If Advent I is hope for the longing, Advent II is love for the hurting. As emptiness may oddly convey expectant longing, pain may oddly show the process to purity. Just as dead stumps and empty branches are the images of hopeful anticipation, a metal refinery and a washboard (see Malachi 3:2) are the images of cleansing pain. I’m not intending to suggest that all pain fits this bill, but there are times when the path to being more filled with the love of God…to have, as John Wesley was so apt to put it, the “love of God shed abroad” in our hearts, is one marked with painful struggles and real hurt.

One of the helpful bits I came across in prepping for this week’s sermons came from Jennifer Ryan Ayres, who borrowed from Ralph Smith, in the Feasting on the Word commentary:

When silver is refined, it is treated with carbon or charcoal, preventing the absorption of oxygen and resulting in its sheen and purity. One writer has suggested that a silversmith knows that the refining process is complete only when she observes her “own image reflected in the mirror-like surface of the metal.” If this is the case, does [Malachi] also suggest that the imago Dei [image of God] is restored in this process?

(Photo credit: certifiedassets.com)

(Photo credit: certifiedassets.com)

The implications of this for Advent, a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, abound. This refining process is mentioned in the context of “preparing the way,” a key phrase for the season. As Christ is the “image of the invisible God,” in his Incarnation, God was (and is) refining humanity so that we may reflect the divine image once again. And that image is love (1 John 4:8).

So the path to Love’s arrival may be one marked with hurt. [That was something the Virgin Mary knew quite well as she prepared the way for the Lord.]

I don’t know. Maybe it’s too much to trust that the pain we experience in life will not be left unredeemed. Maybe the evidence that bombards our news outlets, our courtrooms, our funeral homes, our oncology wards, our unemployment offices, and so on, is too much for love to overcome…

Or…maybe, just maybe, we’ll find someday that Love’s reach is deep enough to find us in those areas of our worst humiliation and pains, like in an animals’ feeding trough because the beds were all taken up…and maybe, just maybe, Love will be strong enough to take us to a time and a place, as Mumford & Sons puts it, “with no more tears, and love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears…” and hurts.

Hurting and not sure, but hoping, that something better is ahead? You’re not alone in the fire.

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Text: Matthew 6:25-33

Have you ever met a killjoy? You know that person who just sucks the energy, enthusiasm, and life right out of you. Some of you may want to call such a person a “Debbie Downer.” But since my mother-in-law’s name is Debbie, I could get in hot water if I use that term. (And if your name is Joy, please know that no harm is intended toward you in this post!)

A killjoy is that person who whenever they speak up, you want to grab a trombone or tuba and play, “Wah…wah…” Like when you’re having a party or sharing some good news of something terrific that happened to you, a killjoy will hop in and spoil it with saying, “Well it must be nice to be you. Let me tell you what happened to me…” or will go all doomsday on you and say, “Just wait until next week when that good thing is taken away…”

As an example, Thanksgiving is a time of year when I am tempted to play the role of the killjoy at family gatherings because, in case you weren’t aware, I am allergic to poultry. Now just picture me at a great Thanksgiving meal with the turkey being carved and everyone gets asked the question: “White or dark meat?” and there I sit, feeling sorry for myself, that I don’t get to fully participate in this marvelous feast. I could tell my family as they share in the joy of eating holy bird, “Well, it must be nice to be able to thank God for your ability to eat this feathered friend.”

A still of “Debbie Downer,” a character from Saturday Night Live, right after she’s just rained on someone’s parade. (Photo credit: daviddust.blogspot.com)

But see, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be a killjoy because killjoys take away your desire or ability to enjoy life.

And one of the premiere killjoys that plague our lives is something that we just read about in this passage: WORRY! Worry is a killjoy. Worry consumes all your energy, all your enthusiasm…worry drains the life right out of you. And there is plenty of worry to go around during the holidays. Toward the beginning of  ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Charlie Brown, notorious for seeming to see the downside of everything says, “Great, we have ANOTHER holiday to WORRY about!”

