Restored: What I’m Learning about Church Planting from HGTV

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My wife has successfully converted me to watching HGTV.

It started simply and subversively; where she would tell me about the shows she liked or the ideas she got for our house while watching. I would draw back at first, thinking, “Oh great…we can’t afford to do that to our home!” or “Is this kind of like home decorating porn?” Then I would watch an episode of Fixer Upper and would fall in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines (“It’s like they are our friends and we would hang out!”) or an episode of Flea Market Flip, where someone made $300 off of an old, dirty window frame, a can of spray paint, and an old milk bottle.

Particularly, one of the shows Kara loves is Rehab Addict. For those of you unconverted or uninitiated to the HGTV faith, the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis, is obsessed with finding historic houses and returning them to their original glory and beauty. She always tries to use original features and materials where she can find them. The idea is not simply to flip a house and make a profit. It is a labor of love, spanning months and months, whose end result is to place back on display the original beauty and splendor of houses as they were originally built.

I compare this to how I’ve noticed houses are often “rehabbed” today. In our neighborhood, houses are being bought, redone, and sold for a huge profit margin. The house that we recently bought in Highlandtown was done similarly—modern feel, new kitchen, recessed lighting, etc. But I wonder: what could we be losing in this obsession with what is new and modern?

This has been an idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile now, and it’s related to my own story. Part of my own motivation in getting involved in church planting (starting a new church) was because I felt like the Church was in need of renovation. How many of you have lived in a house while noticing all of the little issues with it? And you long to fix what’s wrong, but as you dig deeper, you start to notice the wiring is bad, and the wood is rotted, or that ugly, fake wood-paneling has to go—and before you know it, you’ve ripped the house apart?

In my idealism and younger days (though I like to thing I’m still kinda both!), I was convinced I was right and that finally, we were going to get the church right. And I had pretty much one tool: a sledgehammer. As a church planter, you can decide what you want to do and how you want to do it without the nuisance of other people in the church telling you what they think or questioning it. So I felt like we were starting with a gutted house; a clean slate. We didn’t sing at first because I was so burned out on the worship music machine, that if I heard one more song by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, I was going to scream. We met in an Irish pub to worship, mostly because it was free and the food was amazing, but also to make our Baptist friends nervous. I would find myself talking a lot about what we weren’t, rather than what we were. I was proud that we were stripped down; I was proud that we didn’t sing.

It wasn’t until I started actually studying the history of the church with more depth and a little more humility, and I started to read about the world-wide movement of the Church, that I started to realize, in horror, what I’d done: I had smashed it all to pieces-I’d deconstructed the whole thing. The baby was out with the bathwater, but so was the old claw-foot tub and the tile in the bathroom. And as a result, I had severed the line between me and brothers and sisters all over the world and across time.

In the past few years, I have come to see the value of re-examining the things that the church has done and still does; the things that we share with those who share our faith. Not just the beliefs, but the practices which both arise from and inform those beliefs. So that is what this series is about: I want us to re-examine some of the core elements of our ancient faith. I want us to fight against the desire that we often have to think that we are somehow more enlightened or advanced that those who have come before us.

So, I decided to try to teach on this and explore this in our church family, because I often teach to learn. We will be talking about Word, Prayer, Sin/Confession, and Table in the coming weeks and how we can restore them to practice and use in our community and life together. Check out the latest podcast stream on my page here and let me know what you think.

Book Notes: Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians

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Over the holidays this past year, Kara and I got to stop and visit with my grandparents for a couple days. With sharing time between the families, we only get to see them about once every couple years, so it was a really special time for us. I have come to love and value them so much and I love sitting and listening to their stories of faith and trust in God. It makes me feel so small and realize that I have so much to learn in my journey with God.

Also, there is a bit of a tradition that my Grandfather (the “retired” Southern Baptist preacher and evangelist) has developed in calling me into his study toward the end of our time there to speak “man to man”. He always wants to make sure I am being taken care of financially and that Kara is well. And then he has this way of asking me really good questions. “Son,” he would begin, “what do you know about the Holy Spirit?” I stammered through my answer, not sure where the question was coming from. I spoke theologically and experientially and after I realized I was out of things to say, I just stopped talking. (for those of you who know me, this is a bit of a miracle in and of itself!)

My Grandpa sat back and said, “Son, I can tell that you are searching and seeking right now,” Boy, was he right. He started telling me stories of his own experiences with the Spirit, with men he respected who came to meet with him and were able to answer all of his questions without him having to ask a single one. He then pulled this book off the shelf and opened it up.

