Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3

If there was any change in how the class was conducted in the morning to the afternoon it was that the presenter didn’t stray as much from the handout as he had the night before or in the morning session. The most likely reason for this was that there was still a lot to cover in class and to get through it all we’d have be a bit more focused to in the time that remained.

After we returned from lunch the presenter talked a little bit about forgiveness [6:00] and how Matthew 18:15-17 should be applied to avoid hostilities building up. The verse he quoted from Matthew:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The presenter said that we might try and make a list of people that we feel we have wronged and go and ask for their forgiveness. He also suggested [9:30] that we might want to pray a prayer for thirty days, maybe the image prayer, for people that we feel have wronged us. All of this was in context of freeing up stumbling blocks that would interfere with our prayer lives. The presenter rightly pointed out [13:45] that often we make our forgiveness conditional based on the perceived effect of the person we forgive and this isn’t something that Scripture teaches or advocates.

The presenter then moved onto the subject of spiritual direction and asked the participants [14:45] if we had a “spiritual director or spiritual guide.” The presenter said that he had been pointed to spiritual direction over twenty years ago and that he had retained the same spiritual director for what he believed was seventeen years now. The presenter continued [15:20];

”Martin Luther had John Staupitz, his father confessor, and really it’s very similar to that. I went through a school of spiritual direction, I am a certified spiritual director, it’s a two year program and so on, in which you’re trained, you don’t have to be trained to do this but it’s helpful. The spiritual directors meet, I meet with mine once a month, for an hour to an hour and a half, we pray together, he holds me accountable to my prayer, we talk about what’s going on, he was the one that suggested the stepping stones image to me (an earlier story where the presenter envisioned a series of stones to help him visualize a solution to a problem that he was experiencing). He will sometimes say it might be time to go on a personal retreat or this book might be helpful on your journey or I think it’s time for you to read the Gospel of John. Or, he will make suggestions to me, he will challenge me, it’s someone that journeys with you who is with, once and while it feels like counseling but it’s not counseling, the focus is about Jesus that usually you’ll begin with “what is God doing in my life right now and is God saying something right now in you life?”

The presenter said that sometimes we could use “accountability groups” or even friends as spiritual directors but warned us that friends aren’t the best choice because friends are often not able to be as “challenging” or “objective” as someone who is trained to be a spiritual director. He said that often spiritual direction is often started at retreat centers and sometimes might even be held at a church.

The presenter explained [17:00] that while spiritual direction could be conducted at a church it would be unusual for it to be done by a pastor because “as pastors we aren’t trained to do it, we aren’t trained in spiritual things very much”. And while this spiritual direction that we were going over was part of our historic church the presenter believed that many pastors simply didn’t even know such things. According to the presenter the exception in the universal church was the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian church bodies that retained training and formation in spiritual direction and spiritual directors. The presenter also stated that the SED was bucking the trend and had five spiritual directors on staff.

It was stated [19:50] that before the SED had spiritual directors we would have had to go to either a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian priest for spiritual direction; which would have been ok because spiritual direction is not about anyone teaching you their doctrine; it’s about someone journeying with you.

The presenter made clear [20:00] that spiritual directors could be ordained but a majority of the people in his circles seemed to be laity with more women than men involved in the movement. If we needed to find a spiritual director we were told to ask around or we could look one up on Spiritual Directors International if we couldn’t find one in our own circles. We were also pointed to several retreat centers like Richmond Hill which provide opportunities for spiritual direction (the training required to be a certified spiritual director could be taken at this facility as well which all were encouraged to do is they felt so moved) at no charge other than maybe a free will offering.

It was said [22:30] the even our district president has a spiritual director and reportedly he has said he could not do his job without the aid of this important individual. The presenter made the statement that there was no way he could have done his ministry without the aid of his spiritual director. Even if he had pastors to talk to, the presenter claimed [23:15], most pastors, being very completive and all, only seem to want to talk about “how many members do you have, what’s your latest building program, all that kind of stuff, which who cares? And that’s not what it’s all about relationships.” The presenter reiterated the point made earlier that pastors are simply not trained to work with others or in teams so the “being vulnerable with one another” in spiritual direction just doesn’t work well. Even if not true with every pastor the overall model of spiritual direction is something that makes the task nearly impossible and why he feels it’s necessary to look to those outside his brother pastors for guidance on matters of spirituality.