But as we listen to the words of Jesus, we see and hear that kingdom living calls us not to worry in life. And perhaps this is one of the most challenging aspects for kingdom living at this time (2012), in this part of the world we live in (the US). Living without worry sounds as impossible to some people as living without breathing. Many of us are addicted to worry. In fact we may be so addicted to worrying that if we discover that we don’t have anything to worry about at the moment, we worry that we’re forgetting something. When Carrie and I sold our house last month, I found myself continually worrying: “Did we sign all the papers just right? Did everything get fixed on the inspection report? What if we forget to sign something or to call someone?”

As I kept frantically worrying about making sure all the t’s were crossed and all the i’s dotted, I missed out on some of the joy of actually getting the house sold. You see, as a killjoy, worry takes the joy of living out of us because worrying blinds our eyes from seeing every good and perfect gift that God has given to us. Worry shows that when it comes down to it, (and this might sting a little) we really don’t trust in the God who has brought us this far. 

When we worry, someone has said, we act like atheists. This is true at least with regard to the present and future. It’s as if we say, when we worry, “Maybe God brought me to this point, but I’m not sure that God’s gonna get me through this…or what’s coming around the corner.”

As worrying shows that we don’t really trust in God, it is one of the worst forms of ingratitude, and that’s why we need this message from Jesus, especially around Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving: a time to look back and say, with Thomas Chisholm, the great songwriter who wrote these lyrics: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, as thou hast been thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness; morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

If it is true, God, that “Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, as thou hast been thou forever wilt be…”  and if it is true that “All I have needed [God’s] hand hath provided” then we need not worry!

But, how many of us will go back to the worrying life less than a handful of hours after being thankful? I’ve seen it put this way in one particularly well-worded quip: “Black Friday: Because only in America, people trample others [worrying that someone else will beat us to that deal] for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.”

Or, if not held captive to Black Friday, we often find other ways to worry, like getting prepared and always worried about what’s next: the next holiday, or the next event, or the next crisis we think is coming.

Or, maybe we start (or get back to) worrying about the basic stuff, the necessities: where our next meal is gonna come from, or where we will get water for our everyday living, or if we’ll even be able to keep paying the mortgage or rent to keep a roof over our heads.

Now, when Jesus says not to worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear, he’s not saying that food, water, and clothing aren’t important…he’s making a statement about worry and priorities. If you’re always consumed with worry about “what’s next” you’re robbing yourself of the joy and gratitude you can experience now!

As N.T. Wright has said it, in thinking through what Jesus meant in saying in “seek first the kingdom of God”: “Put the world first, and you’ll find it gets moth-eaten in your hands. Put God first, and you’ll get the world thrown in.

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Brothers and sisters in Christ, in the kingdom of God, there is much joy. And to seek God’s righteousness, I believe, means that we recognize that there’s more than enough of God’s grace and provision to go around. And what this means for Thanksgiving is this: “Gratitude toward our Creator cannot but produce benevolence to our fellow-creatures.” – John Wesley

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I want to express that if we want to know an even deeper sense of joy and thanksgiving, let us learn the joy of sharing in God’s faithful providence with those around us. Have a joyous Thanksgiving, y’all!

I’m now a few weeks removed from having preached the series at Liberty’s revival on the Prodigals & Prophets. One of the details of the parable continues to stick out in my mind and blow me away. With all the love and forgiveness that the father lavishes on his lost son who has returned, the one that stands out to me as the most puzzling, at least at such an early stage is the command given by the father to the servants that they put “sandals on his feet.” I find myself asking, “Really, Jesus? A father who puts sandals back on the son’s feet? Don’t you realize that opens up the door for being hurt again, perhaps even worse than the first time? After all, he’s been in a few rough parts of the world that we wouldn’t dare dream of here in the safety of this farm. Sure, let’s put a robe on him, give him a ring, and have a nice barbecue, but you really want to trust him enough to give him a way back out again?”

