Call to Prayer for our Nation

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If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
                                                                               2 Chronicles 7:14

This past week’s events have left many people wondering, what can I do?  Over the months ahead, there will be many suggestions and opportunities to live out our faith as Christians in loving our neighbor, no matter who that might be.  But right now, I want to invite all of my friends to unite in prayer for our nation and her people.

To that end, I invite you to take time each evening this week to pause for a time of prayer and reflection.  A National Week of Prayer began Sunday evening at 9:06 pm.  Perhaps you would pause at 9:06 each night.  If that isn’t a convenient time, select another time and commit to praying each evening.  I invite you to pray for an end to violence in our communities, for safety both for our police and for persons of color.  Ask God to intervene and raise up a way forward through which we can be united as a people.
And you may want to pray for direction from God on how you personally could act to be salt and light to the community around you, helping to find peaceful ways to strengthen community relations and ensure justice for all people.
You are welcome to pray using your own words , but if you would like some direction for your prayer and meditation, the prayers and Scripture below may prove helpful.  Let us unite our hearts and minds together in prayer, knowing that God is present, working in ways seen and unseen, to bring about a world of peace, justice and love.
 
Bron
 
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
 
Psalm 33 selections
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humanity;
From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – 
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do…
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
 
From Alan Paton in the midst of Apartheid
O Lord, open my eyes
that I may see the need of others,
open my ears that I may hear their cries,
open my heart so that they need not be without succor.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak
because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor
because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to these places.
Open my eyes and ears that I may, this coming day,
be able to do some work of peace for thee.
 
Prayer of St. Francis
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

 
And finally, from Bishop Desmond Tutu – Prayer for South Africa but just as applicable to the United States
Bless our beautiful land, O Lord,
with its wonderful variety of people,
of races, cultures and languages.
May we be a nation of laughter and joy,
of justice and reconciliation,
of peace and unity,
of compassion, caring and sharing.
We pray this prayer for a true patriotism,
in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. 
 
 
The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

Speaking the Truth in Love

Pastor’s Friday Reflection                                                                      image
 
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
                                                      Ephesians 4:14-16                  
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When my daughter, now over thirty, was about seven years old, she asked me one day if she could invite a new friend from school over to play.  I agreed, and a few days later she arrived home with her friend.  To my surprise, the friend was black.  I welcomed her and the two girls had a good time together.  Later, after her friend had gone, I asked my daughter why she hadn’t told me her friend was black.  Jenny looked up at me with a puzzled expression and said, “I wouldn’t tell you if my friend was blond, why would I tell you she was black?”  That brought me up against my own racism.
This week we have watched in horror as first two black men were killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then, just in the last 12 hours, eleven police officers were shot in Dallas, with five dead, during a Black Lives Matter rally.  The details of the Dallas shooting are still under investigation as I write this. These shootings all have one thing in common – race.  In his press conference after the St. Paul shooting, the governor of Minnesota asked, if the occupants of the car had been white, would the result have been the same. Answering his own question, he said probably not.  And I wondered, if the police officer had known Mr. Castile was a Montessori School administrator, would he have felt as threatened as he must have felt when he shot the man? Did racial profiling play a role?
Paul coined that wonderful phrase, “speaking the truth in love.”  As a society, we must examine our practices with an objective eye, recognizing where racism has been so ingrained in our systems of governance that we who are not persons of color no longer notice the discrimination.  In order for us to be a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” we have to be sure that those ligaments, those connectors, are just, fair and supportive rather than destructive.  We need to work strenuously to eliminate racism and all “ism’s” from our society.  We need to speak the truth about our society.
In the aftermath of Dallas, the good news is that most police officers are honorable people who work for the good of their community.  But the time has come for us as a nation to rise up and demand that we speak the truth in love – that some people should no longer carry a badge and gun, that racism exists and must be addressed, that justice is the right of all Americans regardless of the color of their skin.  Let none stand on the sidelines saying, this is someone else’s fight.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called those who experience such visible racism the “canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere…Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”  (dissent opinion in Utah v Strieff, last month)  Paul’s words take it one step further, making it clear that we are one body.  When any part of that body is unhealthy, the whole is unhealthy.  We must work together to create a society that reflects the love of God and the recognition that every human being is a beloved child of God.
Here in the suburbs, we are shielded from much of the blatant challenge of racism, but that doesn’t give us a pass on action.  Our affluence also means we are people of power, people who have the ability to demand change at a governing level – better community policing in underprivileged neighborhood, better training of police officers, body cams, community oversight, but also fair wages for police and responsible efforts to increase their safety.  Let us act within our own sphere of influence to eliminate racism.  Let us speak the truth in love to one another – not firing shots at those with whom we disagree as in Dallas, but lovingly and hopefully pointing out places where racism exists and working together to make changes.  After all, even those who are filled with racism are children of God who deserve our love, not our hate.  Speaking the truth in love, asking God to change our hearts, we can create a world that reflects the love and justice that God intends.
Prayer:  O loving God, I come to you this morning all to aware of my own biases, my own proclivities to judge people by external criteria like race.  Help me, Lord, to see instead as you see.  Let me recognize injustice when I see it; let me act to correct inequity.  Give me a heart that is both demanding of justice and filled with love as I seek to bring our world one step closer to your kingdom.  And, Lord, help me to examine myself to find those places where I fail to love my neighbor because of race or other isms.  Change my heart wherever that occurs, so that I may grow more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who both loves me and challenges me to be better.  Amen.
 
