Remind us of your presence…

I read this prayer the other day, and thought it was beautiful.

God, we know you see us in our suffering and in our sin. It is we who are forgetful. Be patient with us and receive even our forgetful prayers and pleas. Remind us again and again of your presence, and help us to be that memory for others. Amen.

– Common Prayer

As you pray it, may you find God’s presence again and again and go out and be a tangible witness to his presence for others.

Sometimes You See The Fruit

Mills17I think parenting is an exercise in trust and hope. I mean you spend hours and hours with your kids, coaching, guiding, and if you’re at all like us – disciplining your kids.

Sometimes if I’m honest you wonder if it’s all worth it. 

Like you know it’s all worth it, but after a giant fight at bath time, when your soaking, and kids are crying doubt creeps in. I think that’s why parenting is hard, because you are really playing the long-game in parenting. You are hoping that what you do today, pays off in decades. And it’s hard sometimes to keep motivated or to even know if all your effort is having an impact when the results are years and years away.

But then every now and then you see some glimmer, you see a glimpse, you see some of the fruit.

As many of you know Krista and I accepted a new position, so we’ll be moving and changing churches in the next few months. This was an incredibly hard decision, but one we feel certain about. A tough point though came when we came to tell our kids.

We sat down with Hudson, told him about the move. He asked great questions, he processed it all, and in the end he asked to pray. This is what he prayed,

“Dear God help daddy to trust you with this move, find us the best house, best new friends, and help daddy with his new job to do really really great. Help mom and dad not to be sad, but excited. Amen”

And sometimes after hours and hours of wondering if anything sinks in, to little ears that don’t always seem to listen, you have a moment like this. You have a moment when you realize that your kids aren’t just kids, but people God speaks to. People who can pray better than you, and say the things you struggle to say, and people who remind you God is always working.

So all of this is to say that if you’ve had a long week with your kids, don’t forget all that’s growing underneath. Because when God reveals their little hearts, you realize all the effort is worth it. It’s always worth it.

The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Prayer, Healing and Revival – James 5

always-there-1314423-1600x1200On Sunday we opened up a favourite passage of mine in James 5. In James 5:13-18 we read this:

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

And here James shares with us some incredibly practical advice about prayer, healing, and sickness. James calls us all to pray if we are hurting, or in joy, that prayer should be our response (verse 13). And then he gives some incredibly practical advice – if you are sick you should call in the elders.

The truth is that sickness has a tendency to isolate and to separate and James knows that in sickness we need others. So he says invite the elders in to pray, anoint, and support someone who is sick. This is because in sickness it can be so difficult at times to pray, so he says rely on the prayers of others. Be anointed a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it was also thought to be medicinal. So pray for healing, and don’t shy away from those in the healing profession and medicine for help as well.

James says bring in supports to care, love, pray, and anoint and to find God willing to heal.

We also looked at the importance of confession, of the phrase the “name of the Lord” and a few others things. But most importantly, we landed not on more teaching about prayer, or about how to pray. We landed on whether or not we trust in prayer.

Because the truth is, if we know all about it, and even if I challenge people to practice it – if we don’t trust in prayer and in God, it won’t make a difference. So I asked us all to consider this question, “Do you trust in prayer and God to use prayer”. In spite of all the questions, the suffering we see, all the legitimate doubts and difficulties – do you trust in prayer?

Because I believe that prayer is worth trusting in. I believe that prayer actually changes the world. I believe that even in spite of the doubts I have at times, like anyone, that prayer matters.

So we ended with a challenge to prayer, and then ended the service with the only way that seemed appropriate. We invited people forward for prayer. And today if you are struggling in any way, I think today is the day to invite people in your life to pray. Because prayer matters, and prayer changes lives.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Pray. Pray. Pray.

Teaching Points:

  • No profound theologian, James’ genius lies in his profound moral earnestness; in his powerfully simple call for repentance for action, and for a consistent Christian lifestyle. Douglass Moo
  • Wherever we are at in life prayer is to be part of our life.
  • Sickness has a way of separating us.
  • Oil was medicinal and a symbol of the Holy Spirit and God’s consecrating.
  • To pray in the name of the Lord is to pray and act as his representative and in his authority.
  • Do you trust in prayer?
  • It is God who is the healer.
  • Pray. Pray. Pray.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What is your view of prayer? When have you seen a prayer answered? What are your questions concerning prayer? Who do you know that needs prayer and support? Who can you confess your sins to? Are you willing to?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids today about the power of prayer. Ask them what they think prayer is? Ask them who they should be praying for – and then spend time in prayer with them.

Challenge for the Week: To trust in the power of prayer.

