Monday, October 17, 2016

Prayer for others (part 1) proactive, kingdom agenda prayer...(Matthew 9:35-10:4, Phillippians 1:3-10) Prayer nuts and Bolt's (part 3)

Over the month of October at St Peter’s we have a season of prayer. As the parish council have worked through our strategic plan we identified eight key areas that we needed to focus on if our church is to continue seeing our vision of being ‘an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring other to join us on the journey’ be more than just words. Prayer is central to the vibrancy of a church. It helps us to grow in Christ, and it is the starting point and engine of mission and outreach. This year the parish council asked if we could look at the nuts and bolts of prayer, prayer 101. Just some simple thoughts and teaching on prayer. Some of the nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological. But our hope is that we may grow in our prayer lives here at St Peter.

Today I simply want to look at Praying for others. How do we pray for other people and what difference does it make. I’m going to take two weeks to look at this because I actually think it such a big topic. Today we are going to look at Praying for others in terms of a proactive prayer and care for people and next week we will look at praying for people at their point of need. We can often thing of Prayer like medicine or ointment, only to be used in case someone is sick or like the fire alarm in a big building, in case of emergency break the glass and pray. But in scripture we see praying for others is not only for pastoral needs and issues but is part of God’s mission and part of our ongoing spiritual development and maturity… it’s proactive.

I want to start with a good story from last week at the Prayer and Healing service… Moray shared with me what had happened a year ago at Glenfield Presbyterian Church.

Moray was extremely sick and weak and very much on the road to becoming incapacitated and an invalid. He dragged himself to church one morning with his wife… as he came into the church a man said to him, the whole church is going to pray for you today brother…’ and during the service this same man went up to the Minister Emma Keown and asked if the church could pray for Moray. They stopped the worship and did just that… the whole church, gathered round him and prayed. Moray said from that very moment his life began to change instead of this gradual inevitable decline he found that his life, energy, and joy started coming back. Even though he still felt he had a ways to go on Sunday evening there was a real vibrancy about him, and it was great to see him praying with others for God to do the same things in them that God had done for him.

How do we pray for others?  Well the best way to explore that question is to look at the scripture… there are many examples of this kind of prayer  in the scriptures. I’ve chosen two prayers in particular. The first is Jesus invitation for his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest field in response to what he sees in the villages and towns he has been moving through and ministering in. The second is an example of Paul’s prayer for a church that he is writing to mainly the church in Philippi. Then I just want to draw some practical thoughts and encouragement for us and our prayer lives.

Jesus has been going round and preaching and healing people and as he has done that he gets a good idea of what the crowds are like. He sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd. Tired, confused with no direction. In fact the image according to RVG Tasker is that “the crowds are like sheep worried by dogs and left lying on the ground unable to exert themselves’. He sees that they have a deep spiritual need. In the Old Testament this image is used of the people of Israel when they don’t have a leader. It used in Numbers 27:17 as Moses chooses Joshua as his successor, so that Israel wouldn’t find themselves in that situation. Here the new Joshua, jeshua ‘saviour’ wants to fulfill that need.

Jesus prayer life comes out of his interaction with the people around him, it comes out of his ministry with and to them, it is an example of his compassion. He sees their need and sees the possibility for the Kingdom of God to bring change and make a difference and so he asks his disciples to Pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers into the field. 

It’s interesting that these people are the same people he then sends on a short term mission trip out into the villages and towns amongst the sheep without a shepherd to tell them that the Kingdom of God is near.

What does this have to say to us about praying for others? First thing is that Prayer comes from our engagement with God and our engagement with the world around us. Prayer for others comes as we allow God to lead us into the deep spiritual needs of other people. In the villages and towns we live in we are the people who bring God’s love and kingdom with us. We are Christ’s witnesses and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Prayer for other people comes out of that call and sharing Christ’s compassion for people as well. Be it the needs they present or the deeper often unperceived needs that only reconciliation with Christ can solve and heal and make new.

Often people see prayer as a cop out, an easy alternative to real action… we live in the world of facebook activism, where people can be outraged and upset and genuinely moved by issues and concerns round the world, and they respond with a status post or a like on their facebook wall… and really nothing changes… they just feel better… But here we see Prayer leads to action. It is those Jesus calls to pray who end out being part of the answer to their own prayer. Prayer is action and goes hand in hand with our willingness to respond and go, as workers into the field.

Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk; he was always looking for more time to spend in contemplation and on retreat. But out of that time alone with God flowed some of the most profound theological thought of the twentieth century. Merton wrote about nuclear war and non-violence and ways for people of different religions to get along. His prayer and meditation life didn’t draw him away from the world rather it meant he could see the world more clearly from a Kingdom of God perspective. His writings from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s are still sort and read. I remember a Dr Wong from Hong Kong sharing about ministering in communist china and seeing God moving in people’s lives. In the midst of his message he stopped talking about the miracles he was seeing and the people coming to Christ and he began talking about a little old lady, who lived way up in a multi-story apartment block. She was virtually a shut in, other people had to bring her groceries and he said that this women and people like her were the reason things were happening in China. She could hardly walk but she spend most of her day and night kneeling in prayer for her country… She couldn’t go but in prayer life Dr Wong saw the impact her prayers were having.

Paul writes a prayer at the beginning of all the letters he writes to churches and individuals. It’s part of the formal structure of letters in Paul’s day. We have the address, a greeting and a prayer. Kind of like when I’m writing a letter to someone, which is a lost art these days?  You might start dear Bob, I hope you are well. Paul rather offers a prayer for them. It’s a prayer that starts with thanksgiving. In the case of the book of Philippians, Paul gives thanks for the way that the church in philippi has responded to his ministry, how they partner in the gospel; later we find out they have sent him a gift when he is in prison, but they have also stood up for the gospel.

