Monday, September 30, 2013

Rabbi Mel Glazer on SHALOM

This past week I had the great pleasure of having lunch with my friend Rabbi Mel Glazer, leader of the Temple Shalom Synagogue here in Colorado Springs.  Actually Mel is quite a name in rabbinic circles as he was once the lead rabbi at the Synagogue in Princeton, New Jersey - the synagogue that Albert Einstein attended (that is, when Einstein's studies weren't leading him into the minutia of the Unified Theory of The Universe at the Advanced Institute).  Also Mel is a leader in grief specialization and recovery.  He's quite a man!

My question for Mel Glazer, however, was not about particle physics, but about the word - Shalom.  "What is Shalom?" I asked Mel?  "Why did you name your synagogue in Colorado Springs Shalom - Shalom Temple?  Why does every self respecting Jewish person in Israel greet one another on the street with the words, "Ma Shalom Cha," (for men), and "Ma Shalom Eck" (for women).  Why does the apostle Paul begin nearly every one of his letters with "Grace and SHALOM," and why does he end nearly all of his letters with, "Grace and SHLAOM."  What is Shalom?"

"Shalom," said Mel Glazer, "is related to the Jewish/Hebrew word SHALAME..."

"Wonderful!" I said..."What is SHALAME?"

"Shalame," said Mel, "is the Hebrew word for completion, completeness, wholeness, perfection."  When God created the heavens and the earth, God said, "SHALOM," "It is complete."  "Completeness is only found in our lives when we are connected with God, and when that connection is demonstrated in our every day lives with each other."

I have been thinking about the notion of completeness, perfection, wholeness, completion ever since.  "Am I a complete person?" I have wondered.  The short answer is absolutely not.  I am so far from complete, I daresay, I am incomplete.  I am half-made in so many ways.  I am not-there.  I have missed the mark of perfection, completeness or completion.  I am not done being the person I feel God wants me to be.  I am not finished trying to grow into what I think God needs me to be.  I have a long way to go in my life before I am a true person of SHALOM.

Then, why, I have wondered, is SHALOM a greeting in Jerusalem?  Why is SHALOM an affirmation that Paul gives us again and again.  Why is SHALOM held up all the time as something we should strive for, even as all of us are so far away from completion, completeness, perfection, and wholeness?

As I have contemplated this question, I have thought about Jesus Christ.  Jesus, in essence, is SHALOM.  Jesus is completion itself.  Jesus is perfection and healing and wholeness.  We must strive for SHALOM, but not as a result of anything that we might do, or attempt, but only through God - through Christ.

Shalom, Paul tells us, is the result of Rejoicing, Gentleness, God's Nearness, and Thankfulness. I think about the recipe for Shalom (or mathematical formula, since we are tracking Einstein at the moment):

R + G + GN + T = Peace (SHALOM).

And Paul goes on to tell us that when we have these four things, we will be blessed with the; "Peace (SHALOM) that passes all understanding that guards our hearts in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:4-9)

Christ is our SHALOM
Jesus is our PEACE

So, SHALOM to you!
SHALOM to me!

All for Now,

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pakistan's Fathers and Daughters...

So, I was all set to do a blogpost this week about a father/daughter dance I went to with my five year old daughter, Haley, this Friday night (picture above).  I was about to write a post talking about how much fun it was to dance the Macarena, and to do the moon walk (very badly) with Haley.  I was all set to talk about the role of a father in a person's life, and how God is our Father, and how our association with our father's plays such an impact on our own perception of who God is.  All that.  But then I read the news...

You have probably read it too.  Two Sundays ago, at a church (All Saints Church), a church potluck to be precise, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 78 people were killed in a celebration that immediately followed the Sunday worship service, in a park across the street from where the service was being held.  According to eyewitnesses, two twin suicide bombers killed 78 Christ followers and injured hundreds more in a senseless act of hatred and prejudice against the Christian minority there.  Officials say that the bombs struck the church just as the benediction was being said, and just as people were meandering out the back door, shaking the pastor's hand, and heading to the potluck.

Obviously it goes without saying that such a bombing is completely evil and goes beyond all bounds of human decency, or even common sense.  Such incredibly tragic news events of discrimination against Christians reminds us that there really are living martyrs in our midst, and that faith, following Jesus with our lives, is not something we should take lightly.  People still pay high prices for believing in the things that we hold so dearly, but which we also sometimes hold so lightly.  To say, "Jesus is my savior," or "Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life," or "Jesus is the Light of the World," may seem like simple sentences of declaration and faith for us, but they are also the kinds of things that can literally get you killed in certain parts of the world.

