My Review of Dick Schwirian’s Taking Lady Gilbraltar

Dick Schwirian, who argues in his introduction that “Vicksburg was much more of a victory for Ulysses S Grant than Gettysburg was for George Gordon Meade,” offers an entertaining and somewhat lighthearted look at the battle for Vicksburg Mississippi during the American Civil War, in his historical fiction piece Taking Lady Gibraltar: Grant’s Convoluted Tour de Force in the West (Sunbury Press, 2016).

Based on both Schwirian’s interest in Grant and a variety of historical books, Taking Lady Gibratar is a very human look at war and those who fight in it. Schwirian takes the historical dust, if you will, off of Grant and Sherman, and gives them a very human look in the midst of death and great frustrations as Grant sought the capture of Vicksburg that sat alongside the Mississippi River and foiled Union efforts to control the entire Mississippi waterway.

I liked this book as it gave a fresh view to two major American generals and a very human portrait of war especially the American Civil War where households were often split up with family members choosing the opposing side for which to fight. At times however, it seemed a bit pedantic and drawn out in parts of the narrative. But it was a fun book to read.

I rated it 3 Stars on Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

From Volunteers to Missionaries

Acts 17:16-34

 

In the next two weeks, we will have our annual congregational meeting where reports  will be read, a ballot for ministry council positions, a budget for next year, and some changes to our by-laws will be introduced and voted on; then on the following Sunday, we will go into our community and serve in a variety of ways as we did last year.

 

Both Sundays are important. We need to have people involved in the leadership of the church, we need to have an operational budget, and we need to be organized so that we can function.

 

But we also need to be involved in the community. We need to get out of this building and serve and care.

 

And we need to get out of this building and serve and care not just on a designated Sunday, too. Serving and caring, in Jesus’ name, is something we must do every day of the week wherever we are – at school, at home, at work, in the community.

 

This morning I want to expand for a few moments on part of a conversation that several Church of God pastors had with our state and associate state ministers this past spring.

 

The title of this message is a phrase from that conversation

 

 “from volunteers to missionaries”

 

What does it say to you?

 

It says to me that our relationship to our society has changed. To be a volunteer is important but we need to operate from the perspective of a missionary.

 

Let me trace this change in some words that are familiar to many of us…

 

 In another generation, a word often used to describe our place of ministry was worker.

 

“We need more workers in the church.”

 

“We need to be engaged in church work.”

 

Then it changed… and the word became ‘volunteers.’

 

“If you are interested in volunteering in our children’s ministry, please come to the informational meeting on Tuesday night.”

 

“I serve as a volunteer in our youth ministry and we need more volunteers.”

 

Volunteer is a word that is still used today and I am okay with it. In fact, in some of our sister congregations, their by-laws state that they are in a ‘voluntarily association’ with the Church of God Anderson. (We are too.)

 

The church is a voluntary organization. It is not a for-profit business. You can join and leave at will. You’re not paid to be here as an employee. You freely associate with this group of people.

 

But is this what the church truly is, a voluntary organization? Is that it?

 

Are we not more than workers or volunteers?

 

Or even…members?

 

Workers, volunteers, members…these words are from another time and place. A time and place where the church was a major presence in the community. Church attendance and membership and participation mattered.

 

But times have changed, dramatically, and the landscape the Christian church finds itself in…here in America, is not the same.

 

In his book Shaped by God’s Heart, Milfred Minatrea, describes a changing landscape, that we can relate to. I am going to read a bit from the book as I think that it describes what many feel these days.

 

How many here this morning, relate to the picture presented here?

 

Let me repeat one sentence

“Consequently, their churches no longer anticipated having a major impact upon society and hoped only to reach enough people to help the church survive. I call this prevalent consumer orientation, isolation from society, and associated lack of belief in capacity to have significant influence a maintenance mentality.

 

Consumer…there’s a word we need to add to our list of words.

 

In fact, it is probably the word that seems to describe people of faith quite well these days. It even may be the word that is the strongest competition to the one I have yet to mention.

 

Are we religious consumers? We come to church and expect to have a good worship service with a good message and something for the kids and teens and we go on with our week. We pay to get something.

 

Is that what the Great Commandment and Commission is all about?

 

Let me suggest one more word

 

Missionary.

 

What does it mean to be a missionary?