In preparation for the sermon on the centrality of the father in the parable, my mind raced back to the class I took in college on the 8th century prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, & Micah were the prophets whose ministries were during the 8th century BC). With all the things that I forgot from that 8:00 am class, two things I remember: 1. the time the professor started to ramble in his prayer one day and began praying for aliens; and 2. the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking analysis of Hosea 11. Now, Hosea’s story certainly has some interesting twists and turns, many of which are not analogous to a parent-child relationship but to a spousal relationship. Nonetheless, chapter 11 portrays the compassion of a heartbroken parent whose children have lost their way, were “bent on turning away from” God, and yet though showing tremendous disappointment, admits an unwillingness to give up on these children. “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What moves a parent to have such compassion?

Hosea 11 showcases the “covenant faithfulness” of God: that God remembers his faithfulness. This isn’t meant to imply that God had “forgotten” it, but that the ultimate character of God is remaining true in faithful love to God’s people. God remembers, among other things that, “Yet it was I who taught them to walk.” Examine what happens in the message of Hosea, the parable of the returning son, and a modern rendition…

God’s children had used their pedagogy to walk away. The younger son received the inheritance and walked away with it. A rebellious teenage daughter is taught how to drive and is given the keys to her parents’ car and decides to leave town with it.

God’s children had lost their way and were scattered without a home and without hope. The younger son wasted half the family fortune and found himself desiring to eat pig slop. The daughter runs out of gas, finds some ways to remedy that and get by for a while,  but eventually runs out of options and gives up the car to keep the collateral from being herself.

God doesn’t give up…

They return. He comes home. She hitches a ride back.

View of the feet from Rembrandt’s painting of ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’. (Photo credit: snailskin.blogspot.com)

“They will walk after the LORD…” (Hosea 11:10); “put sandals on his feet” (Luke 15:22); “Here’s a key to our new car”

Really, God? You’re willing to trust them? him? her?

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love…I imagined God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love. Jesus tells instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.” – Philip Yancey

“Behold with wonder and pleasure the gracious reception they find from Divine, injured goodness!” – John Wesley

“Yep. Sandals. They’re my children. My children, like me, are free.”

Many readers of this blog, friends of mine in person and on facebook, and followers from twitter are aware of the educational journey I have been on for the past 3+ years in pursuit of a PhD in Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College (NTC), whose degrees are conferred by the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Several of my classes in seminary at Asbury, from which I graduated in 2006, centered upon the theology of the atonement, and this drove me to investigate the doctrine of the atonement in the theology of John Wesley.  In January 2009, after a couple of years getting acquainted to fatherhood in the arrival of Sam into our family, discerning the specific topic I wanted to pursue in my doctoral research, and applying and being accepted into NTC’s PhD program, I began fully investigating this issue, focusing in particular on how Wesley’s atonement theology stood in line or at odds with the diverse theological tradition of the Church of England, in which he was raised, ordained, and remained faithful as clergyman until his death.

View of one of the buildings on NTC’s campus. It’s truly a beautiful place and community in which to study! (Photo credit: http://www.nazarene.ac.uk)

Well, it is with a great deal of sadness but also a great sense of peace that I announce that my pursuit of this degree has come to an end. Although the crayons started making a few subtle marks on the wall a little over a year ago, it really didn’t become fully evident that the end was near until a couple of months ago.

As my family and I moved back to the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church for me to re-enter my calling for pastoral ministry, my hope was that I would continue in the program, getting research done when possible at home and continuing my visits to Manchester for 4 weeks per year until I could conclude, which was to be by May of 2014. But as financial resources/assistance began to run dry, as I could tell that time was running short, and even as my attention to the research and desire to make the time kept deteriorating, which was easily noticed by Carrie, she point-blank asked me as we were going to bed one night in early July: “So, are you going to finish your PhD?”

The weight of the question hit me like a load of bricks and after a very long pause where I felt like I was holding my breath, Carrie asked if I was still awake and still thinking about the question. I chuckled a little, said “Yes, I’m still awake” and then began weeping. Here I was in a home (parsonage) that was still quite new, in a community I hardly knew at all, away from most of my dear friends who have been alongside of me during this entire educational journey. Of course, I knew I didn’t have to answer the question right then and there in the middle of the night, but I already had the suspicion that the time had come for me to shut the door on this dream/wish I had been pursuing. Since my district superintendent was on leave for the month of July and I didn’t want to make a decision that might have some bearing on my ordination process, I decided to devote my prayers for the remainder of the month for God’s clear direction, my calling and investigating the desires of my heart. Carrie and I asked a few close friends to join us in these prayers, which they did.