The presenter again recommended [26:30] that we go on a retreat for ourselves and suggested Richmond Hill. He said we could go as a group or by ourselves and we could even go on silent retreats where we didn’t have to say anything to anyone at all but just be alone. He stated that churches should sponsor retreats as a way to build communities and women’s retreats were becoming very popular.

We then moved on to the subject of journaling which according to the handout:

Journaling is an ancient form of prayer in action.

Use it to reflect on God’s presence in the events of your day.

Write about the results of your prayer practices, such as the Lectio or Examen.

Write your questions, thoughts, feelings, and desires in relation to God.

Record your dreams.

The presenter didn’t spend a lot of time on journaling compared with the other spiritual disciplines. He said that Julian of Norwich, (1342-1417 AD) advocated this particular discipline and explained [27:30] that journaling wasn’t the same as writing in a diary in that “it is much more reflective in nature.” He stated that he himself resisted journaling and really only did so when it was suggested by his spiritual director. He made clear that journaling was a very private thing and that if any of us were married that (from the handout) “If you are married, covenant that your journals will either be burned or buried with you (unread). You need this assurance to be totally uninhibited in your writing. This is a conversation between you and God alone.” The presenter said several times during this section that journaling was a private conversation in a prayer form with God and fear that a spouse would read it would hinder the spirit of the journal.

After a participant talked [30:15] about her experiences with journaling and how it showed her that God was answering 80 – 85% of her prayers in addition to helping her as a congregational worship leader the presenter commended the women for showing us her way of using journaling to dialogue with God. The presenter suggested [33:20] that we should draw a line down the center of our journals and on the left side of the line we should write down our side of the conversation while on the right side we should journal what God is saying to us. Said the presenter [33:30]:

"You do this in a time of prayer. And when I look back at some of those dialogues after I’m finished, I don’t remember writing what God said. I can not explain that, but God sometimes basically takes a hold of it, my hand and writes what is there, I believe that. Now I can’t explain it at all. But Ben (the presenter’s spiritual director) encouraged me to do that as well with my dreams. The bible nowhere indicates that God stopped speaking through dreams. The Bible is filled with dreams where God spoke in a winding way. I still believe that God speaks to us in our dreams, not every dream. The danger is that we take kind of a logical approach and this symbolizes this and this symbolizes, that’s really not a Christian approach to dreams and dream work. I’ve been in a dream groups and what they do in a dream group is basically you’re looking for a, you have a series of dreams and you begin to say is there a common theme here, does it seem like God is maybe pushing me in direction here? Is there something God might be trying to break through? And usually it’s confirmed by some other ways God might be speaking, I don’t know what it is but is but sometimes it is."

After recounting a visit from Christ who told him that He will always with him in everything he does (we were assured that this was indeed Scriptural) in one of his dreams the presenter recommended [38:47] that the easiest way to remember our dreams might be to start journaling and after some practice we could learn to remember our dreams. The presenter recommended [40:25] several books for our reading in the hope that we might not limit God in how he communicates with us. He said that dream work was next to impossible alone and recommended we seek out a spiritual director.

The presenter then moved to the subject of fasting and asked us if this was something that we did as part of our prayer disciplines. He said [45:30] that fasting was coming back and provided the medicinal benefits to fasting and said that as our bodies are cleansed through fasting and that the eastern way of looking at it, the Hebrew way of looking at it, is that the body and mind are one and the spirit can benefit from fasting in a way that is “an opening up” The presenter also said [43:30] that fasting wasn’t limited to food but could be used to discipline ourselves from watching too much TV or any other distraction that takes us away from being spiritual. The presenter also gave a fairly decent account [54:00], with the time allotted at least, of how normal and commonplace fasting was in Scripture; both Old and New Testament.