The question may be asked, why would I include a picture of my daughter Haley and I on a blogpost that is so depressingly full of violence and hatred.  Well, the thought occurred to me that there were also fathers and daughters at the church potluck in Peshawar two weeks ago.  There were also little girls who were dressed in their Sunday best, and dad's who were brimming with pride about their daughters and their lives.  There was likely dancing and mirth leading up to the bombing, and there were pictures taken on cell phones (like the one that I have included here), that were about to go out to family members around the world to say, "Wow, look how beautiful our little girl is."  In short, let us remember that these people who were killed in Peshawar were just like us. They were JUST like us.  They weren't distant foreigners or people in a strange land...way over there.  They were JUST like us.

So, what now?  Well, let's start with prayer.  Will everyone who reads this blogpost pray for All Saints Church in Peshawar Pakistan sometime today?  That will at least be a couple of hundred people who's prayers get heard by God on this tragedy.  The prayer doesn't have to be deep, or long or profound, but just a few words sent up to God in the midst of this tragedy.  Also, send those words with the strong hope and the knowledge that we believe in a God who is so much bigger than these emblems of hatred, and that our Jesus really did die on the cross to make all things...even these things...NEW!

All For Now,

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Moment After

I get a lot of questions about prayer: "How should I pray?" "How can I pray more effectively?" "Does prayer really matter?"  Well, I can indefatigably say that prayer definitely matters.  There was a time in my faith life when I believed in prayer, but I didn't really BELIEVE in prayer (after all, I am a fourth generation Presbyterian...we Presbyterians believe in committees, but prayer is sometimes a stretch).  However, after pastoring two New Churches, having two kids, being married for 13 years, and overcoming many, many personal and spiritual obstacles, I can tell you that PRAYER MATTERS.

I am not an expert prayer, by any means.  I know of some people who can pray for hours at a time, and not even notice that five seconds has passed.  I know of people who pray deep theological prayers, and I know of people who pray deeply for the world.  I am neither of these.  I am not a great prayer.  But I do pray every night with Star, and have done for the past 6 years of our marriage.  After that, I pray every night, sometimes on my knees, when all the family have gone to bed, and I am alone contemplating my life...(in the world of the invertibrates).  But here is my big insight about prayer.  I have noticed that:

The Moment After...

prayer is more important than the moment before.  So often I have had the experience of worrying about something, or being upset about a matter.  Then, I go to God in prayer, and the moment right after is the moment that God speaks to me.  For example, just last night, I was praying about a topic that Star and I have been praying about for some time.  We prayed for about five minutes.  Immediately after the prayer was over;

The Moment After...

I had extreme clarity about the matter.  My problem was that I was not thinking big enough.  I wasn't praying large enough.  I wasn't praying for enough of a breakthrough.  I was going to God with a particular small matter, but really God wanted me (and I wanted me), to pray in a much more comprehensive way.  I went to Star and said, "I have the answer,"  She said, "What?"  I said, "We need to pray larger.  We need to pray not just for the one small thing we are praying for, but we need to pray for ten other things around it, that can immediately solve the one small thing we have been praying for. We need to pray much bigger!

Often in the middle of a meeting, or a counseling session, I will stop and say, "Why don't we pray about this for a moment."  And then,

The Moment After...

I ask the person in counseling, or I connect with the individual in the meeting and say, "What do you think now?"  Almost always that person has new insights and new vantage points about a particular matter.

So, I have begun a new type of prayer in my life.  It is to think about something to pray about, then to have a...

Moment After...

Then, I go to God about that thing that I received wisdom about in,

The Moment After...The Moment After

And then, I know what God wants me to pray about, verses simply what I think is the thing I should be praying about.

What about you?  Does God speak to you, like me, in...

The Moment After?

All For Now,

Monday, September 9, 2013

Alvy on God

This past weekend, I had the great honor of meeting and hearing one of the most famous baritone/bass singers of our time.  His name is Alvy Powell.  Alvy knew many of the Presidents of the United States personally, he sang for 8 of them in concert.  Alvy sang at Gerald Ford's funeral, and is friends with Betty Ford.  Alvy was friends with the late Ronald Reagan, and is still friends with Nancy.  Alvy has sung in most of the great cathedrals of Europe and America.  Alvy had an audience with the pope, in which jokes about not being sure whether to kiss the pope's ring, since he is Protestant.  Alvy has sung the lead role in Porgy and Bess hundreds of times on Broadway.  He is, simply put, one of the best in his business.

