Saturday, March 19, 2011

What's in A Prayer?

“What’s In A Prayer”

Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 11:1-4, 9-13

March 20, 2011



Jed and Henry were strolling through what they thought was a field of grass one day when they came within eyeshot of an angry bull. The bull was pawing the ground in front of him as he prepared to charge the unwelcomed intruders. Jed and Henry looked at the bull in fright and dismay as Jed asked “what shall we do?” Henry saw a barbed wire fence about a hundred yards away. “Let’s run for the fence,” shouted Henry. They both took off in the direction of the fence, running as fast as they could get their feet and legs to go. The bull was gaining on them as they were getting closer to the fence, but there seemed little chance they would make it before the bull bore down on them with full force. Henry shouted to Jed “pray for us.” Jed told Henry he didn’t know how to pray. “Just pray something,” shouted Henry. So, Jed prayed the only prayer he remembered his Dad praying; “Father, for what we are about to receive we give you thanks.”

We can laugh at this story and recognize at the same time that we are often in the shoes of Jed and Henry. Each Sunday we say or sing the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples at their request. We learn that prayer as a child and are able to recite it on command; much like Jed recited his as the bull approached from behind. How do we pray when there’s no bull in sight? What’s really in a prayer as Jesus taught us? Why is prayer so important to our lives? Scripture gives us some insight into the relationship of prayer.

Position: Jesus said; “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name.” Notice that it starts with a relationship. The position we assume in the beginning of our prayer is one of personally relating to the one to whom we pray. That personal relationship is as next of kin. Let’s not confuse that relationship as sibling, with whom we have rivalry. That position in relationship is as child to parent. In ancient times, children were property, not having rights equal to the parent. Parents were revered and respected as having authority and power over the child, and parents were entrusted before God in the Jewish tradition to bring up a child in the knowledge of God. The father was not only one in authority, but also one who was trusted and entrusted with the safety and very lives of the family. When we pray, we do so from the position as “not my own,” but that of His. Many fathers today could not stand up to the test of Biblical fatherhood, but nevertheless we are instructed to approach God as one from whom all beneficence arises. Jesus points out that if earthy parents who are unholy can give good gifts as well, how much more capable is our heavenly Parent, who is the embodiment of goodness and grace, deliver that which is good for us. So the first element in our prayers has less to do with what we say than where we position ourselves in relationship with Him. God doesn’t need Himself to be elevated to highest position; we need for ourselves to be humbled to a position where a relationship with God can occur. The second point is similar to the first, but also vastly different.

Disposition: Wikipedia defines disposition as a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way. We’ve known folks with positive and negative (what we call good and bad) dispositions. The former is much more pleasant to be around. From where does one’s disposition come? It’s not the devil who makes us do it (though the devil will take the credit wherever she can), rather it is our hearts and minds turned to self as central, opposing the center of love that we are called to and saved by – God. When Jesus taught us “hallowed be” God’s name, He was reminding us that the very character of God is holy, set apart from the nature of this world. This infers that when we pray, we are pre-disposed (our intended disposition, preparation, intent to act) to an attitude of reverence for who God is. He calls us to a place of awe and wonder before Him, marveling at His splendor, His Kingdom, as it is coming to pass here within us as it is solidly grounded in heaven. Many of us are guilty of approaching God as our personal vending machine, to be used at our whim, for our gratification and satisfaction. When we get in the habit of calling on the name of Jesus or God every time we are confronted with frustration, challenges, or opposition to our agenda, we are not dispositional to a relationship with God. God is neither our vending machine nor our personal “fetch it” dog, but He can handle whatever is on our hearts and minds. If you’re angry that something has not gone your way (or the way you believe it needed to go to be good), God already knows, but He wants you to know the absurdity of placing your agenda above Him. He wants us to be with Him in prayer possessing a disposition of surrender before Him.  Adam and Eve discovered in the Garden that putting self-agenda’s before God’s agenda that looks out for the good of all, leads to separation from God. Jesus came through the garden again to heal what they had done. He embodied the disposition of love and surrender that has translated to grace and mercy for each of us as Adam and Eve’s descendants.

