Does God Play Hard to Get?

Text: Luke 15:18-19

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Does God Play Hard to Get?

How many here this morning think that God plays hard to get?

How many don’t believe that God plays hard to get?

I know that there are verses in the Bible that indicate that God may play hard to get. Verses such as “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” found in Isaiah 55:8

And we need to be cautious at times when think that we and God are buddy buddies. We are not.

God is a holy God. He is righteous. He is above all things and above us.

God is greater than anything or anyone else.

So His thoughts are above our thoughts and His ways are above our ways.

And yet…and yet…we read

In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 29:12-14

And, just a couple of verses before the Isaiah 55:8 verse we read

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6

And, a verse that I spoke about a few months ago, in Luke 11 and verse 9

“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.”

So does God play hard to get?

I do not think so.

We are the ones who play hard to get!

Just like the prodigal son…who asked for his share of the family wealth and took off…the father did not take off, he stayed. The son took off!

 

 

We are continuing our series Awakening to God, Awakening to Life this morning with a stop at Luke 15:18-19, part of the famous parable Jesus told to illustrate God’s great love for us, that of the prodigal or wastefully extravagant son.

‘I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

Now, being known for my abrupt transitions, I am slowing the bus to take a quick exit,

This series is important to me on two fronts;

The first front is that of a spiritual awakening.

The second front is that of a revival of the church.

For some, including those who have studied the history of revival in our nation and world, these two words, awakening and revival mean the same thing. I am not going to argue with them.

There have been movements of God in the history of our country in which believers have been revived and those who have not believed and trusted in Christ alone for salvation did so.

Patrick Morley has noted the following history of revival and awakenings in our nation:

“The Great Awakening, 1734-43. In December 1734, the first revival of historic significance broke out in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a young Jonathan Edwards was pastor.” After months of fruitless labor, he reported five or six people converted–one a young woman. He wrote, “[She] had been one of the greatest company-keepers [today we call them party animals] in the whole town.” Says Morley.

“He feared her conversion would douse the flame, but quite the opposite took place. Three hundred souls converted in six months–in a town of only 1,100 people! The news spread like wildfire, and similar revivals broke out in over 100 towns.”

Then there was The Azusa Street Revival, 1906.

Says Morley, “In 1906, William J. Seymour, an African-American Holiness pastor blind in one eye, went to Los Angeles to candidate for a pastoral job. But after he preached, he was locked out of the second service {which happened the next week]!

He began prayer meetings in a nearby home and the Spirit of God, which they called “the second blessing,” fell after many months of concerted prayer. Eventually, the interracial crowds became so large they acquired a dilapidated Methodist church at 312 Azusa Street where daily meetings continued for three years. The resulting Pentecostal Movement and the later Charismatic Movement, which both exploded worldwide in the twentieth century both trace their roots to this revival.”

One of the ones that I have heard about was the “1970 Asbury College Revival in Wilmore, Kentucky.” Notes Morley, “Within a week the revival had spread throughout the entire country.”

Does God want to do a similar work today? You bet He does!

And there has been evidence from what I have been told by reliable sources that there is a movement of spiritual awakening and revival going on in the US.

I think that perhaps we need to consider another verse from Isaiah. Isaiah 43:19

 

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

Could this be happening? Could God be doing a new thing?

Listen to what I just said…

Could God be doing a new thing?

Not an old thing. Not a way back to the past.

But a way to the future that is God’s future and has always been God’s future.

Consider with me for a moment these words:

“Most of us when we are ready to start over, simply want to go back to the life we had before everything went south. But God has other ideas. He doesn’t just want to help us get back to that better life as we imagine it when we’re surrounded by pigs. He wants us to experience a different kind of a life altogether.” Dave and Jon Ferguson

How many of us long for the good ol’ days?

How many of us long for the regrets we had, and still do, that were part of the good ol’ days?

How many of us (and you don’t have to raise your hands on this one unless you want to) have regrets that still hold us hostage to guilt, shame, and…well…regret?