His thanks giving also leads to an assurance that God will bring to completion the work he has begun in Jesus Christ within them. It’s not a vain hope because he sees the real evidence of how they have persevered in the gospel. When you pray for people giving thanks is a good thing to start with.  Like with the whole ACTS prayer, when we start with Adoration and thanksgiving it allows you to put things into perspective. When I pray for people in a ministry situation I will often thank God for that person, that they are loved by God, he has made them a unique and valuable person, that Christ died for them and rose for them, that he has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in them.

Lets face it some people are hard to pray for… Jesus says we are to pray for those who persecute you, to love our enemies, and giving thanks for a person is a good way of starting to that process. I don’t like them they are doing bad things to me, but thank you God that you love them, that you forgive and change. I will often have very negative thoughts about my father and as a way of changing that I will give thanks for the things he was good at.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t dings in my soul because my relationship with him, but it allows me to put it into perspective. It’s kind of like in the Lord ’s Prayer when it says forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Often that process of healing and forgiveness starts in prayer in simply telling God we forgive them and then letting it develop into our lives. Paul writes a pretty sever letter to the Church in Corinth but it starts with thanksgiving.

Secondly, Paul prays for the churches he writes to, it’s interesting that often he is writing to churches in times of need, either facing persecution from the outside or wrestling with deep divide or issues from within, but his prayers focus on the growth of those churches to maturity in Christ. In Paul’s prayer fr the Philippians it’s that they may grow more and more in the depth of their love and knowledge of Christ and that that would continue to be manifest in the decisions they made and how they lived. We can think that when we pray for another person the reason we do that is that there is a great need or circumstance. But Paul’s focus is on the important thing that they may growing their faith and knowing of Jesus Christ. He is deeply aware of the problems and issues and circumstances they are in but again in prayer his agenda is set by the Kingdom of God.

The image that went along with the service this morning was of someone helping someone else up a rock face. We can think of prayer as reaching down when people are in need and helping pull them up our of difficult situations or issues… and it can be that… as we saw before its an expression of God’s compassion and ours. But we can often forget that climbing is a team sport it’s not just helping out in times of trouble but being here to help each other up. TO lift one another up in prayer. Prayer as a team working with God to see each other and the world be bought into relationship with God and to grow in that relationship and see it enable us to bring God’s kingdom with God’s Spirit’s help.

For our church to grow in our vision, together as a loving community, in our discipleship of Jesus Christ, and in our mission and outreach, we need to be praying for the church and for each other...This week for homework I want to invite you to commit to praying for a person in this congregation. We are going to do it by using what I call Prayer darts. I want to invite you to put your name… maybe just your first name on this piece of paper that is coming round. Under thanksgiving I want you to write one or more things that you would like to give thanks for. Then you’ll see a space for writing something or somethings that you’d like for people to pray in terms of growing in your faith.  Finally there is space if there are needs you’d like prayer for. Then we are going to make a dart out of them and throw them about the church for a few minutes and then I’d invite you to get one of these darts… if you get your own then toss it in the air again… and commit yourself to praying for that person over the week. Someone will be praying for you as well.
(feel free to download this template for prayer darts and use it...)

Monday, October 10, 2016

The content of prayer as speech ACTS... Prayer Nuts'n'Bolts part 2 (psalm 51, Matthew 6:9-15)

You know I’m sure that two teenagers in love would probably think that they are having deep and meaningful conversations, sharing intimacy as they talk with each other over the phone. Although I am informed that no one, and definitely not teenagers these day, spend time talking over the phone… they txt each other and send emojies to express their feelings… (smiley face smiley face) or they message each other or send photos over snap chat. Which opens up a whole can of worms?  But back in the dim dark land line era…last decade, last century a millennium ago… before smart phones…hours were spent by teenagers in love on the phone right…in deep conversation… ’love you’… ‘me too’… long silence and deep heavy sigh…’can’t wait to see you again tomorrow’…’me too’…’it’s been so long since  I’ve seen you I mean you only left here half an hour ago, but it feels like forever’…’yeah’… long silence heavy sigh… ‘love you’… ‘me too’… hey my mom says I have to hang up now. It’s so unfair’’…’ok’…’Bye’… ‘Bye’… ‘are you going to hang up?’… ‘no you hang up first… ‘no you’… we’ll do it together on three’… ‘Ok’ …one …two… three…’(pause)… ‘you didn’t hang up’…’you didn’t hang up either’… ok this time…one, two… three’ …well you get the idea. For some of you it was probably bring back fond memories or deep frustrations as a parent trying to use the phone.

Maybe I’m doing teenagers a disservice, I kind of remember phone conversations like that when I was a lad, and the real emotions and buzz that went into them.  But as I’ve gotten older and got married I realize that content actually matters as well, being able to share more of one’s self on a deeper and deeper level , to be able to wrestle together, perhaps a bad choice of words, with issues that need resolution and action that starts with conversation, conversation in which content matters. It’s the same with prayer… content matters…it is both communication that develops intimacy with God… and also the basis of the Kingdom of God coming into our lives and world, as we pray and act.

October at St Peter’s is our season of Prayer. AS a parish council we have Identified Prayer as one of eight key areas we need to focus on to see our vision of being an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey’ continue to blossom into reality more and more. So we’ve set aside a month to focus on and encourage our prayer lives to grow and develop and deepen. This year the focus is on the nuts and bolts of Prayer, or Prayer 101, looking at a very basic level at points about prayer and some practises that might help our prayer life to grow. Some of those nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological.

Last week we looked at the fact that prayer was answering speech to God… We pray as our response to God speaking to us. AS such the language we use should be natural and be us speaking to God.  I finished by encouraging people to simply take ten minutes in the day to sit and just talk with Jesus, as Jesus is always with us, and to help that to happen to visualize Jesus sitting in an empty chair or walking beside us.  

