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Stalking for Christ’s Sake

Evangelism clip art


All the cool, successful bloggers out there have occasional “guest bloggers,” and so (wanting to be cool and successful) I’ve invited my favorite blogger to guest blog for me.  Yes, as it turns out, she’s also my daughter, so I didn’t have to pay anything for this.  And I’m also proud to introduce her to you.  Meet Sarah Brouwer.  She’s Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Ladue Chapel, an 1800-member Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in suburban St. Louis.  The views of guest bloggers are not necessarily the view of the totally cool and so-very-important head blogger here, but in this case I’m totally in agreement (and wish I had written it before she did).

On the rare occasion my whole family is together (immediate and extended!) we almost inevitably end up talking about church.  We’re a churchy family.  I along with two of my cousins have become pastors.  Yes, Doug’s one, too.  And my mother’s an elder, along with half my aunts and uncles (approximation here).  Oh, we are SO COOL in my family.  Except, when we’re not.

The thing is, church isn’t cool anymore.  (Was it ever?)  No one my age goes to church.  In fact, most people of most ages don’t go to church – it’s just not the thing to do.  Granted, most folks in this country believe in something, but you can get that thing in nature (apparently, but I’m more of an indoor girl myself).  My dentist told me the other day that he was leaving to go to his church next week…in the Rockies.

But I’m not here to barrage you with woes about church attendance, or lack thereof.  I want to offer a few ideas, though, on how to get your friends to church.  It’s called… wait for it… evangelism.  Yes.  If you believe that Jesus has transformed your life, you’re called to shout it from the mountaintops!  Not really, but you could!

I’ve learned a few things in my brief time in ministry.  The most important thing being relationships are KEY to evangelism.  Oh, you knew that already.

The thing is, like I said, church isn’t cool anymore.  And frankly, relationships are hard.  People spend all their time dealing with relationships elsewhere, and they’re sick of doing it come Sunday.  They deal with relationships in business, family, friends, children, colleagues, etc., and they don’t want to do more of it in a place that isn’t going to move them, change them, transform them.

So here’s our dilemma: no one’s coming to church because church isn’t cool.  But, those of us who are here, who are not cool, are called to evangelize.  Evangelism, I think, is best done in relationships with others.  But, who wants to be friends with uncool people?

Follow me?

Here’s what I think.  I think people are craving community – real, authentic, genuine community with folks who care about them, and show them what it means to live out the good news of the Gospel.  But, they don’t have time to figure us out.  They think we’re weird with our rituals and our stories and our judgmental stuff, and they can’t see past all that muckity muck to the heart of the Christian life.  People don’t and won’t know what we are all about and how wonderful it is unless we build relationships with them… and stalk them until they come to church.

But, seriously.  The most amazing ministry I’ve started at my new church in St. Louis is a young women’s book club.  We meet once a month.  Hardly any of them come to church on a regular basis, but they make it to book club (maybe for the wine and cheese but, hey, it works).  This book club, which now has almost 30 young women on the email address list, has now become like a little church.  And while I am really going to try and say this without sounding like I’m bragging, though I am, the reason they come is because of me.  I’ve worked my tail off to build relationships with them.  I take them to coffee.  I email them relentlessly.  I don’t back off.  I buy them lunch.  I follow up when they come to book club and tell them how awesome it was that they were there.  I also hold them accountable when they don’t come, though usually it’s in the form of a “we really, really missed you last night, but know you must be super busy.”  Trust me, these girls know that I am NOT COOL.  But, I know they want to be around me, and around each other.  Together, we’re different from the usual people they run into on a day-to-day basis.  They know that I care about them, and I care about them because I love Jesus, and they, in turn, are starting to know about Jesus, too, and love one another.  It’s beautiful.  It’s church.

There are some downsides to this process, though.  As an uncool person, you can tend to feel rejection easily.  I get it but, trust me, it’s not personal.  People do get busy.  They won’t come to stuff.  Deal with it.

So many church people I know often refuse to involve people on the outskirts (especially young adults) because they aren’t reliable.  Eventually they don’t try to include them in anything and write them off.  IF YOU FEEL THESE THINGS, THEN NONE OF THIS WILL WORK.  Just remember… it’s not about you.