 

Here are some definitions

 

A missionary is a person whose mission is to go somewhere to help others. In many cases, the goal of a missionary is to teach about a religion so that the people convert to that faith. (vocabulary.com)

 

“… a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country. (google)

 

I also read an article in which the authors made a distinction between missionaries such as Jesus’ disciples and those are sent to other countries and “ordinary Christians.” Can we make such a distinction today? Should we make such a distinction?

 

The word missional is a word that is used a lot these days. What does that mean?

 

Well, let me pick up in Minatrea’s book where I left off…

 

Let me repeat one sentence:

 

Some churches…are beginning to understand that they key to a revived spirit is both to focus inward and also to move outward-into the world.

 

How do we do that? Does the Bible have anything to say along this line?

I think so. Our main text for this morning is Acts 17:16-34 and I am reading it from the New Living Translation:

 

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.

He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”

Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”  (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)

So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.  From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

 

Athens was a major city out of which flowed ideas that went out to the fringes of the world in that time and place. Paul went, as a missionary, to them and presented Jesus.

 

The Athenians treated Christianity as a new idea…

 

“What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”

 

He engaged them in discussion. He spent time in their territory on their ground…

 

“…he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. Then they took him to the high council of the city.”

 

 Paul kept the focus on Jesus and who He was and what He had done for them.

 

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

 

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.

 

“…he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

 

I suggest this morning that living in our country today is like living in Athens in Paul’s time.

 

Even here in our small town, the ideas which started in other parts of the world and our nation have come to us. And they are not all faith-friendly ideas. And the ways we have been used to are not the ways of today, are they?

 

Is it all over?

 

NO!

 

I suggest this morning that to be missional, a missionary, is to do what Minatrea has suggested – an inward and outward focus.

 

We need to gather here on Sundays. Gathering for worship has always been vital to the health of our faith and that of the faith in general.

 

We need our Sunday School hour…we need to learn together and share what is going on in our lives and pray for one another.

 

But we cannot be solely focused on ourselves here and expect others to simply show up… That day is gone. We need to have a presence outside the four walls of this building that meets an important need in the community.

 

We need to start thinking about all the connections we have out there as ways of being on mission with God that we learn how to do (hopefully) in here on Sunday mornings!

 

I also think we are missional. I think that we see ourselves as missionaries and act on that view more than we think.

 

For example, our Kid’s City booth is an example of what Minatrea calls being and doing and participative in ministry as missional.

 

It was a pleasure to watch those who came to serve at our booth, respond to queries about our puppet ministry or initiate conversations about our Kids Nite Out Puppet ministry on their own and to engage kids and adults with the puppets. That is being missional. It is a role to which everyone one of us is called.

 

So as we meet for worship and in our annual meeting, and then as some of us are able to go out into the community and serve our neighbors, let us remember that we are on mission and ministry. Both are important but we are more than workers, consumers, and volunteers…

 

We are missionaries!

 

Someone was a missionary to us…

 

Thanks be to God for that!

 

Amen

Jesus and Our Grief

Isaiah 53:5

 

Pete Scazzero tells the story of a young woman of a different faith who attended the funeral of a Christian co-worker and found herself asking as they spoke of the celebration of life and it was a time of celebration and not mourning Are these people for real? Do they have any emotions at all?

 

Scazzero goes on to say that when she sat at lunch the next day with another acquaintance who was also Christian, she expressed her anger and frustration at what she had seen and heard “Don’t you people cry and mourn? I don’t get it! Are you people human beings at all?”

 

Some of us perhaps are now wanting to argue with the young woman. “Well if she was a Christian and because she was she is not suffering anymore and is in the presence of Jesus why not celebrate?!” And that would be true.

 

But this young woman’s frustration at the lack of grieving and mourning does make a point.

 

What do we do with grief? And not just grief that comes when the death of someone we love occurs.

 

Some of our greatest grief comes with the death of a relationship as through divorce or the sudden end of a friendship or serious relationship.

 

The death of a dream, of a life goal, causes great grief. Just as painful as the death of a person.

 

The late Thomas Merton is quoted as saying, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” When that happens, grief is part of that realization.

 

(And I think that you could substitute the word ‘success’ for ‘parenting’ or ‘studying’ or ‘practicing’ and make the same point.)

