A Reformation Day Call for Unity in the Church

Ecumenism…have you heard of that word before? If you serve in Christian ministry, you are probably aware of this philosophy.  Ecumenism is the aim or principle of promoting unity in the world’s Christian churches. I’ve become very familiar with it in recent years, not so much by conscious choice, but by the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Gratefully, my journey into ecumenism has radically changed my faith and broken through years of religious bias.  Unfortunately though, bitterness is still frequently harbored between denominations throughout the world.

Photo credit: lutheranregormation.org

The Split in the Church

How did this disharmony and division start in the Church?  What caused the divide between Catholic and Protestant denominations?

It started 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  His controversial proposals disagreed with the practice of selling indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.  This practice took advantage of the poor, promising them the absolution of sin and hope of eternal salvation.

Martin Luther also contradicted the Church by claiming:

  • the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and
  • salvation is based on grace, not by deeds.

Luther’s writings were declared heretical in 1520, and he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church the following year. Luther went on to translate the New Testament into German while in exile in 1522. In 1534, Luther and his colleagues translated the entire Bible into German, making scripture accessible to common people and not just the highly educated and leaders of the church.

The ’95 Theses’ is commonly referred to as the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.  Although his assertions and those of other reformers made important changes to the universal church, it did not come without a significant cost. The split of the church into Catholicism and Protestantism led to religious wars and persecution in countries across Europe for hundreds of years, saturating the soil with the blood of the martyrs. Pope John Paul II even made an unprecedented apology for the sins of the Church in March 2000.

Drawn to Catholicism

It’s not surprising to me that growing up in a Catholic family, I never heard about the Protestant Reformation.  At 17, I converted to Protestantism, but still didn’t know anything about the Reformation. It wasn’t until I met Protestant missionaries from France in 2011, that I was enlightened about the Reformation and its impact in Europe.  I learned that the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain and that Protestants were considered a cult compared to the over 90% Catholic population.

That came as a total shock to me. In my conversations with Pedro and Rosa, practicing Catholics from Spain, our religious differences never surfaced.  In fact, our shared belief in Jesus gave us a strong family and spiritual bond.  With the passing of my mother, a practicing Catholic, in 2011, I was drawn back to the mysteries of the Catholic Church.  I started attending weekday mass and devoted hours there in prayer.

My first encounters with the Catholic women were very warm and inviting. Some in their zeal for Catholicism tried to convert me. It led to some interesting conversations.

My Protestant friends were mostly encouraging me–to listen to the Spirit and not be boxed in by religious rules or what ‘church’ is supposed to look like.  They’ve called me a bridge-builder and a catalyst for change.

Others were biased against Catholics, mostly claiming they didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus–a commonly misconstrued belief by Protestants.

By the time I was making travel plans to visit Spain in 2013, the Lord was already working on me and preparing me to pray for the Church in Spain and for unity in the Body of Christ.  That trip, my personal pilgrimage to Spain, and my prayers, led to another prayer assignment the following year–the Celebrate Recovery mission to France and Spain.

A Holy Shift

Since the completion of that prayer assignment in 2014, the Lord revealed to me my unique wiring: Catholic by birth, Protestant by choice, and then opening my eyes to the genesis of Catholicism again as an adult. My spiritual heritage, and affinity and openness to both denominations gave me a great desire and calling to pray for healing of the wounds of the past, and for renewal and unity in the Church.

I never stopped believing that the Lord was leading me and that He was calling me to be a voice for unity and healing in the Church, to be ecumenical.

My faith journey across denominational lines has given me insights into how both Catholic and Protestants show up on Sundays and how they do community during the week.  I’ve witnessed major shifts in the Catholic Church that are creating a more engaged environment, and not one where parishioners just come on Sunday to fulfill their weekly obligation and warm the pews.

Catholics are being encouraged to read and study the Bible, to attend Alpha groups, to serve from their strengths (Gallup StrengthsFinder) and to grow spiritually.  I’ve seen the hunger and openness that is being fostered from the leadership of the church.  I’ve heard salvation through grace being preached in homilies. I’ve witnessed the charismatic renewal that the Holy Spirit is pouring on the Church.