During that time, my suspicions were confirmed and I began making the necessary appointments and having conversations with the folks who needed to be made more aware or would be directly affected by such a decision. These conversations took place over the course of the month of August. What was great about all of these meetings and discussions was that everyone wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being forced out of this against my wishes by external forces like financial limitations, travel/time-off restrictions, or limited accessibility to the research resources that would be needed to support the argument(s) I was seeking to make. But what was also communicated to me was that they had my support regardless of the decision I made as I was seeking the will of God in doing what was best for me and my family. To everyone reading this who offered that support either explicitly or implicitly, I deeply feel your prayerful encouragement and advocacy as I have gone through this sort of grieving process on the closure of this endeavor I was pursuing.

Two main questions have risen to the surface in the wake of my decision to withdraw from the PhD program and pursuit: 1. What should/can I do with the research and writing I have done to date in the program? 2. What, if anything, is next on the educational front?

With regard to the former, one of my causes for hesitating on this decision was the fear that the work I’ve done in researching and writing on the atonement in the past few years would go to waste if I didn’t go on and complete the dissertation/thesis. I don’t want that to be the case, but want to contribute to the field of Wesleyan theology or to find a way to adapt the writing to make it accessible more for a lay and/or pastoral audience. To that end, I’m going to spend some time in organizing the work into something cohesive to submit it to a scholarly journal for hopeful publication or develop a primer or short book on the atonement from a Wesleyan theological perspective.

The answer to the second question depends on what directions are given to me by the Board of Ordained Ministry as I apply for provisional membership in pursuit of ordination as elder. To be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church, the Book of Discipline requires the ordinand complete a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or its equivalent. My masters degree at Asbury Seminary was a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and was a few hours shy of a full MDiv. So it all will depend on how I respond to the questions as I am interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry and their evaluation of my transcripts as to what additional coursework would be deemed necessary so that my education would qualify as the “equivalent” of MDiv. So both you and I will have to stay tuned on this front.

Thanks for reading! And if you have suggestions or questions, please comment or ask me!

John Wesley saw the practice of preaching as “offering Christ” and proclaiming Christ in all his offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Watch this short video, produced by Seedbed, where Michael Pasquarello, preaching professor at Asbury Seminary, expands on the importance of preaching for the early Methodists. I hope that in my preaching and in my living, I am offering Christ to those around me.

Seven Minute Seminary: John Wesley and Preaching – YouTube.

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ…” Ephesians 3:18 (Photo credit: soulgrit.wordpress.com)

In the midst of St. Paul’s letter to the churches in and around Ephesus, Paul lifts up this glorious prayer that his audience would have the ability to know the immensity of Christ’s love. The four dimensions are illustrated in the depiction of the cross and I really like the way that John Wesley expounded on these dimensions in his Notes on the New Testament. Here’s how Wesley described it:

What is the breadth of the love of Christ – Embracing all mankind. And length – From everlasting to everlasting. And depth – Not to be fathomed by any creature. And height – Not to be reached by any enemy.”

Love’s breadth (or width) – or as Wesley elaborated, Christ’s love is one that is “embracing all mankind.” There is no nation, group, family – no person – who is beyond God’s love. Now on the surface everyone reading this may not have too much difficulty nodding in agreement with that, but let that general statement be applied to people who you find difficult to like or love: no terrorist, no immoral dictator, no dirty politician, no IRS agent, no murderer, no adulterer, no addict, no dead beat dad, no one…is beyond the love of God. When Paul speaks of the immensity of the breadth or width of Christ’s love, we get a vision of just how generous God is in giving his love. Even the deranged mind of a cannibal named Jeffrey Dahmer was able to taste and know God’s love and forgiveness.