This week we are simply going to explore a helpful way of looking at the content and structure of Prayer. We are going to use the mnemonic ACTS to talk about key elements of prayer… Adoration… Confession… Thanksgiving… and Supplication. To do that our bible readings today were two prayers. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and David’s prayer of confession and repentance when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet over his adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiring to have her husband Uriah killed in battle: Psalm 51. Writer, Presbyterian Pastor and church planter, Tim Keller says that “this traditional form of prayer, adoration, confession, thanks giving and supplication are concrete practises as well as profound experience.”

Adoration… is a word that means looking at and appreciating. Looking and knowing and expressing who God is. Adoration is a good place to start Prayer, as it causes us to focus on God. It puts everything else into perspective when we gaze at praise our God. The Lord’s prayer starts with ”our father in heaven Hallowed be thy name’ and there are sermon after profound sermon, reflection after profound reflection in that simple phrase. We see that God is a loving parent. God is spirit and different and distinct from what he created. We see an affirmation of God’s Holiness and as the Prayer goes on Jesus and our longing is that the goodness and justice of this good and Just God may grow and grow and fill the earth. 

Prayer is answering speech to God and as God reveals himself to us, through scripture, through Christ, adoration is the starting point of affirming that revelation. If you remember from last week when we looked at Psalm 5 this holy nature of God was the basis on which David felt he could come with his problems and lament before God. God is not like some corrupt politician who will give sly wink or turn a blind eye to injustice or evil. And God is full of mercy and grace and cares for his people deeply. When we see the depth of the love of Jesus Christ shown in his life and death, it causes us to want to love others more deeply more selflessly. When we see the sovereignty of God, it allows us to face up to, and persevere, through hard and difficult times knowing God is in control. When we think of his immanence, his closeness: That the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it gives us comfort even in the face of the worst of times. Knowing who God is and affirming it in adoration puts it all into perspective.

Confession:  It’s interesting one of things I was reading about prayer this week said that Prayer is the ongoing process of self-awareness our continuing self-knowledge. AS we look at who God is we become aware of who we are as well. That we are loved, that we are cherished and blessed by God, we have found new life and are becoming a new creation in Christ. But we also become aware of the darkness the shadow and the things that do not reflect the one who loves us. So confession is the way of getting that stuff out. Bringing it before God and allowing his to forgive and start the process of transformation. We are often blind to our own faults and the things that we do that are wrong. You can see that David was well on the path of not owning up or facing the depth of the evil he had committed until God used Nathan to expose it. David’s response is this wonderful prayer of contrition asking for forgiveness. Note it’s not a grovelling prayer in vain hope a last ditch effort to somehow get off the hook. David knows both God’s justice and also his mercy and grace. He is aware that God isn’t going too placated by an outward show of remorse, but will only be satisfied with a brokenness that God himself will be able to heal and bring restoration and new life to. We are called to confess our sins not hide them away like we do the dirty laundry or dirty dishes when someone comes to visit. But be willing to confess them trusting as it says in 1 John 1:10 that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and remove all of it.

One of the things that as Christians we need to be careful about is the difference between condemnation and conviction. In Romans 8:1 Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and called according to his name…  to be condemned is destined to always live under the weight and guilt and shame of something to face the consequences…Condemnation does not bring change it just brings punishment, we beat ourselves up over it.  But in Christ we are forgiven and set free… to be convicted of something by the Holy Spirit is to have it pointed out so that we can deal it, we can plead guilty and ask for forgiveness and mercy and be able to change. In the Lord’s Prayer that change can be seen in the line “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against others”.

Thanksgiving: While adoration focuses on who God is Thanksgiving invites us to see what God has done. To open our eyes to God’s provision, in creation, his grace in forgiving and caring for us, answer to prayer, which we come to Supplication or asking prayer gives us the faith to pray knowing God answers Prayer. It invites us to look about us and to see where we have encountered and met God in the our everyday lives. It may be a simple emoje (Smiley face, Smiley face) sent from a good friend in the midst of a depressingly dreary day, right through to big things. We are going to finish our service today by singing “all the way my saviour leads Me” which was written by Fanny Crosby, the blind hymn writer, on the very day she didn’t have her rent money and risked eviction from her apartment only to be handed some money by a complete stranger in the street, which was just the right amount she needed.    Thank fullness helps us to turn our eyes from the things that would bring us down to the way in which we have been blessed by God.  It allows us to see God in action and moving all around us.

Supplication: I actually think as a word supplication coming back into regular use. Not in its long form but in some urban youth cultures people will greet each other with “s’up” which is short for ‘what’s up’ and like supplication it is asking a question. Supplication is asking prayer. It’s bringing our world and our needs and our concerns before God. Again as we have worshipped and given God adoration we do this with confidence of who God is and the goodness of God we have seen in his actions. In the run into the Lord’s Prayer in Matthews Gospel Jesus us reminds us that our father knows what we need even before we ask him.

Sometimes we might think our God is too thin, as JB Phillip’s puts it, that God is just a cosmic credit card, that we can use to get all our wants and fulfill our every whim. But as the Lord’s Prayer points out that our first asking prayer is always for God’s agenda to be fulfilled… Your Kingdom come… your will be done on earth as in heaven. It then goes on to look at God providing what we need to carry on doing our part in that ‘give us today our daily bread’.  After his talking about prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus moves on to talk about economics in the kingdom of God. He invites us not to be anxious about anything, but rather to put first ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’ 

But also elsewhere in Luke 18.. We are encouraged to pray in every situation with all kinds of prayer . We can bring our concerns for God’s world and our to him, knowing that God hears and that God cares.