In an interview that First Pres. conducted with Alvy, before he sang in a concert at our church this past weekend, he was asked what the secret to his success is/was.  Alvy, without flinching said, "Well, it isn't that I have the greatest voice.  Believe me, there are better voices out there.  I think it's that...(and then he paused), when I sing, I open my heart, and my soul to people, and I open my heart and soul to God, and it is the intersection between being open to people and open to God that allows me to do what I do."  After pausing for a moment again, Alvy said, "Yeah, I think that's what it is...."

Alvy's honesty and openness about what his real secret to success is, about what really connects with people and audiences is rich and so humbly honest.  And Alvy's stated secret is, if one is to be honest, what makes all performers great.  It is also what makes all preachers great.

OPENNESS to People

There is a moment in every sermon or persuasive effort, when reality sets in.  When the words that a preacher is saying are either the truest, realest things that have been said in a long time, or they are not.  The congregation knows this moment.  But in order for these words to be effective, the preacher has to be vulnerable to the congregation.  The preacher has to be open.

Yesterday, in church, I was two feet away from Alvy as he sang.  The words of his song were as if he were speaking them himself.  They did not seem like words from a piece of music.  It seemed like a conversation between Alvy and the congregation.  They were natural, but they were also rehearsed.  They were ordinary, and yet they were transcendent.  The words were permanent, and yet they were fleeting.  As soon as the song began, it was over.  But Alvy's openness stayed with us.

Jesus had a open soul.  I wonder what it must of have been like to see Jesus preach.  Jesus (human of humans), was eminently real.  Jesus could not have looked like anything out of the ordinary, his voice was nothing special, his speech was nothing lofty or elevated.  He was normal.  And yet, many who listened must have felt and known that Jesus was so much more than a rabbi or even a prophet.  Those who listened to Jesus must have know, for a brief and shining moment, that they were encountering God.  God was here, and then he was gone.  But Jesus' openness stay with us.

And allows all to enter in...

All For Now,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PDS Ahead!

This past summer has been marked by the strangest weather patterns around the globe that I can ever remember.  The East Coast was wracked with heat wave upon heat wave (not that unusual by itself).  England and Ireland, where Star and the girls and I visited was record temperatures all summer (over 90 F).  Here in the Intermountain West, we have had thunderstorms every night, and hail the size of grapefruit (...just tired of always hearing hail compared to sports balls, baseballs, golf balls).  And of course, in the Midwest (particularly Oklahoma), they experienced more tornadoes of huge magnitude than any summer on record.  After this Armageddon-esque summer climate change, the National Weather Service began to coin a new acronym that indicated that tough weather times lay ahead.  It was:

PDS - short for - A "Particularly Dangerous Situation"

It strikes me that this new acronym, PDS, is too good to only be applied only to weather conditions.  Lots of things could be PDS's.  The next time you get a phone call from someone upset with you, who really wants to yell at you, say to yourself, "this phone call is a PDS, be careful."  If you have to change a baby's diaper, and if you feel like the damage caused by the baby's nether-regions might be worse than usual, you could call it a "PDS."  "Honey, come quickly, our daughter has a PDS - a particularly dangerous situation."  Let's say you have a meeting that you are going to be encountering more than one difficult personality, and volatile topic matter.  Tell yourself beforehand, "I am entering a PDS, be careful."

From a spiritual standpoint, I believe that Christ followers need to be extra aware of seasons in their life when they encounter more PDS's than usual.  The normal term for this, in Spiritual parlance is, "Spiritual Attack."  Sometimes calling a time period in one's life "Spiritual Attack," can be an apt metaphor, sometimes it can be an over-reach in verbosity.  I love what Nicky Gumble, of ALPHA Bible Studies says about Spiritual Attack.  Nicky deeply believes in Spiritual Attack, and also believes that when one is in a season of attack, the best thing is to be extra aware, extra bathed in prayer, extra listening, extra attentive to what's happening around us, and extra tuned into God.

My experience has also been that calling every challenge that comes along in our lives, "Spiritual Attack," can have the effect of giving the Evil one too much credit.  As Lewis said, "We should not take the evil one too seriously, nor should we take him too lightly."  Calling every challenge that arrises in our lives, "Spiritual Attack", can have the impact of over-spiritualizing normal everyday challenges that all of us face.  So, let's call them a new name, let's call them PDS's.  People who are always looking to pick a fight with you can be PDS's (or maybe it would be more apt to call them PDP's - "particularly dangerous people").  Particular types of meetings, where you have to be extra careful what you say, can be PDS's (or maybe it would be better to call them PDM's - "particularly dangerous meetings").  Areas of sin which are constant recurrences in a person's life could be called PDS's (or again, maybe better to call them, PDAS's - particularly dangerous Areas of Sin.

Sometimes simply the awareness in our lives that we are about to encounter a PDS, and then a quick prayer before it, can make all the difference.

All For Now,