week as I listened to Saul Griffith talk about the history of kites and their future.  He believes that kites have the potential to be used in production of electricity. He and others have learned that the tallest windmills (300 feet) still do not reach high enough to harvest the best winds. A kite, Griffith believes, could be used to convert the energy in higher altitude winds into electricity. Get enough kites into the air and our need for electricity is satisfied. Granted, Griffith is not talking about kites the size of my old Green Giant kite. He envisions kites the size of 747’s or bigger. Here I thought a kite was just a kite, but he thinks it could be a way getting access to something most of us had not thought about or, if we had, thought it impractical or impossible.

While Griffith’s ideas about wind and energy exceed my ability to comprehend or imagine, I do find it fascinating to think about all that wind up there at higher altitudes that I did not know of before I heard Griffith’s talk.  It makes me think of Christmas. There is so much for us in the Christmas event, more than most of us ever realize or think possible. Or if have thought about it and we do realize what God offers to us, we cannot wrap our minds around the idea of how to get our lives situated so that we are able to receive what God is giving to us.

The good news is that we do not have to ascend to heights exceeding 300 feet and maintain that altitude in order to find what God is giving to us. No, God is coming to us, to where we are. How do we receive the gift? How do we take hold of what God is giving us in a way that transforms our lives, converts us again into followers of Christ?

Would that receiving God’s gift to us were as simple as tying a string to kite and taking it outside on a windy day.  Our lives are full of tasks that we must get done and all the more during the holiday season. Making time for God is difficult when other tasks press in upon us. Yet, God does not wish to be another chore on our list of things to do. God is coming to us, giving Godself to us so that we can know that we are loved and accepted by the one in whose image we are made.

How do we receive this gift? We receive it in many ways. It comes to us in stillness and silence. It arrives unexpectedly in an act of mercy. Through the discipline and preparation of a piece of music or a Christmas play it emerges. We find in the kinds words and gentle hugs of friends and family or rather it finds us. In worship, prayer, singing and host of other ways the gift of Christmas comes to us.

Is there more though that God would give us? More what? More peace, more joy, more love or more hope?  Is their more of God that we can experience this Christmas? What would it mean for our lives to catch a new wind of God’s Spirit in our sails as we soar to never imagined heights?

Hanging by a Thread

I was on my way into worship Sunday when I looked down and noticed a button on my coat hanging by a thread. How does that happen? I wear this suit a couple of times a month, and when I do wear it all I do is talk to people and shake hands. I do not wear it when I am performing any sort of manual labor or doing any sort of physical activity. All I do is preach in it, and yet here is a button hanging by a thread. What was it that put so much stress and strain on the button that caused the thread holding it to break? How did that happen?

Asking how it happened might be a useful question if finding the answer would help to do something to keep it from happening again. But what I am really saying when I ask “how did that happen?” is that I don’t believe that it did happen. Yet, hanging by a thread right before my eyes is proof positive that it did, in fact, happen.

How did it happen? I do not know. I try to remember something — anything. Did it get caught on a door that I was opening? Maybe when I was hugging someone it got caught on something. I don’t know, but there it is hanging by a thread. It happened.

The really frustrating element of this hanging button episode is that I was the person who sewed it on my coat before. Yes, the button that I looked down and saw hanging by a threat on Sunday was a replacement button. Its predecessor disappeared more than a year ago, and I have no better explanation for its disappearance than I do for why its replacement is hanging by a thread — except that I did not do such a good job of sewing it onto my coat.

At least I did not lose this button. No, I saw it hanging by a thread. So now I do not have to go find a matching button. That is good because I have already used the one replacement button that came with the suit.

There are times in our lives when we feel like a button hanging by a thread. How did this happen? What did we get snagged by or caught on? What did we do to get ourselves into such a situation?

Maybe the thread represents our hope, our determination, or even our faith. Whatever it represents is nearing exhaustion. There is only a thread of it left to hold us in place. Without that thread we are loosed to go wherever it is that lost buttons go to.

I did not lose that button that I saw hanging by a thread from my coat on Sunday. No, I went ahead and tore it off and stuck in my pocket. Later, I will sew it on again. Hopefully, this time I will do a better job and it will be more secure and more permanent. I would rather not have to do it again, but you never know with buttons.

