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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

Praying Through our National Parks

posted by Mark Herringshaw

 


why-we-go-to-yosemite.jpgKen Burns has again captivated my imagination.  I adored “Baseball,” was fascinated by “Jazz,” grieved over “The Civil War,” wept watching “The War,” and now find myself “awed” by his new documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The afterglow lingers this morning: I’m longing for hike through Yosemite Valley…

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Last night’s episode highlighted the remarkable, often synergistic relationship between John Muir the Teddy Roosevelt. Jennifer Schuchmann and I wrote about Muir in our recent book, “Nine Ways God Always Speaks.” I thought I’d include the excerpt here. Once I get this posted, I think I’ll go for a long walk in the woods out behind our house… It will be a good opportunity to dialog with God… Like Muir, I find I can pray better with no man-made roof over my head…     

In 1869 John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, and one of America’s first conservationists, spent the summer traversing the rugged granite passes of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. In late August, Muir came to Upper Tuolumne Basin, home to a cluster of majestic, heaven-reaching granite spires named the great Cathedral Peak. A bit of a spiritual free spirit, John recorded the moment in his journal:

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It is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from the living rock, and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope some time to climb to it to say my prayers and hear the stone sermons.

Most of us would just see rocks and trees, but Muir saw a cathedral. He wanted to climb the mountain not for the physical challenge of conquering it and getting a T-shirt to prove he did. He wanted to climb it for spiritual reasons. His desire was to experience God through nature, to say his prayers and listen to God speak through the rocks.

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That’s remarkably similar to a verse in the Gospel of Luke. During the triumphal entry, the disciples are praising Jesus, bursting out in song, and dancing about. Then the Pharisees turn to Jesus and say, “Tell them to shut up!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

If the disciples stop praising Jesus, the stones will cry out?

Can stones speak?

Rocks reveal?

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Boulders babble?

If so, what do they say? Muir believes they were issuing an invitation to a holy church.

No feature, however, of all the noble landscape as seen from here seems more wonderful than the Cathedral itself, a temple displaying Nature’s best masonry and sermons in stones. How often I have gazed at it from the tops of hills and ridges, and through openings in the forests on my many short excursions, devoutly wondering, admiring, longing! This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.

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He describes this bulge on the earth’s surface as a place that has beckoned him–a place he has pondered, admired, and longed for. Muir recognizes it is a church–nature’s church–a place for a lonely worshiper to enter.

Come in.

Sit down.

Pray and listen.

When he listened, did he hear rocks cry out with a language we can’t speak but only hear? A language we can’t study but only experience?

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Perhaps in this natural church God’s sermon is subtle.

Get outside sometime today. Take a breath and thank God for the wonder of his natural world. Then listen as his words come bounding to you through the intricacies of his creativity. Sometimes we’re just too spiritual to be truly spiritually connected. Sometimes we need a down to earth walk down to earth to connect with our transcendent God!

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Roman Polanski’s Case for Grace has Nothing to Do with Genius

posted by Mark Herringshaw

 art_polanski_roman_gi.jpgFrench authorities are bending over backwards today to defend Roman Polanski after authorities arrested the filmmaker on a 30 year old sexual abuse warrant. The point: He’s an artistic genius. Frederic Mitterrand, the French culture and communications minister, said “he wants to remind everyone that Roman Polanski benefits from great general esteem” and has “exceptional artistic creation and human qualities.” The problem: Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl – U.S. officials say he drugged and raped her – then fled to France before sentencing.

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Perhaps sympathy and grace are called for here, but is the case for mercy based on Polanski’s “exceptional artistic creation and human qualities”? In other words, is God’s justice doled out differently from person to person, based on aptitude? We’d better hope not!

 

There’s a similar story in the Old Testament when King David, at the height of his power and influence seduced and “stole” another man’s wife, conceived a child by her, then had her husband, one of his loyal officers, killed. God did not overlook this injustice. He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. Though he was King, he was in fact subject to the same laws of right and wrong that governed even the lowest rungs of society. There are not positional exceptions to God’s standards. It is perhaps the first case in history of what we now call “The rule of law” – that justice to an outside standard applies to everyone irrespective of power or wealth or popularity or genius. Everyone is judged by the same standard, in God’s eyes. As the Bible puts it, “God is no respecter of persons…”

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Roman Polanski may have a case to appeal his sentence, but that case has nothing to do with the fact that millions of people respect him as a storyteller and social commentator. His only validation of grace is that God himself is merciful and judges none of us by what we deserve, and that he asks us to balance justice with mercy in our civic systems, just as he does in his “Kingdom of Heaven.” If Polanski wants mercy, he needs to ask for it the same way anyone would, and not hide behind the scrim of his fame and genius.  

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Our right to prayer to God is anchored in this profound and simple fact: We all approach God on level ground. I’m no artistic genius and most of you reading this are not either. Still, we can come to God asking for mercy, no matter what we’ve done, knowing that his willingness to give mercy is not conditioned on our worthiness but on his willingness and on our appeal in Jesus’ name.

 

If you need pardon today, come to God asking for mercy. He’ll give it…

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“God, I come to you asking for mercy. I don’t deserve pardon, either because of who I am or what I’ve done. I know I’m in need of forgiveness merely because I can’t help myself out of this fix. I appeal to your heart of love and compassion and I come in Jesus name knowing that he has taken my place and borne my punishment. That is my plea: guilty, but pardoned in Jesus’ name. Thank you!”