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A Provoking Poeple

 

Pastor’s Friday Reflection

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

                                                      Hebrews 10:24-25                   

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The Scripture from Hebrews is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  But there’s always been an inherent contradiction for me in these words – “…provoke one another to love and good deeds…”  My kids are now 32 and 29, but I can still remember when my daughter was about five and her little brother knew just how to provoke a response from her, and not one of love and good deeds.  Doug knew every one of Jenny’s buttons, and he had no difficulty pushing those buttons to get a rise out of her.  He “provoked” her unmercifully, and always got a response – tears, anger, or frustration.  So when I read the passage from Hebrews, that’s the first image I see – my daughter red in the face and my son with a smug, “gotcha” look on his visage.

But as I thought about it, I realized there was actually something helpful in that image.  Doug knew Jenny’s buttons, and knew how to provoke her; I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew each others good deed buttons?  If we knew how to provoke love instead of anger or frustration?  What would happen if we could interact with each other in ways that were just as provoking as my son’s when he was 2 and 1/2, but resulted in good deeds rather than crying and calling for mommy?

Perhaps that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind.  We all have a pretty good idea of the buttons that will send our neighbors into anger and frustration, but how well do we know the buttons that result in love and good deeds?  Those buttons are much more difficult to find, but they are the ones that we Christians are called to discover.  Christ understands that left on our own, the world around us is pushing the wrong buttons; it doesn’t take much to send us into that downward spiral of anger, accusation or frustration.  That’s why we have the church, a place that will help us counteract the natural tendencies of the world and move us toward love and acceptance rather than anger or hate.  Here in the church, we can encourage each other when those natural negative tendencies raise their heads; we can help each other let go of the anger and frustration that the world naturally elicits from us and instead move toward loving affirmation, forgiveness and hope.

This summer, why don’t we study each other with an eye to finding those buttons of love and good deeds, to discovering the ways we can provoke each other to living as gospel people?  It is my hope that we can encourage one another and discover that each of us has love to share and good deeds to offer that will help make our church all that God could desire.

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For Better or for Good?

 

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“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
                                                            Ephesians 3:20-21

The Broadway musical “Wicked” tells the story of the land of Oz before Dorothy and Toto dropped in unexpectedly. It introduces us to two remarkable young women – one smart, fiery and with emerald green skin, the other beautiful, an airhead and very popular. The musical explains how the former woman goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West, while the other becomes Glinda, the Good Witch. But in this version, they are both admirable.