In fact, some might even say that reformation is occurring in the Catholic Church.

A Call for Unity

When God orchestrated my journey down this unusual ecumenical path, I was ignorant about the Reformation and uneducated about the spiritual climate in Europe. Having experienced the darkness and witnessed the divide there, I believe the Church needs to undergo a holy shift toward healing and unity.  We are joint heirs to the Kingdom and called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-18, NIV)

500 years after the Protestant Reformation, on this Reformation Day 2017, let’s join together across denominations, in prayer, calling heaven to earth and uniting His people as we prepare for a Holy Shift in the Body of Christ.

Joy to the World, Not Just Another Christmas Carol

Did you grow up listening to Christmas music in your home? Does the sound of one of your favorite Christmas carols bring a smile to your face and revive the sights and smells of Christmases past in your mind?

Christmas carolsFa, la, la

Go ahead. No one’s watching (hopefully).  Let’s sing…

Away in a manger no crib for his bed…

Silent night, holy night…

Joy to the World the Lord has come…

I imagine with just a short pause after reading the start of each of those Christmas carols that you could sing the next line to that song, and probably the first verse or the whole song. At least I hope you can.

Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not originally written for Christmas?  It was written by Isaac Watts, a British hymn writer, and first published in 1719.  The song is based on Psalm 98 (verses 4-8) with an intended reference to the Second Coming of Christ, not his first:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy.

I didn’t realize this myself until I traveled to Spain last fall and heard it in a new context.

Going to Church in Spain

I’ve had the privilege of attending several church services in Spain—most of them in a Catholic setting. One particular Mass stands out though.  It was on Columbus Day, Sunday, October 12, 2014.

I was with my friend and hostess Rosa, Pedro’s mother. We attended the Columbus Day parade in downtown Madrid and then walked to Mass at the Parish of Our Lady of Conception (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora).

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora)

It was not my first time at this church. Rosa and I attended a Sunday Mass there the year before too, on my first Sunday in Spain.  I had gone to a weekday Mass at a neighborhood church and also visited a few other churches by then, as well as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, a massive Gothic cathedral from the 13th century.  I had never seen anything like the Toledo Cathedral (below) in my life.

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Our Lady of Conception in Madrid was nowhere near as grand, but as I’ve come to expect, most Catholic churches in Spain are lined with beautiful religious statues and opulent altars. From my uneducated and American perspective, most of these churches look like what I would’ve considered a cathedral.

Singing in Spain

When I attended Mass my first trip to Spain (in the summer of 2013), the churches did not have any choirs or singing—only limited organ music. I was told it was due to the heat.  (Churches are not air-conditioned in Spain.)

On this day (Columbus Day 2014) with Rosa by my side, I was surprised when I noticed a choir singing at the start of Mass. Even though the song was sung in Spanish, the music sounded familiar.  It took me a few lines, humming the tune to myself, before I recognized the song and could put English words to it.  It was “Joy to the World!”

I’d never heard that song sung outside of a Christmas setting. It gave me a new love for the song.

While I couldn’t sing the Spanish words (no hymnal and no projection of the words on a screen), I could sing it silently in my mind in English. It was glorious to hear a favorite Christmas song being sung in this grand church, echoing through the high arched-ceilings, stained glass, and religious statues.

It sounded like the voices of angels. They really were heralding Jesus and singing His praises joyfully to the world.

Take a listen to this Christmas favorite sung in Spanish and see if you agree.  As you listen, picture yourself inside this lovely church too (interior images below).

 Al Mundo Paz (Joy to the World)

Not Just Another Christmas Carol

I once heard it said in church that singing Christian hymns and songs of worship is like praying twice. Stripped of my ability to audibly sing “Joy to the World” in my native tongue, it was like praying it in my mind—and praising Him in my heart.

According to Wikipedia, as of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most published Christmas hymn in North America.  But now you know, as do I, that it isn’t just another Christmas carol.