As you can tell, both the previous owner (who gifted his library to my Grandpa when he was fresh out of seminary) and my Grandpa deeply treasure this book. He was very quick to tell me, “I’m not giving this to you—it’s a loan, so return it!” He said that this book continues to shape his experience and understanding of the work of the Spirit upon the lives of people in the church.

And it was incredible to read. A few thoughts (and I’m still churning this around in my mind):
There is ONE Spirit– I was so taken with the commonality of experiences with the Divine which spanned time and denomination/tradition. Beginning with the Scriptures and the moving through the Apostolic age, people from so many branches of the Church were featured (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Anabaptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Salvation Army, etc.) ***although, the author’s bias would often show itself toward the “high church” traditions and he often was not too fond of the Roman Catholic church
The Spiritual life is a similar journey, yet unique to all– In almost every account, there was significant struggle in early life and a deep-seated desire to have “more” of God. However, the path of discovery and experience was different. For some, they had ecstatic experience or the “strongly warmed” feelings of Wesley. For others, there was a gradual and prayerful trajectory toward God, spurred on by little moments.
Sin is an obstacle to Spirit-filled living-Most every life outlined in these pages displayed some struggle against sin. Whether it was continued practice in sin or living with sin unconfessed or significant pride or apathy, everyone had to surrender significantly to better participate in the life God was calling them to live.
God works through Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided people, not simply the “best”-Most of the biographies outlined in the book were of ordinary men and women of ordinary means. Many were unschooled and were living fairly insignificant lives. Yet when God’s Spirit got ahold of them, thy were used to do incredible things. Their fame was the result of the Spirit’s work in them, not the other way round.

So, what do I know about the Holy Spirit? Simply, that I want and need more.

[Post]-Sermon Notes: The Reasons for Parables

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Note: I am posting a more manuscript version of my sermon because of technical issues with the podcast this week. This was delivered this past Sunday morning during our 11am gathering. Enjoy!

“The Reasons for Parables”
Text: Matthew 13:10-17

On a Sunday similar to this one, in the early fall of 1946, the English novelist George Orwell stood at the front of a church, honoring the enduring legacy of one of the leaders in the Church of England who had recently passed away. Many don’t know this, but Orwell (his real name being Eric Blair) was a very committed Anglican, his faith influencing his writing.

Before he came into the church, he noticed a large tree out front; one that had just started to show its maturity. Some children were climbing in the branches and playing under the shade.

It caused him to share these words:
“A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays—when you see a walnut tree it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?” 

Setting aside Orwell’s loose lips and candor during a memorial service, the truth is a powerful one. We do not think to plant seeds for a future we will not get to experience. We are doing work, planting things which we will not see grow or mature.

I first shared this quote almost two years ago in this very room as we jointly celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Patterson Park Baptist Church (and their final Sunday as a church) and the first official Sunday morning of Gallery Church Patterson Park. It was a beautiful time and we gave everyone a walnut seed as a way to remember that we are both beneficiaries and builders of the kingdom; a kingdom that did not begin and will not end with us.

The disciples in the first century find themselves in a very similar place. The idea of the “kingdom of God” is not new to them. It has been in the collective conscious of the Jewish people for centuries. It is reawakened every generation with people who attempt to bring in the kingdom politically or militarily by force. It is anticipated as religious leaders come to gain power and influence with the occupying government, in hopes that they will one day plan a sort of coup to overthrow their oppressors. Yet, success would always evade them, and the consequences were not just loss, but death and often a tightening of the shackles on the people: more taxes, more oppression, more laws, more military.

The prophetic words of Isaiah have become painfully true for the people of Israel. Isaiah’s call was to go to speak to a people. We love to read Isaiah 6 up until verse 9, because it paints a picture of the greatness of God and the incredible response of Isaiah to God’s call. “Here am I, send me!”. We love to use this to talk about missions and obedience. But you know what comes after Isa 6:8? Isaiah 6:9!

The LORD tells Isaiah that he will be going to a people who would not understand or repent. As a result, they would experience the judgment of God.
(Read Isa. 6:9-12)
Verse 13: “And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Judgment and destruction for a people who would not turn to the God that loved them. But also hope…
(Isa. 10:33-11:2)

So, not only had Isaiah’s words come true (in a not so good way), they were also coming true (in a beautiful way!) in the person and work of Jesus. And the disciples are seeing this, but they want to understand why Jesus is speaking in this very strange way to others.
So their question is this: Why did Jesus speak in parables?
For us to seek to answer that question, we will talk about what parables are and what they do.

Parables are an exposition.