God can come to us in those times when we are feeling like a button hanging by a thread. God can tear us loose from the uncertainty and insecurity of the thread we so desperately cling to and hold us firmly and lovingly. In time, we find ourselves reattached by the tender hand of God to abundant life for which he created us and redeemed us; this time, attached more securely and with less uncertainty. Having been touched by the merciful fingers of God at our moment of great fear, we are no longer hanging by a thread

A Psalm of Medicine and Healing

Praise to the Almighty!
You, who are wise beyond all knowing and more compassionate than an eternity of kindness, have given to some your knowledge and compassion calling them to be doctors, nurses and nursing assistants.

Praise to the Almighty with all my heart, soul and voice!
The Doctor knows what needs to be done and she does it. With procedure, treatment and medicine, life wakes to one more new day.

Praise to the Almighty from the rising of the sun through all the darkness of night.
The tender care of the nurse draws the sick back to life and her skill makes each day more hopeful.

Praise to the Almighty when the load is more than we can bear and the task more than we can do.
The gentle hand of the nursing assistant makes us clean that we might live again.

Praise to the Almighty,
For lives that give life,
Careers that offer cure,
Hands that bring hope.

Rejoice, Rejoice,
For tender mercies each day.

Rejoice, Rejoice,
Another day, another miracle.

Rejoice, Rejoice,
Having almost died, we are still living.

Praise to the Almighty whose healing does not end.

Praise to the Almighty when doctors have done all that they can do.

Praise to the Almighty when nurses and their assistants have exhausted their skill and their mercy.

Praise to the Almighty when. . .

. . .the procedure does not produce,
. . .the treatment does not effect,
. . .the cure does not cure.

Praise to the Almighty whose healing comes in life but does end with it.

Praise to the Almighty whose healing is eternal, world without end, forever and ever.

Praise to the Almighty!

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice!

Stolen Property, Recovered Joy

Have you ever been to the Knox County Sheriff’s Department offices at the City/County Building? I was down there this week to meet with a detective and to recover some stolen property. I guess that makes me a victim of crime, petty though it was.

So petty in fact that I did not realize that it had happened until after the thieves had been caught and the stolen items were recovered. Up to that point, I was thinking that I had misplaced the missing item, or a family member had borrowed it without telling me. The events that occurred after the theft really left me impressed with the skill and diligence of the law enforcement officers in Knoxville and Knox County.

The thieves were pulled over for some sort of traffic violation. In the course of the stop, the Knoxville police officer noticed boxes containing an assortment of electronic gear in the back seat. This was no longer just a traffic violation, and arrests were made.

One of the items found in the car was my son’s camera. There was no name on it or any other means of identifying it. The officer doing the investigation turned it on and started looking through the pictures that were still on it. He found a picture of a young man and new where he worked by the clothes that he was wearing. He paid a visit to that company and showed the picture around. He identified the man in the picture as my son and gave him a call. In the course of the conversation, they determined that the thieves had taken his camera from his truck while it was parked at our house. Further conversation revealed that the same thieves had also taken the GPS from my truck. It was not misplaced or borrowed. It was stolen.

Through the effort and cooperation of a Knoxville police officer and a Knox County sheriff’s detective, the stolen items were waiting for me when I stopped by the City/County building this week. What impressed me was the amount of time and effort those officers gave to making sure that those items, which in the grand scheme of things were not of great value, were returned to their rightful owners.

Now that it is all over, I find it a little troubling that someone could so easily roam through our neighborhood and burglarize our vehicles. Even more troubling though is the precarious nature of the peace that is God’s gift to us each day. It is, at times, much easier taken from us than any of our worldly possessions ever could be. A situation at work might be the culprit, or a conflict at home might rob us of it. An endless burden or an extended time of trial might relieve of us of it before we even know that it is gone. Where is the joy and contentment of daily being in the presence of God? Where has it gone? Where did I put it? Maybe it was a cross word with a friend that stole it away, or a blunder on your part that gnaws away the grace so freely given.

