Prayer for Worship June 7, 2020

Lord of justice and mercy,

You, who created all of us in your diverse and beautiful image;

You, who spoke in a great wind to all tribes and nations;

You, who taught us love in human form.

Bless the grieving,

Who cry because their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers did not make it home,

Whose tears beg to be seen, whose cries beg to be heard, and whose names must be said:

George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, images of God whose humanity was cut from them.

Bless the protester.

Who chants for justice and peace as they shout, “I can’t breathe.”

Who stands united against hatred and apathy, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot.”

Who gathers armed not with weapons or bricks but with non-violent presence forged by love.

Bless the police officer.

Who stands there, staring off into a happier place as vitriol and rage assault,

Who takes the knee to ask for forgiveness for crimes of others who have shamed the badge,

Who hold accountable not just looters and opportunists

but also those who abuse entrusted power, putting their knee on the neck of humanity.

Teach us love.

Blow your wind across this land.

Show us that we are not fully recreated in your image until we see you in one another.

Send justice, send mercy.  Amen.

(C)2020 Nathan Decker, worshipswake.wordpress.com

I’m So Tired of This Already

I’m So Tired of This Already

By Nathan Decker

 

“Impatience can cause wise people to do foolish things.”

-Janette Oke

 

In almost every conversation I have recently, people say, “I’m so tired of this already” or some version of “when will we get back to normal!”  Many churches have been closed since March 15th.  It has truly been over 40 days and 40 nights since many of us have gathered in person with hugs and handshakes.  Most of us struggle with knowing what day of the week it is.  New days seem to have been added to our week:  this day, the other day, and some day!  We have changed dramatically and because of the long term nature of these changes, there is no going back.

And in some ways that’s a good thing.  We are closer to our families.  We are looking out for each other more.  We’ve all had time to reflect on our lives and honestly choose what we want them to be in the future.  Churches have either finally moved into the digital age or have joined the dinosaurs.  Some changes have been amazing.

In other areas, we haven’t changed so much.  I find people are just as judgmental now as they have ever been.  When I go for my weekly run to the grocery store dutifully wearing my mask, there is a part of me that looks at those who are not wearing masks with an eye of suspicion and even rage.  Yes, my nature is to follow the rules, and seeing others break them does not give me any happy feelings.  

We also have dived even deeper into us vs. them thinking.  Many people have fallen prey to lies, half-truths, and misinformation all aimed at driving us further apart from one another.  Someone recently told me that the virus is targeting Blacks.  This comment was based on numbers and statistics while ignoring context.  The truth is all diseases target those living poverty.  Unjustly, Blacks are disproportionately represented in lower income levels as a historical sin in our nation.  Viruses like COVID-19 feast in areas where poor diet, respiratory health, and support are the norm.  Viruses don’t care what your skin tone, education, or political affiliation is.  

I will tell you what I’m so tired of already.  I’m tired of our leaders using fear and petty squabbles to divide us rather than unite us.  I’m tired of being drawn into closed discussions where differing opinions are seen as mortal threats rather than life giving perspectives.  I’m tired of us treating scientists, doctors, and nurses as if they care more about an agenda than they do about our health and wellbeing.  I’m tired of us not caring.

We need to care about others more than our own discomfort.  Masks need to be worn, businesses need to open.  Wearing a mask is uncomfortable.  My homemade mask doesn’t protect me from the outside coming in, but it does protect me from unintentionally infecting others should I have the virus and not be aware.  Opening businesses may feel uncomfortable in the coming weeks and months.  It’s not about money, for many small businesses it is about keeping people employed so they can go to the grocery store, hopefully wearing their masks.  Again, we need to care about others more than our own discomfort.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do during a time of COVID-19.

 

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

-Jesus in Matthew 10:16 ESV

What do you want to take with you…

What do you really want to take with you…

By Nathan Decker

Never let hard lessons harden your heart;

the hard lessons of life are meant to make you better, not bitter

-Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

 

Fred Craddock tells this story about a classmate of his:  Glenn Adsit ministered most of his life in China.  He was under house arrest in China when the soldiers came one day and said, “You can return to America.”  They were celebrating, and the soldiers said, “You can take two hundred pounds with you.”