Ok content Matters and ACTS is a good way of looking at what goes into making up prayer. And this week I want to conclude by simply offering you a gift to help you in your prayer life. I don’t know about you but as I’ve always been told that if you want to make sense of your thoughts and ideas then it’s a good thing to write them down. We talked a communication in marriage and when Kris and I were going out I would sit down and write Kris these long letters… almost daily… keeping her up to date with what was going on… in my own soppy but sweet way letting her know how I felt about her… and Kris well wasn’t so good at writing back… when the letter did come I knew why… it was because she’d had a really hard time… her next door neighbour had tried to burn down her parents’ house… she’d had a mole cut out of her back… But for me writing even though’ I ain’t that good at English aye’… is a way of being able to express myself… Writing things down or writing your prayers out is also a good way of being able to gather your thoughts to focus you. Down through the ages God’s people have found the practise and disciple of keeping a journal or a prayer journal as a wonderful aid for prayer. Not only does it help them to focus and express themselves It is also a good thing to be able to go back and see what they had written what things they were learning about God and to see how God had answered prayer.

So this week I want to give you a gift… something I made myself. It’s just a simple seven day prayer dairy. With each day of the week inviting you to take some time to sit and pray what is on your heart. You can use notes or bullet points or poetry or long prose. But I invite you to write and then pray a prayer. Maybe at the end of the day might be the best time to do that. You might want to write a bible verse from your daily bible reading down on it as well. Then at the end of the week sit down and see where in that short time you feel you’ve come. Maybe there might be a thread running through them. This is a link for online readers to the prayer journal in a pdf formate... please feel free to download and use.  If you find this helpful I know at Church store they have some lovely printed journals or you may simply want to get an exercise book. But give it a go… The titles Adoration Confession, thanksgiving supplication are just like training wheels to help us start the Prayer journal and the prayer journey. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Reflection on Psalm 29 and Mark 4:35-41

This was written for a communion service at a retirment village. I was informed that the sermon could only take five minutes... So it is a radically cut down version of another sermon I have preached. But is also an update on my reflections ofn the two passages. Psalm 29 and Mark 4:35-41
There are always those storms that stick in our minds.

The storm that sunk the whahine in Wellington Harbour… My dad wasn’t on the boat but he was on a business trip to wellington that day… due to fly home… I remember the relief my mother had when he rang that night saying he was Ok. He was in a hotel because he  couldn’t fly out.

Cyclone Bola… I was working in a tunnel house complex in Te puke at the time. AS the winds began to rise and the dark storm clouds collected on the horizon. I found myself two stories up standing splay footed in a guttering frantically trying to repair our plastic roof before the storm hit. I was anchoring the plastic sheet down, I was holding a sail area more than a n Americas cup yacht.. When they had sails… while someone attached it. I half-jokingly said to my boss, now would be a good time to talk about danger money.  We had to do it all over again of course when the storm finally cleared. I was also on the first flight out of Tauranga after the storm a frightfully bumpy experience. I also remember the surf at the mount the week after the storm. Some of the best I’ve even been in.

Psalm 29 is a vivid picture of a storm coming up off the Mediterranean Sea, sweeping over the hills of Lebanon uprooting cedars trees as if they were mere stalks of straw.  Causing the sand and dust to rise up and swirl and as it came over the wilderness and onto Jerusalem: A devastating fatal storm. But God’s people are safe in the temple and as it passes they hear God’ voice in the howl of the wind and the resounding crash of thunder. They see God’s glory displayed in this very natural phenomenon.  Unlike the other people of their day they do not think the storm is God or a dety to be feared or worshipped, they ae aware that their God, our God sits above the storm and is sovereign that God can be trusted to care for his people and keep them safe  in the storm.

For us it’s not only a vivid picture of the worst nature cans throw at us it’s a metaphor for the storms that life throws at us. Times in our lives when it seems as if everything whirls around us like a tornado, or we are battered and bruised and things that we thought were solid are swept away.  Storms that can leave us devastated and hurt…They even threaten to be fatal.

But there is hope and comfort in this psalm. God is a shelter in the storm. He is sovereign and above these storms, not distant and disinterested but unaffected, undiminished by their course. Like the psalmist we can hear God’s voice in the storm. In Jonah, the great storm threatens to swamp the boat Jonah is fleeing in. The great storm is God speaking to call Jonah back on track. In Acts paul on his way in chains to Rome is caught on a similar Mediterranean storm, it is rough and constant and people far for their lives. Yet God uses it to take Paul on his way to new mission fields new opportunities for ministry and miracle in Malta. In Psalm 107 with its vignettes of the exile returning to  Jerusalem there is a picture of sailors on the sea… going up and down staggering round like they are drunk in the waves, yet God is with them and leads them through till they can reach safe harbour… They gather in the great assembly and tell of God’s leading and guiding and protection in the wild waves. Testifying to God’s goodness even in the face of the storm. All these are ways God uses storms to speak to his people. Ways he can use the storms in our life as well.  If I may be so bold even the storms of the late autumn season.

But there is also the comfort and hope that not only des God speak through th storms he speaks to the storms as well. In Our New testament reading, Jesus is in the boat as they go over to the other side of the lake.  A storm rises and threatens to sink the boat… There first though is well where is Jesus… and yes he is with them in the boat… but he is asleep and he just doesn’t seem to care…aren’t they the kind of responses we often have as the wind rises and he waves rage… Where are you God have you gone home put your feet up and fallen asleep in front of the tele… But Jesus stands and speaks to the wind and the waves and they still themselves It’s our hope and our comfort. But its also a challenge as Jesus rebukes his disciples and asks them where is their faith. In the storm or as it is being calmed by the voice of the one who loves us enough to weather the storm of cross and grave, we are called to have faith and say ‘Glory” knowing God is enthroned above the floods. God is able to see us through… to lead and guide us… and yes praise God to intervene and smooth and calm… let us stand in awe of the one whom even the wind and waves obey.