In the course of the show, the two women sing a duet, the song, For Good. Listen to the words they sing:

It well may be that we will never meet again
In this lifetime,
So let me say before we part, so much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart;
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine by being my friend:
Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea,
Like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood,
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

This will be my last Friday devotional. I’ll keep blogging at http://www.bronyocum.org for those who enjoy these columns. But as I come to the end of my time at Grove, I can echo the words of the two witches – I have been changed for good by you, the people of Grove Church. Your love and care for one another including me and my family, your passion for ministry and the community around you, your desire to learn more about your faith and deepen your relationship with God, all of these qualities have had an impact on me, helping me grow in my faith. I leave Grove a better person and a better pastor than when I first arrived. I know that because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

And as the song says, you will be with me, for the rest of my life, like a handprint on my heart, shaping how I live and how I believe. For the many gifts you gave me, from your affirmation of my ministry to your care during my recuperation to your wonderful and generous gifts as I prepared to leave, thank you. I hope we do meet again, but no matter what, please know that because I knew you, I have been changed both for the better and for good. I pray that you, too, have been changed for good by God’s work through me during my time at Grove. For God can accomplish through us so much more than we could ever ask for or even imagine. God bless you and keep you until we meet again at Grove’s 250th anniversary!

 

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Like a Child

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“But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children
come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these
that the kingdom of God belongs.”
                           Luke 18:16
The story of Jesus and the children always reminds me of the movie Dave, with Kevin Kline.  The hero, Dave, is a look alike for the president.  When the president has had a massive stroke, Dave is hired to come to the White House and impersonate the president so the country won’t know anything has happened.  Acting as the president, Dave goes with the First Lady to a photo opportunity at a child care center.  She has been estranged from her husband, and is unaware of Dave’s substitution.  The First Lady is passionate about quality day care, and is lecturing a group of reporters, surrounded by the children who attend the center.  She looks up and sees Dave, off in a corner, out of view of the reporters and TV cameras, talking quietly with one troubled, little boy, doing magic tricks for the child.  Everyone else was taking in the kids as one mass -a gaggle of kids, a collection of statistics, an opportunity for a photograph; but Dave was getting to know one real child in an intimate way, giving his time in a way that said, you’re valuable enough for me to spend my time with just you.

And isn’t that what God’s intimate ministry says to us?  When God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, God showed how much they were valued.  God loved them enough to stop other important duties, to set aside the tasks of the divine in order to simply delight in the company of humans.  Not delight in the mass of humanity or the idea of human beings, but in the very presence of two concrete, specific people.

Jesus, too, loved people, not just the concept of people.  He stopped to take the children on his knee, children with dirty diapers, kids who pulled his hair and spit up on his robes.  He ate and drank with sinners, even being accused of gluttony and drunkenness because he enjoyed the company of others and valued getting to know people as individuals.  He listened to them, he related to them, one on one.  He developed relationships with people, rather than standing far off, like the pope on his balcony blessing thousands of people at a time.  His presence was an affirmation of our worth, a confirmation that even one single creature – whether the sparrow or a human being – matters to God.

So let’s remember that as we live our days.  Each one is worthy of God’s love; each one is worthy of our attention; each one is someone to relate to and get to know as a unique individual, a child of God created by the master.

Prayer:  Lord of life, I thank you that you created human beings, each one, unique and valuable.  Help me to approach each person in my life as your handiwork, a child of God who is precious in your sight.  Let me value each person and seek to know them not simply by their gender, their race or other shared characteristics, but to know them as your unique and beloved child in whom your image is reflected.  For I ask it in the name of Jesus, who loves me as your unique and individual child.  Amen.

Two Roads

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“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”
                                                          Acts 9:4
I have been moved by dramatic conversion stories through the years.  I’ve heard people talk about having been a drug addict, alcoholic or atheist, and having their life turned around when they accepted Christ.  Like Paul on the road to Damascus, these people walked down a road of transformation and rebirth as they found God.
Listening to stories like those, I find myself wondering if my faith is as authentic as theirs.  I have no dramatic conversion story, no exciting turn-around of my life.  I was born into a Christian family, attended church from the time I was a toddler, and moved into a deeper and deeper relationship with God through the years.
But I eventually realized that God has prepared two roads – the road to Damascus and the Road to Emmaus.  In Luke’s account of the day of resurrection, we read about two disciples who are traveling home to Emmaus and meet a stranger on the road.  We know, of course, that the stranger is Jesus, who talks with the two and teaches them as they walk. Then, inviting the stranger to join them for dinner, the two have their eyes opened to Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They learn, their faith is deepened as they walk the road to Emmaus, and at last, they recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread.
The former is a road of dramatic conversion, the later a road of gradual, deepening understanding, but both are roads to God.  For those who have a dramatic conversion, we can rejoice that God found a way into their life that led to a significant turnaround.  But for those whose faith has been a gradual deepening of relationship with God, the road still leads to the same destination, just by a different path.
Whichever road your life has taken you, give thanks that God provides many ways to grow in relationship.  We may not all have dramatic conversion stories, but whichever road we have travelled, we can all have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Rejoice that God so loves us that God welcomes us  by whatever path we approach.
Prayer:   Loving God, in Jesus Christ you have acted to redeem me from sin and death.  You could have insisted that I come to you on a path of your own choosing, but you have opened many roads to you.  Thank you for loving me so much, and for welcoming me into your presence through Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