Requisition: After we’ve acknowledged our position before God and aligned our disposition to relationship with Him, we’re in a place where our requests can be submitted. Note that in our scripture today from Luke reads: “Give us each day our daily bread (and) forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Notice that Jesus instructs us to ask for our daily needs; bread to eat and bread of life – relationship with Him, but also, He goes deeper. He tells us to ask for forgiveness of our sins against Him because we have forgiven all who have sinned against us. Interesting dynamic, isn’t it? God forgives when we are forgiving? Does this mean that we are to be door mats and lay down to have others wipe their feet on us? Not at all! This does not speak to modern day co-dependent behaviors, but rather to the act of forgiveness of those who have harmed us, offended us, abused us, outside of our permission and will. The mother, father, sister, brother who may have abused us is as an example. The friend who betrayed us; the lover who cheated us; the spouse who left us; the neighbor who gossiped about us; the murderer who took the life of our loved ones – all have wronged us and have sinned against us and our imperative response is to forgive. Forgiveness is not only an action, but also a state of being. In the chemical world there are certain compounds or even elements that act as catalysts in chemical transformations. Two compounds coming together alone would not interact. In the presence of the catalyst, however, an interaction occurs; changing the nature of the two compounds, but the catalyst is not changed. The state of forgiveness is the catalyst that changes the interaction between ourselves and God from one of contention, to one of unity of heart and soul. This is where a change of mind about our own state of ability to forgive results in an eternal heart and soul change before God. Then we are truly ready to “ask and it will be given to you.” This is where many stop. There is more to prayer. There is the action that comes with it; the seeking and the knocking!

Action: Many go to this place of action first before attending to position, disposition, and clearly looking at in what proposition they are making. Action is the follow through, not the lead in. Some throw around the name of Jesus as though that action will submit to them all authority. To act in Jesus’ name is to be living in His character. To be living in His character is to be positioned at God’s feet, disposed to a heart of forgiveness, and walking in a state of acknowledged grace. God doesn’t want us at His feet for His sake, but rather He wants us there for our sake. When we are spiritually there, we are in a position to act in the direction of our prayers. Jesus tells us to “seek” in order to find; to “knock” for the door to be opened. How many times have we prayed for something, leapt from our knees and done nothing in the direction of our prayer? Want to know what to be doing? Listen to your prayers. Financial times have been tough the last couple of years. We have been praying for more income here at the church so that we can carry out the mission to which He has called us here. That means we have to act in the direction of our prayers. We’ve cut expenses where we can; we’ve cut back to a place that has almost crippled us from accomplishing the call….I said almost! We’ve also begun new initiatives that fly in the face of financial ability – small groups;; SpiritSong Institute; all designed to draw us to a closer relationship with Him. We’re seeking grants, we’re letting folks know our financial need and we’re asking ourselves to be challenged to give more generously and more faithfully. If you’ve been praying for a job, but not going out to seek one, you’re not fulfilling your part of the prayer. Now I’m not saying that your continued or extended unemployment is your entire fault; I’m simply encouraging you to be a part of your answered prayer. God’s answer to our prayers can come even when we’re looking in different directions. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. God calls us to act in the direction of solutions, not react in the direction of fear or disillusionment. He calls us to ask for what we need, seek to find the solution and knock on the doors of opportunity to be opened to us. If you’re not acting in the direction of the answer to your prayer, you’re doing something other than prayer. 


Prayer is position, disposition, proposition and action. What’s in your prayers?




Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Much for the Treasure?

“How Much for the Treasure?”

Pastor Tom Millner

Matthew 13:44-46

March 6, 2011


Jesus used a number of statements about the kingdom of heaven to gain the attention of folks, yet few really seemed to understand. Not even His disciples were savvy to His teachings. Everyone was looking for the earthly kingdom; so much of what Jesus was saying may have made little sense to the crowds around Him.  It was more in retrospect that these words of Jesus bore greatest meaning to those who heard. We’ve heard it said that “the kingdom of God is now and not yet.” Human nature hasn’t changed much over the years, even with the Good News of God’s grace and provision for us. We have been given, by the grace of God, the most precious gift – life Himself, as our brother, Father, our next of kin. What we fail to do is enjoy the relationship because we are too busy trying to hang on to OUR goals; OUR possessions; OUR feelings; OUR hurts, and OUR accomplishments. The illustrations that Jesus used in today’s scripture point us to a different action. If we’ve found in Him the greatest treasure, what would we give in exchange? Grace is free, but it’s not cheap! We want the treasure that He gives and all our “stuff” too. Our “stuff,” according to Isaiah, is nothing more than menstrual rags! The purpose of being born again in Him is new birth in His character; the one that is pure before God because of His sacrifice of all that was self-interest. And that sacrifice was all for me and for you! What does it mean, then to be born again? It means taking off the old and living in the new. Though the redemption work has been done, the treasure is not free and clear until all that we hang on to has been disposed of. In each of the scriptural illustrations today we see that ALL the person possessed was sold in exchange for the newly found treasure. Getting rid of OUR treasure is the cost of discipleship. I’d like to offer three points of encouragement this morning.