(v. 11)
Jesus is telling the parable about the sower, seed, and soil in order to communicate something that is happening in the kingdom right now. Again, we will deal with this more fully next week as to what this parable reveals, but Jesus says that these parables have to do with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Parables are not simply just nice, cute stories that use something concrete to explain an abstract reality. On the surface they do that, but Jesus is not simply teaching to convey information. He tells parables to do something: to reveal the kingdom and who is in on it.
As we will come to see more next week as we talk about the meaning of this particular parable, Jesus is describing something that is happening right now.

So, I know some of you have struggled a bit this week with the questions I asked last Sunday, because I didn’t answer them for you. Someone asked me, “Are you going to answer all of those questions this week?” I’ll tell you what I told them: not yet, and I doubt I can answer all of the questions for you. Remember, we need to sit with our questions! We need to engage with Jesus teachings and allow them to do their work, not simply be problems for us to figure out!

But our main question is this: what does the parable expose or reveal about life and God and me? If we seek to answer that, we are working within the given framework that Jesus has given us. But parables don’t just expose reality, they also reveal something else.

Parables are a revelation.
(v. 12-16)
I mean this more than just that they reveal something about God and his kingdom (that is covered in the exposition). They reveal something about the hearer (or better yet, they reveal who is a hearer).
Jesus says that this way of teaching helps to fulfill the prophecy (and in some ways, the ministry) of Isaiah. Jesus chooses to teach this way in order to reveal who is really paying attention and who isn’t.
The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus.
Simply put, not everyone who hears the words of Jesus will understand them, abide by them, or follow them. And, of course, the disciples have a great advantage, having had the Sermon on the Mount given to them specifically.
But parables in some ways are a very practical tool that allows Jesus to see who is really desiring this kingdom. Those who show interest, who understand the parables are showing that they are a part of this movement. But those who do not, reveal that they are not followers of Jesus or his kingdom.

Parables are an invitation.
(v. 17)
This, for me, comes back to the walnut seed. Jesus is exposing the place of privilege and responsibility that the disciples have in being able to see and hear and understand what Jesus is doing.
To me, it is amazing that most commentators focus on this parable and ask questions about the previous verses in relation to the age-old questions of predestination and human responsibility or free will. I will not wade into those waters this morning for a variety of reasons, except to say this. Divine providence/election and human responsibility are both held in tension in the Scriptures. And, at the risk of over-simplifying things, when it comes to divine providence and human responsibility, by definition we are responsible for only one of those things! What I want us to see is that the idea of election: being chosen for a specific task by a specific person (in this case Jesus and his disciples) does not signify simply a privileged status. It is a “blessed status”, meaning, there is a great responsibility place upon you now, because of what you see and hear.
What is most incredible to me about this passage is that Jesus looks at this rag-tag group of followers and says: “You need to understand: your spiritual heroes would have given anything to be able to be in your sandals right now! Isaiah wrote about this ‘shoot of Jesse’ which would spring up out of the burned out stump of a tree of this nation, and you are looking at him, in the flesh!”
Implicit in that statement is a “so what are you going to do about it” sort of question. Will you jump into the story that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Isaiah, and David is fulfilling now? Will you find yourself in this story and be changed by it? Will you be a part of this kingdom? Will you listen to me so I can tell you what it means?
This invitation is ours today as well. We are inheritors of a legacy not our own; a kingdom we did not build, but we can join in and belong. This is historically significant! Jesus is looking to us and saying, so many people would have loved to be where you are now, but it wasn’t time. But now it is time.
This is how Jesus began his ministry, calling people to him because the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world. That is happening right now, through the work of the Spirit in the church that Jesus started.
So, do we hear this? Do we hear what Jesus is up to in the world? Are we seeking to listen to him? We will be moving from hearing to understanding next week as we (finally) talk about what this parable means.
But let’s just take time to listen to the Spirit of God, right now in this moment.
What is he exposing to you right now about himself and the Kingdom?
What is he revealing about you?
How is he inviting you into his work in the world this week?
Benediction:
May we have ears to hear and eyes to see all that God is accomplishing around us in his kingdom. May we respond to his invitation to join him in his work, and may we realize that we are the inheritors of a past not our own, and co-stewards of a future that God is pulling most wonderfully into the present. May his kingdom come and his will be done, in Baltimore as it is in heaven.
Grace and Peace be with you.

Sermon and Sabbatical

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This Sunday’s sermon was a tough one for me to give. It wasn’t so much the difficulty of the text (more on that in a moment), but more the opportunity I took to share my plan for sabbatical this fall.

