Saturday, October 17, 2015


Sermon Summary from Oct 11th), “Opening to Jesus through Scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) 

Scripture is transforming. In fact, Scripture is forming.  Paul says that Timothy had been formed by the sacred writings from ‘infancy.’ (2 Ti 3:15 NIV).  It is through Scripture that God has revealed himself to us.  It is through the Holy Spirit as we read that we are taught all things.  When we respond, Scripture forms us.

We need to immerse ourselves in Scripture.  What we receive from worship weekly is not enough.  The Psalmist tells us that for the Bible to nourish us, we are to meditate on it day and night (and it our delight) (Psalm 1:2,3).  John Wesley encourages us to read within the context of the whole.  I would suggest all of the Bible needs to be viewed through the filters of Jesus and of God as Love.  If passages don’t look or sound like Jesus or look or sound like love, set them aside.  There is something we don’t understand.

In order to delight in Scripture, to allow us to be nourished, we need some tools, a goal and a plan.  I would suggest that we all need an easy reading version of the text.  The Good News Bible (also known as Today’s English Version) and the NIV (I recommend the 2011 version for inclusive language) both are written a 8th grade level.  The former especially would allow you to read the history of the nation of Israel (Genesis through 2 Kings) as one long easy reading book.  And we should all have Study Bible or commentary to help us with our reading.  Since we don’t know the culture, it is difficult for us to know what how the first hearers understood the text.  Commentaries and Study Bibles assist in that.  I recommend a Study Bible using an NRSV or NIV translation.  (the former is the 6th generation from the KJV and retains much of the poetic qualities while upgrading the language and including recent scholarship).

You need a goal, a plan, and a way to be accountable.  Most plans recognize that reading five chapters a day allows you to read the whole Bible in a year or a Gospel in a week.  But whether five, or three, or one, or a verse, we need to read.  Craig Kanally decided to read the whole Bible in 100 days.  He posted progress online to hold himself accountable.  The changes seemed immediate.  He smiled more, he was kinder to others, good things happened.  He was more reflective. He was formed by Scripture. So it may be with you.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Foundations: Prayer
“Pleading the Promises of God”

(Phil 4:6-7) (9/27/15)
The last time I did a series on prayer, I did something I tell everyone never to do.  I prayed for a parking spot.  Now you can never find a parking spot in downtown Columbia.  I was driving downtown to order for a birthday present for Rosemary, I was going eastbound and I needed to loop around the block to head back westbound so I could park on the north side of the street.  As I began to turn from 8th street onto Broadway, I said to myself, “Should I pray for a parking spot?  Never.  Then I said, “What the heck, I’m doing a series on prayer.  Why shouldn’t I?  Lord, give me a parking place.”  I turned and a half block down, just one spot to the right of the door of the shop I was going to was a parking spot. 
The next week, I had to go back and pick the gift up.  Same thing, left on 7
th, right on Walnut, right on 8th, “Should I pray?  “What the heck.  Lord, give me a parking place.”  There, one parking place left of the door was open.
I’ve never prayed for a parking place since.
What is this thing called prayer?  It is first and foremost a conversation with God.  I would suggest at its best, a continual conversation.  About everything! 
Here’s another thing I would never recommend.  A week ago, we received a tweet from Toni.  (Picture of tattoo on shoulder spelling “Strength.”)  Now, I’m not big on tattoos.  Her Dad knows how to communicate with her.  He simply asked, “Toni, what does it mean to you?”  This was her immediate response:

Phil 4:13: 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Ex 15:2: The Lord is my strength and my might,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
Is 40:29: 29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
Ps 46:1: God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present
[a] help in trouble. 
Ps 28:7-8: 7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.
The Lord is the strength of his people;
This is Toni’s prayer, an indelible reminder that God is the source of her strength, a very present help in time of trouble, and that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.  These are the promises of God.  Toni has given herself a permanent reminder to plead the promises of God.  A continual prayer, a continual conversation, pleading the promises of God.
Everybody prays.  I know that you’ve heard even the most fervent atheist pray.  “My God, what’s going on here?”  or “Jesus Christ, I never would have believed it.”  Prayer right?  It seems to me that even the most course non-believers call on the name of the Lord.
Well I wonder, in this post-modern era, what is that people believe about prayer? 
In Jesus’ day, everybody prayed.  Everybody took prayer seriously.  If it wasn’t the Jews praying to Jehovah, it was the Greeks and Romans praying to a pantheon of gods.  Some god or something controlled their destiny and they wanted to pray.  They took prayer seriously.
What about us?  Have we seen a response to prayer or are we too jaded?  Have we seen miracles of healing in response to prayer?  Has God given you a sign in a time of anguish or distress? 
What are your expectations when you pray?  If you had a best friend and you made a reasonable request, if it was in the power of that friend to fulfill it and it wouldn’t hurt you or others or deprive you or others, would you expect it to be fulfilled?  Probably.  Then what are your expectations of prayer?
Do we expect God to speak to us, I mean really speak to us?  On one of my return flights from Australia, I landed in San Francisco and called Rosemary I was back in North America.  She told me that one of our friends had experienced a tragedy, their youngest daughter, Noella, so named because she was born on Christmas Day, had been killed in car accident.  I was devastated.  Harry and Donna were faithful Christians and close friends.  We’d met them through the church.  They were a couple that just seemed to have it all.  What could I possibly say to them?  Yet I knew that I had to write.  I had no idea what to say.  No idea at all.  I climbed aboard the airplane with prayers for Donna and Harry in mind.  When we got to altitude, I put the tray table down in front of me and laid a clean sheet of paper on it and started to write.  The words flowed faster than I could think.  Words that I could never have created.  Clearly, God was speaking to me and his words were flowing through me.  God is our very present help in time of trouble. 
Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit who would be present with us to teach us all things.  It is the Holy Spirit that gave me those words.  It is the Holy Spirit who can teach us to pray too.
36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)  In Luke it says, “but not my will but yours be done.”
Jesus conversed with God.  It was a conversation.  At the time of his greatest distress, Jesus conversed with God.  Not to a distant, formal God, but to a God who was there with him in the garden, a personal God who would answer him, even if the answer was to forge on.  “Son, we’ve got a mission.  The world needs us now more than ever.  Do you not see that what you are to do, the cup that you bear? What you are going to do is the answer to everyone else’s prayer.” 
For Jesus, Abba was a very personal God, a very present God, a source of help in time of trouble.  The source of strength he needed to carry on.  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
God is not only the object of our prayers, He is the source of our prayers.  I would suggest to you that all prayers begin with Him.
Do this for me.  Think of intercessory prayer, prayers for someone else, prayers for others.  Place your hands together above your heads to focus on God.  Bow your heads, simply ask, “Lord, for whom do you want me to pray?”  I would be surprised if you all don’t instantly have a name in mind right now.
Or petitions, for yourselves “Dear Lord, what is it in my life for which you want me to pray?” Again, I would be surprised if something doesn’t come immediately to mind.  God the source of our prayers.
Or how do we pray?  One of my favorite templates is the prayer that Jesus taught us, phrase by phrase.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. is the recognition of who God is to us.”
Our Father.  I almost always turn to a personal God, Abba, Daddy, Pater, a loving God, a God who is involved deeply in my life.
Who art in heaven.  Heaven out there yes, creator of the cosmos, omnipresent throughout the universe, capable of touching and effecting everything, but more important: Heaven is here, as close as my skin, as close as the air that I breath.  Heaven is here.  God is here.
Hallowed be thy name.  The very essence of God.  Holy, Holy, Holy.  Immortal, invisible, God only wise.  Incomprehensible, yes.  But personal.  If there is any name for God it is this: God is love.  Love.
Thy kingdom come.  Time for intercession.  What is that you want me to pray about Lord?  For whom is it that you want me to pray for that will bring your kingdom near?
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  What guidance can you give me Lord in carrying out your will?  Just as Jesus said, not my will but thine be done, what is your will, your guidance for me?
Give us this day, our daily bread.  Time for petition.  What is it God that you want me to pray for of my daily needs?
Then trespasses, forgiveness, guidance.
Do you see?  The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful template for conversation.  Then the great doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”
So where do we start?  Some of you may be way ahead of me.  But for all of us, we can all improve our prayer life.  It’s just like  all relationships.  If our relationship is going to be authentic, we need to work on it.
Where do you start? Where you are.  If you are praying 30 minutes a day, start there.  If you are not praying at all, start with two minute, or five minutes.  Start.  Start with as little or as much time as you have.
Start as informally, “Hey Dad,” or as structured, “Our Father,” as you like.  Whatever fits you.  But I would suggest that you work toward making it as personal as possible.
Start with as little or as big things as you like.  “Hey Dad, this pickle on this hamburger is great.  Have I ever thanked you before for the gift of taste?  Let me do it now.”  Gratitude is always a great prayer.  Or big, “Dear God, while it’s on my mind, help the migrants and refugees of the Mid-East and Europe.”  Pray as little or as big as you like, but pray.
If you want a little structure in prayers during the day, a prayer for the Eastern Orthodox tradition is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”   There was a time when my business duties put me under a ton of stress and when I realized the stress, I would say this prayer a number of times.  Remarkably, the stress would be reduced.  After all Jesus said, “Have no anxiety about anything.”  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
And spend some time listening.  When?  When you can?  For how long?  For as little or as much as you can.  Start with two minutes.  If you are like me, you have a hundred things running around in your head.  Distractions.  A couple of tricks.  When a distracting thought comes to mind, attach it to a balloon and let it float away.  Others picture a stream; just set it in the stream like a leaf and let it float away.  Listen for God.
A couple of templates for prayer.  First for intercession and petition, the five fingered prayer, using your fingers as a reminder:
Your thumb.  The one closest to you.  Prayer for those closes to you, your family, your friends.
Your index or pointing finger.  Pray for those who teach or instruct or heal that they will receive the wisdom and support for pointing others in the right direction.
Your middle or tallest finger.  Pray for our leaders at all levels, business, industry, government.
Ring finger, our weakest finger.  Pray for the sick, infirm, in trouble, undeserved, weak.
Pinky, our littlest finger.  Pray for ourselves last.  More than likely, after praying for all others, our concerns will be put in proper perspective.
Again, make all these conversational.  Ask God in each case for whom and for what you are to pray.
Thirty years ago, on one of my very first business trips to California, I heard a young woman on Christian radio discuss a template for prayer that I’ve used ever since.  I’m going to talk now about a little different template that I think is a little simpler and incorporates in it, praying the Scriptures.  The template is called ACTS.  ACTS.  A-C-T-S.  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.  To adore the God who is and give him the affection of our heart; to confess our sins and have the assurance that we will be forgiven, to give thanks for the blessings of life, and to offer supplication, intercession and petition for the world are for ourselves that are deeply in need of prayer..
Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble.”  Then we can paraphrase: “You are abundantly available God.  It is from you and only you that I draw strength.”
Gal 2:20.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and give himself for me.”  (Paraphrase each of the verses in your own words, turning them into promises/requests/answers/gratitude.)
Ps 139:23-24 Search me and know my heart, try me and my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