Evangelism through relationships is hard work.  But knowing that you were responsible for pulling someone in, for showing them the beauty of being in community and finding Christ?  That’s reward enough right there.  And God will thank you, too.

I know I write more than Doug does, but hopefully you made it this far.

Here’s my benediction:

Go out, you uncool church people.  Go pursue those people on the margins.  Write them emails, Facebook them, call them, tell them you want to SEE them, and do it in Jesus’ name.  They’ll think you’re weird, but they’ll love you for it in the end.  Amen.

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Words that must go!

banished words

Here’s my favorite year-end news story…

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – While the U.S. Congress has been kicking the can down the road and inching closer to the fiscal cliff, the word gurus at Lake Superior State University have doubled-down on their passion for the language and have released their 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

The list, compiled from nominations sent to LSSU throughout the year, is released each year on New Year’s Eve. It dates back to Dec. 31, 1975, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe (RAY-bee) and some colleagues cooked up the whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases from the language. They issued the first list on New Year’s Day 1976. Much to the delight of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list has stayed the course into a fourth decade.

Through the years, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which now includes more than 800 entries.

This year’s list is culled from nominations received mostly through the university’s website, www.lssu.edu/banished. Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more. A committee makes a final cut in late December.

So, let’s see what’s trending. Grab your favorite superfood (boneless wings) as the list creators at LSSU reveal (spoiler alert!) their bucket list of misused, overused and generally useless words and phrases. YOLO!

As one might expect, this phrase received the most nominations this year. If Congress acts to keep the country from tumbling over the cliff, LSSU believes this banishment should get some of the credit.

“You can’t turn on the news without hearing this. I’m equally worried about the River of Debt and Mountain of Despair.” — Christopher Loiselle, Midland, Mich.

“(We’ve) lost sight of the metaphor and started to think it’s a real place, like with the headline, ‘Obama, Boehner meeting on fiscal cliff’.” — Barry Cochran, Portland, Ore.

“Tends to be used however the speaker wishes to use it, as in falling off the fiscal cliff, climbing the fiscal cliff, challenged by the fiscal cliff, etc. Just once, I would like to hear it referred to as a financial crisis.” — Barbara CLIFF, Johnstown, Penn.

“Continually referred to as ‘the so-called fiscal cliff,’ followed by a definition. How many times do we need to hear ‘fiscal cliff,’ let alone its definition? Please let this phrase fall off of a real cliff!” — Randal Baker, Seabeck, Wash.

“Fiscal cliff, fiscal update, fiscal austerity…whatever happened to ‘economic’ updates? Fiscal has to go.” — Dawn Farrell-Taylor, Ont.

“Makes me want to throw someone over a real cliff,” — Donna, Johnstown, NY

“If only those who utter these words would take a giant leap off of it.” — Joann Eschenburg, Clinton Twp., Mich.

“Usually used in politics, this typically means that someone or some group is neglecting its responsibilities. This was seized upon during the current administration and is used as a cliché by all parties…Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Tories, Whigs, Socialists, Communists, Fashionistas…” — Mike Cloran, Cincinnati, Ohio

“I’m surprised it wasn’t on your 2012 list — were you just kicking the, um, phrase down the road to 2013?” – T. Jones, Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I thought that perhaps you weren’t ready to deal with it. You just kicked that can down the road.” — Rebecca Martz, Houston, Tex.

“I would definitely like to kick some cans of the human variety every time I hear politicians use this phrase to describe a circumstance that hasn’t gone their way.” — Christine Tomassini, Livonia, Mich.

“Much the same as ‘put on the back burner,’ these two phrases still have heat and are still in the road. Kick this latest phrase down the road.” — Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio

“I can’t turn on the TV any more without being informed that can-kicking has occurred. What’s wrong with the word ‘postpone’?” – Kathryn, West Chester, Ohio

“This blackjack term is now used as a verb in place of ‘repeat’ or ‘reaffirm’ or ‘reiterate.’ Yet, it adds nothing. It’s not even colorful. Hit me!” — Allan Ryan, Boston, Mass.

“The next time I see or hear the phrase, I am going to double over.” — Tony Reed, Holland, Mich.