To admit that I need rest and renewal is a tough thing to do. To admit that I need to have “ears to hear” the voice of the Spirit is even more embarrassing and revealing. I don’t know if “pastors” don’t like talking about these things, but I know its tough for me.

But it really was in preparing to teach this text (Matthew 13:1-9) that I discovered something profound about what Jesus invites us to do as he teaches us. And it will be foundational for me as I move into this next season. He invites us to be good listeners by asking good questions and sitting with those questions for awhile.

It was a tough thing this past week to simply let the parable in this passage do what it does. I wanted to skip ahead to later in the chapter when Jesus explains that this parable of the sower and the soils is not just a lesson in agriculture. I mean, after all, how infuriating would it be to get advice from a carpenter-turned-rabbi about farming?

But if we slow down enough, we come to see that parables provoke questions and feelings in us. And I am terrible at taking time to slow down enough to sit with my questions and feelings. I want the answers (or think I already have them). That’s what the Google is for, right? (Yes, the Google…)

So, beginning in October, I will be taking three months to sit with my questions and feelings. I need to reflect on the past years of ministry. So much has happened in my life in such a short span of time. I feel like I experienced growth spurts but the rest of me needs to catch up. I will be asking God what he is saying and then shut up and listen to him, rather than trying to finish sentences for him.

I will be seeing a spiritual director. I’ll be creating space for this seed of God to take root in me (or maybe even change the soil some). I’ll be investigating some questions I’ve had for awhile. I’ll be visiting some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ll be practicing discernment with others. I’ll be reading and writing for me, not for others (a tough thing to do, for sure).

And, I’ll be shutting off the noise for awhile: social media, blogging, email, etc. In short, I’ll be seeking to have ears to hear.

I’ll be posting a bit more until that time with some more info about what I’ll be doing, but until then, if you are the praying type pray for me. If you aren’t, keep me in your thoughts.

Grace and Peace.

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Authenticity and Covenant Sunday

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Note: This Sunday was incredible! We had kids singing with tambourines, a Shofar being blown as a call to worship, testimony, songs in Spanish and Korean,
authentic clothing from other countries, a parent-child dedication, communion, and a pot-luck lunch! Needles to say, I’m exhausted but my heart is full. A huge thanks to all my brothers and sisters at Gallery Church Patterson Park who helped us celebrate the renewal of our covenant membership to one another. It was beautiful!

Text: Acts 2:42-47
Iif we are to properly covenant with one another, we must understand and commit ourselves to this final value. We have saved it for last, largely because it is key to fulfilling and honoring the others. It is the relational context in which we work through these values together.
We value authenticity. To be authentic is to be who you really are with those around you. It is to be vulnerable, to share yourself with others, warts and all. There are no perfect people, and we don’t want to waste precious time and energy trying to convince others (or even ourselves), that we are better or more put together than we are.
At its best, the early church got this and modeled this for us. As we see in our passage today, we can learn from their authenticity in a few ways. First, to be authentic…

We must be together.
(v. 44a, 46)
This word together, is a phrase of a gathering of people, with the emphasis being on unity. This is more than going to a concert together or working together. It is about fully being with and for one another.
Remember, we talked about the triangle and how our “IN” relational dimension is not in to ourselves, it is in with one another. As Mike Breen says, the indivisible unit of the kingdom is two. We do not and CANNOT follow Jesus alone. We must be together.
And that takes time. More than just a couple hours once a week.
I could say a lot about this, but our lives culturally work against us in some ways. We, through technology, have been given a substitute for community through TV shows and social media. Community is already naturally hard because of rampant individualism, and that is reinforced everyday by how we engage with the world (another conversation for another day).
Community takes time and effort and sacrifice. Some of us will have to think, is it more important for me to spend time with my community or to take that extra trip out of town. Should I go be with that friend or brother or sister or should I just stay in and watch 3 episodes of my favorite tv show.
All I can see is that the early church was drawn to spend much time together. More than 2 times a week. It was a lifestyle of consistent engagement. What could that look like? We will come back to it.
But for the time being, let’s just see at this point that authenticity happens when I chose to be together with others. This is about quantity of time and who you are spending it with. We don’t get to know each other through short, casual interactions.

We must share fully.
(v. 44b, 45)

  • Share what you have and share what you need.

The early church shared their possessions. They even sold things to make sure others had what they needed. Their sharing was based on an understanding of what others need. How did they know what others needed? They told them! They were honest about their needs and did whatever they could to help meet those needs in the family. The big question about generosity and giving to those in need is a conversation about those outside the walls of the church. And this is important. We ask whether we should give to someone who is panhandling or believe the stories of some people or only give away food. These are important conversations and it is important to obey God in these moments.
We receive quite a few benevolence requests from people outside of our church family. People will call the office or stop in and ask for help with rent or food or bills. One of the very first questions I ask is whether or not they are involved in a church. And there is a reason for this: I want to know what their church family has done to help their own brother or sister.
These believers shared what had been given to them in order to meet others needs because they ultimately understood that what they had did not belong to them.