Love’s length – or as Wesley elaborated, Christ’s love is “from everlasting to everlasting.” In the Gloria Patri that is often sung reminds us of God’s glory and that his love has existed “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” Michael W. Smith wrote a song “Never been unloved.” He listed off the many adjectives that could be true if spoken of his life when Smith wrote, “I have been unfaithful … unworthy … unrighteous … unmerciful … unreachable … unteachable … unwilling … undesirable … unwise … undone by what I’m unsure of unbroken … unmended … uneasy … unapproachable … unemotional … unexceptional … undecided … unqualified … unaware … unfair … unfit …” But even though he’s found himself described by these “un-“s he recognizes that “it’s because of you [Jesus] and all that you went through, I know that I have never been unloved.” There has never been a time and never will be a time that you have not or will not be unloved, friend!

Love’s depth – or as Wesley said, Christ’s love is so deep as “not to be fathomed by any creature.” Perhaps, though difficult, we can grasp that God loves everyone and that he has always loved everyone and always will…but the “depth” language is where we really have the most difficulty and are faced with the impossibility of grasping it. If you go diving into the depths of the sea, the deeper you go, the less you can see because the light of the sun diminishes the deeper you go. The Apostles’ Creed says that we believe Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried.” Buried. The darkness is where we bury things. We don’t talk about them. They’re down deep and we don’t want to bring them up. Christ’s love is deep enough to dig it out and redeem it. He had to die and be buried to dig us out of death.

Love’s height – or as Wesley said, Christ’s love is so much as “not to be reached by any enemy.” The height of Christ’s love is that he doesn’t leave us in the depths. Christ’s love is a victorious one for it does not permit sin and death to have the final word. Otherwise love is weak and grace is cheap, as if Christ were to say “I love you but you can stay there in darkness.” If we only knew the depths of Christ’s love but not the height, then we’re just allowing Jesus to polish the chains to hold us in bondage.

Let’s jump in to the ocean of God’s endless love in Christ and maybe together we can grasp more and more just how broad and long and deep and high Christ’s love really is.

“We’ve got too many pastors serving 3-point charges in this conference…” a Bishop was quoted as saying in my United Methodist Polity class in seminary. The statement continued, “…the church they used to serve, the church they’re appointed to now, and the one they want to be appointed to next.”

The professor used this line as a way of discussing boundaries within pastoral ministry; that you do not (or at least should not) converse much, if at all, with parishioners who used to be under your care and/or are being served by another pastor now. There is great wisdom in this statement, though it is all the more challenging now in the age of social media where networking with friends and acquaintances who live a few hours or half the globe away is possible through venues like facebook, twitter, and so on.

While the statement that led this post off is certainly true of some who have been entrusted to lead in the United Methodist Church, it is my hope that it does not mark the attitude of many or most. Call me naïve, and maybe you’re right, but the fear that some other pastor may be “out to get me or my [current or desired] appointment” feeds a profound, even if subtle, sense of mistrust among United Methodist pastors.

Still, maintaining healthy boundaries is important during the steady or growing seasons when there is neither a need nor desire for a change in pastoral leadership of a charge, but I echo the suggestion Joey Reed, the pastor who preceded me at Liberty & Post Oak UMCs, has made in calling for more transparency when a transition is projected. (You can and should read his side of the story here.) It’s been four weeks since I’ve moved into the parsonage & charge he previously inhabited. I’m not sure where I’d be if it weren’t for his helpful responses to the many questions I raised in preparation for moving into pastoral ministry.

Handing off the baton in a relay requires keen timing, vision, and trust between relay partners. Listen to the way Gail Devers describes it about 20 seconds into the video of this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQCi3mayB3Q The implications abound for how this is analogous to changes in pastoral leadership. (Photo credit: blog.orgsync.com)

Yes, this is my first appointment, and that means that there were fewer responsibilities on my part as I wasn’t saying goodbye as a pastor to another congregation, though saying goodbye to our friends at Nicholasville UMC was difficult and tear-filled. Since I didn’t have the same sort of duties that most other UM Pastors have who go through the process of saying goodbye to one charge and hello to the new one, my preparation looked a little different than most. Still, I had in the back of my mind the territorialism I was warned about so often during my education. Therefore, I proceeded with caution when I approached Joey with a few questions about the Liberty and Post Oak churches, to which I was projected to be appointed. I even asked for forgiveness in advance if I happened to overstep a boundary.