Well, they ‘d been there for years.  Two hundred pounds.  They got the scales and started the family arguments:  two children, wife, husband.  Must have this vase.  Well, this is a new typewriter.  What about my books?  What about this?  And they weighed everything and took it off and weighed this and took it off and weighed this and, finally, right on the dot, two hundred pounds.

“The soldier asked, “Ready to go?”

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

“You weighed the kids?”

“No we didn’t.”

“Weigh the kids.”

And in a moment, typewriter and vase and all became trash.  Trash.  It happens.

 

We have been given a unique moment.  Most of humanity never gets this gift.  We’ve been given a pause.  A horrible disease is taking loved ones from us.  The whole world is economically, physically, and momentously still.  Yet, this won’t last forever.  This is a season, not an apocalypse.  And before we get to the other side, before we cross back into ‘normal,’ before we step back into the rat race, frantically running to catch up – we need to make an important decision.  What do you really want to take with you?

I can tell you my personal list.  I want to keep having family dinners at the table.  I want to go for walks with my wife.  I want to keep checking on my neighbors, especially the elderly to make sure they have all they need.  I want to appreciate doctors, nurses, teachers, cashiers, first responders and local restaurants just as much as I do now.

Yes, we will all be glad when we don’t have to worry about toilet paper, stock markets, and face masks.  But instead of focusing on what we can’t wait to lose on this journey, let’s take account of what we’ve gained and what we need to fight dearly for to keep once the voices of status quo try to wrench us back to where we once where.  What do you really want to take with you after COVID-19 is history?  What part of this journey matters.  Weigh the kids.  Weigh the moment.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.

-Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30

Parenting on Lockdown

Parenting on Lockdown
By Nathan Decker
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountain and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”
-Matthew 5:1-2a

With the COVID-19 virus pandemic, possibly the most amazing and horrifying things are happening at homes all across our world. Parents are spending time with their children. Whether as substitute teachers doing homeschooling lessons or as activity directors on a cruise to nowhere – kids are getting much needed time time with mom, dad, etc. One meme I saw says it all: “Homeschooling is going great! Two kids suspended and one teacher fired for drinking on the job.” Being a parent while social distancing can be very difficult, but here are some tips to help make our time of self-captivity in the snowless blizzard of 2020 better.
Go Outside. No matter what age the kids are, sign them up for a family team sport. No matter what classes they think they are enrolled in – make time for PE. Make memories by taking a walk and actually talking with the little humans who live in your home.
Do a Project Together. This doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be something in which the kids take interest and ownership. My boys like easy science experiments, so recently we grew some crystals. We have plans to do a little woodworking together. All of this will not only grow our fondness for one another, but it also may save us from killing each other.
Unplug. Turn off the television. Take away the cell phones. Pull out some board games. Find a deck of cards. Throw a football or shoot some hoops. Any of these will relieve your stress and theirs.
Don’t compare yourself to other parents on social media. So when you see the Jones family doing something amazing with all this time with their kids, do not guilt trip yourself. You are not as bad a parent as you say you are. And people rarely show their worst family moments for all the world to see and share. Sure they’ve been eating breakfast together after their morning family walk, and this afternoon they’ll be flying kites just as soon as they finish doing that amazing project no teacher has even assigned. Don’t stress yourself out competing with people who are trying to make themselves feel good about their lives by sharing it with strangers.
Breathe. Give yourself time to just be. Take a Sunday drive, even if it isn’t on Sunday. Park down by the river with the windows rolled down and just listen to the blackwater roll on downstream. Everyone is under unique stress right now caused not only by the virus and fear but also by grief over lost events and perhaps even lost loved ones.
Lastly, Love. Our love as moms and dads is a reflection of God’s deep love for us. During times like these, that love can be eroded by pet peeves or hidden behind anger, frustration, and sorrow. Love helps us keep passion in our work and play. Love defends us from the detrimental disease of apathy or rash tempers. Love gives understanding and a second, third, and even seventy-seventh chance. While we are all cloistering ourselves away to lower the curve and beat COVID-19, remember to love. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

“I came to parenting the way most of us do – knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.”
-Mayim Bialick,Neuroscientist

Morning Prayer for Digital Worship 2

Beloved Christ,
you who opened your arms wide enough upon the cross to hug the whole world!
We who long to be connected are lonely, grieving, and afraid.
We desire to be near you and near one another.
We have zoomed until there is just no more zoom in us!
Our calendars and our plans are wrecked.
A virus and an infection of fear threaten our world.
Lord, Jesus, come close… through these digital bits and bytes.
Spirit smooth out the buffering and connect our hearts.
God, be here in this worship now. Amen.