 

Some people argue that the very essential language and practice of mourning and grieving is lacking in today’s Christianity.  Instead it is always about sunshine and joy and good things.

 

“But Pastor, we are to rejoice and be glad! Jesus has forgiven us of our sins! We are to celebrate that fact!”

 

You’re right, we are.

 

But Jesus, as Isaiah foretells centuries before His coming to earth, was also something else and our main text for this morning tells us what that was as we read Isaiah 3:5

 

He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

 

As we prepare for communion this morning, our focus should naturally turn toward Christ’s death, and, praise God, His resurrection. But it was not a joyful time for Jesus. Some found great joy, a very perverse joy, in making and watching Jesus suffer like He did.

 

Let us hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final moments as He hung on the cross. They reflect Isaiah’s painful portrait:

 

Matthew 27 verses 32 to 46

 

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

 

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

 

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

 

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.

 

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

 

Have you ever had someone, if not literally but figuratively turn their back on you and not care? That the relationship has suddenly ended. (And sometimes, relationships need to suddenly end for very right and necessary reasons.)

 

What do you feel?

 

Anger. Rage. Terrible emotional pain.

 

What about grief?

 

What do people these days do with these emotions?

 

They numb themselves through either drugs or alcohol or an increasing work load or through stuffing themselves with food.

 

They stuff their feelings and allow them to go underground and eventually undermine their lives as a whole host of things grow deep within and their lives and character begin to collapse from unresolved grief.

 

They isolate themselves from others. They put on a face that says “everything is fine!” but it isn’t and they grow further and further away from others, their friends, their family, even themselves and God. Layer after layer of isolation hardens to emotional concrete and they are trapped within themselves.

 

What’s the answer?

 

First of all, I think that because there are widely different situations we all face with our unresolved grief, I cannot and I will not give a blanket answer. But there are a couple of things that I think are basic to helping us grieve well.

 

  1. Stop denying the pain and loss.

 

In His encounter with a grieving Mary and Martha as He faced the closed tomb of their dead brother Lazarus, Jesus did something…

 

John 11:35 “…Jesus wept.”

 

Would Jesus be told today by some of us in this sanctuary, “Stop that Jesus! You shouldn’t feel that way?” Would He be told that by many Christians today?

 

“Jesus, there isn’t time for that. Work calls. We have to get to Jerusalem. Hurry up and get Lazarus back to life. We have a schedule to keep. We cannot be here all day!”

 

I have always been puzzled by verse 33

 

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.

 

Why was Jesus angry?

 

The traditional answer has something to do with the lack of faith and belief Jesus was seeing around Him. But a well-known preacher of another generation, BB Warfield, writes this:

 

“It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, “as a champion who prepares for conflict.”

 

Very good points made here and in light with Christ’s coming to earth to finally defeat sin and death and hell.

 

But I suggest this morning that Jesus is grieving too. He is grieving that death still has power and is still at work in human existence. I also think that He grieved at the lack of faith as well.

 

And I cannot help but feel that He grieved as a human would grieve. He grew up in a culture where grieving was done.

 

 

  1. Grieve

 

It is okay to grieve. It is okay to mourn. It is okay to cry and express the anguish of losing someone or something. Or the grief which comes when something happens and life and/or a relationship changes forever.

 

Jesus, I think, grieved at a deeply agonizing level on the cross as He uttered the words “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

 

I do not remember which funeral it was now but I remember walking into the room to begin the funeral service and sensing lots of love as well as grief and sorrow.

 

We really grieve what we really love. That’s why when a marriage, a parent-child relationship, or a long-time friendship ends either through death or conflict, there is a lot of pain.

 

Or when a dream job fails to take place or we are either laid-off or terminated from it, there is sometimes, sometimes, a grieving that takes place.

 

Or when our kids leave home and go out on their own, there is grieving. (Or some grieving when they move back home, too!)

 

Or when a beloved pastor or other church leader leaves, either well or not so well, a congregation grieves.

 

Or when we realize the passing of time and that we grieve the passing of that time and place and feel like strangers in this time and place.

 

Conflict, whether it is correctly resolved or not, causes grief because it creates a change that affects all involved.

 

What is it that you need to grieve these days?

 

I ask this question not to shame or guilt anyone. Nor do I ask it to depress us. Some of us are already dealing with some depression because of grief.