Let Pray

Monday, October 3, 2016

Prayer its communication with God... Honestly! (Psalm 5 Matthew 6:5-8)...Prayer nuts'n'bolts (part 1)

Over the past year at parish council we’ve been working through a strategic plan for our parish. Asking ourselves where do we want to be in five years’ time. Our vision is that we are called to be an authentic, vibrant sustainable Community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that Journey’  and in our strategic plan we identified eight key areas that we believe are essential for us to focus on in order to see that vision fulfilled. One of them is Prayer… It makes sense that a healthy church would be based on its members having a healthy and growing relationship with God.  

AS Part of wanting to see our prayer life here grow in its vibrancy we decided to have a season of Prayer each year in October. Two years ago there was kind of a splash as we jumped in the deep end and set up a prayer room and asked people to commit themselves to coming and praying for one hour a week. There wasn’t much of an uptake.

 Last year we ran the Prayer Course a six week small group study on Prayer… good solid teaching on Prayer through input by video of Pete Greig, the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement and also group discussion and we had twelve people do the course.  And we backed it up with teaching in our services looking at the Lord’s Prayer. 

This year its good that the prayer chain has grown and that a group of people from the prayer chain now get together for encouragement and prayer each Monday morning. If you have situations and people that you are on your heart the prayer chain is a great place to get people to partner with you in bringing them before God. Deb’s contact details are on the back of our newssheet each week. Earlier this year I also challenged you to each pray for five non-Christian friends, neighbours or family members to come to Christ. To remember them by light bulb and light shade you can carry in your wallet or purse. The good thing was that as it came from an Anglican initiative there were some written prayers to help us do that. There are still some of those in the Church foyer.  (if you are readinfg this online just follow the link).

This year as the parish council thought about ‘the season of prayer’ it came up that we should focus on the nuts and bolts of Prayer. It’s very easy to encourage people to develop their prayer lives but what about some good practical teaching on Prayer and Prayer practises. Sort of a Prayer 101. It’s interesting that Prayer is the only thing we know about that Jesus disciples asked him to teach them about, In Luke’s gospel it leads to what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. So over the next few weeks we are going to look at prayer. We are going to use Jesus teaching on Prayer and that wonderful prayer book in the scriptures in the Psalms to help us understand the basics of Prayer. Now some of the nuts and bolts we’ll use are very practical and some of them are theological.

I guess a good place to start is that at its most basic level Prayer is communication and conversation with God.  You’d think that was one of the most basic and easy things for us to do right? But actually communication is an art. Right! In the film ‘the end of violence’ the opening scene is of the main character a big time film director working out by the pool and he has every communication gadget possible with him: His laptop, a mobile phone, a cordless phone connected to his landline in the house, Internet access via Wi-Fi… he is on a video call on the laptop with his secretary and making calls to financiers in japan over his mobile… and then in the midst of all this  his wife calls him on the landline from the bed room of the house to tell him she’ leaving him , because they no longer connect and communicate. It's ironic but the art of conversation and really making a connection is under threat in our communications mad world. In the Marriage course one of the sessions is actually committed to how to have a conversation. How to talk on a level where we can share intimacy, work through issues, share like we do in prayer things that are at a deep and important level...Heart to Heart.

WE also don’t often know what to say to important people when we meet them. Like the queen, people are actually informed how to communicate when they meet her majesty. One night we’d gone for pizza and into the shop walked the Jonah Lomu, the late great rugby player. I wanted to say something to him, because I appreciated and admired his play, but I just knew it would come across wrong, or I’d say something stupid, or embarrassing. So I didn’t say anything. We just laughed with Jonah when the guy behind the counter didn’t know who he was and asked him for his name and then how to spell it. I guess it’s like that with God what do you say to the one who created it all?

It doesn’t help when we are used to prayer being couched in religious language. When I was growing up there were people who would drop into King James English when they prayed, they’d been bought up on it. They’d talk normally but when they prayed out loud, all these ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’ would come out, they would dust off their doest and nearly every second word would have a –th on the end of it-th. Or you find people who when they pray this spontaneous energy come out and they just want to just say the first thing that just comes into their head and its often punctuated by repetition of  father, father or lord, lord… or both father, Father,  Lord, father. Sometimes the Psalms don’t help us here because they themselves are written as Jewish poetry, and they are full of vivid metaphors and word pictures, that and have a structure that for us as English speakers is unnatural. It one way it is helpful because poetry is the language of the human heart. But in another way it’s not that helpful, because we may not be like David who was a poet and a lyricist, and the other people were professional liturgists.

How then are we to speak to God? How do we pray?

In the first two verses of Psalm 5 there are three different words that David uses for Prayer. The first is ‘words’ He asks God to listen to his words. There is a sense of Prayer being spoken communication with God. For David as a gifted poet and musician it was natural that his communication with God would reflect that. He’s Jewish and so it’s natural that his words would reflect that cultural way of speaking, expressing the same idea in two different ways in different lines and that sort of stuff. It says that Prayer is the speech that is just natural for us.

The second word is lament; a lament is the Jewish blues. Note that David does not ask God to hear that but to consider it. In fact the word for lament here has the idea of mumbling under ones breath. A mumbled prayer, a sigh… David is in a bad situation, in fact one possibility for this prayer is that comes from when David has been exiles by his son Absalom and is fleeing into the wilderness. He’s unset and distressed and maybe his words are not clear it’s just an expression of what is going on inside. I’m finding myself getting more and more frustrated with technology that is supposed to make my life easier but doesn’t and I’ll often let out a frustrated grunt, and my kids pick that up and will lovingly come and ask me what’s wrong and if they can help. It’s a male ego thing but I’m often too embarrassed to let them. In the New Testament in Romans 8:26 Paul says the Holy Spirit helps us to pray in our weakness in groans and sighs too deep for words. God hears that kind of prayer.