How many of us are trapped because we are face to face even today with some regrets of ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty years ago?

Something we said. Something we did. Or did not say or do.

Something that we wish would take back.

I think that we all do. We all do.

Would it sound strange to you if I were to suggest this morning that one of the awakenings we need to have if we are going to come home either for the first time or the umpteenth time to Jesus is an awakening to regret?

‘I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

This is what our main text says, this is a text in which regret is expressed

I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.

“It can’t be like it once was dad. Things are different. I come home but I can’t be your son anymore. I will be your neighbor. I will be your friend. I will be your worker. But I cannot be your son anymore.”

That’s regret talking.

And the son is right…it cannot be like it once was.

But the father will say, “no it cannot be like it once was…it can and it will be better!”

It has been suggested that we consider that there could have been a period of time between the end of this verse, the declaration of verse 19 about a change in status and relationship, the expression of regret, and the first sentence of verse 20.

Would somebody please read just the first sentence of verse 20 just the first sentence.

Please repeat it…

So he got up and went to his father.

A suggestion is made that there was a period of time, perhaps, between the decision to seek a new relationship status with the father and the decision to go home. A regret cycle it is called, is perhaps in place with son. He is overwhelmed with regret.

We stay stuck in regret. We get covered not just in the pig’s slop but the mud bog of regret.

If only

If only

If only

Can’t stay there… if we want to awake to God and awake to life, we have to awaken to our regrets and deal with them.

We get up and we go to…those that we need to make things right with. And for those that we cannot, because of death or incapacitation, we write a letter and we read it to a trustworthy friend to clear the air.

God has a new way for us…still his way.

The son sat with his regret but then he move on.

Are there some regrets you are dealing with today that you are stuck in?

Dave and Jon Ferguson have written about the following types of regret:

The Spirituality Regret: “I wish I had thought about God more.”

The Relationship Regret: “I wish I had loved and been loved better.”

The Health Regret: “I wish I had taken better care of myself.”

The Finance Regret: “I wish I had been smarter about money.”

The Purpose Regret: “I wish I had given my life to a big cause.”

Do you have any of these regrets?

Some of us might be thinking this morning, “I don’t have as much time as I used to have in dealing with my regrets….”

Maybe not…

But…

Is the Lord limited by how old or young we are in helping us get out of our regret cycle and come home to him?

I have read a great deal over the years and heard many people speak about the power of resentments and their effect on a person’s life. And resentments are powerful things.

But I am beginning to wonder if regret is a close second to resentments in causing us to stay away from the Lord.

We really do not know how long the younger son was gone from home. It could have been a year. It could have been a decade.

He changed, he grew up – life depended on it.

He was not the same man he was the day he left home with the world on a string.

But the father’s love was still the same…

Consider the practice of Kezazah (kay-zah-zah) as evidence of the father’s love…

 

A little known Jewish custom from Jesus’ time and it was done to disown community members who had behaved in ways that the community did not care for and were offended by. It was a shaming ceremony.

The practice, as I understand it, was for the community members to meet the person to be shamed at the gate to the city or town. One of the leaders would bring a clay pot and in front of the person being shamed, throw it to the ground allowing it to shatter.

Taking one of the pieces of the shattered pot the leader would face the person and say something like:

“Just as this clay pot has shattered, so you have shattered this community by your actions. You have broken the trust in you. You have broken the heart of your family, especially your father and mother.”

“There is no repairing the damage. You are no longer part of our community. You are cut off from us, from your family…forever.

Leave.”

So the individual would be forced to turn around and leave and never return.

But what does Jesus say in His story?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

The father kept the town council from meeting the son. He ran, embraced him, and showed him love and forgiveness.

One of the things that can happen, and does happen, is that when we begin to come home to Christ, the voices of shame and regret grow louder.

“You can’t go back to God! You’ve already failed!”

“God won’t accept your weak apology!”

“Do you really need to do this? You walked away once. What makes you think you won’t do it again?”

