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Clerk’s Corner

Breath Prayers

By Intersections

From the Clerk’s Corner-   “Breath Prayers”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”  my father would mutter under his breath whenever he was emotionally distressed.  As the eldest of then three young boys, I wondered if my father was upset with something we had done to displease him. Being raised in another traditional faith in the 1950’s, I thought my father was being profane –wasn’t that sinful?  In a culture of “children were seen and not heard”, not one of us dared to even raise the question to my father!  Dad’s word was like God’s authority to us.  But that was then and this is now:  I have come to see that perhaps my father was really praying for help, that he was– in his way– reaching out to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to calm and center himself.  Instead of utilizing the oft-suggested secular “counting to ten”, he was actually relying upon his faith praying for heavenly assistance!  This was his “default prayer”, an invocation he reverted to use automatically when feeling distressed!  Upon reflection, I admitted that I did not have such a prayer in my “spiritual portfolio”; perhaps I needed to invest in one, a default prayer that would pay spiritual dividends down the road — an automatic muttering that would give glory to God rather than besmirch His name!

Do you have a default prayer to help you cope with an unexpected distressful situation?  From my life’s observation most people do not and probably have never given this a thought. Many people under distress simply blurt out “OMG”, “GDI” or “JC” without thinking.  As Christians we ought to do better than that; we can move from the profane to the sacred—even in our mutterings!

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” is the quintessential default prayer to use at any time. It quickly sets my mind and heart upon the One I can truly rely upon to help me through difficult times. It uplifts my plaintive cry for mercy –“help me Lord in my distress!”  It is one of the oldest prayers in the Christian community of faith, dating back to the third century from the Eastern Orthodox tradition; it is considered to be one of the greatest treasures of Christianity!  I learned about “the Jesus Prayer” last year while on a three-day monastic retreat. With a little practice, this prayer can become your default prayer too!  Now say (under your breath): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. This is a “breath prayer” because it is said in rhythm with one’s natural breathing.  Inhale the first part “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” then exhale “has mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. When we connect the power of the Holy Spirit with “the breath of life”, we can fathom the deeper spirituality of “breath prayers” —breathing new life into our souls!  This practice of literally breathing our prayer lends itself to inhale the holiness and power of Jesus Christ and to exhale our petition. It is a “centering prayer”, a prayer of consent to God’s presence and action to me. I let other thoughts go –to create room to return to the presence of God. I focus on Christ Jesus acknowledging Him as both Lord and Savior of my life, the Son of the Living God –and my dependence upon His mercy, compassion, and divine forgiveness.

“The Jesus Prayer” is the ultimate source of intercessory prayer; the more I live with it, the more it will live with me!  Instead of “cursing the darkness” or “counting sheep” on a sleepless night, practice repeating this prayer — embed it into your consciousness as a profound gift from God, to be in continual communion with Him, as the Apostle Paul would say “pray without ceasing!”  Breathe in and out s-l-o-w-l-y:“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” —and repeat again and again until it becomes your default breath prayer!  One last thought to seriously ponder is the payoff of this sound investment:  when taking your final breaths of life, what better words — indelibly inscribed on your mind, in your heart, and within your soul — can be uttered from your lips than “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”!

.                                                                    –Rob Riehl, clerk of session, ruling elder

In Our Brokenness

By Intersections

From the Clerk’s Corner

Things break. Recently a mishandled “treasured” glass item in our household fell and shattered into innumerable pieces. There was the initial anger of blame quickly followed by the pain of loss. Looking upon the scattered debris, a fleeting thought of Humpty-Dumpty came to mind: this glass object can never be put back together again!  Then, of course, the solution would be to replace the object –if one could find a replica. Perhaps that would sooth the momentary pain.  Hearts break. The unanticipated loss of someone we love –whether through death, divorce, or estrangement– causes emotional pain and suffering that could last for many years.  How does one fix or replace a lost intimate relationship?  Lives break. The loss of a job, a home, or health brings suffering and pain. Life is fragile, things fall apart, things decay. How does one cope with suffering such painful losses?  Where does one seek healing and restoration?  Here a critical life-changing decision is made:  to choose relief from “the culture of death” or to choose solace from “the culture of life”?  Many choose the former, a wider road as it appears to be the “easier way” –to numb the pain of brokenness through alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and a host of other addictions — all of which incrementally spiral into self-destruction.  Fewer choose the latter, a narrow road that is challenging yet hopeful — choosing to surrender to self and submit to the will of our Creator God Who desires only good things for us, for God is infinite goodness! The reality –the truth– is that we are all broken in some way, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