The last word is ‘Cry out’, David Cries out to the Lord and you get the feeling that this is a in the car by yourself things are not going well no one’s around so I’m going to let it all out shout. God hears that hurt and that pain and need. In fact when you work through the psalms you see people bringing their trouble, their anger, their hate, doubts before God as well as their praise and trust and admiration.

So prayer doesn’t need to be articulate and polished and full of words and phrases that can captivate a crowd and sour to the ceiling of the grandest cathedral. They have to be real, honest and true to whom we are.

In the New Testament reading we had Jesus points out two things that genuine Christian prayer should not be like. He says it should not be like the Pharisees who love to get attention as they pray in public. It’s not for show, it’s not a put on mask of to show others our piety… it’s to be honest to God being honest to God. Its best done in private. Like in a marriage the best way to build up that marriage is to spend time with each other talking with each other. The other thing Jesus says is that it doesn’t have to be like pagans, who think that by all there, words they can convince their idols and gods to do their bidding. It’s not the volume, the amount or the volume, the loudness of our prayers that matter but who we pray to… Jesus say God already knows what we need… of course he goes on to give people the Lord’s Prayer as a way of helping us priorities our conversation with God. Next week we are going to have a look at the content of prayers.

This leads on nicely to what Eugene Peterson says about prayer that’s very helpful. He says Prayer is answering speech to God. It’s our response to God speaking to us> God always initiates the conversation. In Psalm five that we read today, David can come to God for help, because of what he knows of God’s nature, how God has revealed himself. In this case it’s God’s Holiness. That God is incompatible with evil, he can’t give wrongdoing and injustice a sly wink’ and let it happen. But also the unrelenting goodness of God, that God cares for his people, a goodness ultimately shown to us in Jesus’ death on the cross.  The sure sign that God wants to communicat with us is the incarnation where God laid aside all the trappings of divinity to be with us and talk with us. With assured confidence in that David can come to God asking for help. Prayer is our response to God’s revelation of himself, on a practical level its why Bible reading is an important element of Christian devotions it allows God to initiate the conversation.

Ok. Once there was a man who came to his pastor to tell him that he had real trouble praying because he couldn’t image that God was there. The pastor thought for a while and suggested that he might want to simply sit down with an empty chair and imagine that Jesus was there sitting in that chair and simply talk. The man thought it was a bit strange but he said he’d give it a go. Many years later when the man was dying he called the pastor to his bedside. The pastor came in and went to sit down. But the man cried out ‘wait’ doesn’t sit there that’s where Jesus is sitting. It wasn’t that he suddenly had an imaginary friend but that his prayer life had been improved and he had developed such a deep intimate connection with Jesus that it was real for him.  A busy man of God was often asked how did he find time to spend alone with God and his reply was well when you leave I’ll be alone with God. This week I want you to practise the presence of God. Take ten minutes  at the end of each day, maybe as you’re going for a walk, or have a cuppa tea before bed and just imagine that Jesus is right there with you, which of course he is and take time just to talk as you would to a close friend. Maybe work through the day and thank Jesus for the things that have happened where you’ve seen God’s hand, tell him say sorry for the things you know you’ve done wrong, give him the things that are worrying you. Have a conversation.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Genesis 1 Reflections on the Creator, Creation and Us (part 3)... and us. (Genesis 1:26-2:3, Romans 8:18-25)

The second car I ever owned was a white 1968 Rover 2000. Lloyd George the great white whale I used to call it… and really if it was a whale it would probably be that most kiwi of cartoon whales and be ‘beached as bro”. Really it should have had another name… lemon… not because I painted it pastel yellow but because it sucked as a car… it was always breaking down…. I took it out to Piha one night and it broke down on the way back, in fact it did it several times, this before cell phones so I left it to walk home and get help. When we came back it had the window smashed and the stereo was gone. I took a girl out on a date, and it broke down, and no it wasn’t one of those excuses you give to the girl’s parents for having her home late… it broke down… fortunately outside a mates house so I was able to borrow a car to get my date home on time… The car spent as much time parked up on the lawn waiting for repairs as it did on the road.

Anyway I created a story for this car. I decided that probably it was the last car off the assembly line on a Friday afternoon. Probably during industrial unrest in the factory, where the workers were upset and contemplating industrial action, industrial sabotage. It was   definitely after the workers had been out for a liquid lunch or had their Christmas party and they were racing to get it finished so they could head off for the weekend or the Christmas break.  It was slap dash… it will do… last minute… no good… a real lemon… and even worse by the time I got it, third or fourth hand. In fact at the end of it sitting unused for several years while I was a poor Bible College student I gave it away to a mechanic who at least could do the work on it himself.

However as we’ve looked at the Genesis creation narrative we see that … God never created a lemon… well he did… those wonderful tangy sour fruit that help provide Zest and zing with the flavour they bring… maybe I should get a job writing jingles… God does not make junk. God did not suffer from Friday afternoon brain fade. As the high point of the creation narrative on Friday after lunch it tells us that God created human beings, male and female and made them in his image. There was something unique and special about us. He blessed humanity to be fruitful and gave them a purpose in connection with the rest of his creation.

Over the past three weeks we’ve been reflecting on the creation narrative in Genesis 1 and what it has to say about the Creator, creation and us. We’ve seen that genesis 1 speaks of the eternal nature of God, in the beginning God, that God created all there is, that God is sovereign and not only spoke and it came into being but is actively involved in an ongoing basis with his creation: This narrative is viewed by its writer from the perspective of this Creator God being in relationship with his people, We view the creation narrative as the pointy end of the story of God which leads and finds it fulfillment in Jesus Christ. WE saw that Genesis 1 speaks of creation, as being temporal and physical, subject to time and space, That God provided for all his creatures and established habitats for them and that God created it good, It is valuable precious, in fact the wonder and marvel of creation is a form of worship and praise to God.   Today we are going to look at what it has to say about us and in particular look at what it has to say about creation care as part of our Christian faith and discipleship.

