Blessed are…

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Photo of the Grand Canyon by Amy Felt

The following is a prayer prepared for the March 5, 2017 worship service at South City Church based on the Beatitudes:

 

Heavenly Father, we come to you through the redemptive blood of your son, Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We desire to learn what you taught your disciples when you were on earth and said,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Lord, may we be poor in spirit in that we fully recognize our need for you.  May we seek your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  May we worship you as the one true God and not the worthless idols we create in our lives, or even of ourselves.  May we humbly follow You with complete dependence as we dwell in the tension of your kingdom in the reality on earth now and hold fast to the promise of its ultimate future fulfillment.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Following your perfect example, will you help us to first see, truly see, those who are mourning in our midst: the sick, the grieving, the frightened, the lonely, the disregarded, the injured, the orphans, the victims of discrimination, the abused, the afflicted, the misguided…Just as you saw the hurting, Jesus, will you open our eyes to see where you have called us to bring comfort in your holy name.  As we reflect your image, may we bring comfort and not harm.

 

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Lord, meek is not a popular word in our society.  Yet you value the meek, those who have been found humble because their circumstances drove them to you.  We ask you to grow meekness and gentleness in our hearts so that we may patiently endure hardship to bring glory to your name.  While acknowledging the challenges of present sacrifices, help us to hold tight to your promises.

 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

We are desperately hungry and thirsty, yet so often seek to satisfy with the temporary.  Lord, shape our hearts to long for your righteousness in our hearts, in our church, in our relationships, in our city, in our nation, in our world…and to find our satisfaction in you alone.  Give us strength when we tire in well-doing, give us focus when lesser hungers and thirsts tempt us with distraction, and give us grace to fully receive what you grant in our lives.  May our bellies be full with the overflowing goodness of your righteousness, for you are not a stingy or reluctant God.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

As those in our lives interact with us, may our calling card be mercy: to the stranger at Starbucks, to the postman delivering our Amazon order, to the loud teenager next door, to the one who speaks little English as a new arrival in America, to the one with a different skin color, to the one who we’d rather not run into, to the elderly friend who struggles with mobility and health, to the one who votes differently than us…Yet we recognize we cannot muster up mercy within ourselves – it flows abundantly from you.    Will you help us to be so attuned to your mercy that we do not react aggressively to those who wrong us.  May we freely give mercy in the same lavish fashion you have given to us.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

As we strive for so many things in our culture, we ask you Lord to purify our hearts.  May we not only be morally upright, but also be single-minded in our commitment to love you with all of our heart, soul, and mind enabling us to serve you with all of our strength.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.

May the peace we find in you enable us to live peacefully with those around us.  May we seek to elect local, state, and national leaders who seek peace and reconciliation where brokenness and the chaos of sin currently reign.  Even when from our human perspective peace may seem impossible, your children relentlessly pursue shalom.  Will you make us agents of peace seeking to participate in reconciliation within our sin-sick souls, with our brothers and sisters, with the beautiful creation you have made for us, and most importantly with you, God.

 

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

At this moment, Christians around the world are experiencing persecution for their identity as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.  We join the worldwide church in praying for your comfort and protection for those in dire circumstances as a result of their faith in you.  In addition, we ask for your guidance to mature and transform our expectations of a comfortable, easy life just because we believe in you.  Let us not be surprised when living the gritty Christian life includes inconvenience, expense, lost sleep, heartache, loneliness, and pain.  We thank you for the religious freedom we have in America to worship you and pray for our leaders to uphold this freedom for all.

 

We bring all that we are to you and desire to glorify you in word, deed, and thought.  In the precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

 

Trump and Prayer

Following the comments of President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast (hosted by The Fellowship Foundation) yesterday (more here), I am compelled to revisit the posture of prayer.  What is prayer?  How might we approach the the Maker of heaven and earth with an appropriate disposition?