Here are the lyrics to read or sing, in this new context of glorifying Christ’s Second Coming instead of His first over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Joy to the World
By Isaac Watts

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.

And if you haven’t heard it, here’s a re-mix of the song by Chris Tomlin called “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).”  May your Christmas and New Year be filled with unspeakable joy!

On Red Alert for the Spiritual Needs in France

My heart was heavy this morning as I awoke to more news about the awful terrorist attacks in Paris yesterday. As an American, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the attacks on our country on 9/11/2001.

Horrific.  Senseless.  Pure evil.

Pray for Paris

Where were you when…?

Will this be another day in history that we point to like 9/11 saying, “Where were you when you heard the news of the Friday the 13th Paris terrorist attacks?”

Late yesterday afternoon while waiting in the reception room for a chiropractic appointment, to pass the time I scanned Facebook on my cell phone. As seems to be more and more the case lately, that is where I hear of this sort of breaking news.

Friends were posting updates to pray for Paris. My attention quickly switched to the internet for the latest news, but was interrupted when I was called in to see my doctor for an adjustment followed by a well-deserved massage appointment.

Then late in the day my attention returned to the events across the world while watching a network news show dedicated to this topic. I’m not one to watch these sorts of shows, usually focused on sensational journalism and high profile events. However, this was different because I have a connection to Paris and France in general.

Paris police

My French Connection

Ever since my mission to France last fall, the people and this country have more meaning and significance to me and in my prayer life.

I was only in Paris for a few hours between connections while traveling to Grenoble, France where I stayed with my missionary partners and spoke at their church.

I could’ve bypassed Paris, made a shorter layover, etc. However, when I started booking my travel arrangements, I felt God press upon me to visit Notre Dame and to pray for the people of France.

There were many obstacles that I overcame to do that, including averting the Air France strike while traveling. Through God’s providence and against all physical odds, I arrived on the footsteps of Notre Dame Cathedral five minutes before the noon Mass.

I prayer-walked through the cathedral and through the streets of Paris that day. It was a spiritual high for me.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

After having such a spiritual experience in Paris last fall, the sense of darkness hit me again last night as I watched the scenes from Paris: images of people’s bodies lying in the streets covered with white sheets, police cordoning off and guarding areas like armed militia, and hearing eye witness accounts of what happened.

Before I arrived in Paris last fall, I researched the religious history of France. I was aghast at the religious wars that were fought in this country. It led to a huge divide in the country.

Even today there is still animosity and emotional wounds carried down through family generations between Catholics and Protestants in France. This has led to apathy for organized religion in general and a dramatic decline in church attendance.

The Ongoing Battle

Centuries ago, the blood of the martyrs was splattered throughout this country. Yesterday new blood was splattered on the streets of Paris—unsuspecting victims in a new battle.

My heart aches. In my mind I pray more fervently.

Centuries ago the Huguenots fought for their religious beliefs against the kings and queens of France. The battle lines were drawn. There were persecutions, forced conversions, and ostracisms from society.

Today Parisians, Americans, and people across the world are also caught up in an invisible battle for our souls. It is terrorist attacks like the one yesterday that remind us of the evil intentions of cowardly soldiers who secretly plot against our society.

Their tactic is fear. They are being misled by the biggest enemy we have.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44, NIV)

One of many memorial sites cropping up in Paris.

One of many memorial sites cropping up in Paris.

On Red Alert to Pray

As Christians, we are called to put on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our strategy is to fight our battles in prayer first. Let’s not be misled by the lies of the Enemy.

It is the Blood of Jesus that overcomes the blood that is splattered across the land in countries across the world.

I am praying for the comfort of the families affected by these horrible crimes against humanity. Like a security alert system that sounds a loud signal of imminent danger, I am also on red alert to pray for God’s power to be poured out on the people of France, for a spiritual awakening and renewal of their Christian faith.

Let us all pray as we feel led for the spiritual and physical needs in France.

In times of tragedy, cry out to God. He will hear you.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:6, NIV)

He is listening now to our prayers and petitions for France.

To read about the Paris attacks from the perspective of my colleagues in France, click here.

Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

Holy Week, Holy Waiting

I am excited! Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and I feel like a kid who is eagerly awaiting Santa Claus to arrive.  I can’t even remember what I believed about Easter as a kid and the Easter Bunny—real or unreal.  Yes, I partook in Easter eggs hunts at various times.  It must’ve been at the Catholic Church we attended when I was young.  Unfortunately both of my parents are gone now and I can’t get those details of my childhood filled in.

My father rarely went to church with us.  It was always my mother who got us ready and dragged us to Catechism (Catholic Sunday school).  I think my father must’ve been what our pastor calls ‘Chreasters.’  Those are people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.  I was one of those people in years gone by as well.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Church as a Priority 

I am at a stage in my life where I routinely go to church year-round, trying to give each weekend service a place of priority and honor.  Christmas is, of course, a special time to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  However, Easter feels especially sacred and uplifting to me.  There are many reasons for that.

  1. It hasn’t been over-commercialized like Christmas.
  2. It doesn’t come with the holiday parties and stress of holiday expectations.
  3. It hasn’t been made into a non-Christian holiday.
  4. It comes in the spring, when flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer, and the sun is starting to shine.
  5. It is preceded by Lent—a time of deliberate prayerful preparation to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
  6. It signifies how to acquire salvation and eternal life—with one simple decision to accept Jesus at face value, as the Son of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16, NIV

WP_20150328_012Waiting for the Story to End

Lent has ended, and now are the days of waiting—the three days between Jesus’ brutal crucifixion on Good Friday (yesterday) and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

We know how the story ends.  Does that make the waiting easier?  Does it make it irrelevant or less interesting?  If we knew the ending to the books we read, would we stop reading them?  Maybe that depends on whether or not it is a good ending—one we like.

The Easter Story is the greatest story ever told!  I never tire of hearing it, especially so in a solemn church service like I did last night.  (Read the Passion of Christ in John 18-19:42.) It should make us shout for joy!

Because the waiting isn’t just for Easter, it’s for the return of Jesus.  Celebrating Easter, Holy Week, and Lent is ultimately celebrating in the here and now what our future brings.  There is no mystery to the ending.  However, there is mystery and intrigue in how we live in anticipation of what is to come.

Our lives don’t have to be mundane and boring.  We can approach our days and our ways with the same excitement and fervor with which we celebrate Easter.  There are blessings in it for us, for those we are in relationship with, and for those we come in contact with.

WP_20150330_001Easter: A New Beginning!

Easter marks the end of waiting for the Messiah, for us now and for the Jews and Gentiles over 2,000 years ago.  Some might say the ending was marked by the birth of Jesus.  I can’t argue with that.  However, my point is that Jesus’ death and resurrection marks the fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament scripture that foretold His ministry, death, and resurrection.  The resurrection is the linchpin of our Christian faith.

Easter really marks the beginning. It is the beginning of our Christian lives.  It is the beginning of the Church.  And that makes me giddy like a child—and worth the wait. It’s been a great week of anticipation.  It’s been a great week of holy waiting, filled with church services, fasting, and prayer.  I’m ready to celebrate.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

What’s Cooking: Mealtime Family Prayers

Our family recently started a new prayer practice before meals that has me very excited and a bit reminiscent of my youth. I was raised in a Catholic home and every night as the family gathered around the dinner table, we always said grace before the meal.

dinner prayerChildhood Prayer Practice

It was the same prayer every time. Memorizing that early on in my childhood was like memorizing the Hail Mary or Our Father Prayers. In fact, that was probably the only prayers I ever really learned. It was routine, and I never put any thought or reflection into the words.

Our meal prayer was this:

“Bless us, O Lord and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Reading and understanding that prayer now, I can see how it draws us back to God and reminds us that the food we eat is a gift from Him (Thy bounty). As a kid, I was thrown off by the Old English ‘thy’ and probably the concept that our food came from God, when I knew my mother had just prepared it.  How confusing to a mere child.