“Over-used within the last year or so in politics.” — John Gates, Cumberland, Maine

“Better nip this in the bud – it’s already morphed into ‘quadruple down.'” — Marc Ponto, Milwaukee, Wisc.

“It implies supernatural powers — such as the ability to change the weather or levitate. Most new jobs pay less than the lost jobs to ensure stratospheric CEO compensation and nice returns on investments. I respectfully propose a replacement term that is more accurate — job depleters.” — Mark Dobias, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

“One of the most overplayed buzz terms of the 2012 presidential campaign. Apparently ‘lowering unemployment’ doesn’t have the same impact.” — Dennis Ittner, Torrance, Calif.

Since jobs are only created by demand, consumers are the real job creators. — Scott Biggerstaff, Redlands, Calif.

“It’s been over-used and pigeon-holed into political arguments left, right, and center to the point that I don’t believe it has any real meaning.” — Adam Myers, Cumming, Ga.

“To belong to this tax-proof club, you don’t have to create a single job. All you need to do is be rich. In fact, many people who call themselves ‘job creators’ make their money by laying off people.” — S. Lieberman, Seattle, Wash.

“Uttered by every politician who wants to give big tax breaks to rich people and rich businesses…” — Jack Kolars, North Mankato, Minn.

“If these guys are capitalists, as claimed, they are focused on reducing expenses and maximizing profit. Jobs are a large part of expenses. So, if anything at all, they minimize employment to maximize profits. Up is down, black is white. Job creators are really employment minimizers.” — Bob Fandrich, Fredericksburg, Va.

“Diabetes is not just Big Pharma’s business, it’s their passion! This or that actor is passionate! about some issue somewhere. A DC lobbyist is passionate! about passing (or blocking) some proposed law. My passion! is simple: Banish this phony-baloney word.” — George Alexander, Studio City, Calif.

“As in ‘that’s my passion.’ Please, let’s hope you mean ‘enthusiasm.’ ‘Passion’ connotes ‘unbridled,’ unmediated by reason and sound judgment. Passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, and chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists.” — Michael T. Smith, Salem, Ore.

“Seared tuna will taste like dust swept from a station platform – until it’s cooked passionately. Apparently, it’s insufficient to do it ably, with skill, commitment or finesse. Passionate, begone!” — Andrew Foyle, Bristol, UK

“My passion is (insert favorite snack food here). I’m passionate about how much I hate the words ‘passion’ and ‘passionate.’ Don’t wait for next year’s list! — David Greaney, Bedford, NH

“Stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ and used by wannabe Twitter philosophers who think they’ve uncovered a deep secret of life. Also used as an excuse to do really stupid things, such as streaking at a baseball game with YOLO printed on one’s chest. I only live once, so I’d prefer to be able to do it without ever seeing YOLO again.” — Brendan Cotter, Grosse Pte. Park, Mich.

“Used by teens everywhere to describe an action that is risky or unconventional, yet acceptable because ‘you only live once.’ Who lives more than once?” — P.P., Los Angeles, Calif.

“Just gives people, especially teens, a reason to do stupid things. I find it annoying and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.” – Daniel, Hickory, NC

“Only a real yoyo would use the term ‘yolo.'” — Sandra McGlew, White Lake, Mich.

“What was once a polite warning has turned into a declarative statement: I have just spoiled something for you. When news outlets print articles with headlines such as, ‘Huge upset in men’s Olympic swimming,’ with a diminutive ‘spoiler alert’ on the link to the rest of the article, I think it’s safe to say we’ve forgotten the meaning of the word ‘alert.'” – Afton, Portland, Ore.

“Used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it, no matter what.” — Joseph Joly, Fremont, Calif.

“The expression makes me cringe every time I hear it — and we’ve been hearing it for several years. I’m surprised it isn’t already in your master list. Let’s emphasize life and what we do during it. It’s such a grim way of looking at ‘what I want to do,’ and often it is in selfish terms.” — Shea Hoffmitz, Hamilton, Ont.

“Getting this phrase on the Banished Word List is on my bucket list!” – Frederick Fish, Georgia

“A trend is something temporary, thank goodness; however, it is not a verb, and I’m tired of news stations telling me what trite ‘news’ is ‘trending.'” — Kyle Melton, White Lake, Mich.