The powers and principalities of this present darkness do not simply come for us in the night when everyone should be sleeping. No, the tempter is more subtle than that. With utmost conniving, the thief who would rob us of the peace, joy and contentment that God intends for us, comes in the light of day. There he sets his trap for us in our most trusted relationships, in the routine of going through the day, and perhaps most deceitfully, in the places and with people where we find the most rest and comfort.

Before we know what has happened, we have been robbed. Yet we are not without recourse — no, not in the least. Our remedy is in abundance. God is never far when we have need of comfort, and God is always zealous in restoring to us that which darkness and evil have sought to take from us. Limitless are the ways and means of God returning to us that which has been taken from us. Someone from church will speak a word of encouragement. A friend remembers us and calls us by name when she prays. Another finds some time for us to be together, share a cup of coffee and some conversation. We sing a hymn in worship, or hear a word spoken that gives to us again the joy that God has always meant to be ours. There are countless ways that God works in our lives to keep us close through whatever trial, tragedy or temptation we may face. Even as the evil one uses whatever means is available to rob us and deceive us, so too does God exhaust every avenue in bringing us again to a place of peace and joy.

Full of God, Full of Love

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20, 21

Paul writes these soaring words at the close of chapter three of his letter to the church of Ephesus. They clearly point us to a state of knowing beyond the everyday and to a God that so often eludes us. Though to be honest it not God who eludes us, but we who live so that we do not readily notice God much less offer our lives to God’s glory.

. . . And to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19

What is this knowledge? How do we get filled with it? What would it be like to live a life filled with all the fullness of God? Paul’s wondrously descriptive language easily exceeds our ability to comprehend not because what he is describing is incomprehensible but because such an experience is so foreign to our way of living. Our lives are already filled with our own anxieties, needs and wants. So when we read Paul’s words we immediately start trying to figure out how we can have such an experience of God. How can we experience the fullness of God? Such questions turn us toward striving and yearning for an experience of God that most of our lives do not have the time, space or priorities to experience. We cannot help but be frustrated. So finding ourselves frustrated we leave off our consideration of these words before we ever get to the point of considering what the implications of living a life filled with God’s fullness might mean for us.

Filled with such love, how would we live? Filled with the fullness of God, how would we consider the needs of those who are hungry, homeless or lacking adequate health care? Knowing a love that surpasses knowledge, what we would do for those on the margins of society?

Striving humans that we are our experience of God is always incomplete. There is always more of God for us to know and to experience. So then the question becomes what difference does what we have experienced of God make in the way we live our lives, look at the world around us and treat the people who share this planet with us? Is our experience of God such that it resembles the other selfish indulgences in our lives? That is to say is our experience of God just about us, our salvation, our blessings and ourselves? Has our experience with God left us full of God or full of ourselves?

When Paul writes about being filled to the measure with all the fullness of God he is describing an intensely intimate and personal relationship with God, but it is not a self-centered relationship nor consumed only by personal considerations. No, to be filled with God’s fullness is see more as God sees and love more as God loves. Understanding and tenderness flow from such fullness. Mercy and Compassion are its fruit.

Let us Pray

There was a man sitting in the fellowship hall one day last week. He was sitting on the front row of chairs in the Road worship space. Sitting there, he was silently yet intensely praying.

He lives nearby, but to my knowledge has never worshiped with us on Sunday morning. He came to pray. After praying for the better part of an hour, told me that he liked praying here. “This is a house of God,” He said. “I want to pray here everyday.”

“Wonderful,” I said, “but we are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.” I felt the need to tell him this because I really believed he intended to pray here everyday. I did not want him showing up to find the door locked on the weekend.

“You are closed on Friday and Saturday? I need a place to pray everyday. I can pray at home, but it is not the same.”

I invited him to come and pray anytime. He said that he would. When he had left, I could not escape the sense that somehow God was speaking to me and maybe even to us through this man’s need to pray and his resolve to do so. If I am honest with myself this seems a little odd. Odd in that I am not accustomed to hearing God’s promptings from those who are so different from me. He was an Indian from India. He was Muslim. His English was not always easily understood. What could God possibly be trying to say through this man?