I didn’t know Joey before my projected appointment but I had actually encountered his name before. I had been living in central Kentucky for the past decade before moving back to the Memphis Conference. I confided in my college roommate and longtime close friend (a United Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Conference) that I was pursuing re-entrance into the ordination process (another story for another day) in the UMC and hoping for an appointment in the Memphis Conference, in which I was raised as a child and youth and was previously a certified candidate for ordained ministry. Upon sharing this news with my friend, his wife said, “Oh, my cousin’s husband is a pastor in the Memphis Conference!” That cousin’s husband was…you guessed it, Joey Reed.

So I knew his name, but I didn’t really know him, so (again) I proceeded with caution. When I first made contact with him via email, he promised to be as open as he could, with obvious exceptions like maintaining confidentiality of conversations with parishioners where it was expressed or assumed. Needless to say, I was very relieved to have his promised candor, and he did not disappoint as he followed through in that regard. He and his family even opened up the parsonage for my family to view and measure each room. This was very helpful for my wife, an avid planner, who did a blueprint of each room to be able to plan out in advance how to arrange the furniture, etc. This brings up a significant issue in pastoral transitions and how more transparency can help: the role of the pastor’s family and the changes, emotions, and expectations they experience along the way. Joey’s family made us feel right at home as they sent pictures and measurements, opened their homes, and even gave gifts to our kids (ages 5 & 2 at the time; think about how much that meant to them!).

Most of my questions were logistical in nature, trying to get a sense of the way things were run at each congregation, the time of the services, how structured the liturgy was at each church, etc. We didn’t discuss personalities or mention names, except to point out the names of people in certain positions of leadership at the churches. But the questions I asked that required the more lengthy discussions (where he writes we had to take some breaks for meals…lol!) were the ones about the direction and vision of the churches. Now, these conversations should always take place between the new pastor and her/his congregation(s) and I would need to hear these matters from the folks at the churches themselves also, but knowing that Joey was transitioning out of Liberty and Post Oak on good terms made the dialogue appropriate, in my view, as he gave me some perspective in preparation. (Obviously, the pastor leaving on “good terms” is not always the case, so practicing discernment on which questions to ask and which to wait to ask until arrival is obviously significant.) That Joey left Liberty & Post Oak on good terms has had the blessings of being able to be more prepared, even if that meant more challenges in filling the shoes of one who was so well-liked by the people. I experienced and witnessed that he was beloved by the congregations in several ways and I especially saw this at a reception, a meet-and-greet of sorts for me and my family at the churches where both his family & mine were in attendance. I had already been told of the abundant hospitality of both the Reeds and the churches. When I experienced it firsthand and saw his encouraging them to warmly welcome us, that meant the world to me.

But even if you’ve read Joey’s previous post and if you’re reading this thinking I’m being too naïve and that little if any of this would work in many situations, would you please incorporate one thing into the life of your church the next time you are in the midst of pastoral transition? Please pray for the incoming pastor, by name, in the service, every week from the time when the projected appointment is made until the new pastor moves into the pulpit. As helpful as Joey’s transparency and the churches’ hospitality was in preparation for the move, these prayers were the most important part and gave fuel to the process that made my transition as easy as it could be. We Methodists believe in prevenient grace…that God’s grace has gone before us wherever we are. But belief in prevenient grace also includes the notion that God’s grace is going before us wherever we will go next. Once the projection of a transition has been made, as long as you’re alive and conscious there’s nothing (except your own will and pride) that could prevent your prayers for the new pastor and his/her family in the transition that lies ahead of them. And maybe, just maybe, if we genuinely lift up to God in prayer those who are heading our way, we might find that our hearts will be moved to make the landing strip a little more smooth than what has been the norm and fewer batons will be dropped.