God's World

What in the world is God doing this week?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Letters found in the Ocean - an update

Yesterday, Bill Lacovara announced that he would give most of the letters to Rev. Cooper's daughter.

About his withdrawn ebay auction, he said in a ne
w AP article, "I apologize to anyone who was insulted," he said. "It was never my intention to offend anyone. I was looking at these more like antiques."

Thank you, Mr. Lacovara, for doing the right thing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Letters to God found in the Ocean

Lately, my posts may sound a little like rants, but I keep reading stories that leave me somewhere between flabbergasted and irate. The story of the prayer letters found awash in the surf off the coast of New Jersey is one of them. The story was written by Wayne Parry for the Associated Press. It goes like this.

Last week, Bill Lacovara, an insurance adjuster from Ventnor, NJ, found a floating bag containing about 300 letters. Some were addressed to Rev. Grady Cooper, a deceased Associate Pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. Others were simply addressed “altar.”

They were prayers to God. It is heartbreaking to hear of some of them, and even more heartbreaking that many had been unopened.

People had poured their hearts out in these letters. Although there has been speculation, nobody knows why they were left unread, and nobody knows how they came to be floating in the ocean.

The story made me sad, and caused me to reflect on my own life and ministry. Hardly a day passes that I don’t receive some request to pray for a person or situation. How many times have I responded, “I will pray for you,” and then forgot to follow through? I try to be diligent about remembering prayer requests, but I’m sure I have missed a few. And for that, I ask God’s forgiveness. I also ask God’s help in growing to be more disciplined about honoring every prayer request I receive.

What shocked me most, though, about the story, was the callous cynicism of Mr. Lacovara. He remarked, “this is just a hint of what really happens. How many letters like this all over the world aren’t being opened or answered?”

Mr. Lacovara, I want to tell you a couple of things. I know a lot of people who pray all the time. I know a lot of pastors who pray all the time. The people of faith that I know are very conscientious about bringing prayer requests before God. Your assumption that persons of faith are as a rule false and uncaring is insulting.

This morning, our email prayer-team, “PrayerWorks” prayed for each of the unknown people whose letters are represented in the floating bundle. We prayed that the writers might find the peace of knowing that God was present with them in the writing, in their life situations, and even now, and that their faith might not be harmed by the letters’ discovery. You can find the blog version of our PrayerWorks prayer request log at PrayerWorld: www.prayerblogworld.blogspot.com.

Another thing: I want you to know that God heard each and every one of those prayers, unopened or not. God is present with us even in the asking. God was present with each writer even as they set pen to paper. God hears us even when words fail us.

Jon Hurdle, writing for Reuters, writes that Mr. Lacovara apparently cared so much about the hurting persons who wrote the prayers that to ensure they got read he graciously offered to sell the letters on ebay. There, he was sure he could get up to $15,000 for his selfless act.

Thankfully, he was dissuaded by the offense expressed by what he termed “a lot of religious fanatics” who said they were disappointed in him, urging him to either burn them, put them back in the ocean, or give them to a church.

Listen, it doesn’t take a religious fanatic to realize that selling people’s prayers for profit is wrong. All it takes is a shred of conscience and a tiny slice of moral integrity.

I am cautiously glad that Mr. Lacovara has decided to do the right thing. He says he is evaluating his options “to make sure the letters don’t fall into the wrong hands.” Sorry, too late.

Mr. Lacovara, I pray for you, that God will bless you and melt your heart, bringing you wholeness and peace. May finding these letters be a turning point in your life, and draw you closer to God.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Do Americans believe that God exist?

The headlines are certainly provocative: “Nearly half of Americans are not sure God exists.” For a country that has always thought of itself as a religious nation, it sounds like we are in deep trouble!

I get so frustrated by the way research and polls get reported in the media. Having been trained in research methodology as an experimental psychologist prior to being called into the ministry, I have an appreciation for how carefully results must be interpreted.

Well, several of things are noteworthy.