But our brokenness can become a blessing when we realize our affliction brings us closer to God, dependent upon Him (and not ourselves or others) to heal us. Father God is the Great Physician, Jesus Christ the Miraculous Healer, the Holy Spirit the Comforter –when all else fails, our awesome God is always present and mindful of our needs. Broken bodies, broken promises, broken relationships, broken spirits — God can handle all such things; absolutely nothing is impossible to Him.  In our brokenness, our hope for healing is to be found in the name of the Lord!  Living under the curse of our fallen condition we sometimes forget this truth and attempt to restore healing on our own.  God wants us to lean on Him, so let go of the need to “be in control” and let God be God!  He will not abandon anyone who places his trust and hope in His hands. Sometimes God’s will is for us to endure our affliction of brokenness in a seemingly paradoxical way to bear witness to His existence and sovereignty. The Apostle Paul begged God to relieve him of his brokenness (an unidentified chronic affliction), but God responded that His grace was sufficient. On the night of His impending arrest, even Jesus prayed if another way be made possible –yet fully accepted the will of His Father to endure.  The world sees suffering as a curse to be avoided; believers in God can accept suffering as a blessing!

The two greatest cataclysms that dramatically changed the course of human history: the Fall of Man and the Resurrection of Christ. The first Adam fell from grace with God through his disobedience and with that act the wages of sin, suffering and death entered the world; moreover, nature itself fell from its state of perfection to one of hostility and instability. These two events are inextricably linked; for with the fall of the first Adam, God promised a Redeemer to provide the means of restoring salvation to mankind through a second “Adam”: Jesus Christ.  Jesus willingly allowed His perfect human body to be broken for us, to fully identify with us by experiencing the excruciating fullness of human pain, suffering, torture, and death — solely out of His divine infinite love so that we might live again!  By His stripes, we are healed. Through this required sacrifice of His only Son being satisfied, God offered reconciliation, sonship, and salvation to all those who believe in Him and follow Him. The full restoration of God’s creation will take place when the Risen Christ reconciles all things unto Himself at the Second Coming. Revelation tells us that there will then be no more tears and suffering for those who are His faithful children. On the night before His destiny with crucifixion, Jesus gathered His Apostles together, offering Himself as “the Bread of Life” — the bread that nourishes, heals, and sanctifies. “Take and eat, for this is My Body — broken for you!”

–Rob Riehl, ruling elder, clerk of session

A Lenten Coin

By Intersections

The Clerk’s Corner by Rob Riehl, ruling elder

Have you ever heard of a Lenten coin?  It is a two-sided ordinary coin with a “heads” side with the flip side being “tails” –nothing unusual about that!

However, for the purpose of encouraging you to do something of a self-disciplinary nature for the season of Lent, this image of a coin will hopefully challenge and inspire you to act !  The head-side of this coin encourages you to do something positive, something a bit challenging, and something that would improve your quality of life; the tail-side of this coin encourages you to dispose of something negative, something difficult to release, and something self-sacrificial !  You may choose to do either the “heads” side ( positive ) or the “tails” side ( negative ) of this coin. If you are indecisive, you could simply “flip the coin” relying on fate to determine your choice. A  more interesting and beneficial choice would be to act upon both sides of this coin for the season of Lent ( about 40 days ). This is the daunting challenge: could you be determined enough to sustain whatever choice you make for forty days?

Before Jesus Christ began His mission of Redemption, He spent forty days and nights in the desert wilderness preparing for His mission and ministry. He was alone, without food, water, and shelter; He emptied Himself to be filled with the Father –praying and fasting. Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted by Satan, who offered “the best” of his world — if Jesus would only give up His mission and worship him. Jesus is calling us, His followers, to do likewise: to spend forty days of prayer and fasting, of self-denial and sacrifice, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us with strength and courage to denounce Satan, reject sin, overcome temptation, and share in the glory of rising with Christ !

As the season of Lent calls us to prepare for the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus at Easter, what are some ways we can participate in this experiential journey ?

For one, we could improve our relationships with others ( be they spouse, relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker ). Instead of speaking negatively of their shortcomings, we could replace that destructive habit by speaking well of their attributes; our goal is to “build them up” instead of “tearing them down” !   Think about the reward for them ( and for you ) over the forty days of Lent; these relationships would improve significantly with a “win-win” payoff for everyone !  For another, do random acts of kindness everyday, wherever you go, and to anyone who provides you with the opportunity to act. Imagine your new habit of such “connecting” with others taking hold over the forty days of Lent. Become more generous: carry “extra change” to give away to anyone in need. Even a dollar a day ( over forty days ) would create in you a more generous attitude ! How about reducing an addictive habit, such as committing to “no social media on Sundays!” ( Just wondering… Is there anyone who could do this over forty days? ). Consider sacrificing some television or computer time each day to engage with real people in meaningful conversations  –thus building relationships!   Displace routine “trivial pursuits” with Bible study, meditation and journaling, reading spiritual books and commentaries. Be the voice, hands, and feet of Christ:  become a liturgist, a communion server, an usher;  join a church small group, fellowship or ministry; call or visit our church homebound members; give of your time and talent to enlarge the development and growth of our church congregation. Over forty days, you would become more invested in our church life.