The presenter then started on the “Healing Prayer” portion of the workshop and it was this subject that most animated the participants. It was also this subject that the presenter stuck the closest to the handout we were given the night before. He stated [1:00:00] that this subject is one that he would not have talked about three or four years ago because too many people have the misconception that “that was then and this is now” concerning healings by prayer and if we might want to look to what’s happening in Africa before we discount that healing can performed by prayers. The handout stated that:

Like many other mainline churches, the Lutheran church focuses primarily on Jesus' teaching and preaching ministries (explanation of God’s love, content), while giving little attention to Jesus' healing ministry (experience of God’s love, action). This is puzzling, since 40% of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and about a third of Luke and John, focus on healing. The book of Acts exhibits a similar abundance of healing miracles. Jesus sent His disciples out to (1) preach the Gospel, (2) heal the sick, (3) raise the dead, and (4) cast out demons (Matthew 10:1ff.; Luke 9:1ff, 10:1ff). These were “signs” of the Kingdom of God. All four of these are part of His commission to “teach them to obey all things I commanded you.”

The presenter praised [1:01:00] the Lutheran Service Book (the most recent hymnal) for including in the Agenda a healing service but then added:

"Here is where I have a problem because we say we are a biblical church but, and I have the Scriptures here, what did Jesus send his disciples to do? Four things at least; preach the Gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, and we only do one of the four. Now how can we do that? I don’t understand it, and when Jesus said to his disciples: You see what I’m doing; you’re going to be doing even greater things than that. Do we believe that? I didn’t, I think I ignored it. It’s hard to justify our lack of focus on healing when we don’t. And when you go through the Gospels; there’s loads. When you look at the early Christian church, when you study the church fathers, that’s how people came to faith. Go talk to in India today; there’s miracles, healing miracles. “And then they were told.” The head of Missional (sic) India, John DeVries, who’s an Apollo missionary with Apollo Missionaries, says we got too much explanation and not enough demonstration. And what he said, what they are teaching us in Africa and Asia, what we’re seeing there is where the bulk of Christianity is vital, leaps and bounds. We tend to think that Christianity is dying because of what’s happening in this country but it’s not, it’s bigger than ever, it’s crossing the world. But they access the whole Scripture, including healing, it’s essential, very important. And all healing, what I saw was all healing done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Spirit and there was no focus was on the healer, it was all focused on giving Jesus glory because that’s what it’s all about."

After briefly discussing the mystery of why some are able to be healed and some are not and his training [1:03:00] in healing by a Roman Catholic priest who had been laicized (removed from the priesthood or defrocked) the presenter gave a list of pastors in the LCMS who specialize in “powerful healing ministry” which he said not should be confused with TV healing ministries who are but “charlatans”.

The presenter stated [1:09:00] that it was a shame that he had to go to an Episcopalian to receive healing when he needed some and lamented again the we just don’t like to even talk about healing in Lutheran circles while highlighting [1:14:00] cancers that had mysteriously disappeared during prayers conducted before surgeries to remove them. He also reaffirmed the portion in the handout which stated:

During the first 300 years of the Christian Church (until Constantine and the Edict of Milan, 313 AD), the primary means of conversion was not preaching, but healing and exorcism (cf. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Tertullian). According to Francis MacNutt, (Healing, p. 48) “The test of orthodoxy is not doctrine alone, for doctrine remains incomplete unless it is accompanied by the power to make doctrine come true.”

After we returned from a short break the topic we took up next but that received little attention was the “Jesus Prayer.” The handout explained that this particular prayer discipline was from the Eastern Orthodox Christian monasticism and draws it strength from the fact the “We take seriously that there is power in the Name of Jesus.” The handout laid out the basics:

Blind Bartimaeus stands by the side of the road and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47) “Kyrie eleison”

Decide how long you wish to spend in this prayer (e.g. 5-15 minutes).

The Jesus Prayer can be done anywhere—as you take a walk, in your office, in the car, at church, or at the beginning of your regular prayer time.

Repeat silently “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”.

The repetition should be continuous

Allow the words to flow into your entire being.