SENT

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
                  John 20:21
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Our daughter was just shy of three years old when our son was born.  I had stayed home with her, caring for her, playing with her, and reading to her.  There were books all over our house, and one of my greatest joys was reading to Jenny.
When Doug was born, Jenny came to the hospital to help us bring him home.  Once home, we tried to include Jenny in activities with her new baby brother..  Imagine my surprise when I peeked into the living room one day to find Jenny reading to Doug as he lay in his baby seat.  She was holding a book, running her finger under the words that she couldn’t yet read, just like I did with her.  She was telling the story we had read so many times, turning pages at just the right time. She was doing for him what I had done for her.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus told his followers.  For three years his disciples had observed him, watching how he worked.  They saw him heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach good news and reach out to those on the margins of society to bring them into the circle of God’s love. Now Jesus was sending them to do for the world what they had seen him do.
You and I are sent in the same way.  We are invited to watch Jesus at work in the Scriptures and then go and imitate his work, caring for those Jesus cared about.  We have the portraits of Jesus in the Bible; we have images of a loving God in the lives of the saints, and we have the privilege of continuing the work of God as the Body of Christ today.  In resurrection power, we are sent to the world as Christ was sent, to share God’s promise of new life.
Prayer:   Eternal God, you sent your son to the world to bring the love and life.  In the power of his resurrection, he now sends us to the world to continue that work.  Help us to act in imitation of Christ, to heal and love, sharing good news that makes a difference in the world for good.  Amen. 

Rock Concerts

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“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.””
                  Luke 19:39-40
That first Palm Sunday Jesus announced the first rock concert – the stones singing Jesus’ praise if needed!  The comment reminds us that Christ had come not just to save humanity but to restore all of creation.  As Paul says in the letter to the Romans, the whole creation has been groaning, waiting for redemption.  All creation hails Jesus as God’s anointed one, the one who will deliver us from the consequences of the fall.
So often we think of Christ’s work only in terms of human redemption.  While that is important, the story of salvation covers all of creation.  Revelation 21 tells us that a new heaven and a new earth will appear at the end of time; in other words, all things will be made new.  The cycle of decay and death has entrapped not only human beings but all living things and even much that is not living.  And so we celebrate not only what God has done for us, but for all of God’s creation.  We join trees and flowers, cats and dogs, everything that has breath and everything that God created in rejoicing over Jesus Christ.
So as we go through Holy Week, let’s not take a ho-hum attitude as if this is not important.  Because if we don’t shout out our praise, God will find another way to celebrate the Son’s love.  And I’d rather be part of the concert than sitting on the side watching a rock take my place.
Prayer:   Gracious Lord, fill my heart with praise today.  Let me join all of creation in celebrating your son.  My I not stand silent on the sidelines, but instead offer my praise and thanks to the one who redeems everything that has been created by you.  Amen. 

God and the Electoral Process

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“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
                                                                              1 Corinthians 13:1

Have you been watching the political process in our country as we’ve seen it acted out in the primary campaigns going on? Listening to the candidates, we might wonder if this is a country of liars or non-Christians who bicker and backbite! Truth and civility seem to be the casualties of the electoral process.  I listened as one commentator talked about his sons, one college age and one high school age, remarking that they would never consider running for office on the basis of the attacks and smear campaigns they are witnessing in this year’s electoral process.  Their reaction saddened me as I wondered, are we driving away the gifted by the nature of contemporary campaigns, and only getting candidates who are committed to misbehaving?