“I’m sick of chirpy entertainment commentators constantly informing us of what ‘is trending right now.’ I used to like a good trend until this.” – Nancy, Victoria, BC.

“Trending leaves me wondering ‘in what direction?’ It seems to mean ‘increasing in attention received’ or ‘frequency in which it is referenced.'” — John Hannon, Springfield, Va.

“It’s food. It’s either healthful or it’s not. There is no ‘super’ involved. — Jason Hansen, Frederic, Mich.

“Can we just call them chicken (pieces)?” — John McNamara, Lansing, Mich.

“Unless you’re teaching transcendental meditation, Hinduism or Buddhism, please don’t call yourself a guru just because you think you’re an expert at something. It’s silly and pretentious. Let other people call you that, if they must.” — Mitch Devine, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

A Word Banishment salute to John Prokop of Oakland, Calif., who sent us a list of nearly four dozen words, phrases and acronyms that “bug the heck” out of him. Most of those that he mentioned are on this list or have been on previous lists.

Lake Superior State University is Michigan’s smallest public university with an enrollment of 3,000 students. It is known for its academic programs such as fisheries and wildlife management, engineering, nursing, criminal justice, fire science and business management. For admissions information, go to LSSU’s web site, www.lssu.edu.

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My annual Christmas letter

Advent 2012

Dear family and friends,

Susan and I have been empty nesters for a while now, so you’d think the focus of our lives would be on this exciting next chapter of our lives.

Not so.

We’re still mostly focused on the kids and their lives – to the point of texting each other all through the presidential debates last fall and sometimes even during University of Michigan football games. Lizzy calls us on her way to the library, and Sarah calls on her way to the gym. And then we use the speakerphone to hang on every word. I hope that’s not pathetic.

The highlight of the year for our family – without even a close second – was Lizzy’s wedding, and Susan who is now nearly retired spent the better part of the year getting ready for it. I had no idea weddings required so much preparation.

Lizzy met Daniel a few summers ago when both of them were counselors at Camp Roger in western Michigan – ironically enough, the same camp Susan and I attended most summers when we were children. (All former campers may now sing “On the Shores of Little Bostwick.” If you’ve forgotten the lyrics, which I find hard to believe, click here.)

The wedding and reception were held in Holland, Michigan, where our family vacationed most summers and where we still seem deeply rooted even though we’ve lived elsewhere most of our lives.

The weather on that August day was beautiful. In fact, everything about it was wonderful. Wedding day photos included all the favorite Holland locations – from the Peanut Store on 8th Street to Ottawa Beach State Park.

Lizzy is finishing her Masters in Public Health at the University of Michigan and applying to PhD programs for next fall.  I used to help her with editing and proofreading her school papers, something I very much enjoyed, but the last item she sent – titled “Decentralized Financing of Health Facilities: Policy Lessons From Flexible Financing Under India’s National Rural Health Mission” – was very nearly impossible for me to understand. I’m afraid she may have to find a new editor.

Daniel is riding the crest of the wave known as Apple, and now works at their Ann Arbor location. We’re thrilled of course that he’s part of our family – and not just because of his amazing technical skills, though we do seem to have lots of little jobs for him when he visits (like resetting our chirping smoke detectors).

Sarah is living in St. Louis now and serving as Associate Pastor for the Ladue Chapel in the leafy suburb of Ladue. (Yes, another hyperlink. Once you figure these things out, it’s hard not to make use of them!) It’s fun to have another Presbyterian pastor in the family, but to Susan’s dismay lots of our phone conversations consist of much-dreaded “church talk.” Sorry, we can’t help it.

Sarah and Ben bought a house in an interesting and charming University City neighborhood last spring.  Susan and Lizzy went out “to get them settled” which, from the looks of the credit card statement, meant buying lots of sheets and towels and then going out for dinner and drinks.

Ben has a job he likes – with Lockheed Martin – and seems to be making ample use of his graduate degree in environmental policy which I didn’t think would be possible. Not as much fun as his old job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but fewer really tall people.