“How many years has it been? Do you really want to face God again? Look at what He did to Adam and Eve?”

We do not have to let our shame and regret have the last word! (And we know, we know whose voice it really is, right? Satan’s voice.)

We can, with God’s help face our regret and get out of the regret cycle and go home to Christ!

This slide contains a prayer… can you read it…

God, if you are real, be real to me…awaken in me the possibility that with you I could start all over again.

Pray that prayer often this week as you need and pray it for someone you are praying for to come home to Christ

God, if you are real, be real to ____…awaken in _______the possible that with you _____ could start all over again.

Thanks be to God that we can start over!

Amen

 

 

 

Advertisements

Hitting Bottom, Finding Hope

Text: Luke 15:17

Sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017

Did you ever run away from home?

I did.

I don’t remember how old I was when ran away from home. I went a block away to a former neighbors house who had lived across the street from us but had moved and hid under one of the beds in their house.

I don’t remember the reason and nothing terrible had happened but I remember when I got home, I was grounded to my short street for a week.

Did you ever run away from home?

How would you reply to this email?

“I’m 13 years old and I want to runaway to my friends house in Jersey, but will my parents be able to check my text and track me down and come get me? I don’t want to go back with them when I runaway and I don’t want my friend to get hurt.”

 

Abuse
Divorce
Parental substance abuse
Failing at school
Family Finances
Personal crisis such as pregnancy
Personal Addiction

What about adults? Ever thought about the fact that adults run away?

A study of runaway adults in England who returned or were found said this:

The reasons for going missing include “traumatic experiences and strong emotions of being unable to cope, [and] feeling trapped and powerless to talk about or share their feelings”. Three-quarters of those who had gone missing were diagnosed with mental health problems, and one in three had attempted suicide while they were away.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/missing-adults-hide-but-they-dont-run-far-8660467.html

Interestingly enough, they did not go too far from home.

As we begin this series, Awakening to God; Awakening to Life, I would have us consider for a moment that while the Prodigal Son was not a runaway per se, he was running away from something.

What was the prodigal running away from? And why did he return home?

As I shared last week, a sermon that I gave last month about discipleship included these five awakenings that Pastor Dave Ferguson discovered as he talked with people about their spiritual journeys:

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

I shared these five awakenings in the context of the importance of discipleship and said this a few weeks ago:

The road to becoming a disciple, and growing as a disciple, includes a spiritual awakening something that you hear me pray for on a regular basis.

And once when we come to point of awakening to life in Christ, and are born again, that moment of decision when we admit to, confess, our sins and shortcomings to God and accept and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, we begin the journey of being a disciple.

We never arrive as a disciple. We are always on the journey the path further and further toward the Lord and with the Lord.

And today I add…

or we should be…either we are walking with the Lord…or we are walking the path we choose to walk…

This choice never goes away…

And it leads me to ask this question as part of this series “How do we handle prodigals of the faith?” How do we reach out to people who make choices that cause them to walk away from their faith in the Lord?

Now some might respond to this question with, “Pastor, the prodigal son was not saved! He was an unrepentant sinner! He had yet to accept Jesus Christ as His savior!”

Maybe he was…

Maybe he wasn’t…

Let me ask back, He had had a relationship with his father, didn’t he?

I have found in my own life journey of faith, that when I turn prodigal, and I have turned prodigal from time to time – the journey back is very, very, very hard at times because it is easy to simply let people be…

Stuck
Left alone
Judged and cast out

“They got themselves into it…they can get themselves out!”

But what do we do with Galatians 6:1 ?

The New Living Translation translates this verse as follows:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

The New International Version renders it:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

And the Message renders it as follows:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ has with moments when the temptation to doubt; moments when a life filled with things; moments when pain of loss, rejection, envy, jealousy; moments when the pleasures of life become too strong or become more important and the disciple finds himself or herself in a place that he or she never thought they would be.

In the midst of a smelly mess.