Prayer can be considered personal communion with God as we seek to participate in his merciful mission of advancing his kingdom in the world.  Tim Keller categorizes prayer as both a conversation and an encounter with God (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, 80).  Thus, prayer presupposes a filial relationship and intimacy.  Further, the purpose is not for advancement of self, but a humble submission for the Lord’s kingdom to come and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

With these truths in mind, how do we respond to the newly inaugurated American president’s call to pray for his reality TV show replacement because the ratings have allegedly “went down the tubes” without him? (full transcript here).  As the most powerful leader in the free world, do President Trump’s prayer breakfast comments lead the international community of Christians toward a pure and prayerful mindset?  Is it the best choice to divisively joke about reality TV ratings at a prayer breakfast just one day after the first soldier has been killed in the line of duty under the Commander-in-chief’s leadership?  Teresa of Ávila’s admonishment may be a better choice, “Prayer is the mortar that holds our house together.”  Unity with God and respect for all he has created are at the heart of prayer, which leaves no room for gasconading or facetiousness.  As we bow our head and say, “hallowed by thy name,” our eyes are open to see that the world is God’s and his name is written upon it, not ours (Karl Barth, Prayer, 50th Anniversary Edition, 31).

Some Christians have cited Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast comment about “the God who gave us life, gave us liberty” (full transcript here) as evidence of his commitment to biblical ideals.  Yet, Thomas Jefferson’s full quote (originally stated in opposition to slavery) is worth reading, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever” (more here).  It is true, when injustice is pursued, God will not sleep forever.  Is there a nationality requirement for life and liberty from God?  This Jefferson citation is one of the limited times Trump invoked the name of God during the prayer event, yet he chose to quote a deistic founding father who actually denied the divinity of Jesus.  Does this National Prayer Breakfast quote shore up our questions about Trump’s spirituality?  There is much food for thought here.

In my disappointment and deep frustration with Trump’s rhetoric at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, it is easy to find fault and highlight his offenses.  Yet, reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s writings this morning calls me to examine my own prayer life, “If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ…The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible).  May God move in my poverty-stricken heart and align my thoughts, prayers, words, and deeds to bring him glory and honor.  When I am tempted, as we all are, may Jesus be the very center of my focus as his rich word transforms me to be more like him.  As my dear professor, Jerram Barrs, inquired, “Where does the kingdom need to come in my life today?” (The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us, 30).  Yes Lord, where does your kingdom need to come into my life today?

Yet, it is also right to yearn for more from our president as his comments and actions carry international consequences of great import.  In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life.”

 

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Photo by Amy Felt while praying at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on January 16, 2017

 

 

Kyrie Eleison

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Senseless killings of those made in the image of God.
Deep sorrow and world weariness.
Grieving for those violently lost.
Heartbroken for their distraught families.
Creation aches and groans with a loud, “Kyrie Eleison.”

Together we look to our Creator who makes order out of chaos,

melts hate with love,

redeems what appears to be hopeless,

and values each breath his created ones breathe.

My Lime Green Friend

So, today is my Lime Green Friend’s 50th Birthday!!!!

A fitting day to share my review of her newest book, Lime Green: Reshaping our View of Women in the Church.

I am grateful for Jackie’s thoughtful work on this topic and also

find myself closer to the lime green section of the color wheel than light pink.

Jackie engages in the gender conversation with sensitivity, truth, and profoundness.

I encourage you to read this dynamic book and check our her ministry.

Happy Birthday My Dear Friend!!!!

~Amy


Lime Green: Reshaping our View of Women in the Church

Dr. Jackie Roese

Reviewed by Amy N. Felt

October 20, 2015

     Lime Green embraces the creational diversity and continuum of spiritual gifts graciously appointed by our Maker for the good of his kingdom. While the audience in focus is “women who serve Jesus in any capacity in conservative faith communities” (xiii), I concur with Scot McKnight’s foreword that males in power will also benefit from this insightful work (xi). However, to the author’s target audience, the vulnerable behind-the-scenes perspective of Dr. Jackie Roese will evoke a full range of emotions, as in her story, we find ourselves and somehow feel more known. The confusion, frustration, and denigration experienced by many women in ministry stands in sharp contrast to the fact that “we desperately want to serve Jesus with every fiber of our being but aren’t sure how to go about it” (xiii).