 

Jesus Christ understood grief because He was acquainted with grief. He experienced grief.

 

Bring your grief to the Lord this morning, He will walk with you through your grief, no matter if it is current grief or grief in the past. He will help you with your grief.

 

Grief is a part of life but it does not have the last word. Jesus does!

 

Thanks be to God for that.

 

Amen

Everything to God in Prayer: Prayer and the Character of God

Sunday Message presented on July 30, 2017

Luke 11:11-13

 

We have spent three of the past four Sundays walking through the first thirteen verses of Luke 11 which began with a disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray…” What has followed has been a study of the prayer the Lord gave the disciples to pray.

“When you pray, say…”

Then we looked at the next six verses, 5 through 10 and the need for persistence in praying as illustrated by the persistent neighbor who sought bread from a friend and Jesus’ statement of such persistence…

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

Today we conclude with the final three verses of this passage:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Now I admit that as I have read through and studied the entire passage, verses 1 through 13, I came to our main text for this morning…scratching my head.

What on earth is Jesus saying to His audience and to us?

Well, one thing I did is that I went back to read the entire passage again and when I read these words at the beginning of the chapter,

“One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

I thought, that if Jesus was praying in a synagogue or even at the Temple in Jerusalem itself, He was not praying alone or just with His disciples. He was praying along with many others.

Then, I thought about the context of the prayer He taught the disciples to pray as it appears in Matthew. He was with His disciples and a whole bunch of others as noted in the opening verse of Matthew 5

(Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them) and then the closing verse of chapter 7

(When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.)

So…

When I come to the opening verse of our text for this morning…

“Which of you fathers…”

I think that it is very reasonable to assume that Jesus was talking, by this point, to a larger group that just the disciples.

I think that we could also assume that some of the disciples were fathers, too and so He could have addressed them as fathers.

I also think that we might assume this was almost like an “oh by the way…” segment. It is as if Jesus looked at His audience one last time and realized that He had the opportunity to make a further point about prayer. Two very important points about prayer in this segment.

What might those points be?

Let me read our passage one more time…

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I suggest this morning the two important points are in the contrast between the fish and the snake and the egg and the scorpion and in Jesus’ response to His rhetorical question “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The first point is about the character of the one to whom a request is made. Jesus gets personal here – which of you fathers

Not which of you Pharisees

Nor which of you leaders

No, Jesus gets personal here

”which of you fathers?”

In a few chapters, Jesus gets personal again with the story of the Prodigal or wastefully extravagant Son. I think that parable of Jesus really hit home with His audience.

The issue here is what kind of God are we praying to? Who is He? Is He trustworthy? Is He reliable? Is He kind? Is He giving? Is He loving?

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Consider the words of the late JC Ryle regarding the character of God and prayer:

“…when we come to the Bible and consider the nature of numerous prayers that are
recorded there, we find a repeated emphasis that is decidedly God‐centered and
definitive. To begin with, it seems customary that there be no immediate presentation
of human need and predicament to God, even in situations involving great urgency.

Rather, He, the great Jehovah, is first addressed with reverence that is specific and
comprehensive.

It becomes immediately obvious that those in the Bible who pray
know He to whom they pray with both experiential breadth and depth; there are
indications of intimate union and communion that presuppose a profound
appreciation of the character of God.

Even in the Old Testament, while the saints there lived during centuries of promise and shadow preceding New Testament revelation, nevertheless it would be foolish to suggest that this faith relationship was primitive and shallow. It is nothing short of astounding to see how such children of God addressed Him in a manner that would shame many a New Testament Christian.

The reason for this would seem to be due to the fact that while, for them, the coming of the Messiah was prospective, yet a faith alone relationship looked to a glorious God whose perfections were well comprehended, such as was the case with Abraham who, “in hope against hope believed . . . in what God had promised”

The object of this prayerful believing was in no abstract deity, but “God Almighty” the definitively revealed, covenant keeping God of Israel.

Two of Dr Ryle’s statements point to this issue of character…

It becomes immediately obvious that those in the Bible who pray
know He to whom they pray with both experiential breadth and depth; there are
indications of intimate union and communion that presuppose a profound
appreciation of the character of God.

The object of this prayerful believing was in no abstract deity, but “God Almighty” the definitively revealed, covenant keeping God of Israel.