Prayer and Revival

just-hands-1550395-1280x960On Sunday we are going to talk about prayer. Prayer is something that is really important and should be part of the regular fabric of our lives. Prayer is something that really releases God to work in the world and in our lives.

So on Sunday I am going to teach on prayer, but more importantly we are going to have a chance to practice prayer. We are going to have a time to actually pray for another. We are going to have a time to anoint people with oil,  because I believe that prayer can heal. Prayer can change lives. So that’s where we are going on Sunday. We are going to be looking at this passage:

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

Hope you can join us.

The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Devils, Distance, and Drawing Close ~ James 4

hand-of-god-1383050-1280x960On Sunday we looked at another pretty challenging teaching of James, but also one filled with hope and promise.

James writes this, ““So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you”. (James 4:7-8)

James is sharing that the heart you respond to God with, is how he will respond to you. That if you are open to God, seeking God, humbling yourself to God – he will draw you close. But if you are pushing him away, fighting him, and rejecting him – God honours our freedom but still seeks to care and have compassion for us.

So James reminds us to check our hearts, to see if they are pushing God away, or opening up to him. 

James also reminds us that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. And as I’ve said before, even if you don’t believe in the devil, you’ve experienced him. In the Bible the devil is the source of accusation, fear, and someone who actively seeks to separate ourselves from God. The truth is we have all felt accusation, and fear which separates us from God.

James wants to remind us that this doesn’t need to be so. That if we just were to resist the accusation, the guilt, the fear, the separation, the devil would flee and we would move closer to God. That if we would but draw close to God, he will draw close to us and the devil must flee as we move closer to God.

We ended up with a pretty clear main idea, that we need to repent and rely on God. 

God promises to be there with us, to push away the devil, accusation, guilt, and fear but we need to repent and rely on him. As long as we are going our own way, as long as we assert our independence, as long as we pretend we don’t need him – he can’t help us. He can’t help us when we are resisting and pushing him away.

So on Sunday to make this real, we did something I don’t often do. We did an altar call. We invited people to simply come forward who wanted to physically say to God ~ I need you in some area. And that was it.

But sometimes we need to do something tangible to connect with God. And the truth is we are all broken and need God, so we can all use with doing something tangible. 

So if you are in the place where you need God today – do something tangible. Maybe kneel, maybe write out your needs, maybe ask someone to pray. But do something, because God’s promise is that if you move closer to him, he’ll move closer to you.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to repent and rely on God.

Teaching Points:

  • “God gives what he demands” – Augustine
  • God will respond with the heart you have for him.
  • One of the primary roles of Satan is to separate God and people.
  • Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.
  • How often do we try to go it alone and hide our flaws?
  • We live with a lack of light, because we refuse to rely on him.
  • We need to repent and rely on God.

Adult Discussion Questions:

“The reason we struggle isn’t because we can’t overcome our failures, but because we are too proud to ask God to move.”  What do you think of this statement? Have you experienced the truth of these promises: that God WILL come near as we come to Him in true humility, and that Satan WILL flee from us as we resist him? What do you need to repent of? Confess? Get clean from? Admit? (Remember, this is how James says we come closer to God – it is crucial in our relationship with Him) About what things are you too proud to admit the truth? (Our pretending prevents God from working) How can you practically turn from these things and rely on God, beginning today?

 

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Have you ever needed help with something, but you didn’t want to admit that you couldn’t do it alone? How can we come to God today, letting Him be the one that helps us through our weaknesses and failures?

Challenge for the Week: To repent and rely on God…today.

Seven Words: “My God, My God Why Have You Forsaken Me” ~ Answering Jesus’ Question and Prayer

sevenlastwords-4On Sunday we discussed one of the last sayings of Jesus, where he cries out in a loud voice:

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And this is a verse with a lot of tensions and complexities. Many scholars don’t like the idea of the Father abandoning the Son. This also raises consternation and concern about the Father’s character for me too. So scholars offer two solutions. One, that Jesus isn’t actually being abandoned by God, he is just feeling like he is. But that just seems like semantics to me, and goes against what seems obvious: that Jesus is experiencing being abandoned by God, because he is being abandoned by God.

Other scholars point out that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 (which he is). And taking the Psalm as a whole, it ends with vindication. That the suffering victim is eventually vindicated, justified, and that God overcomes the wrongful suffering. So they say Jesus is actually saying that he will trust in God to overcome this wrong. They (rightly) point out that speaking on a cross is incredibly painful and difficult. So Jesus couldn’t have quoted the whole Psalm (I agree), so he quotes one verse to bring the whole Psalm into view.