  • Share who you are.

Example of Gen 3 and Adam and Eve hiding from God because they were naked.
When they saw things as they were, they responded by seeking to cover themselves and hiding from God, our of fear and shame.
Who told you that you were naked? Who told you that being naked was a bad thing? God created you that way…
Notice that the reason for hiding is not, explicitly, that they disobeyed God. Their sin, their disobedience, is not the reason they give. They have a completely different perspective on who they are. They are ashamed of who God made them.
Who told you you should be ashamed of who you are?
Kara and I went to a friend’s wedding this past Friday night. It was so much fun. I love people watching, seeing the dancers come out of their shells. There is always that one guy that just owns the floor, right? I mean, he is drenched in sweat and has all the moves. This past Friday, too, there was the flower girl, right in the middle of the floor and she was owning it. And I’m over being a wallflower freaking out about what people will think of me! Many of them were my friends, and many who weren’t my friends were halfway drunk anyway and wouldn’t remember the next day! So Kara and I tore it up!
I think that this is a core part of the result of the entrance of sin into the world; we have this inherent shame about who we are and how God has made us. As a follower of him, you are a gift to this church. The Spirit has empowered each of you with gifts. Those gifts are not for you. They are for the church! And if you allow fear to keep you from sharing who you are, we are missing out on what God has for us. We need you to share all that you are and all who you are!
Which leads us to this last idea…

There is always room at the table.
(v. 46-47)
As the early believers shared themselves, their lives, and their stuff with one another, they found themselves drawn together in worship and in meals.
Here is the thing we can miss: who was at the table.
Acts 2:5-11
Imagine what those meals must have been like! Imagine the foods, the conversations, the languages, the cultures, the differences….but all worshiping together and all eating together.
I guess, in a moment, we won’t have to imagine!
In our context, think of how we would be described if Luke was writing about us and the different people who were there: Mexicans, native-born Americans, Guatemalans, Koreans, Salvadoreans, Colombians, Africans, African-Americans, recovering southerners, Yankees, Balmers, mid-westerners, Californians, Orioles fans, Ravens football fans, Real Madrid “football” fans, and yes, even Steeler’s fans (who we can pray for to be sanctified!).
Jesus wants his table to be diverse, and there is always room for more.
How many of you grew up having family dinner as a kid? We had certain meals that we ate because different people in our family liked them. We also would eat burgers so that mom didn’t have to cook. I like to think of our times together in worship as a family dinner. We are all gathered because we need to eat, but we get to celebrate each other’s tastes. Today has been a wonderful mix of different languages and styles. It is like the meal that we are about to have. I love that! And this is coming from a guy who could eat the same 5 meals every week for the rest of my life! But this is fun! I don’t expect you to like everything that we do here, just like there will be some dishes downstairs that you won’t like. But we will have it as a part of the meal, because Donna made it, and we love Donna and Donna loved making it. We will eat it because we love Lorena and Lorena loved making it.
And this honors God. And it is attractive to others, because it says to them “we value people for being authentic: for being themselves and bringing what they bring to the table.”
And so, we are about to come to the table of Jesus. Jesus’ table is a diverse table. When he first gave us this holy meal, it included the loud-mouths and the nobodies. The self-focused and the swindlers. The betrayer and the “one whom Jesus loved”. The hot-heads and the opposing political parties and the back-woods rednecks. This is what Jesus’ table looks like. Because as different as we are, and as much as we disagree and debate, we come to the table because of one simple truth: we are hungry. We are people who need the sustaining grace of the flesh and blood of Jesus. We are bound together by his blood and his love.

Benediction:
This week, may you say no to fear and shame. May you take time to be “in-with” the family of God. May you share yourself and your stuff with others. And may you seek to expand your table, all for the sake of our King Jesus and His Kingdom. May you be more fully you this week to the people around you.
Grace and Peace be with you…

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Prayer

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Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 6:9-13
(this is a summary of the sermon I have this past Sunday. If you prefer, skip to the bottom for additional resources)
If we’re honest, prayer freaks us out. It feels mystical or magical or strange. It seems like something that is only for the elite. It doesn’t make sense to us. It feels awkward or like our words are bouncing off the ceiling.