  • First, remember that the press likes to put its own “spin” on stories in order to sell copy. Read the poll for yourself. It is available at: What the poll reveals is that 73% of Americans report a belief in God.
  • Of those believing in God, 58% declare absolute certainty that there is a God. In other words, 15% of believers say that they are somewhat certain that there is a God. In other words, they express some doubts. What the reports fail to understand is that doubt is a part of faith development, not an indication that “I don’t really know what I believe. In reality, the honest response for many of us is “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
  • What is clear is a slight decline in belief in God, from 79% in 2003 down to 73% in 2005. This percentage includes an 8% decline in absolute certainty but a 3% gain in those who say they are somewhat certain that God exists. Finally, there was a 2% increase in those who believe there is no God. What is going on here? Is faith faltering? Maybe not. The most recent poll was conducted over the Internet rather than by telephone. Harris Interactive notes that more people admit to potentially embarrassing beliefs or behaviors when answering online surveys. Perhaps what we have here is not a reduction in faith, but a more accurate reflection of faith in America.
  • The “certainty gap” is most pronounced in adults aged 18-24. Does that mean that the Church is doing a poor job of reaching young adults – well, perhaps, although fully 2/3 of adults in that age range profess belief in God. Admittedly, this is considerably less than the belief professed by those over 50 years old. Another way of looking at this finding is that even though a young person has reached the “age of majority” at 18, faith is still in a formative process, growing and strengthening throughout young adulthood.

The best way of figuring out what the poll does and does not say is to look directly at the poll. You can read it for yourself at Harris Interactive.

Is there anything to be concerned about in this poll? I’ll say! Just under 50% of Catholics and Protestants attend church at least once or twice a month. Not surprisingly, the number is somewhat higher, nearly 70%, for those who describe themselves as “born again.” And the rest? Well, many are “Chreasters.” You know, the people who darken the door of the church at Christmas and Easter. These figures have been consistent from 2003 to 2006.

All of Christianity needs improvement in teaching the value and need of corporate worship. What does it say that a sizeable percentage of people professing to be Christian does not find a compelling reason to gather for worship on a regular basis?

Maybe the headline should have read: “US Adults need to worship God more often.” But then, that doesn’t sell papers, does it?

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Lie of “Conversations with God”

I teach a lot about prayer. I guess that’s because I believe it is something we need a lot more of, and something that tends to get neglected in our lives.

When I came across Rosalind Rinker’s little book, Prayer: Conversing with God I found the conversational style of prayer she describes to be very freeing, very refreshing.

Conversation with God brings a sense of peace within the intimacy of a personal relationship. I don’t have to use fancy language or sophisticated formulae to connect with God, to let God know the tiniest details of my life and to experience the assurance of a God who cares and wants to be involved in my life.

So, I was eager to become acquainted with Neal Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. I was appalled at what I read.

In short, Walsch’s CWG is new-age drivel that seeks to reveal that wonder of wonders, I myself am God.

Gee, all that time spent in prayer was just a conversation with myself. What a comforting thought!

Now, I can with supreme confidence and armed with CNN’s “How to Become a Guitar God” air-guitar my way into creating a more perfectly Ed-centered world! Better yet, I’ll just whip out my old Telecaster and make some real creation noise… get ready for the Big Twang!

Sarcasm aside, Walsch’s “I am God” theology is the logical end of the self-centered culture that has found such fertile ground in America. There is no more dangerous thinking in the world today.

Now CWG is being made into a movie. You can see the trailer at comingsoon.net, and read a review by Kathy Cano Murillo at the Louisville Courier-Journal. I guess Hollywood, unable to deal with the fact that most people have a hunger to be people of faith has decided to do an end run, offering the message that since we are all God, all we have to do is have faith in ourselves and everything will be OK.

I’m sorry, but that is bull.

I am not God.

Neither is Neale.

Neither are you.