What choices does he or she have? Stay where they are? Or move further away from home? Or…go home? Home to the loving embrace of God?

What happens when they choose to go home to God? What will they find?

What is it that makes a person who had been strong in their faith, walk away from it, and then return?

And from another perspective what happens to a person who has not believed in God nor trusted Christ for salvation eventually finds himself or herself coming to Christ and becoming a disciple?

What makes the difference?

Well the work of the Holy Spirit for one. He is at work moving and acting in ways that draw people to the Lord.

And one of the ways He does that is that He creates an awakening, for both the first time follower of Christ and for the returning home disciple, an awakening that causes both of them to ask “Is this all there is?”

This is first awakening that Ferguson describes (and I think that he is right about this, very right about this) the Awakening to Longing often expressed as

“There’s got to be more!”

Our text for this morning is Luke 15:17

‘“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!’

Why the change?

Let’s review, quickly what had brought the son to this point…

The son demanded, an extreme demand to be sure, for his share of the estate.

‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

Do we not do the same?

I want it! I want this! I want that! I want it all now!?

I want what’s coming to me!

That wanting that desire, never goes away. It goes underground for a while but it comes back up and when it does we are hit hard with hungers and desires for power, pleasure, things… and meaning and purpose.

The writer of Ecclesiastes understood this when he wrote,

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

He got what he wanted and then as we read in Luke’s account of the story

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

It’s not what I thought

I had it better at home. My father’s servants do! I go home and be a servant!

The father had something to say about that. He had more to offer.

God has something more for us, too.

If we choose to want it. If we listen to that longing in our heart asking if there is more to life than what we are currently experiencing. God has more for us too.

You have heard me often say, “God works in the nooks and crannies of people’s lives in ways we cannot see.”

That prodigal you love dearly and are thinking of right now, God is at work! He is stirring in them and seeking for them to think and ask “is this all there is?”

We keep praying. We keep praying and trusting God that He will move in a way that brings our prodigals home to Him.

But what about you?

We are all one choice away from walking out the door and away from God.

Did you notice this segment in what I read a few weeks ago, “Not long after that, (not long after he demanded his share of the estate) the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

I wonder, did this young man stop to consider what he was doing? Were friends and family talking to him about staying home? Was he wrestling with his decision to leave? What pushed him to finally leave?

I suggest a sense of entitlement.

‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

Many social observers speak of the strong sense of entitlement these days…from government programs and from society at large.

“I want my fair share…”

“I want, I want, I want…”

Has a sense of entitlement crept into your heart?

Are you at the point where you are thinking, “God if you don’t give me this…I’m going to take it on my own?”

That is a dangerous place to be…

I conclude with a story about a 20th century prodigal…

How many here this morning recognize this man?

Who is he?

Billy Graham

What about this gentleman? Does anyone know him?

He was Charles Templeton

Graham and Templeton were friends and fellow evangelists back in the 1940’s but eventually Templeton quit believing in Christ and the Christian faith and thought that Graham was “committing intellectual suicide” by refusing to look at evidence that contradicted Graham’s faith.

Late in Templeton’s life Lee Stroble, himself a former atheist, and author of numerous books on Christianity, interviewed him and in his book A Case for Christ shared part of that interview with Templeton:

“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again.

“In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .

Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: “Enough of that.”

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2013/05/09/charles-templeton-missing-jesus/

Would the prodigal son have said something similar about his father if, instead of going home like he did, he got up and went another direction? I miss my father?

But the prodigal didn’t did he? He came to another conclusion about himself, about his situation and he went home.

This morning, I remind us and I believe it to be true…

There is more to life than all of this.

There is meaning and purpose.

There is something better.

This is not all there is!

Christ offers us life and life more abundant now! Not a perfect life. Not even a prosperous life. But a life where a deep peace and joy are ours. A life where forgiveness from sin and freedom from guilt and shame are possible.