Spanish Prayer Practice

When I traveled to Spain and lived with Pedro’s family a few summers ago, I was curious to see how this Catholic family prayed. In fact, I went so far as to try to learn the Our Father in Spanish. I could follow the words at Mass, but my effort to memorize it was futile.

English prayer cube

English prayer cube

My first few meals in Spain, Rosa, Pedro’s mother, prayed in Spanish. I have no idea what she prayed. Then one day they asked me to bless the meal. Naturally I prayed in English—something inspired by the Holy Spirit and more in tune with how I normally pray before meals.

On another day, I was surprised by a family prayer practice they showed me. They put a wooden cube, about 4 inches in diameter on the table. Each side of the cube had a short Spanish prayer engraved into the wood. This was a prayer practice handed down from Rosa’s mother. It was a novel way to let chance or the Holy Spirit dictate which prayer was prayed before the meal.  (I had never seen something like this before, but in writing this post, I found numerous sites that sell them online.)

Our Family Prayer Practice

Throughout the years our family meal times have been led mostly by my husband or me. We encouraged the kids to pray, but they were often reluctant.

I have fond memories of my youngest son, Cameron’s, pre-meal prayer. It was the same every time. Regrettably I didn’t write it down, and forgot most of it over the years.

My sons praying at dinner, January 2000.

My sons praying at dinner, January 2000.

It was so precious, and blew us all away the first time he said it. This is what I do remember:

“Please give everyone in this whole entire world wisdom and please send your angels down to protect us every day and night. Amen.”

Taught, caught, or Holy Spirit inspired? I have no idea, but it always left us smiling.

Our 2015 Prayer Practice

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 (and back to the first paragraph of this post). I’ve had a book of prayers in my possession as a keepsake from my deceased Aunt Ardis (also my godmother) for several years. It is titled, 365 Table Graces for the Christian Home by Charles L. Wallis (1967, Harper & Row Publishers). It is almost 50 years old and in excellent condition.

My Aunt Ardis was a devout Catholic who served faithfully in her church community. The book was bequeathed to me when I went on a trip back to her home in Wisconsin.  I brought home many of my Aunt’s treasured spiritual mementos, like this book, along with some china and silver, and a trove of letters and photos from my childhood.

We tried reading the mealtime prayers when I first got the book, but couldn’t ever get in the groove of hearing the Holy Spirit speak through the Old English. But now, after deepening my relationship with the Lord the last few years, it practically sings to me. Even better, my family is enjoying them.

They aren’t just a blessing over the meal. They are like having scripture read before a meal—not directly with references, but in general, with God’s promises and His love being poured out over our family mealtime together.  So years later, part of my Aunt Ardis’ legacy of faith is being modeled back into my family.  Precious, indeed!

Table Graces by Charles L. Wallis

Here’s a few of the prayers from 365 Table Graces for the Christian Home:

“May our family devotions and prayers daily inspire us to do thy will, O God, even as thy Son Jesus found in his small home in Nazareth the inspiration and guidance to undertake thy holy work.”

“May our home be founded, heavenly Father, upon him who is the Rock of true faith and not upon the shifting sands of doubt, and may we accept this food with prayerful thanksgiving and not with spiritual apathy.”

“Great Physician, bless all who suffer and are afflicted, use us in thy healing ministry, and grant us patience and hope in our times of difficulty.”

Do you sense the invitation of the Lord’s Power and Presence to join Him in your daily walk through these prayers?

family prayTable Graces for Everyone

I was pleasantly surprised to find this book does exist on Amazon. One copy is actually in new condition! I found a large selection of similar books on Amazon for anyone interested in taking their table prayers to a new level. Click here for a list.

While this book would be hard for children to understand, there are others that are more geared to young families. Wouldn’t it be a great way to introduce children to prayer and inadvertently share the Gospel with them at the same time?

Every Christian needs table graces in their home.

What is your mealtime prayer practice or memorable prayer time growing up?