It is a popular “spiritual” trick to prefix the word “biblical” to a title (e.g. “biblical womanhood”) and then unkindly wield the new weapon as if the battle is internal to the body of Christ. Lime Green takes issue with this errant assault and offers an honest revelation that “we have ideas and ideals about what a Christian woman is supposed to be like, and when a woman doesn’t fit into those ideals, we feel unsafe” (xvi). Sadly, those of us whose coloring is a little more lime green side on the color wheel than light pink become the casualties of “friendly fire” as those in power seek to maintain the familiar status quo. Roese’s personal story fleshes out what it is like to be lime green in a predominately light pink conservative Christian environment. Drawing on the majestic expression of Psalm 8, Roese presses us to ponder how one color, gender, or narrow list of characteristics could possibly to justice in glorifying God’s limitless beauty (xxi).

Through her colorful (no pun intended) life experiences, Roese beautifully reflects the tension that serving Jesus is messy and difficult juxtaposed with the hope and celebration that this deepens our awareness of our dependency on Jesus (25). Further, she engages reality by frankly admitting, “Saying yes to Jesus comes at a cost. And yet, even the costs come with blessings” (28). She speaks with painful truth, yet gratefully leaves naiveté behind.

As women consider their life pursuits in ministry, employment, relationship, and parenting, a one-color-fits-all approach to womanhood causes “confusion, insecurity, and competition” (30). One of the great strengths of Lime Green is the bold assertion that “when Jesus said, ‘Follow me,’ he wasn’t doing a cattle call. Not everyone walks the same path. Every life is unique” (30). Yet, in some church contexts, women unknowingly stumble across “invisible trip wires” as we seek to serve Jesus (43). However, we have a bold example in Luke 10 as Jesus ennobles Mary to break the social norms of the day and adopt the posture of a disciple at the feet of her rabbi (44).

Like the “blessed alliance” coined by Carolyn Custis James, Roese does not take an antagonistic view of men, but rather welcomes a unified, pedal-to-the-metal approach to kingdom work. She rightly proclaims, “Ministry is not a competition; it’s collaboration. Too many people need Jesus for us to spend time on sibling rivalry. We need everyone in the battle using everything they’ve got right where they are to advance the kingdom” (48). I could not agree more! To this point, her illustration of dredging Gilbert Lake (69) is worth the price of the book, but I will not give away this gem here (do read it though!). Continuing on, Genesis 2 demands our recognition that genderedness is about more than just marriage, “It’s about man and woman in community, male and female acting as a royal priesthood, ruling and subduing the whole earth on God’s behalf – together” (58).

Roese’s retelling of her first moments in the pulpit of Irving Bible Church is mind-blowing and captures all of your senses. The details of the pressure of the mounting attacks in the press, the insensitive preoccupation about her wardrobe choice, the vicious comments about her family, and even the need for a bodyguard all serve to reveal the complexities for women in this challenging calling. Sadly, some are distracted by the complementarian or egalitarian litmus test. Pressing women to declare their loyalties and then unjustly declaring them orthodox or heretical based on this simplistic binary antithesis is a nonstarter (99). Shouldn’t our litmus test be the Gospel (100)? When the household codes of Paul are utilized as theological grounds to subjugate women, God’s dynamic movement toward oneness is obstructed and flourishing is flattened (106-107). Scot McKnight propels the conversation stating, “We no longer have to live under the conditions of the fall where we emphasized otherness, but rather we can live under the conditions of the new creation where the emphasis is oneness” (109). Whenever shalom is broken, we hear the cry of our Savior (109). Lime Green is a work of gender shalom, oneness, and an unswerving pursuit of God’s kingdom work.

Lime Green Excitement!

Love…worth consideration

bleeding heart

The news is overwhelming lately…Christians in Iraq being brutally raped and murdered for their faith, almost a thousand innocent victims falling to Ebola in Africa, racial tensions are soaring locally in St. Louis, prolific Christian writer Mark Driscoll leaving Acts 29, best-selling musicians Gungor rejecting foundational truths in the Old Testament, and Robin Williams committing suicide.