In this matter of prayer, God is the object of our prayer. It is He to whom we pray and trust that what is good and right and just will take place. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Vital then to prayer is the character of God because who we believe God to be shapes and influences our prayers.

To whom do you pray? Who is God to you? A hodge-podge of beliefs? Part Santa and part Easter Bunny? Some nice guy?

Or is He a mean and terrible being who gives snakes and scorpions?

When we sing, with all our heart, “everything to God in prayer” it is to this great and gracious God, whom we cannot fully describe but believe to be who the Bible says He is…we pray.

Now, let us turn to the second point about prayer Jesus makes…

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What is Jesus saying here?

Let’s consider the word evil for a moment.

Today, the word evil is used as both an adjective “profoundly immoral and malevolent,” and as a noun “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.”

But the word translated as evil in our Bibles today also means “full of labours, annoyances, hardships; pressed and harassed by labours; bringing toils, annoyances, perils;”

How does Jesus use it? He uses it as an adjective.

Listen to the translation known as The Message (more of a paraphrase) “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

Here is the Pastor Jim version, “You dads and moms, even though you are harassed and troubled and deal with all sorts of wrong motives and habits, would not dare think to mistreat your kids when they asked for something to eat, would you?” What makes you think that my Father would refuse to give you the gift of the Holy Spirit if you ask Him to?”

The gift of the Holy Spirit…Where did that come from?

Look at your Bibles for moment. Look at Luke 11 starting with verse 1 and reading though to this verse, verse 13. Who says anything about the Holy Spirit?

Does Jesus mean here the Holy Spirit as we think of Him, the third person of the Trinity?

Well, when I did a word study I found that there are two words used here, holy and spirit. Holy means “most holy thing.”

The word Spirit had several definitions for various usages in the Bible. One being “the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son.”

But it also means in other places “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.” I call it attitude.

I suggest this morning that when Jesus says the Holy Spirit in this passage He means the person of the Trinity we call the Holy Spirit. But I also think it can mean, given the question Jesus raises about what kind of a father would give a snake or scorpion, about the attitude and the disposition of a God who want to give the gift of His spirit to those who ask.

Could not this question be one about what kind of a God do you want to pray to? And his commentary on this verse, the late Leon Morris says this…

“Luke is interested in the work of the Spirit and here he sees the gift of the Spirit as man’s highest good. There seems no reason for understanding this in terms of the ‘charismatic’ gifts. The reference is rather to the Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life, generally, as in Romans 8.

And this leads me back to part of the text which Pastor Regan read a few moments ago, verse 26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

What better gift then to have, from a good God who wants to give us good gifts, like the gift of salvation, than the additional good gift of the Spirit who intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will?

A point to consider for today:

When we pray, we pray to a God who is Good and Just and Loving; a God that we can trust; a God who wants to give us the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and with that gift and presence begins to change us from evil to good.

Thanks be to God for prayer and for a good God who responds to our prayers, and helps us become whom He has always meant us to be.

Amen

 

The Persistence of Prayer

Luke 11:5-10

One of my favorite writers on the subject AND practice of prayer is Edward McKendree Bounds, or EM Bounds as he is more commonly known.

He wrote a series of books on prayer that is, in my opinion, second to none.

Regarding the persistence of prayer, he wrote this:

“Our praying needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage that never fails.”

Jesus spoke of the same thing in Luke 11:5-10 that we will examine this morning as part of this brief series on prayer, please join me in reading from your Bibles or the screen as I read Luke 11:5-10:

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

What is Jesus saying to His audience back then and to us today with this story about a persistent neighbor? Or should we say pesky neighbor? Or… persistent neighbor?

One of the Bibles I often turn to when studying a passage like this one is, The Serendipity Study Bible for Groups. This one was published in 1989. One of the things about this Study Bible is that there are group study guides throughout the entire Bible and there is one for this passage and this segment.

The study for this segment includes this multiple-choice question:

The point of the parable about the neighbors is that:

a. We give up too soon when we petition God

b. We should refuse to take “no” for an answer

c. God is as responsive as our reluctant neighbor

d. God gives us what we want not in exasperation, but in joy

e. From God, the answer is always “yes”

f. We should keep praying, not matter what the answer is

Study it for a moment and then be prepared to take a poll on what you think the correct answer is.

Okay how many here this morning say a…b…c…d…e…f?