1.       The Kingdom is worth more than a tag sale. Jesus said that each of the characters in His illustration went and sold all that they possessed and then went and purchased the treasure (Kingdom) they had found. Many of us, however, don’t want to get rid of all our stuff. Therefore, we engage in our own little tag sale, saving up for when we believe we’ll have enough to make the purchase complete. Let me look through my emotional and character trait attic and see what things I can easily discard. Let’s see, there’s my old resentment of Mary Lou who called me names in second grade. That can go, but the resentment of my Dad who put me down so much; well, that’s too precious to let go of yet. Ah, here’s my demonstrated talent. Let me package that up for the tag sale. Maybe they won’t notice that their use for His kingdom is restricted to what I like or have interest in. Oh and here’s two cups of coffee at the local hangout that I’ll sacrifice as my giving. They won’t notice that my tithe has gone to fund my own interests. Here’s my lust for attention. What a treasure! I’d throw that in the sale, but I’d just miss it too much. What on earth would I have to entertain me or to affirm me? On the other hand, here’s my pitied self; the one that has been so misunderstood, unloved because things didn’t go my way self. I’ll put that out for sale. No, wait, that has been such an old friend, I can’t bear to part with it now. Sound familiar? You’ve heard all these and more and struggled with letting go of any or all. God wants us to get rid of them all, to let them go forever and replace them with Kingdom living. He wants us living in the place He is present, the one without resentment, hostility, impatience, control, and fear of loss. That’s the place of relationship; a place of wholeness, a place where we can own our actions and say forgive me without trying to justify. That is a place of relationship where Kingdom growth occurs; the place where His will is done here on earth just as it is in heaven. He paid the price for our participation!

2.      Jesus saves so we can invest. John 3:16 tells us that because of God’s love, He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life instead. We said last week that everlasting life is not a future event to happen sometime in the future; it is both now and then! We don’t have to save ourselves. God’s done all the saving. When we truly recognize that He’s done all the saving, we can let go of our self-saving attitudes and behaviors and start investing in the relationship to which He calls us! That investment is one of time with Him in prayer and meditation, time in loving fellowship with others who share in the relationship with Him, and giving of your tithes and talents for the advancement of His Kingdom. These are investments that yield a higher return for a higher good than any of us could ever earn. We can afford them because God has already given us His savings to invest! We more often than not act as though we are giving away what we’ve somehow earned or deserved. The reality is that God has given freely for our good and the full joy of His gift to us is only experienced when we invest it back for the good of His kingdom. When I invest, we all reap a return. When I invest out of the bounty from which I have been given, the return is far greater than my investment. John 15: 7-8 read; “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” There is much to be gained for the kingdom when we invest (remain) in Him. 

3.      God's exchange rate is in our favor. When we were in England a few years ago we were always watching the exchange rate at various locations. Sometimes the best rate wasn’t the best when fees were added. We were always looking to get the most in exchange because the dollar was valued so much less than the pound. The Brits come here and they’re in heaven, so to speak. What we think is expensive here is virtually half the price to the Brits. Looking for the best exchange rate? Let me tell you about one that’s to die for. You see, God (Who is the creator of all that is, was, and ever will be) exchanged His position as God to become like us. When He did that, He was the perfect example of how and why He created mankind in the first place. He did this because the rift between us and our selfish desires to be in command was so great that only God could restore it. So. He gave up EVERYTHING for us to be restored to relationship with Him. In exchange, He asks that we give up also and take on the character that over lays us now; the very character of Christ. To live in Him is to engage a relationship with Him that honors Him first, and honors others as being as worthy of honor as yourself. He does not call us to physical pain and death for His sake. Physical pain and death are a part of being in this human form. He calls us to exchange our filthy rags for the robes of righteousness that He has already acquired for us through His own ungodly pain and suffering! To receive the treasure of eternity that cannot be gained by our own searching or efforts, all we have to give is our hearts. To gain the joy of our inheritance we exchange our mind, body, heart, and soul. His exchange rate is so very much in our favor!


So knowing that the kingdom is worth more than a few items at a tag sale and that Jesus saves so we can invest, and that God’s exchange rate is in our favor, what are you going to do? Revelation 3:20 reads “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Is it worth your investment of energy to answer the door? Get ready for a house cleaning, an investment portfolio that doesn’t fail, and an exchange rate to die for!