Is it possible to get elected and not lie?  Is it possible to get elected and be decent and civil in he process?  Can a real Christian who commits to truth-telling and love for fellow humans even run for office?  These are questions we need to be asking ourselves.  These are qualities we need to demand in our candidates.  No, it isn’t nearly as much fun to watch a civil debate as it is to see the fireworks in personal attacks; it isn’t nearly as entertaining to hear policy descriptions and factual information as it is to see candidates tear each other apart with innuendo and half-truths.  But we, the American people, will get what we demand, and if we don’t demand civility and truthfulness in our electoral process, we’ll get the alternative – half truths and personal demonization.

Regardless of politics, it pains me to see someone like Gen. Colin Powell step away from the political process because of the potential cost to his family. Are we losing the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of truly gifted candidates because of the process we have created? It may be that the candidate who truly espouses Christian virtues cannot be elected in this country.  That would make me very sad, but I have to consider that possibility.  But I would love to see somebody try; I’d love to see a candidate tell the truth to the best of their ability and refrain from personal attacks.  Wouldn’t that be a novel approach? Perhaps the problem, however, is not in the candidates but in us, the electorate.  Perhaps we get the behavior we reward. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, what do we really want in our election process, because it may be that despite our protests to the contrary, we are getting exactly what we want

 

Prayer:    Almighty God, you have gifted and equipped some to be leaders in the civic arena, and called them to exercise their gifts for the good of all people.  And yet the very process by which we select leaders seems to deny your law and discourage some truly gifted candidates from entering the arena. Help me by my actions to encourage a process that conforms to your expectations of how we are to live together.  Let me not only affirm community with my lips, but let me live it with my life, so that those who are gifted and called will be willing to share their gifts without risk to themselves and their families.  Amen. 

The Important vs The Urgent

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“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
                                 Matthew 6:33
     Thursday morning before I turned to my sermon, Gordy and I made a trip to the grocery store to stock up for the coming storm.  We went at the start of the day hoping to avoid the crowds.  Imagine our surprise to find the store almost deserted.  There was hardly anyone else shopping.  Now I know that many people were at work and others were still getting elementary aged children off to the school bus, but the store was practically empty!  I could’t understand it.
     Later that morning, Gordy went out to pick up a few more things.  He mentioned to the owner at one store how few people seemed to be out stocking up, and the owner provided what he thought was the reason – procrastination.  He said, “Wait until the end of the workday.  This store will be mobbed tonight.  People just wait till the last minute!”
     There was a whole day before the snow was forecast, so I guess people had other things that seemed more important – Thursday’s work or kids’ schedules.  But woe to the person who waited too long and discovered empty shelves without bread or milk on Friday afternoon.  They’d be hard pressed to provide for themselves or their family if the storm turns out to be as severe as forecast.
     Too often, we allow our priorities to be set by what’s next on the calendar instead of asking ourselves what’s most important.  In the words of Steven Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  We allow ourselves to be dominated by things that are in truth less important but appear to be urgent because they are due sooner rather than later.  But sometimes, the things we are caught up doing prove to be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, focusing on the near at hand deadlines can lead us to overlook what is truly important.
     Our faith life is like that.  For most of us, life seems to stretch out before us for years to come.  End of life concerns are things we think we can put off for some other day. “There’s time to nurture my relationship with God later,” we think, turning instead to address the “urgent” things in our life, things that are happening now.  But isn’t our eternal salvation one of the most important things in our life?  Isn’t our relationship with God the most important relationship we have? Which will be more important in eternity – that we squeezed in one more phone call for work, or that we set aside five minutes to spend with God.  Don’t put off doing the things that will draw you nearer to God; don’t delay!  This is the day to ask God to be a regular part of your life, and commit to growing in your faith.

     Prayer:  Patient and forbearing God, you want me to be in a close relationship with you, but too often I put you off, letting other needs eat up my time, consume my focus and move me away from you.  Open my eyes to your presence in my life. Open my heart to seek you every day in prayer, in Scripture and in my actions.  Help me to put your kingdom first, and to let your will be the guide to ordering all the rest of my life.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.