I think a, c, d and f

Why? Because of what Jesus says in verses 9 and 10.

Let’s spend a few moments in this passage:

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

There is a need here. In this case, the need for bread. You have come to a friend’s home, a neighbor’s home, at an inconvenient hour no less to get some bread.

You have none. Your guest is hungry. There is no Wal-Mart or Speedway open to go and buy bread. If there were, you would not have to bother with your neighbor. You would go to the store and buy some bread!

(By the way) When was the last time you asked a neighbor for some bread?

We don’t ask our neighbors anymore for such things, do we? We just go to the store or we go to someone’s house that we do know, even if it is across town, right?

Who then is our neighbor today?

Let’s move on…

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

This neighbor is probably someone you know quite well. You’ve borrowed from them before and they have borrowed from you, too.

Perhaps bread, perhaps a power tool, or even a camel, I mean a car.

This is not a total stranger. This is your neighbor or friend. You know them…well.

But the neighbor will say that he (or she) can’t help you. She can’t get out of bed. The children will be disturbed (or the NASCAR race is on and they are dealing with another overtime finish and you want to see who wrecks who on the last lap.)

How many times have we had experiences when we must call two or three or four people we know and ask for help with something or to borrow something and they are unable to help for some good reasons?

I remember wrecking a car, on a Labor Day Monday and Susan could not find anyone to come and get me! We only had one car. Finally, she found someone, like the 6th or 7th person, and they came and got me.

A need creates a demand for help.

I need help with the dishes.

I need help cleaning the bathroom.

I need help cleaning out the cat box!

And everybody disappears for some reason!

I need help with caring for my mom.

I need help with transportation.

I need a ride!

I need a good meal.

I need someone to listen to me.

Needs can get inconvenient. Until they are your needs. Until someone shows up and you have nothing to offer them.

What is it that is requested by the neighbor, the friend?

Bread.

Think about that for a moment… Bread.

According to biblegateway.com the word bread is mentioned a total of 255 times in the Bible

177 times in the Old Testament and 78 times in the New Testament

Genesis 18:6 Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Genesis 40:16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread.

Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

Matthew 4:3 and 4 “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Luke 11:3 “Give us each day our daily bread.”

Luke 22:19 “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Bread has a very important significance in scripture. Jesus used bread as a symbol for His body during the Last Supper He ate with the disciples before His arrest, death, and praise God, His resurrection.

He also used it as a metaphor for Himself in places like John 6 where He refers to Himself as “the bread of life.”

What then is being sought by the neighbor is not a luxury but a necessity. A basic need.

‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

There is a gap here… there is a need. The imposing neighbor has a need that he cannot fulfill. He believes, knows perhaps? The neighbor can provide. And to the neighbor he goes to get what he does not have, does not possess.

The persistence of prayer and the persistence in prayer is about the dogged pursuit of God meeting a need… a hunger…that only He can satisfy within His good and perfect will.

“…yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need…”

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

As we prepare for our prayer time I ask us each of us to consider the following questions…

Who is the needy neighbor in this story?

Who is the neighbor who says, at first, “I can’t?”

What kind of “bread” do you need?

What are you hungry for these days?

What are people hungry for these days?

We are the needy neighbors…there is something that we need that we cannot supply ourselves…

The neighbor that we approach is… God

And what we need is bread, Christ Himself, to satisfy our deepest hunger for love, for life, for meaning, for purpose, for peace…

This is what we are hungry for these days…this is what people are hungry for these days as well…what they really need is Jesus and His satisfying grace. And in some cases they don’t know it yet.

Also expect to be inconvenienced from to time because we who represent Christ will be asked, at the most inopportune times, for something we don’t want to give or take the time to give. You will be an answer to someone’s prayer. Just as someone, who Jesus moved to act on your behalf, was an answer to prayer for you.

As Teresa of Avila wrote centuries ago

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Thanks be to God and thanks be to God for our shameless audacity to ask, seek, and find.

Amen

Everything to God in Prayer…When You Pray, Say

Luke 11:1-13

After this message we will be praying silently and in groups for a period of time and I will be asking for room to be made here at the altar so people can use it, then we will divide into groups of three to five persons and pray for one another in those groups; then those who would like to can pray aloud before I close out the time with corporate prayer.