We keep praying for our prodigals. We keep praying that God, through His Holy Spirit, will work in the circumstances and connections of those we love. That an awakening, a spiritual awakening of “Is this all there is?” happens and the Holy Spirit moves and acts in ways that only He can.

But we also, must be aware of the temptations that come our way that offer us a satisfaction which does not last. We too, can easily become prodigals.

The prodigal hit bottom and began to find hope again!

May the Lord speak to us and may we be open to His answer to our question, a dangerous question to ask but one that can open us to a greater and deeper life of faith in Christ, “Isn’t there more to life than this?”

 

Thanks be to God there is!

Amen

 

Coming to Our Senses

Luke 15:17

Sermon for September 3, 2017

In her book Choosing Our Religion documenting the choices and views of a group commonly called Nones, those who longer have any affiliation with a church or even a religious faith, Dr Elizabeth Drescher told the story of a former Korean War veteran and engineer named Jack who had faithfully attended church with his wife for their entire married life until after her death when he stopped attending. He had gone out of respect for her and participated in the life of the church, but as he admitted to Drescher never truly believed in Christ.

“Everything I’d experienced in the Air Force and everything I’d studied had confirmed what I’d long suspected growing up: There’s no way of knowing there is or isn’t a god. Religion is a social club. Church is moral finishing school.”

Jack’s story gripped me because the church he attended was one of a sister Wesleyan-Holiness denomination. It also gripped me because I knew a man in a former congregation I served who not long before he passed finally came to faith in Christ. He had been a key leader in the church for years. He chaired the trustees and his wife had been a Sunday School teacher.

Jack’s story, as well as one told by the leader of our Church last year about his father coming to faith in Christ late in life after leading a life which would put many men of active faith to shame, has had me thinking about the quality and depth of faith all of us have or may not have these days. It has me gravely concerned about just how all of us, myself included, truly are following the Lord these days.

And Jesus’ haunting question in Luke 18:8, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” takes on a new meaning and perspective for me.

And this ongoing concern was re-lit a few weeks ago in my sermon about the strategic importance of disciple-making when I spoke about the importance of discipleship in helping us stay true to the Lord even during difficult times when our faith is challenged and stretched thin.

Hebrews 3:12-14 was the basis for that message:

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

How then do we help one another to not become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness which would enable us to turn away from God? How do we encourage one another to stay faithful to Christ and keep believing in, following, and obeying Him?

In that same message, I shared with you the following five “awakenings” that Pastor Dave Ferguson saw as he sought to understand the journeys people take to come to Christ or…come back to Christ.

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

As I shared these five awakenings, I sensed that this was important to use as a future sermon series for some reason. I also think it describes a cycle of faith that all of us face which challenges our beliefs and assumptions about God and life and can cause to want to walk away from God when disappointment and pain and loss causes us to either stop believing in Christ or to seek to satisfy our needs and wants in a way that takes us away from the Lord.

I was going to spend this month and most of next month doing a series called Christianity 101 and go over the basic beliefs of our church. But, given what I have been hearing from people who have been talking with me as to the challenges being faced, I determined as I sat down to write this message, that I should address these five things.

So starting next week, I will be speaking to each of the five awakenings with the goal of providing helpful information and inspiration to help us experience a rich and meaningful faith in spite of and through the moments and seasons when believing is hard and difficult.

Our guide will be the prodigal son and the following text from Luke 15:17 will be our focus text for this series:

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!

This is a series for us…

…when life takes a turn we did not expect and we find ourselves drowning in doubt and fear…

…when someone comes to you and pours out their heart revealing a desire to meaningfully experience God once again but fears they can’t because of their past…

…or when our own unresolved past issues – the choices, the hurts, the habits – still have power over us and we cannot seem to get free. We, like the Prodigal son, find ourselves unable to get out of the pig pen.

But this series is also for us who know of a prodigal that we so desperately want to come home to the Lord. This series, I hope will help us understand what probably needs to happen to the one we love, so that he or she finally stands up and starts toward home.