It can be helpful to match them to your breathing.

When you have completed your time of prayer, observe for a moment God’s movement, and then express your thanks to God.

Resource: The Way Of The Pilgrim by an unknown Russian

The presenter gave his most forceful defense of the entire workshop when it came to the “Jesus Prayer” by pointing out that Matthew 6:7, which states; “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words”, should never be taken a forbidding the “Jesus Prayer” Our Lord’s name has power said the presenter and therefore repeating “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” over and over was not the equivalent of the prayers offered by the Gentiles and their repeating empty phrases. Repeated the presenter more than once; “our Lord’s name has power!” and therefore Matthew 6:7 was not a text to be used to refute the discipline of the “Jesus Prayer.”

On the topic of labyrinths the presenter gave the shortest introduction to walking a labyrinth as a prayer form and pointed us to several Episcopalian institutions along with Richmond Hill retreat center as places to go to practice this particular discipline.

We wrapped up the workshop not by a review of the spiritual disciplines we had learned about but rather a short talk from the presenter on how important it was that we as a church body support President Gerald Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. It was stated by the presenter that the LCMS would benefit greatly from the proposed recommendations and that we should pray for our synod that these changes are implemented.

And that concluded the workshop.

A programming note: As promised, the next post will cover the conversation during lunch with the presenter after he sat down at my table for the lunch break. The reason for this is that not everybody heard the conversation we had at lunch so my thinking is that what was said at our table needs to be dealt with separately.

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2

The next morning we started first thing with a short talk on the importance having of a good study Bible. To his credit the presenter held up The Lutheran Study Bible by CPH as a great resource. When the issue of translations came up someone asked what the presenter’s preference was he responded that the NIV is his preferred translation but that he also likes to have his copy of the Message close by. The presenter said “the Word has power so whatever translation you can understand” is the one you should use.

The presenter [4:05] then read Matthew 6:1-8,9;

“1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The presenter then said “the appointed text then goes on to verse sixteen, I don’t mean to skip over the Lord’s Prayer, but we’ll try to pick it up at verse sixteen

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Everyone will need to keep the fact that the presenter skipped over the Lord’s Prayer in the prayer and spiritual formation workshop on the back burner until post number four as why he skipped over the Lord’s Prayer above and his explanation of why the Apostles developed new prayer forms used (but not listed) in Acts to bring about the Holy Spirit will become essential to understanding what is going on here.

The presenter discussed what he said was the primary disciplines of Lent (the workshop was held during Lent) and said that alms giving, prayer, and fasting were really started by the apostles and are just as important “as we journey with the Lord.” He said that we would be talking about all of these disciplines along with individual confession that he said seems to be returning to the church. He said that these disciplines would “help us with our journeys

We then had a brief discussion on what helps (reunion groups and prayer closets) and what hinders (like various distractions that plague our busy lives) our prayer lives. One of the more unusual statements was when one of the participants said that singing helped her focus a bit and helped her to deal with her distractions. The presenter responded [18:03] with “yes, singing. Sometimes we will have musicians and they bring their guitars and we’ll be singing together, and that really helps and moves us. I don’t know what you do at your contemporary service but I love when they have a time of prayer and praise at the beginning, about twenty minutes of singing, it really does move you into worship and prayer, it’s powerful. Ours, (his congregation) we sing, in the beginning of our normal service, it’s a traditional service, and somehow, the old German Lutheran Hymns just don’t do it for me in getting me into worship. I’m not against them by the way but I need more.” He then followed up with a question his wife asks “does every Lutheran hymn have to sound like Lent?” The group thought her question was hilarious!

After listing on the whiteboard all the helps and distractions the presenter continued with the prepared material [23:00] and told a story a women in Africa who is a powerful healer and preacher who goes out to garbage dumps to heal the deaf so that they can hear the Gospel first and then make sure that the leapers are healed next to show how productive prayer can be. This powerful movement of the Spirit wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t developed a prayer regiment. He said that circumstances like this is one of the reasons he started looking at ancient prayer forms; to find out how such thing could be accomplished. There will be a lot of material to cover in the next post concerning healing prayers and what role the presenter feels that healing played in the rapid expansion of Christianity and what it means for us today.