I am spending three of the remaining Sundays this month on prayer and we will be following this same format in worship, closing worship out with prayer each Sunday. Our theme will be Everything to God in Prayer and the theme for this morning’s message is “When you pray, say…”

The series text will be Luke 11:1-13.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’

And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As I read this passage through the first time in preparation for today, I noticed a thematic connection that I had not noticed before…

… between the first four verses which is Luke’s record of what we call the Lord’s prayer (a shorter version than in Matthew’s gospel);

… then the next six verses, verses 5 through 10 which has often been treated separately from the previous segment and the segment which follows it about persistence in prayer;

…then the final three verses, verses 11 through 13, that speak of the goodness of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

All are linked together.

Our initial text in this short series is Luke 11:1-4,

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

 

In his comments on these verses, the late Leon Morris wrote “A final point to notice, is that, while it can be prayed privately, it is essentially a corporate prayer.” All the pronouns are plural.”

But there are some other things to notice about this opening segment that is very important as we grasp and learn something about the place of prayer in our faith and lives and what was important to Jesus about prayer.

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus was praying in a certain place… Luke does not tell us where but the word certain suggests that it was a definite place and probably was known to the disciples (and maybe Luke as well) but it is not named. It could have been the temple in Jerusalem or a synagogue that He often frequented. We don’t know.

But what is important is that Jesus was praying prior to the request of “teach us to pray.”

Prayer mattered to Jesus. There are several places in the gospels in which it is noted that Jesus is praying.

Now the disciples had seen Jesus praying before. As noted in Luke 10, they heard Him praise God the Father for the results of the seventy-two’s ministry.

But on this day, in this moment noted by Luke, something clicked in the mind and heart of one of the disciples who said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

“just as John taught his disciples.”

Who is John and which disciple requested Jesus’ instruction in prayer?

John is John the Baptist and there were two of Jesus’ disciples who had been John the Baptist’s disciples – one was Andrew and mostly like the other was John who wrote the gospel of John, John 1, 2, and 3, and Revelation.

There is a lot about these verses, therefore, we do not know. But what we do know, is that something clicked in the mind and heart of one of Jesus’ closest followers and he asked Jesus for instruction in prayer, and it was a corporate request, (Teach US to pray) just as John the Baptist had taught his disciples, his followers.

And the instruction is a model for prayer, not a three or four step instruction in how to pray but a model of prayer…

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Jesus offers some important elements in prayer with His words:

Hallowed be your name. Hallowed is an older English word for Holy.
Holy is your name…

Prayer is to God, who is Holy…not to someone else or something else. The focus of prayer is to God who is a Holy God.

Then Jesus said, “your kingdom come.” Jesus’ focus as He walked this earth was on the Kingdom of God. Not the Kingdom of Rome nor the fallen Kingdom of Israel. It was on the Kingdom of God.

And the reason I say Kingdom of God is because the “your” refers to His father – God.

The kingdom of God is vastly different than any political entity today. It was the focus of Jesus’ prayer and must be our focus. We are kingdom of God people.

Jesus tells the disciples to pray for the Kingdom of His Father to come – to be-come a reality. What might that look like?

I think that the rest of the prayer give us a hint.

Give us each day our daily bread.

I think that Jesus is saying in today’s language “provide us with what we need for that day.” That’s a prayer of faith, isn’t it?

How many of us truly pray “give us each day our daily bread?”

How many of us buy our food on a daily basis? How many of us buy our food on a weekly basis or bi-weekly basis? Or when someone says, “MOM! We’re out of…”

The times of that day were different. People daily gathered their food.

What would we say today? How would we pray it today?
Provide us with what we need for today?

When I pondered this verse yesterday, I thought about our four cars.

Three of our four cars have been given to us and they have come when we knew that life circumstances required us to have more than one or two cars. They youngest of them is 9 years old and the oldest of them is 15. And the people at a local garage here in town know us by name. Two of them were in their bays at the same time a few weeks ago.

Would I like a newer and nicer car?

Sure would!

(A Lingenfelter Camaro would be nice!)

But we have what we need…

Give us this day our daily transportation…

The dailyness of this request is a challenge for us in prayer in these times when we think out (and have to think out) three, four days…weeks…months…years.