My heart is heavy and my soul is weary.

In the midst of these heart-breaking stories, some in the Christian community are missing the opportunity to respond in love.  At a church we visited this weekend, the production team delivered a highly polished worship set, groovy music played as we were encouraged to interact with an ice-breaker question, and the pastor shared the story of the prodigal son with ample creative elements – no one missed a beat.  But, there was no prayer time offered for our dear brothers and sisters who are literally in life-and-death situations in Iraq.  How can we come together and not remember those dying from Ebola?  Are we so self-centered, so in need of self-gratification that it would “ruin the mood” to pause the comfy, entertainment-like worship to allow our hearts and minds to join the worldwide Church in a moment of calling out, “Kyrie Eleison”?  What is love’s response to tragedy, pain, and unspeakable horror?  What should my posture be to such unfathomable atrocities?  In the shadow of the Christian genocide in Iraq and aggressive pandemic in Africa, this weekend’s service did not sit well with my soul.  I am not sure what the answer is, but I am struggling with the void of embracing, engaging, and participating in the global plight of humanity.

The situation with Mark Driscoll has been brewing for quite some time now, yet a large sector of the conservative Christian community has continued to follow his celebrity leadership.  While Driscoll has lashed out at women, the gay community, and “sissy” men who prefer less “manly” hobbies than gun collecting, he has been lacking in the humble, servant-style leadership of Jesus.  From my limited perspective, it is confusing to see so many Christians following Driscoll with seemingly more fervor than Jesus himself?  We chuckle condescendingly when we read the Old Testament story of the Israelites making a golden calf from melted-down earrings and then worshiping it as the “god” who brought them out of Egypt.  Hilarious, right?  But today, our idolatry is just a little more dressed up, more refined, more socially acceptable…yet it is still an affront to the one true God to place anything before Him.  Even a pastor…perhaps especially.  The first and greatest commandment helps corral our tendencies to wander: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  While I am not prone to idolizing Driscoll, there are plenty of idols in my life to tend to and purge.

On the other end of the spectrum is Gungor.  It has turned into a swirling storm of name-calling, accusations, and unloving behavior.  To be clear, I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible…even the parts about creation and the flood.  On this theological point, I must dissent with Gungor’s stance.  But, I have to wonder if it is possible to hold fast to a theological belief, yet treat someone with a differing viewpoint with dignity and love?  I not only hope so, but I hear the Word of God challenging me to this complex call.  I believe it is possible to stand firm, yet simultaneously reach out in compassion.  It does not have to be an either-or proposition.  The postures are not mutually exclusive.  The choices are not limited to belief system compromise OR excommunication.  Love is the key…the tricky, delicate balance of walking in the footsteps of Jesus.  Yes, it’s easier to write off a group like Gungor and tweet nasty insults at them, but I am certain that’s not the best choice.  I am willing to even go one step further and suggest that we can continue to grow, worship, and learn from their music – even while disagreeing with their current stance on creation and flood account.  God is wildly creative and has a track record of “making beautiful things” out of all of his creation.

The racially charged police incident in St. Louis this week leaves me speechless.  What a senseless tragedy for the Brown family and a destructive situation for a community already struggling with racial tension.  While I do not live in that suburb, the local and national news is saturated with stories, pictures, and reports of the tumultuous disturbance.  It causes me to consider my interaction with the diversity in our school district and in our neighborhood.  How can I bring hope and healing to the people I cross paths with every day?  What can I contribute to the greater city of St. Louis which thirsts unknowingly for the love of Christ?  How can I identify and correct the prejudice I sometimes feel toward people who are different from me?  I’m honestly overwhelmed and am just beginning to work through this.  I have some hard heart work to do…and prayer.