I don’t know about you, but I need to be taught how to pray. Jesus’ disciples felt this and it compelled them to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. And he responded by telling them to say the Lord’s prayer.

Prayer begins with direction. It is about relationship

With whom are we speaking? “Our Father, in heaven.”
I know we all approach this idea of God as father from different places. I know it can affect how we see who this God is. For a further piicture of who this Father is, see Luke 11:11-13.

However, the fact that Jesus would instruct his followers to address God in this way was very controversial! “Father” as a title for God was rarely used in the Old Testament (only 14 times I can count) and always used with reference to the nation, not to individuals. Thus, where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, and not used to directly address Him (Deut 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10).

In contrast, Jesus Himself addressed God only as Father (some 60 times in the Gospels), never referring to Him by any other name! Virtually all of Jesus’ prayers were addressed to God as Father (except when Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross…my God, my God). So we, following Jesus’ example, get to call the God of the universe Father. The one whose name wouldn’t even be spoken by people for thousands of years, we get call him “Papa”.

When we say that he is in heaven (or rather, the better translation is “in the heavens”), we speak of something I will call his transcendent nearness. So we could pray: “Our Father who is up above, around, and near to us.” God is separate and other while being imminent and present.

So when we pray, we recognize that we are praying to the God of all creation who is our close and intimate Father, right there with us. We don’t have to hope that our prayers “get to God”.

“Hallowed be your name”
Or “may your name be kept holy, special, or set apart”. In the Ancient Near East and in many early religions, the name of a god (or a man, for that matter), was very important. It defined a reality. But men would sometimes use the name of a god to get what they wanted, or would curse them when they didn’t do something right. This prayer is one we participate in. It is saying, “we will seek to maintain the honor of your name”. And this is a difficult thing to do, is it not? We see the name of God defamed all around us, things done in his name, attributed to him. It is the cosmic version of that first bully telling us as a child that our Dad is weak or our mom is not the greatest Mom ever. That alarm that we feel pushes us to fight for the honor of the name of God. The Hebrew people, and even Jews today so revere the name of God, they do not speak or write it. They came up with Hashem, which lit. means “the name” (They ended up giving different names of God-all related to what he has done or his character).

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
So this is the first thing we seem to be asking/petitioning God for in this prayer. And I know this is where we get hung up sometimes, in the asking of God for things. We have these mental blocks sometimes.
Psalm 139:1-4 and Matthew 6:8 can become problematic for us. If God knows what we need before we even ask him, what’s the point in asking?
This question makes some big assumptions:

  1. That the need we are asking for is the same as the actual need that God knows.

    2. That God’s knowing is the same as God’s doing (just because he knows, does that mean he will act on it?
    3. That it is ok to rationalize away obedience. (if it doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t have to do it) If you have kids, you know this doesn’t work.

Let me say it clearly: prayer changes things. And we are commanded to do it. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
God has, in a mysterious way, chosen to tie his action in the world to the petitions of his people.
(2 Scriptures where God appears to change his mind in response to prayer: Exodus 32 [Moses] and 2 Kings 20 [Hezekiah])

I really like this example and quote from Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy that explains the relationship and differences between the “will/purposes” of God and the “action” of God. Some call this idea of God’s sovereignty his “relational sovereignty”.

“God is great enough that he can conduct his affairs in this way. His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging. But his intentions with regard to many particular matters that concern individual human beings are not. This does not diminish him. Far from it. He would be a lesser God if he could not change his intentions when he thinks it is appropriate. And if he chooses to deal with humanity in such a way that he will occasionally think it appropriate, that is just fine.”

And that is the heart of this line in the prayer.
When we pray Your kingdom come, we are asking God to be about his business in ways we know only he can do. We are praying for justice, for the world to be made right, Maranatha! (Come, Lord Jesus!)

When we pray Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are saying we want to be about our Father’s business. It is about our obedience. Just like heaven is the place where God is being obeyed and worshiped all the time, we work to bring that to earth in the way we live.

“Give us this day our daily bread”
There are only two things I wish to highlight here. The first is that the plural part of this prayer is emphasized again. It is truly our prayer. When is the last time you prayed for someone else’s basic needs to be met along with yours?