But this morning, in anticipation of this series about a son who returns home and a father who welcomes him home with arms wide open, we take time on this Labor Day Sunday to remember and give thanks to the Lord for His sacrificial love on our behalf that reminds us that Christ wants us to come home and has made it possible for us, because of His great love for us, to be and live forgiven.

Let us prepare our hearts for Communion and let us humble ourselves before the Lord in preparation for Communion.

Thanks be to God for His great love for us!

Amen

 

Going Out to Love

Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:20

In his book More or Less Jeff Shinabarger tells the story of one of his neighbors a man named Clarence who within few hours of the Shinabarger’s move in to their neighborhood, rang the doorbell in an unmistakable way and introduced himself. And what Jeff had been studying about people like Clarence, who happened to be homeless, was no longer an academic exercise but a human reality.

Shinabarger said, “Clarence put me over the edge. He was my neighbor. I couldn’t get away from him. And I liked him. His constant smirk of a smile got under my skin and into my heart…Our relationship introduced a barrage of new questions for my life: how do I love my neighbor when my neighbor has no front door or even walls?…With one doorbell ring, all the ways I looked at my day-to-day life changed.”

Speaking of neighbors…

How many of us know the names of at least two of our neighbors and have spoken with them in the last two weeks?

In our neighborhood we have two neighbors who moved in this past spring and are from China. And they do not speak any English and so communicating with them is a challenge. I decided to download google translate to my phone and use it to communicate with them as necessary. So even learning their names has been a challenge.

And I have been reading in the past week how our concept of neighborhood and community has been changing with the advent of the internet. There have been some interesting articles about the younger generation of adults, especially in major cities, who are preferring more and more to stay home rather than go out.

What are the implications for the church with all of this?

I am still digesting an article called The Future of the Church Is Analog, Not Digital in which the author says that in this technological time and place the human touch and presence of the church is still necessary and needed.

(By the way for those who have heard about digital and analog and wondered what it meant, here is a helpful chart highlight the difference between analog and digital soundwaves.

 

 

copyright http://wrongplanet.net/forums

 

 

Our phones and TV’s use digital waves these days to send signals.)

As an article I read at techdiffernces.com put it,

“The best example of an analog signal is a human voice, and the best example of a digital signal is the transmission of data in a computer.”

Today we are taking time after worship to serve in various ways in our community. We are going out to love our neighbors. We are going to be, if you will, analog. We are going to care for those who share a common zip code or geographic area.

We are going out to love. We are going to be human today. We are going out to be disciples and the presence of Jesus.

Where am I going with all of this?

Two verses of scripture are my texts this morning.

The first is Matthew 9:36:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The second is Luke 15:20:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Jesus was overwhelmed by all the needs that He faced on a daily basis. The gospel writers clearly showed that He would get away to rest and regroup. But they also showed that He was moved with compassion for the crowds which constantly swarmed around Him.

We are called to compassion today, and every day. To be compassionate, according to dictionary.com is to have “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

Jesus’ mission was the redemption of the human soul through His death and, praise God, His resurrection. But He also alleviated suffering as He walked this earth. He healed people of illnesses for which there were no cure; He delivered people from the power of evil; He gave people their dignity back. He loved people.

That is what we are doing today. But it is also what we must do every day. Love people.
And in loving people, we love people – flawed, imperfect, people. And some of them are our neighbors.

Our second verse from the Bible is a familiar one – the story of the prodigal or wastefully extravagant son who finally comes to his senses and decides to go back home and be a servant and not a son to his rich father.

Dad has nothing to do with that… he runs (and I don’t think that he cares what people think) to his dirty son and embraces him as only a deeply loving dad can do.

To love someone is to embrace them, to engage with them. To care. To listen. To believe in.

We may not like what they believe or do or how they live their lives. But we love them.

That errant family member. That neighbor who does not speak English. The Clarence in our lives.

We go out today to love, in Jesus’ name.

Because someone came out of their life to love us as well.

Thanks be to God for that!

Amen

 

 

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