1 Thess 5:18. “give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Psalm 9:1-2. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.  I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you; I sing praise to your name O most high.” 
Supplication: Ask the Lord to give the desires of HIS heart and your heart.  Strive to align your desires to his by praying Scripture.  By praying Scripture, we make it less of “me” and more of “He.”
Psalm 109:1. “My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent.”
ACTS.  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
After Prayers.  So what is it we do after we pray?  We celebrate the answers.  Mark the journey.  I would suggest that you make notes, keep a journal.  Give thanks, as Paul says, “In all circumstances”  If you pay attention, you will be amazed at the answers.
And if your prayer is not answered? Be persistent, be angry if necessary, but of all the be’s, believe.  If you are praying for someone to change their minds to your way of thinking, it may be that God instead wants you to simply be praying for them.  Pray for God’s will, but pray. 
A pastor tells the story of early in his ministry, early twenties, just starting out.  He was called to plant a church and one of things he had just learned about was prayer meetings, so he started one.  It was the first one he’d ever attended.
In came an elderly Methodist one night.  When he prayed, there was something new.  The young minster said I had never experienced prayer like that before.  It was not only its fervency, I had plenty of that, it seems as though heaven and earth came together when he prayed.  The prayer and the answer were not far apart.  In fact it seemed as though they were moving along together.  The Holy Spirit was right there giving him the assurance of the answer even while he was still praying.  I’d never experienced anything like that before.  The young minister  said, “when I pray, it seems as though God was way out there in the distance, and the answers were way out there too, in the sweet bye and bye.”
Eager to learn the secret, I went to see him.  His name was Ambrose Whaley, and everybody called him Uncle Am.  He was a retired black smith and a Methodist lay preacher.  I soon came to the point, “Uncle Am, could I pray with you?”  At once he rose, took me outside, across the road to a red barn and up the ladder to a hay loft.  There in the hay were two big Bibles, one of them open.  “What is this?” I thought.  I prayed first he said, pouring out all my desires, ambitions, visions, and aspirations to God.  Then Uncle Am began to pray.  There it was again.  Heaven and earth coming together.  The Holy Spirit pouring out assurances of answered prayer even while he still prayed. 
There in the hay, on our knees, our eyes level, I asked Uncle Am “What is it?  What is your secret?  Would you mind sharing with me?”  He looked at me and said, “Young man, you must learn to plead the promises of God.” 
He realized that Uncle Am had been praying Scripture after Scripture, reminding him of promise after promise, pleading the promises of God like a lawyer laying out his case.  Pleading the promises of God.  And Uncle Am knew the promises by the bushel full. 
From that point, the young minister said, “The Bible became my prayer book.”
Pleading the promises of God.  So may it be with all of you.  Amen.