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About his withdrawn ebay auction, he said in a ne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?