But we all do have a need for God. Our lives will continue to have an aching emptiness at the center until we acknowledge that need and choose surrender to the God who loves us in Christ Jesus. (For more about that surrender, see my other blog at JesusWorld).

We find our spiritual center when we realize that there is a God out there who, almighty and infinite, cares intimately for us, and then hold that God at the center of our lives. Jesus Christ’s great love for us can fill the aching emptiness as nothing else can do.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rumsfeld Inspired by God?

Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this past week that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's leadership is inspired by God. The story can be found here.

I suppose it is flattering to Mr. Rumsfeld that Gen. Pace might think so.

For myself, I can't begin to judge Mr. Rumsfeld's heart. But I am troubled by his actions. Presumably, God's inspiration should lead someone to act in accordance with God's will as described to us in scripture.

I confess that I just don't see it.

Perhaps someone can show me how it is God's will that we be in Iraq, that we should maintain prison camps and suspend human rights in the name of security. God must be inspiring some pretty unusual things. Unusual, at least, compared to the words of God's Son when he said, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Violence, Video Games and True Power

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!

Job 19:21

Last week Capscom/Clover Studios released their new video game, “God Hand.” For reviews, see Gamasutra and GameSpot. Danny Cowan, writing for Gamasutra describes it as a “comedy-infused brawler.”

I confess that I just don’t get video games. My interest waned with the old arcade version of “Centipede.” OK, so that really dates me.

What I find distressing is the culture of violence fed by many of today’s games. Benjamin Turner, of Games Radar, describes God Hand as “a game about the sheer idiotic joy of beating the crap out of things,” and notes that “it’s just plain satisfying to beat the tar out of bad guys.” Greg Kasavin at GameSpot recommends that in playing God Hand, “if an enemy is down but not out, go ahead and stomp him over and over till he stops moving.”

American culture is evolving into a cult of violence. Witness the amount of violence on TV and movies… the permissibility of violence in sports (not to mention the inherent violence of some sports themselves)… our eagerness to go to war… and the acceptance of violent crime in the news as just “part of the landscape.”

And of course video games.

Games like God Hand seem to appeal to adolescents who struggle with feelings of powerlessness. They can find a sense of power by “becoming” the main character, Gene, who discovers that his right arm has become incredibly powerful so that it enables him to pulverize men, women, and supernatural beings.

The message seems clear: the path to power is one’s capacity for violent and ruthless action. What a lie!

Want to hear about true power? Listen to the exchange of words of Jesus on the night he was arrested:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

John 10:17-18

We need to be teaching each new generation about the source of real power; that a true release from powerlessness can be found only in a life given to God in Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What's in a Name?

When we were little we used to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Brave words. Yet the truth is, if you have ever been on the receiving end of hateful name-calling, you know that words can hurt.

The Bible is filled with the power of naming. Creation is brought into being through God’s words – “let there be light!” New names are given at times of covenant and commitment: Abram to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; Jacob to Israel; Simon to Peter.

How we name things shapes the way we and those in the presence of whom we speak see the world. Witness the power of propaganda, of marketing and advertising. Should it come as any surprise, then, that we are shaped by the way we refer to God?

My own understanding of God was marked by my struggle with the image of God as Father. Having a dad who worked all the time and who was rarely at home, I came to see God the Father as rarely present, or at least too busy with other things to be concerned with me. It was only as I learned to expand my naming of God to include other images that I could experience God as loving, compassionate, and intimately concerned with my life.

So, although Archbishop Rowan Williams’ comments last week were reported in such a way as to maximize sensationalism, it must be admitted that language about God that is exclusively male cannot help but shape the way we see God and ourselves. The ideas behind Williams’ comments are not new. Rosemary Radford Reuther was pointing out the same thing in Sexism and God-Talk over a decade ago. But you don’t have to be a feminist to recognize the power of naming. Think of the power of the images “rock” and “redeemer” or the declaration “God is love.”

I can call God Father now with ease, but I have also to see God as beyond Father, beyond gender. Infinite yet intimate. Blessed be the name…