To encourage any readers who find the “40-day challenge” too stressful, consider this option: Do weekly stretches ( with weekends “off” ), such as designating a “no dessert week”, “no Facebook week”, or pre-determine “lunch-free days” ( pray and fast instead! ), “coffee or cocktail-free days” ( drink juice or water instead! ). Think about selecting one good habit to add ( and one bad habit to eliminate ) for a week, such as adopting an attitude of gracious gratitude and eliminate the self-serving attitude of entitlement –serve others before serving self, and the like. Be sure to keep in contact with God to help you overcome the difficult times; if you fall, forgive yourself and continue with God’s grace to achieve your goal.

Post “reminder” notes in places you frequently look at everyday: on your bathroom mirror, computer screen, vehicle steering wheel / dashboard, and other such places to remain  focused on your commitment to the Lord Jesus and yourself. Remember that you and Jesus are yoked together in this “work-in-progress” !

Whatever challenge you decide to pursue, remember WHY and for WHOM you are undertaking this transformation during the season of Lent.  You are called to give honor and glory to God, to become more Christ-like in your manner, and more Spirit-led in your attitude. Along the way of this spiritual experiential journey, you may stumble and fall, suffer a bit, be tempted to “give up”, understand self-sacrifice, lean on God for strength to endure to the end. Looking back after Easter Sunday, the blessing is the reward of a “new you” –a new creation– to have followed the way of Christ for forty days!   As for the Lenten Coin, I never heard of it either; it is simply a metaphor that arose from my imagination !

Mr. Rob Riehl, ruling elder

Gift Assessment

By Intersections

The Clerk’s Corner by Rob Riehl, Clerk of Session

Now that the customary exchange of Christmas gifts has passed, we have decided which gifts received are worthy of our keeping, which gifts can be “temporarily” put aside, and which are “unwanted” that can be given away — be given a “new life”: perhaps re-gifted to a friend or relative, donated to a charity, or become a “prize” in a fund-raiser raffle! Of the gifts we choose to keep, we select which ones should hold a prominent place of display and which will be kept in a place of easy access. Of the gifts we put aside, we determine which will be put in the attic or basement for “the short term” – and the remainder stored off-site for “the long term”. Those gifts we placed “out of sight” can come back to haunt us: what were we thinking? Why did we hold on to these unused gifts for so many years? What do we do with them now? Whether you received just one, a few, or many gifts, each gift calls you to make an assessment and a resolution. What will you do with each gift?

As Christians, we believe that God has blessed us in many ways with His many gifts; among these are the gift of life itself and the opportunity for eternal life with Him. We are especially reminded at Christmas that our Creator Father God gave humanity the gift of His Son Jesus Christ so that we can know Him personally and intimately – to be in continual communion with Him. This is the greatest gift to be offered to us, freely given and undeserved, out of eternal love for us created in His image! Once we realize the incomprehensible magnitude of this gift, we are confronted with the assessment question: what do I do now?

In a recent meeting of our Men’s Ministry group, we speculated on the one question that Father God might ask of us at Judgment Day. The one proposed question that stayed with me is this: “What have you done with the gift of my Son?” Truly a sobering question and one that compels me to assess my relationship with God. Where have I placed this gift of God in my life? Have I put this gift aside and neglected it? Or have I embraced, honored, and treasured this gift? Have I shared this gift of His Son with others? The secular-atheist world has rejected it, marginalized it, and strives to dispose of it; let not any one of us be found on that side of the assessment!

With the new calendar year upon us, the secular world suggests that we make “New Year’s Resolutions” such as a new diet or weight-loss program, learning another language or skill. As believers in God, let us consider a resolution that really matters — one that truly creates a new life with eternal consequences: resolve to not only know more about God, but get to know Him personally and intimately. Once you have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, you will abandon everything inferior. So open this gift! Eagerly embrace the gift your heart has been seeking — the unique plan God has called you to become and to accomplish in this life; this is your divine purpose and mission. Do not put this gift aside or store it hidden away — and then forgotten! What other gift could enable and empower you to become greater than your perceived self-image, to become more Christ-like, and then partner with your heavenly Father in furthering the restoration of His will “on earth as it is in heaven”!

There is a local church “reminder” sign (which I drive by everyday) whose message reads: “Be a mirror. Reflect the glory of God in everything you do.” For those of us who are aligned with Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we are reflecting the greatest gift bestowed upon humankind by the Father. This truly is “the gift that keeps on giving” — of ourselves, our talents, and our resources to the greater honor and glory of God. All we need do is willingly accept God’s gracious gift and be thankful for His mercy, grace, and love. No greater gift can be received — and then given! 2 Corinthians 5:17; Psalm 34:8; Luke 12:18; Corinthians 13:12

Mr. Rob Riehl, ruling elder