We then dived into the Lectio Divina which was defined as “an ancient way of listening to the voice of God” that was lost to the church but has enjoyed rediscovery in modern times. Through this prayer form we were informed that we could read and understand the Scriptures not for information but “formation, which is a heart centered way of experiencing God and our world.” This is what the presenter uses for his formation and was taught such at the Richmond Hill Retreat Center [44:00] which trained a couple of the twelve spiritual directors employed by the SED.

It was explain that the Lectio Divina has four main parts or movements:

1. Silencio (Preparation for sacred reading) We are silent to allow God’s voice to be heard by us. In letting go we shift from control to receptivity, from information to formation, from observation to obedience.
2. Lectio (reading/listening - “sensing”)
3. Meditatio (pondering - “thinking”)
4. Oratio (Invites us to respond from the heart – “feeling”

We had already spent a good deal of time talking about Deut 6:4 saying that the Lord wants us silent to hear him so we didn’t spent much time on the Silencio movement. I won’t bore anyone with the presenter’s story of sometimes looking at the clouds for the purpose of prayer….

The presenter made it clear that not all of these prayer forms are for everybody [46:45]: “again these different prayer forms are not for everybody all the time. It’s kind of life stages to it; at certain life stages certain prayer forms just don’t connect, so, I think what I’m trying to say is that you show your desire to connect to God"

We did spend a goodly amount of time on the Lectio movement were we that should “Choose a passage from Scripture. Read the passage to yourself. Don’t be concerned about the literal meaning. Rather, listen for the word, phrase, or person that catches your attention or touches you [59:00]. Silently focus on that word or phrase. Repeat it a few times. Allow it to sink into your heart and mind.”

The presenter had us put what he was teaching into practice as he read a passage from Luke 5:17-26. If we did what we were instructed we would listen for God speaking to us in silence as we tried to pick out “words or phrases that jumped out at” us when we used our imaginations, feeling, and memories. When the verses had been read three times the majority of the participants said that they did in fact feel God had spoken or revealed something new to them through their silence, feelings, or imaginations. The presenter reassured them that something powerful was happening.

When questioned [1:16:45] on if we can trust what comes from our minds and how we hold what we think might be right up to the doctrines of the church the presenter said this:

“That’s a hazard in our church body because we do place high value on correct interpretation and, and I’m not putting that down, I think that the truth of doctrine of our church and understanding of texts is kind of a foundation upon which we build on. But when go into prayer on a text we’re not sitting there studying our notes first so we get it right. This is not about getting it right. If we believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge here, I think the Holy Spirit the one getting it right for us. He’s uses all our knowledge and background and Scripture and all that but that can be (correct interpretation and doctrines) a tremendous distraction to “am I really understanding it correctly here?”

Everyone understands that if I put something in quotes then that means the presenter said what is in quotes; word for word and in context, dontchya? Just making sure folks...

After telling us that correct interpretation and doctrine might be a hindrance to our spiritual formation the presenter skipped the Contemplatio (resting in the presence of God – “intuitive”) and the Incarnatio (Living a life of service to God’s glory) portion in the participant’s handout and moved to Luther, who we were told, practiced a form of the Lectio Divina. What “form” of the Lectio Divina Luther practiced was never discussed or defined in any historical context.

Nobody questioned the presenter on why Luther left his monastic order if all these prayer forms helped his spiritual formation as they would us. I believe it would be fair to say that most of the members of the class went away with the misconception that they were taught a “form” that the reformer would have approved of. But, the presenter informed us that the Lectio Divina is “a simple process” and should be encouraged.

The presenter told us [1:12:30] that youth were very open to learning new prayer forms and “youth directors could really have fun with this one.