The regular readers of my blog already know about the trip Susan and I took to Africa last month. For those of you who are new to Doug’s Blog, welcome, and here’s a brief recap.

Cape Town is a gorgeous city. Table Mountain is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and now I understand why. Kruger National Park and the game preserves in the northeastern part of South Africa are fascinating.  And the tiny bit of mission work we did at the end of the trip was, as these things almost always are, life-changing.

Being asked to preach at the Calvary of Hope Christian Church in Acornhoek, South Africa, was fun and humbling. When I first stood up front and looked at the congregation that morning, with my interpreter standing next to me, I choked up and couldn’t go on. Occasionally I have these moments when I realize where I am and what I’ve been given the privilege to do.

Life in Florida is good.  We’re in relatively good health, and if I finally learn to use sunscreen on a regular basis, I might have a few good years left. We like winters here a lot.  We’re not, however, in love with Florida summers, which seem to stretch well into October. Susan is sadly no longer with Habitat for Humanity, but she’s with me, which I like.

We love the people at our church who have welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically. We were drawn initially by the loving group of people we met, and we continue to enjoy that and – I hope – respond in kind.

As always, I look to this season of the year to re-kindle the hope that God is about to do something new in the world. And so we watch and wait along with people of faith down through the centuries. Advent is also the time of year to renew our friendships with you. We wish you a joy-filled Christmas.


Doug and Susan

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A memorable birthday card

I still love the homemade birthday cards from my kids, even when they’re 25 years old. Received this one last week from my (younger) daughter…

Things to do on your birthday:

1. Take a lot of pregnant pauses [something I’m known for, especially among family members]
2. Thoroughly clean the kitchen, then declare that “kitchen is closed!”
3. Bleach the crap out of something [it’s true, I love to use lots the bleach when doing the laundry]
4. Play on iPad until you fall asleep with your mouth open
5. Be generally awesome and wonderful

Love you, Papa!

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The Bible and Teeth

“What does the Bible have to say about teeth?

Just when I thought I had heard every question that could possibly be asked about the Bible, I heard that one last week.

A member of the last church I served – and my dentist for the years I was there – emailed me with that question. Turns out he was asked to speak about his vocation to the older adult ministry at my former church, and he thought he would toss in a reference or two to the Bible.

And naturally that’s when he thought of me.

So, the question wasn’t about the position that Bible takes regarding teeth, but simply about tooth references.  Actually, writing about the Bible’s position on teeth might have been a more interesting question to explore.  I would like to think that Bible takes a strong and conservative stand on teeth, not a liberal and wishy-washy one.

In any case, I approached the question the way I approach nearly all questions these days.  I turned to Google and typed “Bible and teeth.”

The result?  Well, you won’t be surprised to know that the Bible contains many, many references to “weeping and the gnashing of teeth,” which biblically speaking is often the sound you hear from some very sad and grief-stricken people.

I didn’t know before, but as the result of my research I am now aware that the idiom or expression “by the skin of my teeth” comes from the Bible – from the Book of Job, as a matter of fact.  As with most idioms, it’s meant to be taken figuratively, not literally – as in “you’re pulling my leg,” which to my knowledge is not found in the Bible.

Okay, but the biblical reference that I thought had the most potential for my old friend’s talk was one from Amos 4:6 where God says he has given his people “cleanness of teeth.”  Sounds good, right?  Not so fast. That’s another idiom or expression, and in context it means that the people haven’t had much to eat of late … and so their teeth are clean.

Look – and it has taken more than 300 words to get here – we tend to use the Bible in some very peculiar ways … for a laugh during a talk at a seniors gathering, for example, or to back up our views on a variety of topics, or to find names for our children, etc.

What I hope we never lose sight of is that the Bible is mostly a story – our story, of course, but more importantly God’s story. So, the Bible tell us not only who we are, but also who God is, and what the relationship between us is like or ought to be like. That’s an amazing gift when you think about it.

And if the Bible gives us a smile or two about our teeth, I suppose that’s okay too.

If Dan gets a big ovation from his audience in Michigan, I told him he’s invited to speak to our older adults in Florida, minus the biblical references.

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October is Pastor Appreciation Month

Only one month?