Sadly, the world has lost one of the most funny, creative, prolific, wild, hard-working comedians of our time – Robin Williams.  I recently saw an interview where he shared his struggle with depression.  It is bizarre to think that the same individual who creates immense laughter for millions could face such a dark, inner battle.  His sudden death is a stark reminder that we have no idea what is happening behind the closed doors of the heart.  We need to speak kindly to each other, we need to open our eyes to see the hurting around us, and we need to help each other flourish.  I need to love well, see, care, encourage, and give grace in lavish doses.

Love is the answer.  But it’s not the sappy, pink heart Valentine kind of love.  It’s the tough stuff – the exhausting, selfless, bleeding, rigorous love that we were created to pursue, receive, and enjoy.  Jesus is the finest example of how to navigate the messy moments.  He was an eyewitness to a health crisis of leprosy, he experienced the forceful occupation of an intolerant Roman government, he stepped into the racial discrimination against the Samaritans, he battled the self-righteous Pharisees, one of his twelve companions committed suicide, and he gave grace and time to those who struggled with errant theology.  He loved wholeheartedly without compromising his beliefs.  He moved into the chaos rather than retreating to the familiar, entertaining, and comfortable.  He spoke truth supported by his actions.

He saw…truly saw the needs…the deeper, real needs hidden below the surface of poverty, zip codes, skin color, physical sickness, pride, disillusionment…

his unrelenting love is needed…

today.

Praise God for Resurrection Sunday!

During this season of Lent, I have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is on the Cross.  It’s been a remarkable journey and today I am sharing his Easter message with you.  Praise God Almighty – He is Risen Indeed!

 

The Easter Message ~ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Easter is not a battle between darkness and light that ultimately must end in the victory of light, because darkness is actually a nothing, because death is indeed already life.  Easter is not a battle of winter and spring, of ice and sun.  Rather, it is the battle of guilty humanity against divine love – or better: of divine love against guilty humanity, a battle in which God seems to be defeated on Good Friday, but in which God, in his very losing, wins on Easter…Good Friday is not the darkness that necessarily has to yield to light…it is the day on which the God who became human, the love that became a person, is killed by the people who want to become gods.

…Easter is not an immanent – that is, an inner-worldly – event, but a transcendent event that is something above and beyond the world, an intervention of God from eternity, by virtue of which God declares his commitment to his Holy One and awakens him from death.  Easter is not about immortality but about resurrection from a death that is a real death with all its frightfulness and horrors, resurrection from a death of the body and the soul, of the whole person, resurrection by the power of God’s mighty act.

This is the Easter message.

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Death cannot keep back love; love is stronger than death.

The meaning of Good Friday and Easter Sunday

is that God’s path to human beings leads back to God.

You have set your glory above the heavens

Photo by Tim Felt

Photo by Tim Felt

Last weekend, God painted the most beautiful sunset on the palette

of the Missouri sky that I have ever seen!

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Immense

Colorful

Brilliant

Creative

Breathtaking

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Psalm 8 reflects on the immensity of this amazing world God created for us.

Is this the type of beauty that inspired the

Old Testament singer-songwriter to write these words?

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“You have set your glory above the heavens…

When I look at your heaven, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

What is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

O Lord, our Lord,

How majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Spectacular sights like this sunset remind me of A. W. Tozer’s declaration,

“We must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”

I cannot help but break out in praise as I take in the gracious beauty of my loving Creator!

Photo by Tim Felt

Photo by Tim Felt

The Moment

Hope wrapped in mystery

Swaddled bundle

Creator of the cosmos

Humanity and deity, for the first time one

All and both.

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Anticipated for thousands of years,

By a people whose very identity

Was defined by ritualistic waiting.

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Then the divine silence came

Hundreds of years of darkness

Creation groaning with expectancy

Quietness…

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Yet the promise of the Messiah was not forgotten

Though not seen, felt, or heard;

Condescension beyond comprehension was coming.

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Hush, shattered by angelic pronouncements

To common shepherds keeping watch in the field

The long-awaited One arrived in humility

Wonder revealed in this tiny babe.

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Yearning for ages before, fulfilled,

Reflected on for centuries to come

As the advent of new

The moment that changed eternity

And the soul felt its worth.

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~Poem & Photo by Amy Nichole Felt