After a short break, a section on using our imagination to insert ourselves into the Biblical narrative so that we might have the Spirit move us in ways we can’t imagine so that Jesus can give us hugs and tells us why He heals particular people, and a short commercial for the presenter’s other profession as holy land tour guide, (he uses these tours he conducts as something of a pilgrimage for his own spiritual formation) the presenter talked a bit concerning using images [2:00:00] from our imagination to pray. He told us that he would sometimes stop his preaching in the middle of his sermon if he didn’t “feel the energy” in the room and had his parish imagine things. He continued [2:14:15] on how he personally prepares for worship using his imagination:

“I will use images that, I, when I look at people, and before I preach. I find it most helpful in mornings before I have to preach I go, I always go through the sanctuary and I touch each pew and I try to imagine the people sitting there and that God would bring them to this place. Because I don’t think it’s an accident that we arrived. I think that God calls us to that place. Maybe it happened on our part but God called us to that place. So I kind of touch each pew and connect with it and it’s a way of, my way of praying through the sanctuary that God would have people hear what they need to hear and not necessarily what I speak.”

He continued:

“Imaging, I think it’s helpful too, for the leaders of the church or certainly the boards of elders to be praying during the worship service. And they can do that right away or they can be in another room praying or I would always that ask my leaders during the sermon especially, I need you to be praying, more than listening because if God is gonna have an effect here its not going with my words it’s gonna be with God the Holy Spirit. So you be praying that God would have an effect on their hearts and minds of people and it will make a difference, a huge difference in terms of your worship.”

This led to a question about anointing prayers and what was the role of anointing prayers during a worship service and could anointing prayers be used, as had been done in the questioner’s former congregation, to anoint particulars seats, pews, or spaces that people, women specifically, sat in. A question was also raised concerning praying for our enemies. The presenter recommended [2:18:00] the following:

“You see, a lot of prayers are changing my heart and not God’s mind. It changes my heart. If you pray for your enemy you gonna treat them not as enemies. That’s why Jesus wanted us to pray for our enemies, so we treat them differently. Small groups, it’s very helpful to always have an empty chair when you form small groups in a church. And pray over that chair. That chair is for someone who doesn’t know Jesus. So you, praying over that chair (and say) “Jesus, fill that chair with someone who doesn’t know you yet so they can sit there. Fill that chair” It’s a really a powerful way to do evangelism”

We concluded the morning session by going over the practice of absolution and confession, a Lutheran practice that was the most historic and recognizably Lutheran practice of the day according to the presenter’s own testimony. The presenter did a fair job in explaining that the practice is not a Roman Catholic only practice but something given to us by Jesus himself. When one of the participants said [2:38:30] that she would never teach her child to confess his sins to a pastor but rather she would tell him to go talk with her spouse a certain slack jawed yokel was heard defending both corporate and private confession and absolution when those with a masters of divinity failed to do so. The presenter ended up saying:

“I wouldn’t want to debate right and wrong because both are right. I would respect where ever each person is at in the room around this issue because it’s not right or wrong, God’s forgiveness is valid what ever way. I would just say that if this is something that might be helpful and if you’d like to experience it. I have found the experience, I don’t do this all the time, but the experience of private confession for me there is a power and I can’t explain it other than I know that the Holy Spirit is there.”

I’m sure it was just a slip of the tongue [2:38:00] when presenter “he or she is the mouthpiece of God” when referring to the pastoral office. Maybe the post on the discussion over lunch will shed some light on what he was thinking...

And then we broke for lunch.

A programming note: in the next post I’ll cover the second half of Saturday’s class. The forth post will be devoted exclusively to the conversation I had with the presenter after he sat down at my table for the lunch break. The reason for this is that not everybody heard the conversation we had at lunch so my thinking is that what was said at our table needs to be dealt with separately.

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

A bit ago I attended a Prayer and Spiritual Formation workshop put on by my district; the SED. When the class was over I was even more concerned about the direction of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod than I was ever before. This post will be the first in a series of posts on the class. I haven’t decided how many posts to write just yet because there is just so much material that I could spend years on this topic alone. Spending that much time on one topic would bore me to tears and that isn’t something I would look forward to. We’ll see how it all plays out…

According to the presenter the purpose of the workshop was “to reintroduce prayer forms and spiritual disciplines that were lost”[2:47] and that we’d be in our time together experiencing and “reclaiming our ancient heritage going way back, right to the New Testament” The presenter lamented the fact that most pastors (and the laity emulating their pastors out of ignorance) only knew how to pray by talking to God and said that he hoped that we would “experiment” and use some of the prayer forms introduced. He also stated that he would be willing to make suggestions as to where we should go as a congregation and that he has worked with over 45 congregations as well as working with several districts other than the LCMS.