Seriously, this month is Pastor Appreciation Month. And church members all over the country are … well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing.

Ever since the Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy and urged honor “for those who labor in preaching and teaching,” church members have looked for ways to say thank you to their pastors.

A quick Google search revealed that it was actually Focus on the Family in 1994 that set the whole Pastor Appreciation Month thing in motion.  That organization claimed it was appropriate to honor pastors “and their families” all year long, but they decided to set aside one month each year for “a special tangible tribute.”

I don’t think that the “tangible tribute” was ever specified, but I certainly have ideas, in case you’re looking for some.

When I was serving a church in New Jersey a long, long time ago, one of my close clergy friends was the pastor of the black Baptist church in town.  Our friendship was an eye-opener to me.  I had grown up in a culture that thought its pastors should be poor.  A sack of potatoes left at the back door was about the only “tangible tribute” church members might imagine – and that was often in lieu of salary.

My pastor-friend Ron might have received the occasional sack of potatoes, but he received a great deal more. He drove a large Lincoln, he wore a dazzling Rolex watch, and he always seemed to have on a shiny, new suit.  He told me that every year on the anniversary of his ordination his congregation would buy him a new suit – and a new dress for his wife.

I was driving an old, rusting Toyota at the time, so I mentioned all of this to my elders one night at a Session meeting, but nothing ever came of it.  I came to realize that in some African American churches members want their pastor to look good, to have everything the members themselves aspire to.  When he looked good, they looked good.

At the Presbyterian Church across town, I was expected to make do with what I had and be grateful for it.  And I was.  Most of the time.

What I’ve learned – over the last 32 years of ordained ministry – is that my work is appreciated a great deal more often than the work of most of my members.  Along the way, churches have celebrated my marriage, the births of my children, the publication of my books, the beginnings and endings of my pastorates, and many other special times in my life.  Beyond that I regularly receive touching and heart-felt notes from church members about sermons I preach and other things I do.

As I say, I am probably remembered more times and in more thoughtful ways than most of the members of my church.  I am aware that many businesses do not recognize their employees – and hardly remember to say good-bye when they leave.

So, the truth is, I feel blessed.  And some days I feel blessed beyond measure.  If you come to my office I’ll show you a ceramic bowl on my shelf which contains all of the thank-you notes I’ve received in the last three years.

My bowl runneth over.

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Prayer at lunchtime

It’s interesting to listen to others pray.  I was at a lunch meeting yesterday, and our speaker opened with prayer by saying, “Daddy.”

I hadn’t heard that word used in public prayer before – and I’ve heard a lot of public prayer over the years – but I remember feeling fine with it.

After lunch, on the elevator ride down from the 28th floor, I listened as two men, who were also at the lunch, debated the use of the word “daddy” in prayer.  One of them said, disapprovingly, “I come from a Southern Baptist background, and that word would never have been used in prayer.”  The other man seemed to think it was just fine.  He listed a half dozen churches he attends in the community and mentioned that all of them would be fine with it.  (My church was not on his list.)

I listened for a while to their conversation – okay, I eavesdropped – and then I introduced myself just before the elevator car doors opened.  “Hi, I’m the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church here in Fort Lauderdale.”

Their reactions were priceless.  But I kept thinking about the prayer and am still thinking about it more than 24 hours later.

Prayer language is an interesting subject. How do you address the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Maker of all things, seen and unseen?  Is “Daddy” okay?  Is “Lord” or “Lord God” better?  How do you decide?  Maybe some language is better for personal prayer and other language for public prayer, but how does one decide?

I’m interested in prayer language mainly because I think it reveals a great deal about the person who’s praying and the nature of the relationship that person has with the Almighty, if any.  I remember a person from a church I served previously who used to address God as though he was sitting at a boardroom table with him.  I loved those prayers.  God always seemed so sensible and matter-of-fact. God made decisions on the basis of good data.

I’ve listened to other people pray who become uncomfortably (to me) child-like when they pray.  Their voices take on a little girl or little boy sound.  I wonder what that sound says about their relationship with God.  I’m a child of God, true, but I would like to think that God prefers me to be a grown up in my relationship with him.