Again though I just think this goes against the plain reading. If Jesus could only quote one verse because of pain, and wanted to talk about God vindicating him, he could have quoted the last verses of Psalm 22. But he doesn’t, he quotes a verse about being abandoned.

So even though I might not like the idea of the Father abandoning or forsaking his Son, I think we are left with the plain reading of Scripture.

But there is one obvious fact that needs to be stated, that actually changes the whole perspective of this verse. It is stated from Jesus’ perspective. We don’t hear the Father’s perspective. So Jesus is being forsaken by the Father, and then we assume, that the Father is above pouring out wrath on Jesus in an emotionless dispassionate state.

People struggle with this verse because it makes it seem like Jesus is nice, whereas, the Father is stern, uncaring, judge, who abandons his son when he needs it most. But this is all based on an assumption, that the Father is unmoved by what his Son is going through. And this assumption is wrong, and what I not only challenged but worked through in more detail (download the sermon for more).

Jurgen Moltmann writes,

“In forsaking the Son, the Father also surrenders himself, though not in the same way. For Jesus suffers dying in forsakenness, but not death itself; for men can no longer suffer death, because suffering presupposes life. But the Father who abandons him and delivers him up suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love…The son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son”.

And here is his key thought: “The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son.”

And this is what we need to get, that the Father and Son are both affected and separated because of our sin. It isn’t a singular choice on the Father’s side to abandon his son. It is a choice within the Trinity to experience the separation of sin so that we could be welcomed into fellowship with God. The Father doesn’t kill his Son, to forgive us. The Father experiences an abyss of separation from his beloved Son, so that we could become incorporated into the family of God. Sin ruptures, that’s what it does. And it does this at the heart of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus experienced being forsaken by the Father, and the Father experienced the death of the Son.

This led us to some simple but personal conclusions.

First, that we need to be in reverent thanks of what the Father, Son, and Spirit went through to include us in their life. The Son died, so we could live. And this affected all the Trinity, and for that we need to be grateful. We need to be reverently worshipful of the depth of what God went through for each and everyone of us.

Second, we talked about that sin is serious. That sin brought separation to the heart of God, and we need to own that. We did that. We killed the Son (read the Book of Acts). We need to recognize the seriousness of sin, and confess, repent, and rid ourselves of sin. If sin did this to God, we need to work at ridding ourselves of it.

So we ended with a challenge, to sit in thanks to God, and repent for sin. When we see the depth of what God went through, I think that is the right response: reverence and repentance.

Martin Luther said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?” I know for sure we don’t all understand it because of one sermon (I certainly don’t), but I hope we got a little closer and most of all, a little more reverent and repentant.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Jesus was abandoned by the Father for us; and the Father experienced the abandonment of the Son for us.

Teaching Points:

  • Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
  • “God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” – Martin Luther
  • Jesus’ death is a moment of cosmic significance, and the cosmos recognize it by darkening
  • This passage is not about us, but what Jesus is experiencing.
  • We need to be honest with text – Jesus is being forsaken
  • Jesus is stating what is true from his perspective
  • Just as Jesus was forsaken, so too was the Father forsaken from the Son
  • If our sin separates Jesus from the Father; it separates the Father from the Son.
  • The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. Moltmann
  • We cannot understand the depth of our sin, unless we understand that both Jesus and the Father are suffering in this moment on the cross.
  • The Son is losing the Father, but the Father is losing the Son.
  • Our sin doesn’t just affect Jesus, but affects God as a whole.
  • We should have holy and reverent awe for God.
  • We should repent and cast off sin.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you ever struggled with the idea of the Father forsaking the Son before? Had you ever thought of what the Father went through when Jesus died? What do you think it was like for him? How does it make you appreciate God? How does it change or deepen how you see sin?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Read the story today with your kids. Talk to them about the verse we read, about how Jesus was separated from his Dad because of our sin. About how hard it was, but that he did that for us. So that we can be loved, and welcomed in. Give them a chance to confess anything to Jesus in thankfulness for what he did.

Challenge for the Week: To sit and contemplate what Jesus went through, confess any sin, and reverently worship him this week

Where Are You God?

On Sunday we are tackling one of the most difficult texts in the Bible actually. It’s a familiar one so sometimes we don’t push back against it very much. But when you start to think about it – it raises tons of questions.

The text is this, where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And that’s the question we want to really pursue. Why? Why? Why would the Father abandon his only Son? Why would the Father who is demonstrated and revealed by Jesus to be full of grace and forgiveness – abandon his Son when he needed him the most?

And don’t just give the easy answer of – “well he did this for our sin. “

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, one of my Jr. High’s pointed out, “sometimes the problems’ with the easy answers.” I had just told him that exact answer, and in clarity he raised a new tension for me with this verse.