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“No Fear Here”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1).

 

One day when my youngest son was just a toddler I was walking in the woods with him in a backpack. Up ahead, about 50 yards down the trail I suddenly saw a big momma bear and her twin cubs walk out of the trees. She turned and starred at me, then took one step in my direction.  A jolt of adrenaline – FEAR – flushed through me. Our Samoyed, Ransom was beside me and he barked. I yanked on his leash, turned on a dime and ran the other direction as fast as I could. Poor Michael! He bounced and jostled on my back and of course had no idea of the real danger. In that case, fear was a good thing, a very good thing. The energy it flushed into my system gave me strength to run a 100 yards that might have given me a gold medal in the Olympics. Fear can be a good. When there’s a mamma bear in the woods, fear is God’s provision!

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Our problem of course is that the emotion of fear can’t differentiate between a real threat and a false threat.  Quite often our remarkable, God-given ability to imagine the future kicks in the wrong way and we imagine threats that aren’t there. We imagine a terminal disease, bankruptcy, our children’s demise, infidelity in our marriage, a pending pink slip. These scenarios may or may not be real. That makes no difference to our emotions. When we picture a threat, our fear-system pushes the alarm just as quickly as it does when the danger is real and present.

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The only way to overrule our instinct to fear the future is to reboot our imagination with an alternative picture of reality, a picture given to us by God. That’s called faith. Faith is imagination. Hebrews 11 says it’s the “assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Again, faith is imagination – our inner picture of the future that aligns with God’s determined picture of the future. 

 

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All of us face fears. But here’s the question: Are the things I fear based on God’s picture of the future or mine? What has God said about tomorrow? What promises has he given? He’s promised that he’ll never leave me alone. He’s promised that he will meet all my needs. He’s promised the fight on my behalf, and win! He’s promised… As I reconfigure my imagination based on his promises, I can trump the instinct of fear. Here’s a prayer for this principle:

 

“God, you have made big promises to me. I don’t see all these promises coming true right now, but I decide right now to let your words and not my fears depict my picture of the future. Please help me believe and see, ahead of time, an image of my life as you intend it to be. I can’t control my fears, but I can replace them with an imagination filled with images that you create. God, superimpose faith over the fears that cripple me. Remind me now of your promises: provision, forgiveness, healing, rescue, your endless love! Thank you for a new future and a new hope. I am not a victim of fear, thanks to your great and precious promises, promises you ALWAYS keep!”

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“Hope Takes a Miracle – Ask for it!”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

If you’re anything of a sports fan, then you know the feeling. Your team is down and time is running out. Anxiety and doom begin to settle over everyone. And then, strangely, through some subtle shift in the air, a sense of change arises. Hope… There’s a certain sweet aroma to hope. Often it has no visible base. The team is still down on the scoreboard. The clock is still ticking or it’s still the bottom of the 9th inning, yet an intuition of certainty takes over and you know, you just “know” a comeback is on the way. It’s the wonder of momentum and every coach would love to know the secret formula that creates it.

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When things look bleak, when the score seems out of reach, when all facts and logic say the game is really over before it’s over, that’s when we need the miracle of hope that turns momentum. As in sports, so in all areas of life. When we’re up against the wall, down and out, and at the end of the rope, we have a choice to make: We can either fold and give in, or we can stand, ask for Outsider help, and then look and expect to find a sign – even a very small sign – that the winds are shifting and momentum is moving to our side.

There’s a great story in the Jewish scriptures (I Kings 18:41f) about this very mystery. Israel was in the grips of a terrible drought. Elijah the prophet climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel, on the north coast of Israel and there he prayed and asked God to send rain. He prayed passionately, but nothing happened. He repeated his prayer, and then sent his assistant to look out over the Mediterranean to see if any clouds had risen. Nothing. Elijah did this seven times – praying and then looking for evidence of a change. Finally, after the seventh persistent prayer Elijah’s assistant came back and said, “No real change, except for a small cloud about the size of my fist…” Elijah jumped up. “That’s it,” he yelled, and he ran down the mountain to tell Israel’s King. Sure enough, in short order  a mighty story brought a torrent of rain. Elijah prayed; he looked for a shift in momentum; when he saw the smallest sign, he took it as a fact and acted.

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This is for us. Today you might be in a drought financially, or with your health, or in a relationship. Maybe there’s no reason to hope. Maybe you feel like the game is over before it really is. There’s still a hope for the momentum of hope to change. Pray. Ask God for an answer, then look for a small hint that the winds are shifting. That’s hope. And hope takes a miracle. God does miracles. If you need hope, ask him, then keep watch for the subtle little movements that indicate a comeback!

“God, you are the God of hope! You are the God of the impossible. You say that you will make a way where there is no way. You divide oceans, and raise the dead, and create rain in droughts and food where there is no food. You can do this. We want to believe it. But sometimes our emotions look at the facts and all we can feel is doom. We ask now for all those who feel the tide of momentum against them. Give them courage to ask one more time for an answer. Then give the stamina to keep asking and keep looking for and expecting a shift in momentum. Give them eyes to see even small changes, and give them a heart to believe again and to thank you ahead of time for the answer, and then to act quickly once the first hint of movement arrives! Hope comes!”

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