Prayer

Prayer in Times of Grief: Q&A With National Day of Prayer Honorary Chairman

Photo courtesy A. Larry Ross Communications
Pastor Greg Laurie, Photo courtesy A. Larry Ross Communications

Pastor Greg Laurie knows a thing or two about prayer in tough times.

The honorary chairman of this year’s National Day of Prayer (May 2) says prayer was the only thing that got him through his son’s death five years ago. When fellow megachurch pastor Rick Warren lost his son Matthew to suicide, Laurie was the man he most wanted to hear from.

Laurie, 60, who leads the evangelical Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., talked about prayer, grief, and what not to say when a friend’s loved one dies. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

North Carolina Minorities Remain Worried After Religion Bill is Pulled

Lori Howard / Shutterstock
Minority faiths remain nervous over the attempt to regulate a N.C. state religion. Lori Howard / Shutterstock

WILMINGTON, N.C. — A resolution to allow North Carolina to defy the Constitution and establish a state-sanctioned religion may be dead in the state capitol, but minority faiths say there’s more than enough reason to remain nervous.

Some worry about the implications the bill has for North Carolina, a majority Protestant state with growing Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist populations.

Manzoor Cheema, a Raleigh resident and board member of the Triangle Interfaith Alliance, said he believes the resolution should be a wake-up call.

“I think this is a very disturbing development; very bad for our state. In my opinion, as a Muslim, a minority community member and immigrant from Pakistan, I believe that separation of church and state is fundamental and grants us many freedoms,” he said.

“But it’s a blessing in disguise to mobilize the interfaith community in North Carolina.”

'The impacts are quite severe on the ground'

FOR MANY IN the global South, climate change is not an abstract theory. Victor Mughogho, executive director of the Eagles Relief and Development Programme in the southeast African country of Malawi, has experienced firsthand the toll of global warming and extreme weather. He works with local churches to develop practical and faithful solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Sojourners assistant editor Elaina Ramsey interviewed Mughogho early last year when he visited Washington, D.C.

Elaina Ramsey: How has climate change affected the people of Malawi?

Victor Mughogho: The impacts are quite severe on the ground. Rural people in Malawi constitute about 85 percent of the population. These people are subsistence farmers. For them, rainfall is everything. Without the rain, there's no agriculture, no livelihood.

The weather patterns have changed and are so unpredictable now. In the past 20 years, official records from the government show that we've had five severe droughts. Because of the cycles of drought, there is less and less water in the ground. The water table is sinking. Trees and grass are stunting and rivers are drying up.

If you asked a person "What will happen in the next 10 or 20 years?" they'd say that what's bad now, in retrospect, is going to look like a good time. It looks like worse times are coming ahead.

How is your program responding to these extreme weather changes?

There's a story in the Bible where Jesus Christ asks his disciples and the people who are following him, "What do you have to feed those who are hungry?" There was a little boy with five loaves and two fish. Jesus did not just create a miracle out of nowhere. It started with what the people had. Thus, we are helping our communities and local churches to focus on what resources are currently available.

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At the River We Stand

FROM THE RIVER to the rope. From the creek to the cross. From the dove and a "voice from above" to death by state execution and profound silence.

This is Lent. This is the Jesus Road, the Christian way. O Lord, how can we follow you?

Lent is time of remembering ourselves. In the ancient church, those preparing for baptism were publicly challenged: Do you renounce your bondage to Master Satan? Do you reject the slave-mind and all its glamour and subtle temptations? Will you allow Christ to buy your freedom?

The catechumen turned to face the east and the dawn, answering: "I give myself up to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts."

It is Lent. We go down to the river to pray. We step into the waters of repentance. We surface as a new creature in Christ. From that moment onward, we imprint on Jesus. This is our survival strategy as newborn disciples. We follow him, like ducklings behind their mother.

After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus is driven straight out—into the unloved places, into the wilderness. There he is pricked by demons to toughen him up. He is being prepared. He must look into his own despair. Satan is the supreme surgeon for separating us from our hope.

This too is Lent. Staring into the face of our existential desperation. We also are being prepared, forced to release our grip on hope. All the life-scenes are smoky grey, splayed across canvas from an uncertain light source. How can we stand? We just do. We follow Jesus. Even if we do it with a thousand-yard stare.

