Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Prayers for Holy Week

(written for some folks at Georgetown College)

Dear friends in Christ,

As the Church around the world looks to Jesus and the love of God demonstrated by his Cross and suffering, I wanted to share with you a few user-friendly resources for prayer this week that may assist you as you seek to draw closer to our Lord.

Bible Readings: check out this set of Scripture readings for each day of Holy Week, courtesy of the Crossway, publishers of the ESV Bible. These readings from the Prophets, Psalter, Gospels and Epistles, are all arranged to follow Christ's journey to Jerusalem.

Collects are written prayers that teach us to reflect with the Lord on what he was doing that week, thereby forming us to be a people who suffer with him and move forward with him on mission. These prayers are based upon Scripture, and can be found on pages 219-222 of the Book of Common Prayer. I have reproduced them below.

Stations of the Cross: this is a traditional pattern of meditating upon the suffering of our Crucified God. Note this link to a Scripture-oriented version of the meditation, with Bible readings and references, courtesy of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (if you're curious about what the medieval, biblically "looser devotion" is like, watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ).

The Great Litany. Lent is a time of special special focused repentance in the Christian life. It is observed with specific and careful naming and renouncing of our sins before God. This long prayer of confession may be a help to you, also from the Book of Common Prayer, that all-purpose resource book of the English Reformation.

Forgiving others. This is a collect I wrote to help me walk thorough forgiving others - that requirement of God we are reminded of every time we pray the Lord's Prayer:

Almighty God, in obedience to your command to forgive, I commend to you N. I forgive his sins against me, especially ______________. I acknowledge that you are the only one righteous, and that like N., I stand as a sinner in need of your grace. I know also that I have from time to time committed similar sins, and even worse. Please forgive N., and forgive me. Please bless and heal N., and help him to grow in relationship with you, that both he and I would come to delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.

May God lift us up as we humble ourselves to worship him during Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Organizing Your Day, Felton and Sims

Quick book review. Great for college/just out of college folks in particular.

Felton, Sandra, and Marsha Sims. Organizing Your Day: Time Management Techniques That Will Work for You. Grand Rapids, Mich: Revell, 2009

I found Felton and Sims' Organizing Your Day to be extremely helpful because of its careful detail and focus on real practicality. If you've read any of the more popular books on time management, you'll recognize some of the tips and processes, but likely find plenty to help you think productively about your time. The book is organized into 24 short chapters, which lets the reader easily pick and choose the ones that speak to her particular challenges. Each chapter includes about three page-long "case studies," which can help the reader to diagnose her own biggest problems with organization and time management.

The chapters cover the challenges of multi-tasking, goal setting, project management, procrastination, interruptions and time-wasters, behavior changing, physical organization, and more. The book taught me to build more efficient work habits into a daily routine, and to think concretely about my responsibilities and how my work environment can both help and hinder those. For example, I schedule projects that require higher concentration for the quietest times around the office, and work on more routine tasks during the times of day that have more interruptions. I've stopped working on projects chose to the due date, and instead work on them during the "appointments" that I make for them. It's made a great difference in my stress level and my productivity. Felton and Sims take the reader through all the questions one might ask about the work environment, the nature of one's projects, personal and personality-based challenges with productivity, and personal habits.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Forgiveness and the Life of God

"The God of Jesus Christ is the only god that man has ever heard of, who loves sinners."
- Brennan Manning
When we consider forgiveness and the Christian life, we begin and end with the broader story of who the Christian God is, and what he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply a way of being religious, or a program of self-improvement. The content of the Christian Faith is the story that God tells about the world and his purposes for it, and the practices of the Faith are grounded in what God has done to heal and redeem the world through Jesus.

This Story offers an unflinchingly realistic view of human nature, and the way we live our lives. We are a much loved people, made in the image and likeness of God. Even as we bear the dignity of God in our own bodies, this likeness is broken and marred by rebellion. Not only do we choose flight from God and willfully engage in greed, envy, lust and hatred, but we are born with this proclivity, a bent-ness toward seeking our own way. The shorthand word for this is "sin," a theological suitcase that gathers up the evil we commit as well as our love for evil.

This is why the "good news" is so good: the God of Jesus Christ knows, loves, and forgives all manner of sinners. We who would murder our neighbors, steal from our loved ones, and who refuse to hear the name of God, are deeply, tenderly loved by that very God. Saint Paul explained in his letter to the Roman church,
"...while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5.6-8, ESV)
This is the invitation to a new kind of life: we wounded, broken rebels have been invited home to share a life with God as his own daughters and sons. Jesus Christ the God-Man bore the cost of our hatred, rebellion, and separation from God in his own body. When we ask what forgiveness looks like, and what it means, we look up to see our God crucified on a hill outside the city walls, bleeding and naked, forsaken by his friends and despised by his enemies. To forgive us, God bore the cost of humiliation, suffering and death.

Upon this account, we can make some observations about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is costly. Often and even daily, we are called upon to forgive and release small slights. Someone may overlook us, or insult us by poorly chosen and thoughtless words. Other times we are called upon to forgive deliberate insults, backbiting, and even physical violence. However, nursing a grudge can keep me safe. Nursing a grudge keeps me vigilant, ever watchful to be certain that the offending party can never take advantage of me again. Forgiveness is costly, because in offering it I would refuse to make "never being hurt like that again" the most important value of my life. If I were to make that refusal, I would trade in my defensiveness for trust in the saving and healing God. This is not a trust that believes, "God won't let this happen again," but rather, "I am obeying, because I believe God that there are worse things than letting this happen again." The Christian account of human life maintains that it is better to be wronged than to wrong another, and that it is better to suffer than to become hateful and defensive. This account insists that it is ultimately better for the individual human life to suffer like and with Christ rather than to fight against the enemy.

Next: Forgiveness precedes repentance.