Morning Prayer for Digital Worship

Amazing God –

who wraps your arms around the cosmos,

who kisses us with every breath of life,

who chases us with grace and love;

We are so distant from one another today.

We miss the handshakes and hugs, signs of peace.

We miss the little coos of the babies, signs of life.

We miss the familiar gentle smile sitting in the pew with us, signs of love.

We miss the embodiment of you in one another.

Lord, Jesus, bind us together.

While we are socially apart bring us spiritually close;

remind us the church is the people gathered together

even through digital means.

Where we feel disconnect, Spirit, link us.

Where we are drained, Spirit, fill us.

Where we are dead, Spirit, revive us!

through worship today, through your Word shared today, through you, God, today.  Amen.

Prayer in the Time of COVID-19

Creator who’s Spirit hovered over the chaotic waters of the deep:

The shifting landscape of our sand castles of security fades,and each day the waves of bad news raise our anxiety and panic.

Hear us as we call out to you: “Master!  Don’t you care that we might drown!”

Jesus save us.

Save us from fear.

Save us from spreading an infection of panic.

Save us from the virus.

Jesus heal us.

There are so many around the world who are reaching out for the hem of your garment.

There are so many grieving, impoverished, and out of work.

Heal us in your love and power.

Jesus guide us.

Guide us to new ways of connecting and being the church.

Guide our medical community to find a cure and vaccine.

Guide our President and Congress to care and compassion.

Jesus remind us.

Remind us as you stand and calm the wind and the waves, you are God.

Remind us as you walk upon the waters, our focus needs to be on solutions not problems.

Remind us of your promise to wipe every tear as we sit with you by the crystal sea.

Because of who you are and what you are already doing, we give you praise, Amen.

A Viral Resurrection

A Viral Resurrection by Nathan Decker

“Ultimately we know that the other side of every fear is freedom.”

-Marilyn Ferguson

 

When I was a kid we were afraid.  I remember watching the movie The Day After in 1983.  The made for television movie displayed the before and after or a Soviet nuclear attack on Kansas City, Missouri.  Art reflects life just as much as life reflects art.  In 1983 we were afraid of “the Russians.”  I played video games where they were the bad guys.  I watched movies where Rambo destroyed their whole army as a one man killing machine.  Fear pushed us to the limits.  We believed that at any moment the whole world would be destroyed by someone on the other side of the globe pushing the red button.

Fear is a powerful emotion.  We fear what we can’t control.  We fear what we believe can harm us or those we love.  We fear the unknown.  More than any emotion, fear is used as motivator and manipulator.  After September 11, 2001, we were so afraid that we were willing to give up liberties and start a never ending war on an ideology so we could be safe or at least live in the illusion of safety.  Fear is the second emotion mentioned in the Bible (loneliness is the first) when Adam tells God why he was hiding – “because I was afraid.”

Today, we are afraid.  We’re afraid of one another.  We’re afraid of touching lest we might catch the COVID-19 virus.  We’re afraid of sharing because we might offend someone.  We’re afraid of listening to someone who disagrees with us; they might change our mind or show us a new perspective!  We’re afraid of our own government no matter which political party is at the helm.  And we’re afraid of running out of toilet paper.

“Don’t be afraid.”  This phrase occurs in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year.  “Don’t be afraid,” God told Abraham as he began his journey to see the promised land.  “Don’t be afraid,” God said to Moses as he stood before the Pharaoh of the superpower nation of Egypt.  “Don’t be afraid,” the angels said to Mary and Joseph.  “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said to the disciples in the boat.  “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said on Easter morning when they came to the empty grave.

Fear is contagious.  When we give in to fear, we give in to death and “it is what it is” mentality.  We hand over the power God has shared with us to evil and apathy.  Fear is contagious, but so is the Resurrection.  We seek to die with Christ so that we may rise with Christ.  Grief turns to joy, sorrow to dancing, and fear to courage.  When the women leave the tomb on Easter Sunday, they leave with a positive viral infection.