We reach into our fast-ravaged gut and find bread to share. We mix honey and oil as a salve for the sores on the soles of the lost. We carry bitter tears to the house of the one who is weeping. We listen—even when all we hear is silence. And follow him.

"This, then, is our desert," writes Thomas Merton, "to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross."

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A Prayer at the White House

A meeting today of faith leaders with the president on immigration reform opened and closed with prayer.

This was my prayer at the end:

Thank you Lord, for this circle of leaders around the table and how you have brought us together to help welcome the stranger in our midst — to fix this broken immigration system that breaks families and lives.

Thank you for the leadership of Barack Obama in making comprehensive immigration reform such a high priority in these critical months ahead. Guide and direct him to find a genuine bipartisan political path to accomplish something so important that has been needed for so long. We thank you for both the Republicans and Democrats who are coming together to make that possible.

[Continued]

Why You Should Pray Like a Six-Year-Old Boy

Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan / Shutterstock.com
Portrait of a boy praying, Emin Ozkan / Shutterstock.com

It was a proud moment in the Ericksen household. The five of us sat down for lunch and my six-year-old boy said, Let’s pray.

This is every pastor’s dream. Usually I have to coerce people into prayer. Now my boy is offering to pray. With great pride and a smile on my face I said, Yes, my Son. Will you lead us in prayer?

He took a pensive moment and agreed. We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, and then … this happened,Hi God! I want something really awesome for Christmas next year! Please get me something really great! Okay. That’s all. Amen.

Both of my boys began to laugh. My proud moment was gone and replaced by a bitter sense of disappointment. I instinctively thought to myself, “Christmas! It’s February, Dude. I hope you have a lot of patience, cause you’re not getting anything remotely close to ‘awesome’ for at least another 10 months! That’ll teach you to laugh at prayer. And, by the way, you shoulda’ prayed for freakin’ world peace!!!”

A Pledge of Nonviolence

A Pledge of Nonviolence

1. As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.

2. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.

6. Observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Perform regular service for others and the world.

8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.

Image: Hands clasped, skydie / Shutterstock.com

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Can You Hear My Song?

IF YOU ARE not overly familiar with the repertoire of a Leonard Cohen concert, it's hard to tell the new songs from the old. Songs from a different age sound neither anachronistic nor nostalgic, while the new echo as though they have been around forever. It's the same show night after night, with songs from the latest album, Old Ideas (released in 2012), woven into the familiar canon. Cohen tells audiences that his revivalist tour might end in two years, so that he can start smoking again by the time he turns 80.

It is a joke you know Cohen has cracked a hundred times, the kind that makes my brother call him the Jewish Dean Martin. The humor is one part of a precise choreography, whose arrangements shift from blues to waltzes to New Orleans jazz, Celtic, gospel, country, and disco, all set in the mode of Hebrew Minor and conspiring to create a vivid world that does not exist, except in paradox. Honey is the texture that comes to mind. Viscous and turbid, neither solid nor liquid. Sensual relief from the coarse, metallic world. And sweet. Sweet in the meaning of the verse from the Persian song "Navaee"—"High sweet melody, and sadness of love, dwelling in the bottom of the heart, where nobody sees"—the mixing of sorrow and transcendence into sublime paradox.

He is and has been many things to his devotees: poet, singer, writer, band leader, lover, satirist, artist, and novelist. But one thing Leonard Cohen is not is a preacher.

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Pastor Pulls Out of Inauguration Over Anti-Gay Sermon

Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage for NARAS
Louie Giglio attend Georgia GRAMMY Nominee Reception at W Atlanta on Jan. 24, 2012. Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage for NARAS

The evangelical pastor that President Obama picked to deliver the benediction at his inauguration ceremonies withdrew from the high-profile assignment on Thursday following a furor over a sermon from the mid-1990s in which he denounced the gay rights movement and advocated efforts to turn gays straight.

In a statement, the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta, founder of the Passion Conferences for college-age Christians, did not directly renounce his remarks on gays but indicated that fighting gay rights is not one of his “priorities.”

Still, because of the controversy – which erupted on Wednesday after the liberal group Think Progress posted audio of the sermon – Giglio said that “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

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