Genesis 1 tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. What constitutes that image has been a matter of much conjecture. People have seen it in our ability to reason, in particular our ethical reasoning, our ability to love, to create, some commentators note that for the early Jewish writers they didn’t philosophically differentiate between the more spiritual aspects of humanity and the physical, there is something about the whole of us that reflects God. Others focus on the fact that we were made in God’s image male and female, note the equality of God’s plans, that it has to do with our ability to love and have relationship, that enables us to have a relationship with God, to know God and enjoy him always as the shorter Westminster catechism says is the chief end of humanity.

In Daniel Quinn’s novel ‘Ishmael’, which is an attempt to address the ecological problems we face,  Ishmael, a wise old talking gorilla, hey it’s a novel, challenges his human protégée’s perspective that humanity is the centre of creation by telling him the creation story from the perspective of a cockroach…(I think as it’s been a long time since I’ve read it).. where the created order finishes with the cockroach. It sees itself as the high point of all that is made… the very pinnacle of the evolutionary process… and sees that the world is then theirs to do with as they will… That is why they seem to think they have the right to turn up in your cupboards. It was designed as a critique of the Genesis narrative and its focus on humanity.

ut that is a miss reading of what Genesis has to say about us. Yes humanity does come last in the created order, and yes Genesis tells us that we were made for a special relationship with God. However, as  a rabbi in Leon Uris’ novel ‘Mila 18’ about the Warsaw ghetto says ‘We were created last to give us humility, as we remember that even the flea and the tick came before us in the order of creation’. It says that the created order was there before us and was made good. It says that we are part of and connected with all creation. It is a miss reading of the Genesis narrative also because creation does not finish as the sun goes down on Friday night, remember for the Jews a day starts and finishes at sunset. The high point of creation is the Sabbath, when God rested.

The writer of the genesis narrative is identified by scholars as having a priestly liturgical understanding of creation, which focuses on the Sabbath as the high point of creation, where God rested from his work. The high point of creation is that we are designed for relationship with God. You could say the creation narrative starts with God and finishes with God as its central focal point.

Now one of the things people wrestle with when they come to Genesis  is a seven day literal creation. If you’re a doctor who fan you’d probably call it ‘the timey-whimy thing’. Again the writers focus is not on the mechanics of creation, and I simply have to say I don’t know… It is mentioned elsewhere in scripture in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 21, not as a scientific fact but as the basis for the people of Israel having a day off. We forget for a slave population this was revolutionary, this is the start of labour law reforms. Something we need to remember and recapture in the face of  the encroaching tyranny of our 24-7-365 world. Elsewhere is scripture in the Psalms and Job and in John, the scripture writers can speak of God’s creation without clinging to the literal week of creation. John’s emphasis is on Jesus as the eternal creating word of God. But that seven day narrative does point us to that relationship with God, the worship of God as creations highpoint and purpose.

The creation narrative also speaks of God giving humanity sovereignty over creation. I fear that has been misunderstood as well. It says that we were to subdue the earth and rule over it. People have seen this as a God given right for us to do what we want with creation, to exploit it and use it for our benefit. They forget the historical political background to this passage. All through the Genesis story God has been seen as sovereign, like the kings of the Medes and the Persians, he speaks and it comes into being. In giving us dominion over creation it is not giving us autonomy, but rather to serve God as a lesser king might serve a greater king. To rule in a way that reflects the ethics and purposes of that greater king. In New Zealand we have a good understanding of this, in the news over the last month we’ve being saying good bye to our governor general Sir Jerry Mateparae and this week we are appointing a new one dame Patsy Reddy.  They are the representative in our country of the head of state, the queen. They are not able to do what they want, they must reflect the values and desires of Her Majesty. That is the same here… we are invited to be God’s vice-regents. This means we treat and care for creation because it is our Lord’s possession and we reflect his values and purposes. In the other creation narrative in Genesis two you see that authority manifested in God bring us all the animals to name.

The problem is that as we see as the story of our origins in Genesis moves on is that relationship with God is broken. Humanity sins and as a result of that the whole of creation is affected. The image if God in us is marred, we find instead of a peaceful coexistence with creation trusting in God’s providence that humanity and nature find themselves at loggerheads. We have to work hard to grow food, we have to contend with weeds, our relationship with each other is also broken; Adam blames Eve, Cain kills Able it escalates from that.

Creation care and the restoration of creation becomes part of God’s plan and purpose to restore right relationship. AS we saw in our New Testament reading today from Romans 8: that creation groans in the pain of childbirth as it awaits the children of God to be revealed. The restoration and renewal of creation really looks for the restoration of that relationship with God. It is a gospel matter. In the early 1970’s there was the first inklings of ecological crisis and in trying to address it a collection of world leaders called the club of Rome coined the term problematix, that the ecological crisis was a matrix of interlocking problems. One of the issues they saw was that few people were able to look forward and beyond the here and now and their own sphere of living, that to solve the problematrix needed people who could do that. The gospel actually gives us the ability to do that. To see God active through history, and moving towards a conclusion, not that it’s a ticket out of here when it gets to messed up, but that see we are here for the good of people beyond ourselves.  That God wants to reconcile all things to himself.

 Gus Speth, who helped found the Natural resource defence council and was dean of the Yale school of forestry and environmental studies agrees with that, he said this on a BBC radio interview.