Have you caught the viral resurrection?  The symptoms are easy to diagnose.  You find it in folks who are singing, “He lives!” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”  You can see it on their faces as they express tears of joy and smiles of thanksgiving for salvation.  When you see transformation from stingy hard hearts to generous love, when you meet remarkable changes for the betterment of all, and when you hear someone simply saying, “thank you, Jesus” – that’s a sign of the resurrection.  Rise.  Rise above the fear.  Rise above chaos and petty politics.  Rise with love and renewal in your heart.  Rise conquering death.  Don’t be afraid.  Rise.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.”

-The angel to the women at the tomb in Matthew 28:5

Don’t Leave

Don’t Leave…

By Nathan Decker

 

“There is something wrong… when people are leaving the church to find God.”

-meme on eisakouo.com

 

If you haven’t thought about it, then you are not serious about your belief in the faith.  To care about church is to care about an institution I want to disassemble, a tradition I want to change, and a group of people who irritate me far more than my own flesh and blood family.  Loving the church causes heart ache and pain, and yes – sometimes we just want to leave.  But don’t leave.

Currently within the United Methodist Church there is a proposal to allow churches and pastors to leave.  Many who have a traditional view of marriage and who believe God intended for sexual relations to only be between a man and a woman are seeing this as a path to freedom.  Like people who change political parties often say, “I didn’t leave them, they left me.”  After all, the self-describing term traditionalist implies a commitment to a path and not a veering off to find a new one.  Finally, we can purify the church and return to orthodoxy.

Some self-described progressives also see this as a victory and an opportunity to finally ‘fix’ everything that is wrong with the church.  Finally we can move beyond ‘how we’ve always done things’ and into a new thing.  Perhaps because they can’t hear over their own applause, both groups don’t realize that in their excited passion, breaking fellowship doesn’t fix anything.

Don’t leave.  I say this because I am selfish.  I see myself as being a centrist on this particular issue.  If you are in the center and those to the right of you leave, you become the new right.  I don’t have any desire to be wake up one morning and find myself on the fringe of a church I love.  There are folks who relish being on those edges.  I’m not one of them, but I love having conversations with them.

Don’t leave.  Again, I’m selfish.  I need perspectives around me to help me interpret what God is saying in the Word.  Without the voices to the right and left, I do not believe we can fully hear God’s diverse and wonderful voice.  When the only voices we hear are reinforcement of our own beliefs, we become self-congratulating fools.  We need one another.  In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis used the piano as an illustration of ethics.  There are no wrong keys on the piano, only wrong notes played at the wrong time.  How can we play music without the full 11 octaves?  What sharps and flats are we going to exclude simply because we don’t like how they sound?

Don’t leave.  It’s a sin.  Raymond Brown wrote a great commentary on the literature of the community of John’s letters and Gospel.  They were going through a schism.  Gnostics and Ebionites argued the divinity and humanity of Christ.  He interpreted 1 John 1:6-7 to say that breaking fellowship was the ultimate sin for the community of John.  Disagree, discuss, debate… but don’t leave.  Leaving dismembers the Body of Christ.  Leaving diminishes the light.  Leaving leaves us lacking in perspective and strength.

There are reasons to leave a church.  If you are being abused sexually, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, then leave.  If you are forbidden from serving, encouraged to be stagnant, and find condescension and cynicism at every turn, then leave.  Not getting your own way or finding yourself in the minority- don’t kid yourself for one moment that is permission to go start a new denomination.  And even if you do, that new shiny denomination is going to have the same flawed DNA that led to the break-up in the first place.

We’ve all been hurt.  Those on the left, center, and right have all pushed and bullied for power.  We’ve used truths and scripture verses like knives and hand grenades.  Our leadership has left us with a minefield without a map.  The thought of leaving sounds so comforting, so promising, so tempting…

Christ prayed that we would all be one.  Jesus wasn’t even trying to leave the Jewish faith behind and start a new one among the Gentiles.  Jesus was interested in us being koinonia, fellowship, community.  Don’t leave.  After all, it’s not what Jesus would do.

“If we claim that we share life with him, 

but keep walking in the realm of darkness,

we’re fooling ourselves and not living the truth. 

But if we keep living in the pure light that surrounds him, 

we share unbroken fellowship with one another,

 and the blood of Jesus, his Son, continually cleanses us from all sin.”

-1 John 1:6-7 TPT

Reflection and Resources for Worshiping God. Please feel free to use the resources in worship. I only ask that you give credit.