A New Lenten Journey ~ Allowing God More Access

Here we are two weeks into Lent and I haven’t written a post about this time of year.  No big deal you may think, because you don’t recognize Lent or do anything special to participate in it.  Well, maybe it’s time you considered it.  Let me explain…

lent 40 days

Let’s Consider Lent

Lent is the 40-day period approaching Holy Week and Easter Sunday, usually associated with fasting, repentance, or sacrificial giving.  It is commonly considered a Catholic ritual, but I know of several local Protestant churches and friends who routinely participate in Lenten and Holy Week services, prayer practices, and such, just like they do for Advent (the season preceding Christmas).

This is my 5th year of actively participating in the Lenten season.  I’ve written about it several times: how and why I stumbled onto this practice, how it changed me and what I fasted from, and even about my son’s Lenten journey last year.  This year I was at a loss on how to change my Lenten practices, what to give up, etc.  I am again abstaining from alcohol and sweets.  Although, it seems to be part of an annual body cleanse now more than a strictly spiritual sacrifice.

Yesterday, I got an answer to how this Lent will be different.  It wasn’t about doing something different, it was about being something different.  The only way I can be different is to allow God access to my heart and mind.  And He gets hours of it in our weekly appointment at my sacred space.

He reminded me that after four years of dedicated weekly prayer time, that He has already transformed me from the inside out and made me into something new (yet again).  In our time together, He routinely speaks to me, guides me, and gives me peace.  He convicts me of my sinful ways and points me back to His will and ways.  (Although I do often wrestle with him when it comes to letting go of my grip on things.)

My willingness to enter the Catholic church over four years ago and start my weekly appointments with God have given Him more access to me not just at Lent, but year-round.  He reminded me that I don’t need to do anything different for Lent this year.

Seek Me in this Place

I am to just keep coming, keep seeking His will, keep listening for His voice, and keep writing about His messages to me—either in private or publically on my blog.  He will let me know when and how much to share.

Habakkuk 2:1 says, “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how He will answer.”

Oddly enough, my watchtower is in a Catholic church, and my guardpost is in the sanctity of its small chapel.

Listening for God at the guardpost (local chapel).

Listening for God at the guardpost (local chapel).

It started with the season of Lent five years ago.   I embraced the mystery of Jesus there, a very unusual thing for a Protestant to do.  He was stretching me outside of my comfort zone as He showed up and kept wooing me to seek Him there every week.

It changed me.  It changed my prayer practices.  It has also trickled into my family, has rubbed off on some of my friends, and is modeled in the groups I lead and participate in.

How are you Giving God more Access?

So the message I am sharing today is about doing whatever it takes to give God more access in your life.

Make time in your schedule.  Find a quiet place.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Listen.  Record what happens.

Lent is a the perfect time to do that, and make this Easter not just one of those Sundays that you have to go to church.  Make it a season and way to give God access to your life in new and mysterious ways.  And you’ll never be the same again.

How are you giving God more access to you?  Where is your watchtower?  I’d love to hear about what you are doing for Lent.

The 12 Days of Christmas & the Gifts from our True Love

Did you know that in many church settings throughout the Western World that the Christmas season extends beyond Christmas Day?  This post-Christmas period was popularized by the old song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but truly there are twelve days of Christmas that are celebrated on an annual basis as part of the liturgical calendar.

12 Days of Christmas

The Epiphany

In Christian terms, the twelve days of Christmas are known as the season of Epiphany.  It starts the day after Christmas and ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6.  I’ve only become more familiar with it in recent years due to my relationship with my Spanish family and then later due to my adopted prayer times in the Catholic Church.  It is in celebration of the Magi’s (wise men’s) arrival to worship Jesus.

What is the significance of the Magi’s arrival (the Epiphany)?  Until that time, salvation was reserved for the Jews through God’s Covenant with Abraham.  The Magi were Gentiles (non-Jews) who followed the star in the sky from the East to worship Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to worship him signifying that Jesus came to save us all.  We are also the Gentiles, and were excluded from the covenant.  In celebrating the Epiphany, we are celebrating our inclusion into God’s plan of salvation.