When my grandmother prayed many years ago, I enjoyed listening to her King James English.  She was Dutch and spoke Dutch, but she peppered her English prayers with a lot of thee, thou, and thine.  When she prayed, we were always approaching “Thy throne of grace.” I liked that.  For her God was on a throne that had to be reverently approached, but it was always, thankfully, a throne of grace.

Since moving to south Florida I have adjusted some of my own prayer language to fit a new culture.  I hear lots of “Father Gods” around here, a phrase that suggests some intimacy but also some majesty and holiness.  In other settings where I’ve served, though, that phrase would have sounded a tad too masculine.  I haven’t adopted that combination, but I’ve tried others.  I won’t be trying “daddy.”

Here’s what I think: Our word choices in prayer should be thoughtful.  We should use words because we’ve thought about what they mean and because they’re appropriate for our relationship with God.  I believe that God values sincerity and honesty and genuineness in our prayers, but I’m also convinced that God values a well-chosen word.

If God is going to take the time to  listen, we should choose our words with care.

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It’s not all misty-eyed pride!

Having a daughter who’s a Presbyterian pastor is a mixed blessing. You might have thought it was all misty-eyed pride, but that’s not so.

On the one hand, she’ll say something like, “All of you baby-boomer pastors should retire and make room for us younger pastors to move up.”

I mean, really, it’s hard to disregard a comment like that when it comes from your own daughter.  With other young pastors, I could simply pretend that I didn’t hear, that something was wrong with my hearing aid, maybe.  When your own daughter says something like that, you kind of have to respond.

What she’s saying, I know, is that it’s time for my generation, which to her and her pastor-friends has failed abysmally, to move along to make way for her generation of bright-eyed, energetic, dynamic, clear-thinking friends, who are ready to take the church to new and unprecedented heights.

But then, just when I’m ready to encourage her to find another career path, I’ll read her blog one morning and find that she’s articulated some important truth about the life of faith that, after more than thirty years of trying, I’ve been unable to do.  And not only that, it will be so good that I’ll decide to post it on my own blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

This morning, for example, I saw that my daughter had written something on her blog about church members who toil away without recognition, who do tedious and monotonous work without a penny in compensation, and who (generally) ask for nothing except a thank you.

She said it in such a thoughtful, caring way, and she even quoted a lovely bit of scripture (1 John 3), that her words took my breath away.

That’s my kid, I thought. She’s got a pastor’s heart.  And I’m so proud, even if she does think I should retire and get out of her way.

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A little bug

I felt it Saturday morning.

Something was happening in my upper respiratory system, and it wasn’t something good.  My voice sounded a little more resonant than usual.  I had a scratchy throat. And so, clearly a cold was on the way.

But getting sick on Saturday is not an option, not for me.  I had a sermon to preach, one that I was looking forward to preaching, one that I was genuinely excited about, as a matter of fact.

So, I did what I usually do.  I powered through.  A little Tylenol, a little decongestant (the non-drowsy kind), and I figured I was good to go.  So, Sunday came and went, and I thought I had dodged a bullet (I don’t like that expression much, but it sort of fits).

Then, I woke up Wednesday morning, and I realized I hadn’t dodged anything.  The bug suddenly had the upper hand, and I was busy cancelling appointments for the day.  I reluctantly called my family practice doctor, who prescribed an anti-biotic, and I had no choice but to give in and – I can’t believe this – take a nap.

My grandparents took naps, for heaven’s sake!  And they were really old.

Spiritually speaking, this little encounter with a flu bug has significance for me, beyond the need to take care of myself.  Getting sick is often a reminder to me that I am, after all, a mere mortal, which is a simple truth I am tempted to forget.

It’s like the smear of ashes on my forehead at the Ash Wednesday service – and then the words “dust you are, Doug, and to dust you shall return.”

I don’t like that reminder because I like to think of myself as big and strong and, yes, very nearly invincible.  Illness is what happens to other people.

Then a little bug comes along – one that’s not even visible to the naked eye – and it lays me out.   And in that moment I realize (once again) that “I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…” (one of my favorite lines from the Heidelberg Catechism).

And this is where I’m supposed to comment on how thankful I am for this much-needed reminder…but I’m not quite there yet.

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