But Jesus says we are to pray, “give us each day our daily bread…”

This address the issue of anxiety and fear which Jesus spoke to in Matthew’s gospel in chapter 6 and verses 25-34 which concludes with

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Then comes…

Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

This has been translated as “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

But the point anyway we translate it or pray the fuller version as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is the same:

“Forgive me God for my sins and forgive so and so for hurting me.”

Forgiveness of our sins through a once and for all act of dying on the cross and, praise God, rising from the dead three days later, was Jesus’ mission here on earth. He was not here to debate, to grab power, to have influence.

No, he came so that we could be forgiven of our sins and shortcoming and forgive others who have offended and hurt us as well.

How much is forgiveness a part of your praying?

Forgiveness is about being right with God and being right with others.

Finally, Jesus says to pray

“And lead us not into temptation.’”

The temptations we face are many and I remind us of the truth about the Lord’s help in 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(I would note that the original Greek words translated here as temptation and tempted can also be translated as testing and tested.)

But Jesus says to pray, “and lead us not into temptation.”

This is a prayer for strength to resist temptation throughout our day.

This is a prayer for help, a prayer for our will to be strengthened to say no.

How does your praying measure up against this prayer?

 

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

As we prepare for a time of prayer I ask us to consider the following questions:

How does my praying compare to this prayer?

What is the most important thing prayed for in this passage?

For what am I praying these days?

How am I praying these days?

Are you, are we praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom or for our own agendas?

Are we praying for our needs, to be met, just for today, or are we worrying in prayer about them?

Prayer is a vital part of living our faith out in the places we go and inhabit.

And I remind us of the truth of Philippians 4:6-7 as we conclude that prayer can be and must be part of every part of our life each day:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the power of prayer and for a disciple who spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

Amen

My Review of Bier and Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament

Later this month, I am planning to preach a sermon titled “Is it Okay to Complain to God?” I think that it is and, in my own faith journey, learning how to complain, lament, mourn is something that I am learning to properly (biblically, perhaps?) to do.

I am preaching this sermon in part due to the circumstances of my family life and of the loss and grief within members lives of the congregation I serve and…because I have recently read Miriam J Bier and Tim Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament  (Pickwick Publications: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014)

A selection of essays edited by Bier,  who is a Lecturer in Old Testament at London School of Theology and Bulkeley, who is a Freelance Biblical Scholar teaching at Laidlaw Graduate School and Colombo Theological Seminary,  Spiritual Complaint is the result of presentations given during a “colloquium at (then) Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School” in the aftermath of the Christchurch New Zealand earthquake in 2011.

Divided into four sections: foundations, reflections, explorations, and refraction, Spiritual Complaint first addresses “new contributions to scholarship on Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job; and ongoing discussion of the discussion of the relationship between lament and penitential prayer in the Old Testament.”

Then in the second and third sections the book “offers a bridge between the foundations of biblical scholarship, and the contexts in which lament might be used and framed in contemporary society.” The final section, “Refraction,” features Yael Klangwisan’s autobiographical lament “in the land of Israel/Palestine.”

Wide ranging and yet focused in the pursuit of understanding and appropriately engaging in lament, this reviewer found some of the chapters very informative as to the practice of lament from the view of and in the practice a local church pastor.

For example, Bier’s study of Lamentations 4 and its relationship to the rest of the book, provided this reviewer with some new perspectives on the context of both the chapter and the book as she suggests that Lamentations 4 has a “unique position in the book of Lamentations as a transitional movement between the individual (yet representative) speaking voices of… Lam 1, 2, and 3; and the explicitly communal speaking voice of Lam 5.”

Robin Parry, Editor at Cascade Books and Pickwick publications for Wipf and Stock Publishers in the UK, cogently argues in a chapter titled,  “Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship,” that “…Christians would be well advised to listen closely to the historic Jewish interpretations. Gentile believers in Jesus need to appreciate afresh that this is a book, in the first instance, addressing the sufferings of Israel.”

I appreciated this book and was glad to read it as it gave me  a perspective of other Christian scholars from another part of the world who wrestle with the implications of the Biblical text regarding the difficult and tragic times in life and how Holy Scripture speaks to us in those moments. It was challenging and a refreshing read and has given this reviewer much to consider.

Spiritual Complaint would be a great read in courses at least the seminary and graduate school level and perhaps in upper-level undergraduate courses in religion and biblical studies.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at my request in exchange for an honest review.