As I recalled my conversation with him, I could not get beyond the enthusiastic way that he announced that this was a place where he could pray, a house of God. This man was relieved to have a place to pray. Prayer seemed very important to him.

For me, prayer is not an obligation. It is a privilege, a gift. I don’t have to pray, I get to pray. As Christians, we don’t have to pray, we get to pray. We get to be in relationship with God. Prayer is that relationship. Without prayer, whatever experiences we may have had with God are just memories. Prayer is the way our relationship with God continues to have impact and meaning in our lives.

As individuals, we can meet God in prayer wherever we find ourselves. As a church, we have the same flexibility yet we need for two or more of us to be together. We can do it in the sanctuary, at a park or in a hospital room.

My fear is that collectively and individually we too often neglect our relationship with God because we can. God’s grace has saved us. There is nothing that can undo that. We can pray if we want to, but we are not going to get anymore saved than we already are. Since we don’t have to pray, we don’t. That is, until a crisis occurs. Then we storm the gates of heaven beseeching God’s intervention.

What we miss in such an erratic and delinquent prayer life is intimacy. The God we often cry out to in times of distress has always wanted to be the God who listens to our lives each day. The God we turn to in times of trouble has always wanted to be the God who speaks to us in hard times as well as in good times.

Let us pray. . .

Where’s the Remote?

After Easter Sunday dinner with my sister, her husband and my niece, my brother-in-law and I were outside on the deck talking. The conversation eventually moved in the direction of the economy or maybe it started there. Before we finished we were trying to think of something that we could make and sell. Or maybe we don’t even have to make it. Like water, what could we put in a bottle or package and sell?  We did not think of anything that day, silently concluding that all the good ideas had already been used.

I kept our conversation in the back of my mind for the next few weeks. In the meantime, something happened at home that has happened that has happened more times than I can remember, we lost the remote. Normally, when the remote is lost we find it after five or ten minutes of searching. This time was different. The remote stayed lost for a night and a day.

This was not a total disaster as we operate on a two remote system. We have one remote to control the volume and the power for the television and another one to change the channel and control the power on the satellite box.  The one that controls the sound was the one that was lost. We used to have one remote that took care of all the functions, but we lost it.

After being lost for a day and a night, we found the wayward remote control. We celebrate and then I immediately felt a strong resolve that this sort of thing should never be allowed to happen again. What to do?  I headed to the garage. On the dryer, I found a string that came from a hooded sweatshirt. Those strings can be put back in the sweatshirt once they come out. We collect them on the dryer until someone throws them away. On the workbench, I found a roll of black electrical tape. I had all that I would need to insure the security and availability of our remote controls.

I tied one end of the string around one of the remotes and the other end around the other remote.  A piece of tape across the back of each remote kept the string from sliding up or down that remote.  The two remotes were now securely fastened to each other. With about ten inches of string between them, they rested neatly over the arm of the recliner.

Something had to be done. Something was done. Would it work? Yes, it has worked. The remote controls have not been lost since that day that I tied them together.

As the weeks passed since the last time that we could not find one of the remotes, I realized that I had the answer to the question my brother-in-law and I were trying to answer on that Easter afternoon. We could make and sell remote control-cuffs. People would pay $9.99 to never lose the remote again. If we offered them at low introductory rate of $4.99, I doubt that we could make them fast enough.

I know that some of you do all your remote controlling with one remote. You are probably wondering how the remote control-cuffs will work for you? Don’t worry, I have figured that out already. If you only use one remote, tie one end of the string to your remote and tie the other end to a six inch long piece of wood.  The remote control just needs to be connected to something.

What is true for remote control is true for us. We need someone to find us. We need someone to look for us when we get lost. We need someone to be with us when we find ourselves feeling lost and alone all over again. Jesus offers that to us. He wants to be that for us.

When we tie our lives to Christ and his church we experience the wonder of having been found not to be lost again. We experience the security of knowing that our lives are connected to something that will not let go of us. The connection is so strong that even when we experience defeat, discouragement and despair it holds us still. Even when life tosses us about and we feel lost and alone, the one we have tied ourselves too comes with us through every trial and every valley. Christ has so tied himself to us that even when we cannot find ourselves he is there with us so they we are not alone.