He said this:

“Well Andrew, when I forgive my sister I don’t have to kill my cat, or abandon my dog. Why does God kill his son, and abandon him. Why doesn’t he just forgive?”

And that gets to the heart of the tension with this text – why God? Why are you doing this? What is going on? WHY?

And we’re in good company raising our voices, shouting, and screaming “why would you do this God”?  Because Jesus does the same thing.

So we are going to try to walk through some of this, examine it, and hope to find some answers. It will be tough, as Martin Luther the great reformer said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?”

Well on Sunday we are going to give it a shot.

No Such Thing as Individual Prayer

1427656_44384918Andrew Root writes something that is both simple, and beautiful:
Prayer is a relationship because prayer cannot be done alone.
And that is true. When you are praying it is never done alone. It is done with others, in the power of the Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to God the Father. Prayer is a relationship, because it is based in relationships and changes relationships. So the next time you are praying, remember you aren’t doing it alone. And remember most of all prayer is a relationship, and it’s a relationship worth investing in.

The Fallacy of “Prayer Techniques”

1427667_31525848Eugene Peterson writes something brilliant. Okay most of what he writes is brilliant but especially this:

“In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

What Peterson is reacting against is our technique-driven mentality. That if we just get the technique right, the outcome will be right. That all we need to master is the mechanics for us to muster up the right result.

And this is fine in some things, but this doesn’t work in relationships. Relationships aren’t a means to an end. Relationships aren’t about efficiency and effectiveness; relationships are about intimacy. And this matters in prayer.

There is nothing wrong with trying to grow in prayer, and devoting yourself to it. But if all you focus on is the “right techniques, tips, and tricks” your prayer life won’t grow but will become stagnant. Because techniques do not develop a relationship, time does. Tips don’t make a covenant, commitment does. Tricks don’t increase intimacy, interaction does. 

So while there is nothing wrong with techniques, tips, and tricks in some things – it doesn’t relate well to prayer. Because prayer is fundamentally about a relationship. It is a conversation, it is an intimacy, and it is an interaction with God. And Eugene Peterson is right when we come to prayer first from a standpoint of technique, we’ve already missed the point. And I would say we end up missing God. Prayer isn’t a technique but a personal relationship that needs to be invested in, cherished, and grown in. Techniques can help, sure, but they are not a substitute for time and growth.

So my challenge to all of us, myself included, is this: rather than focusing on the techniques, and methods of prayer ~ focus on Jesus and the relationship. Because I think Peterson is right “In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

The Joy of a Ziggle

What is a ziggle you may ask? Only the most amazing toy ever. Hudson has one of these at daycare, and just loves it. So I found it online, got it shipped, and Hudson had one of the best days of his life. Here is a video of him on it:

 

He loves the speed, he loves “ziggling”, and scootering around. He loves spinning faster and faster. He just has such a sense of joy with it.

Here is what struck me with Hudson. Do I get that amount of joy out of anything? I mean Hudson gets pure joy out of the ziggle? Is there anything that gives me that much joy in life?

I don’t ask that question in a downer way or depressing way. I would say I’m a pretty happy, and optimistic person. I ask that question out of a “depth or capacity” concern.

What I mean by that is this: have I through the process of living lost some of my ability to deeply feel joy?

Has my ability to fully experience joy been lessened by living life? Have I lost some capacity for joy, life, and love? Because Jesus is clear – he has come to give life abundant, full life, and joyous life (John 10:10). But have I lost some of that?

And if I’m honest, in some ways the answer to those questions are…yes. In some ways I don’t seem to enter into life as fully as Hudson.  I’m not as prepared as he is to shout with joy.  I’m not maybe as ready to experience joy as deep as he does. And for me this isn’t a guilty thing. This is just a real thing that I hope to change.

And here is how I’m going to change it in three steps.

  1. I’m going to pray and ask God for more joy. I don’t think I’ve ever really done this. But it seems like a good place to start. If you read the Psalms (like 51:8, 12) the writers are often asking for joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so it’s something that we can be given more of.  Just like we can pray and ask for more patience and self-control. So why not ask for more joy? Seems like a good thing to get to me!
  2. I’m going to spend more time with my boys. I think if you find a source of joy, stick with it. And Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to the childlike. So I’m going to learn from them how to enter the moment.
  3. Last but not least, I’m going to try to have more margin in my life. I’ve noticed the busier I am, the less joyful I feel. So I’m going to try to change this and really enter into the moment.

So those are some of the things I’ve been learning from Hudson, and I think it’s worth thinking about. Oh and there is one more step to finding joy…seeing if anyone makes an adult sized ziggle 🙂