“ I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

The Christian faith is able to tackle those issues. But to do it we need to find ourselves seeing creation care as part of our discipleship. That life transformation includes that. Sadly we have become rather enslaved to our western materialistic life style. Our imaginations are informed by our western world, our aspirations and expectations reflect not gospel values but our society’s values. Sadly like the rest of our culture we are addicted to our excess… and we need to repent. One of the ways that the scriptures talk of that restored relationship with God is the word shalom ‘peace’ finding wholeness. Sadly that word has been hijacked by billy graham in his little book ‘steps to peace with God which focuses on a making a decision to follow Jesus, and does not go the whole way of seeing the word as being… In right relationship… yes with God… but also with the spiritual realm… with each other… with the created order… with our material possessions. At its most vibrant the Christian faith has been lived counter culturally, you can see it in the Celtic monks connection with the natural world, st Francis of Assisi, much of the urban monastic movement, with a focus on simple living and closeness with creation. William Wilberforce’s faith lead him to not only lead the move for the abolition of slavery but to set up the RSPCA as well, to care for animals.

Here are some thoughts about what it means practically.  It means recycling and all that stuff we are encouraged to do. The church needs to have a voice in the ecological debate… Pope Francis’s papal paper on creation is a completing step in that direction. We need to put our money where our mouth is. Luke’s gospel says the depth of faith is shown in how deep it impacts our pockets. It was good to see at the last PCANZ general assembly that our denomination voted to divest itself of any investment in the petrochemical industry.  I’m not a great gardener but it is good to see churches make commitments to growing food locally. One of the ways we can serve our community is to make the time to clean up parks and streets. Some churches meet together on a Sunday to do just that and then have a meal together and worship afterwards, they invite the community to join them. Eco-missionary work will be a growing trend in the future as Christians are prepared to go to the places and people most affected by pollution and climate change and be part of caring for those affected and changing things. Dorothy Brockets son Garry is a pioneer in that with his biofuel projects in Bangladesh. Using technology to help with recycling and resolve poverty and sharing the gospel as you do it.

You know the world is not a 1968 rover 2000… it’s not a lemon starting to break down all the time, it is a precious gift given to us by its creator, who invites us as part of being his family through Jesus Christ, to care for it and its people. Let me finish with the words of Columnist Paul Harris… “there are many Christians around the world who are deeply engaged in caring for creation. But we are still just beginning. Our worship and work and witness will be incomplete until our responsibility to conserve the glorious God-given diversity of earth’s creatures (and their and our habitat) becomes second nature.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

cosmos sunday a prayer of thanksgiving

while the stars may not influence our lives in New Zealand we find ourselves knowing our place in the world when we look up and see the southern cross. It fixes us as a southern hemisphere nation, it is the symbol on our flag. For me it is part of the night sky's silent witness as the pointer point towards the cross and Christ.
The Season of Creation finishes this sunday with an invitation to give God thanks for the cosmos, the wonders of the heavens that Psalm 19 tells us declares God's splendour. It is an invitation to look up, wonder and worship... from clouds to invisible yet so essential atmosphere layers through our solar system and its orbiting objects and out into our galaxy home and beyond... And I've used Hubble's deep feilds as a way of expressing that most distant of horizons which we have not yet learned to look beyond.

But Psalm 19 also calls us to know of God through special revelation for the psalmist the law and for us the law fufilled in Jesus Christ. So the universe witnesses to God's greatness and the law his goodness.

Once again I offer these words for people... feel free to use them or any part or line or phrase that helps you in your worship and prasie of God. feel free not to. The other two prayers in this season are flora and fauna sunday and storm sunday... follow the links.

Lord who spoke and it all came into being

We give you thanks for the wonders you have made.

As we’ve looked around us this month we’ve said thank you for

The dark unseen depths and coastal shallows of the ocean

The beauty and diversity of this Island home of ours

Still lake and rushing river, Majestic Mountain and sheltered valley

Wondrous plants, delicate wild flowers to soaring forest giants

Plants that we grow and tend for food

Plants that grace and nurture the great diversity of natural habitat

Animal life from irritating tiny insects to grand majestic whale

Soaring birds, crawling and slithering reptiles, crustacean and fish

Domestic animals and wild free roaming beasts

Ourselves, each in our uniqueness made in your image

Lord who spoke and it all came into being

We give you thanks for the wonders you have made.

Now we look up and outwards and we see your splendour

Friendly white summer clouds and grim daunting storm front

Layers of atmosphere, enabling life, protecting and sheltering,

The silver of asteroid burn and rarely seen streak of comet tail

The moon, reflecting light into our darkness and ruling the tides

The sun, giving us light and warmth anchoring us in space

The mysterious variety and splendour of close planet neighbours

The brush stroke of our galaxy its vastness arching across the night

Nebula cloud, quasar and pulsar, black hole and red giant

Numerous galaxy swirls that reach us as simple bright dots

Hubble’s deep field that marks the extent of our seeing and knowing

Lord who spoke and it all came into being

We give you thanks for the wonders you have made.

We thank you for how the heavens speak in silent witness

Seeing them we catch a glimpse of the eternal

We become aware of how awesome is our God

You spoke and they came into being, you know each by name

We are aware of the seasons, time passing and things changing

Enabling your providence and focusing us on what you have done

we thank you that you are not silent or distant, beyond our knowing

That you have chosen to speak through the law and the prophets  

That from beyond space and time you’re creating word became flesh

That in Jesus it dwelt with us, and we beheld your grace and truth

In his death and resurrection we have become new creation

Lord who spoke and it all came into being

We give you thanks for the wonders you have made.

We look within and see our need for your light and word

We are aware that often we have shut out the witness of the night sky

We have let neon flare and street light glare focus us only on our selves

We have shut out the radiant light of your love and gone our own way

We have revelled in unloving dark, polluted and exploited creations gift

Heavenly father we pray you would forgive us and wipe the slate clean

We thank you that because of Christs great love that we are forgiven

Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit, replace the night with your new day

Enable us to join our words and deeds to the night skies silent witness

That in all we say and do, we may point people to the true light, Jesus

Help us to love one another and care for your creation, to your glory.