Second, this is a prayer that places our attention squarely on the present. We are not asking for things for tomorrow. We are focusing our trust on what God will provide today. Perhaps many of our prayers are masquerading as baptized anxieties about the future when God is calling us back to where he is: with us, in the present, providing what we need. (again, sometimes we need to have our perception of our needs realigned with God’s)

“And forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors”
There is so much to be said about forgiveness and how it affects our lives. Let me just say that we need a constant reminder of the pity that God has had on us when it comes to our condition. And I use the word pity on purpose, as mercy is a word that may have too much religious baggage to be as jarring. God saw us, way over our heads, upside-down in life-debt. He saw it and took pity on us. He felt for us in our awful state. And then he forgave, the word means to literally send away, never to return.
And this is the way we are supposed to forgive those who have wronged us. This is a transformative side to this prayer that moves us into right relationships. We must be reacquainted with our
“They owe me an apology.” Probably. Cancel the debt, place it on the cross.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
At its core, this is a prayer saying, “God, please don’t let bad things happen to me.” You may think this is too simple or childish of a prayer. Or perhaps its praying “wrong”. After all, doesn’t scripture talk about being called to suffer, to pick up the cross and follow Jesus?
God is a good Dad. He doesn’t willfully send his children into harm like a sadist. And the truth is, he does this A LOT. We tend to focus on the times where he doesn’t seem to, and think that he is being a bad Dad. This is shortsighted.
The idea of being delivered is that we are pulled through hardship, but make it on the other side. It is not praying: pull me out of this. It is saying, pull me through. Jesus, again, modeled this in Gethsemane. “Father, is there a way you can keep this from happening?” And ultimately, Jesus was delivered through and into victory.

So, this is a prayer we should repeat and a prayer we should model our prayers after.

Because engaging in prayer is like learning how to speak.

Have you ever thought about how you learned to speak? It is an amazing process. It begins with listening. We hear the voices of our parents and those around us and recognize their voices.
It continues with naming who these big people are that feed us. Mama. Dada. Then concrete words like milk, blanky, food. Then abstract like hungry, thirsty, and more. And on we go, putting words together, asking for things, talking about things.
But we can’t speak what we don’t hear. And we have to practice. Because our language changes over time.

Eugene Peterson speaks of 3 types of language that we use in our world:
Language I is primary language, the basic language for expressing and developing the human condition. It is the language of relationship: coos, giggles, gibberish,
Language II is the language of information. Everything has a name. Language II is the major language used in schools.
Language III is the language of motivation. We discover early on that words have the power to make things happen, to bring something out of nothing, to move inert figures into purposive action. This is the language used in advertising and politics.

In our world, languages II and III are the predominant languages of our culture. As we grow up, we tend to put relational language I to the side, it is considered inferior and childish.
We need to relearn relational language. And prayer exposes our deficiency in this language while seeking to change it at the same time!

We need to pray these words of the Lord’s Prayer, again and again. And this is not vain repetition. This is repetition on a mission! It is formative. It helps us learn the language of God! It resets us to speak relationally again.

Ways to engage in prayer different this week:
-Pray the Lord’s prayer, both individually and with others.
-Set times to pray the prayers of others/the Psalms/common prayer. Shoot for once or twice a day. Some great online resources for you: the Trinity Mission, Book of Common Prayer, Mission St. Clare, Daily Office,

[Post]-Sermon Notes: Relationships

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Guiding Texts: Acts 2:42-47, Luke 6:12-19
I don’t think it would matter who you ask, most people would say that relationships matter. However, we could also all name at least on relationship that has not gone well. Some of us are in the midst of relational struggle right now: a family member, a friend, a coworker…perhaps you are really struggling in your relationships with your neighbors or people in the city. Some of you have become hardened to those in need around you. And maybe some of us are really struggling with our relationship to God. We have questions and doubts. Some of you may be angry with God or feel slighted by him.
So, as much as we would say relationships are important, we would also be quick to say that we have a lot of struggles and room to grow in how we relate.

As we have said regarding our other values, it is not enough to simply say you value something: there is a way in which we must value them. Which relationships do you value? How do you value those relationships?

Our church’s website says this about our value of relationship:

Relationships matter first with God through His son Jesus and then with people. A relationship with Jesus is the only hope for a lost and broken world. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His response was simple: “LOVE GOD, and LOVE PEOPLE.” We value the image of God in all people. We believe that we were created to live connected with one another: carrying each other’s burdens, sharing our possessions, praying for and confessing our sins to each other, and suffering and celebrating together. It’s in these honest, loving relationships that God transforms us and His Love is brought to full expression through us. The way of Jesus cannot be lived alone.