He also made a very big deal about the fact that we should bring our Bibles if we didn’t that first night. This turned out to be quite remarkable as the number of Bible verses (usually what verses were quoted were single verses and not whole passages so the attendees could read the verses in context) could have fit on a Post-It note, but hey, whatever gets folks reading their Bibles…

We started the workshop with what was called the “Breathing Prayer” so we could prepare ourselves for the “inflowing of the Holy Spirit.” We did this so that we could “present our bodies as living sacrifices before God” and lessen the distractions interfering with our prayer. After a short chat on making sure we were properly relieving our stress by maybe stretching we were instructed to take deep breaths and pay particular attention to our breathing as we would in a meditation class down at the YMCA (my words not his). While breathing we were told to "visualize breathing in light (life) and exhaling the darkness (death)". (It should be noted that all through the class the terms light and life and darkness and death were used interchangeably) The thought was expanded and we were told “breathing in light, and that for us is the light of the Holy Spirit, we’re going to invite the Spirit into our hearts by breathing in the Spirit and slowly breathing out darkness which can be anything in your life that brings you pain or hurt or distraction or anything for you that could be darkness… ” [14:07]

Yep, we were told to invite in the Holy Spirit by breathing Him in.

After hearing a story of the presenter’s prayer warrior grandmother who had a special channel to God we were assured that we weren’t going to be dealing with any new age spirituality but rather a Biblical spirituality. To his credit the presenter started in Genesis and gave the reason why our prayer is different since man’s fall due to sin even if the sin wasn’t brought up or mentioned per se.

The presenter proceeded to make a case that the greatest prayer of the Jewish people is the shema which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The case that was made is that Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us that we need to stop speaking and start listening when we pray. The practice of silence we were told is the beginning of our understanding and acceptance of a relationship with God who wishes to communicate with us through our “imaginations, feelings, and dreams”.

We were informed that the disciples asked Jesus [1:22:15] to teach them to pray because they knew something was missing from their prayer lives. I’m not sure what translation the instructor was using at the time but apparently Jesus said “here’s an example” when teaching the disciples to pray what we call the Lord’s Prayer. As far as I’m concerned there is a big difference between “when you pray, say:…” and “here’s an example…”

We were also told that we can now access these lost or hidden prayer forms of the early church so that we might have a better relationship with God. The presenter stated that the reason for the decline in the mainline denominations was due to lack of “Spirit filled prayer”. So what should we be doing? Why would we need these new prayer forms and why would we not look to praying the way Jesus taught us to pray? The presenter stated the following:

Think about it; Jesus died, He rises from the dead, He’s here for forty days on this earth, and then He leaves. And he told them “here’s what I want you to do, go back to the room and pray.” They do it!

Now go back… Now He’s entrusted the whole ministry to about hundred and twenty people. Think about that; the world’s gotta be conquered with this faith through these hundred and twenty people. Who are they? Twelve, or at least eleven of them that are left spent three years with Him, but, ok, at least a hundred and twenty at least are in the upper room and they’re praying.

So they pray, day one, and nothing happens. I wonder if some them aren’t saying “I wonder if we are praying the right way? Maybe we need to pray a little different.” So they prayed the next day, nothing happens. So they prayed the next day, nothing happens. So about the third day I imagined that Peter said “Folks, it’s time to set some goals! We got a mission statement, I don’t know what we are going to do with it but let’s set some obtainable measurable goals, smart goals. Let’s get this thing down so that we….. but they didn’t put it down because there’s a place for that. But they prayed, they prayed, and they prayed ten days and I wonder what would happen if they hadn’t done that; would we be here today? God has a plan, He trusted them. So, ten days go by and they’re praying and it’s in the middle of their praying that, when the tongues of fire, I mean things are happening. They didn’t expect this, this isn’t what they asked for; they got much better that what they probably asked for. All of a sudden and their preaching languages that hadn’t even studied, people understanding them and three thousand people converted; right there! That was only the beginning…