Spanish nativity scene (a Belen), photo courtesy of Pedro's family

Spanish nativity scene (a Belen) courtesy of Pedro’s family

Three King’s Day

In Spain, the Epiphany (feast day on January 6th) is called “Three King’s Day” (Dia de Los Reyes) and has traditionally been more popular than Christmas.  Spanish children look forward to this day and celebrate it with the receipt of presents, like on Christmas.  The giving of gifts on this day is a representation of the gifts given by the wise men, or “Three Kings.”

For children the fun starts on the evening of January 5, when the Three Kings are welcomed into the cities in a parade.  (Spain is known for its festive religious parades with ornate floats and statues.)  Children are rewarded with candies thrown out by the Three Kings along the parade route.  Similar to Christmas in America, children anticipate the arrival of the next day to see what kind of presents the Three Kings have left for them overnight.

Floats being prepared for a Spanish feast day parade, Toledo, Spain, June 2013.

Floats being prepared for a Spanish feast day parade, Toledo, Spain, June 2013.

Gifts from our True Love

Since Three King’s Day is celebrated by my Spanish family, I also make a conscious effort to acknowledge that day with them. This year, I’ve been making many observations since Christmas which remind me it is still the Christmas season.  It has been a deliberate slowing down of the season and watching how God is giving me daily experiences of His love, just like in the song, The 12 Days of Christmas.

It has been an amazing opportunity to witness God’s goodness in my life.  For instance, yesterday was the 5th day of Christmas and my True Love brought me three surprise encounters with friends.  The days before that, I was blessed with special family outings and meals, our annual family card game of Canasta, a wedding ceremony, a movie night out, and a Seahawks victory!

These haven’t been physical gifts.  They have all been experiences to treasure.  They are also reminders to me of how God wants to use me by connecting with others. That got me to thinking about the everyday gifts we receive from our Father in Heaven.

He is good; and yes, life is hard. 

With my ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other health issues, I seem to struggle with it every day.  But when I pause long enough to see the fruit of His love to me, I can see how faithful He has been to bring me through the ups and downs of it all.

Gifts from God

Farewell to 2014

2014 has been another monumental year for me.  I’ve had to normalize that my life keeps getting bigger and that the Lord has called me to go places and do things that I never dreamed possible for Him.

But with God all things are possible. (Luke 1:37)

So tonight when I celebrate the ringing in of the New Year, I’ve decided to celebrate the gifts from my True Love.  I eagerly embrace the coming of the New Year and what’s in store with arm’s wide open.

Happy New Year to my faithful readers, supporters of my writing, and to those who prayed for or donated to my call to share the gospel in Spain. You have all abundantly blessed me in 2014!  May you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and the gifts from Our True Love every day in the coming year!

What gifts are you celebrating as you ring in the New Year?

HNY 2015

CR Mission Update 1 – Arriving in France

Bon jour! It has been an amazing week in France. I am on my way to speak at the Celebrate Recovery meeting in Grenoble shortly. We head to Madrid tomorrow. The seminar is Friday and Saturday with meetings spread throughout the next week. Au revoir!

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

I (Ardis Nelson, member of the CR leader team at PLCC) arrived safely in France after 26 hours of travel by planes, trains, and automobiles. My travel included a whirlwind layover in Paris where I was able to attend mass and pray in Notre Dame.  I am 40 miles outside of Grenoble in the French Alps,

View original post 598 more words

On Mission for God, Part 6 ~ On My Way

I’m on my way! Six months after church meetings here in the States with Spanish pastor and missionary Josh Fajardo, I’m going on mission.

I’m numb. No time to make this pretty. Long lines at security. Rush, rush, rush.

I’m definitely heading to France because all flight announcements are in French and English. Lots to adapt to already.

When I land in Paris 10 hours from now, I’m heading to Notre Dame to take in the majesty of the Gothic architecture and to thank God for the life transformation He orchestrated to bring me to this place and time.

Bon jour.

Update 9/26/2014 ~ I made it to France, with a whirlwind tour of Paris by taxi. My driver spoke no English! I attended mass at Notre Dame and jumped out of the taxi at the Eiffel Tower for a selfie!  More updates to follow.

 

 

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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