 

Our model for relationship is always Jesus, so we can use an example from his life as a framework and talk about some other scriptures on the way.
Relationships Exist in Three Dimensions
(the following is adapted from Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture)

UP 

(Luke 6:12)

In fellowship with the Father.
Jesus was in fellowship with the Father as a matter of priority and necessity. He prayed regularly. In this passage he prayed all night He always had sufficient time alone with his Father daily. Jesus was often at prayer before the disciples woke, he went out to lonely places to pray, and says he can do nothing by himself without the Father.
Prayer, praise and waiting on his Father were fundamental elements in the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus was in constant contact with His Father, whom He spoke of in very personal and familiar terms. We do not get to the point of calling our Father Daddy (Abba) without spending significant time with him and experiencing the love and care that he has for us.
So how do we move UP?
When is that last time you enjoyed God? Not his gifts. Not his words. Not ideas about him. HIM?We immediately tend to think that we need to schedule all of this time and do devotions 7 times a day and read the Bible in 30 days and so on… I encourage you to recognize the fact that, as a follower of Jesus, God is with you and inside of you right now. Right now. And all of the time. What can you do to notice him, to enjoy life with him?
It may mean taking time to get up early. It may mean taking time to get away to hear his voice. We will talk more next week about prayer; how to communicate and commune with God. This is where I have the biggest room for growth. But I know it is necessary to be able to have thriving relationships.

IN

(Luke 6:13-16)
When I say “in” I don’t mean in to ourselves, I mean in with each other. This is about relationships with each other as a church family.
Again, Jesus is our example. If there was anyone who could have gone it alone, Jesus may have been the best candidate. But he didn’t. There was no such thing as “me and the father only” for Jesus.
After prayer (up), Jesus calls the twelve to become his disciples (in). Mark 3:13-14 says that he called to him “those he wanted” “that they might be with him”. Jesus was fully human; a social creature. He needed to be with other people. Jesus did not do life alone! He wanted to spend time and build strong relationships with them, which he did over the three years he lived with them.
Jesus came as a human being and showed us the way human beings are to live out their lives. We are not complete as individuals. We are creatures who need the Inward dimension. We need each other. As Mike Breen says, “the smallest indivisible unit in the kingdom is two”. Jesus never sent out people by themselves. As best as I can tell, the only one who did anything by himself was Judas…not a great example.
This is why the believers didn’t simply hear the message and then continue on as if nothing changed or embrace some sort of “personal relationship with Jesus” that included no one else.. The Acts 2 text shows us more about this communal life. They met together daily. They worshiped in the temple together. They shared meals together. They shared their possessions as each one had need. They sold their stuff and gave the money away to a brother or sister. This is a radical move toward community.
And, in general, we (as people) are terrible at doing this. The largest reason is because we do not know how to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. We struggle to share our lives with one another; our true selves. That’s why we are going to take an entire sermon to deal with this on the 30th. So, please do make time to be here that week. I actually think that if we don’t get the “in” part right, we cannot do mission well.

OUT

(Luke 6:17-19)

Relationships outside the family, as a family (Mission)
After Jesus prayed to His Father (UP), he created a team of people to work alongside him and be company with him (IN). He then moved into and amongst the crowd and embodied the kingdom, proclaiming the good news and healing the sick.
This pattern is revealed in the life of Jesus: in order to be obedient in mission, we first need to be in deep, abiding relationship with the Father, then with one another before being able to move out into mission.

So, moving out: what does that look like?
Acts 2:43, 47 Awe and favor with the people around us.

We do not go out alone. This is disobedience.The call is not to go by yourself. You will get hurt. Jesus sent out his disciples in groups of 2 for a reason!

I had someone say this phrase that really provoked some thought in me. He said, the church exists because God is Trinity. (This is from a lecture by Fr. Scott Detisch on “Communio Theology”)

Our relationships with each other and our mission in the world are rooted in the very nature of God.

If we go back to the triangle, and we will see that the Triune God is active in each one of these dimensions. Up (Father), In (Son), Out (Spirit).

To experience life in these three dimensions is to experience the fullness of the Trinitarian life and mission: a God who is constantly moving within and without. This the THE fellowship: it is the relational life that God creates by virtue of his love. The early church fathers had a name for this: perichorisis: the dance of the Trinity. His mission is to continually bring all that is not God into closer fellowship or communion with him.

So we cannot have relationships working at their best apart from God. We come to understand love and sacrifice and family as we are brought into relationship with him.

Benediction:
This week, may we devote ourselves to the fellowship: the relationships that God has created as an extension of himself. May we move up toward the Father in worship and communion, in with each other as the body of Jesus Christ, and out in mission, empowered by the Spirit to see the renewal and redemption of the entire creation under the Lordship of Christ.
Grace and Peace be with you…

Would love your thoughts and comments!

Recommended Reading/References:
Building a Discipling Culture– Mike Breen/3DM
Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus – Charles C. Twombly
The Trinity and the Kingdom– Jürgen Moltmann