After discussing the missions in India that have people converted by the thousands by experiencing a miracle first and then by hearing about by Jesus “just like they did in the early church” (the presenter made a case that people growing back fingers that had been lost is not at all uncommon and is something that the folks in India are used to seeing. More on healing prayers in the next post…) the presenter continued in teaching us that a good practice that we might want to consider starting is highlighting our Bibles every time we come across a passage that focuses on healing. The presenter said he never knew there was so much healing going on in the Bible until he started doing this. I guess then that our seminaries are not teaching, nor are our laity expecting our clergypersons to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures?

Before I go any further let me say that I’ve know great pastors who did in fact graduate seminary (both seminaries; Concordia Seminary in St. Louis AND Concordia Theological Seminary further north in Fort Wayne) and are now pastors who have a superb knowledge of both Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. In addition, I’ve spent more time in CTS classrooms than many of the distance education students have and I can say with absolute certainty that seminarians are required to have a better understanding of Scripture and our Confessions than was evident at the class on spiritual formation! If you are a pastor in the LCMS and you don’t know that there is a boatload of healing in both the Old and New Testaments; it’s not because you weren’t required to know it before you were placed in your first parish. If you are a pastor and you just discovered healing in the Bible… it’s because you don’t read the Bible. And, a quick Frank fact; you probably should start reading your Bible before you start teaching classes on spiritual formation and get called out by slack jawed yokels who don’t have a masters of divinity.

The presenter then wrapped the night up by giving us a preview of the next day’s schedule and highlighting that we would learn to “experience” the Lectio Divina; a method of praying that goes all the way back to the desert fathers and others that the church mysteriously forgotten or ignored.

The best way to describe the first night is lots of talk of us and our looking inward and outward for God and lots of talk of the Spirit. The thing that was most glaring was the lack of talk of a Jesus who is the object of our faith and who forms the model of our prayers in the giving of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus never ran the verbs in our conversations but rather He was only on the periphery of any prayer if at all and then only in an experiential sense.

When I left my head was spinning. More on the day two in the next post…

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Book Of Concord App Is Now Available At iTunes

My new favorite person just might be Brian Yamabe, who blogs over at Vocation in the Valley, for putting together a Book of Concord application for the iPod Touch, iPhone, and Apple’s newest cool toy; the iPad! The “Triglotta – The Book of Concord" app can be found here at iTunes App Store. And best of all; it’s free!

Brian deserves a huge thank you for taking the time to put this great resource together for all of us to use. So head over to
Vocation in the Valley, say howdy and tell Brian how appreciative we all are for his invaluable contribution to making the Lutheran Confessions available to this new digital medium.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Lutheran Church Establishs Its iPad Relevence Cred

Well, that didn’t take long…

Just one day after the iPad goes on sale, Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA used Apple’s latest cool toy, an iPad, to read the assigned passages of Scripture for Easter Sunday in an effort to establish its relevance cred with the high tech faithful.

My own congregation stuck to the old ways and read the readings out of a Bible.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter: The Tomb Is Empty!

From the Gospel according to Luke 24:1-12:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

The tomb is empty! The Lord has risen! Alleluia!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

But if any honest Christian wants to know why the Lord suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He “become a curse” otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written “Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” Again, the death of the Lord is the ransom of all, and by it “the middle wall of partition” is broken down and the call of the Gentiles comes about. How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and those of His outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself.”

- Athanasius of Alexandria

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Maundy Thursday

Today the Church catholic observes Maundy Thursday which celebrates Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of the Altar or as it more popularly called; the Lord’s Supper.

So what is the Sacrament of the Altar? From the Small Catechism we read:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul, write thus:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.

After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, gave thanks, and gave
it to them, saying, Take, drink ye all of it. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.

But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.