So, here we are, all rested and ready to worship this morning. Hopefully you had a good night’s sleep and pleasant dreams, but that also raises a question: Do you remember what you dreamed last night? Or how about any dreams you may have had in the past?
Scientists tell us that all of us dream during REM sleep, but very few of us remember those dreams. The ones we do remember are often the scary or anxious ones and scientists tell us that the reason is that when we’re anxious or depressed our dreams take on a more vivid quality that make them memorable. I still remember a dream I had when I was about 8 or so when killer elves were trying to climb up on my bed and I was beating them back with my Bill Mazeroski autographed baseball bat. For a kid who was afraid of the dark, that kept me awake for weeks and still makes me shudder.
Sometimes those dreams are recurring ones that grab us when we’re most anxious about something—like the dreams I’ve had over the last several months where it’s Sunday morning but I forgot to prepare a sermon and show up at church late underdressed and frantic. That’s a scary dream, let me tell you, especially when it happens just before the alarm goes off on Sunday morning!
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Part III of “I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus”
Last Thursday I was doing some work in my study at home, preparing for this week’s sermon, actually, when my cell phone rang with a call from one of our sister churches saying that one of their members had just died suddenly—an elderly lady who was supposed to be picked up by some church members for an appointment today. They knocked on the door, got no answer, got suspicious and called the police. When they went in they found her in her bed. She had died unexpectedly during the night. The church’s pastor was out of town and not immediately available, so the church called to see if I could go be with the family. I dropped what I was doing and headed out.
I actually beat the coroner to the house, introduced myself to the family, and provided the pastoral presence that I’m trained and able to do. I’ve done this many times over the years, and working with families in the midst of deep, immediate crisis is always a mix of challenge and blessing. As the deputy coroner showed up to do her work, I listened to the family talk about their mom—a lady who was so faithful to God that, as Pastor Dave told me later, she prayed for her pastor every day. But one of the hard things you often hear in those moments of grief is regret: “I just talked to her last night,” said one. “I wish I had been here,” said another. “If only we could have gotten here in time.” I sat by as they began to call family—the shock of hearing about a sudden death, the expressions that there just wasn’t enough time.
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In our latest sermon series we’ve been talking about prayer, which is, as John Wesley called it, “the grand means of drawing near to God.” We’ve talked about praying big prayers, which is where the story of Honi the Circle Maker challenged us. We’ve talked about praying with persistence and about praying for the long haul, planting seeds in our prayers that may not be harvested in our lifetime.
But the question I want to deal with today is the practical application of all of what we’ve been talking about. That is, how do we pray? We know that prayer is a vital part of the Christian life, that God honors bold prayers, that God invites us to persistent prayer or, as Paul puts it in our New Testament reading today, to “pray without ceasing.” But the real question is, on a daily basis, how do we pray? What’s the structure for our prayers? What kinds of prayer can deepen our relationship and dependence on God and unleash God’s will and Spirit in us?
There are lots of techniques out there. When I was a youth I was taught the ACTS formula of prayer—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, which we were to use whenever we prayed. On the flip side, I’ve gone to monasteries where the Benedictine pattern is to pray seven times a day using the Psalms as the primary content of the prayers. That was a marvelous, ancient way of praying, and I’ve used the Psalms in my own prayers (though not at 3:30am, like the monks do!). I’ve been to workshops on guided prayer and meditation, used the Book of Common Prayer and other prayer books, and lots of other techniques to try and deepen my own life of prayer. All of these methods have things to commend them and many Christians have used them to great effect throughout history.
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This weekend marks a significant watershed moment in the life of the Kaylor family. Our daughter Hannah will be leaving with her mom on Sunday to fly from Denver to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she will begin her freshman year as a Film Production major at Calvin College. The bags are getting packed, the first semester bill has been paid, and the flights are booked. As Hannah’s favorite actor Benedict Cumberbatch puts in one of the Star Trek movies: “Now, shall we begin?”
I’ve actually been ambivalent about this moment since the day she was born. On the one hand (the most important hand), I’ve been looking forward to seeing her come to this point in her life. I think every parent has a sense of anticipation about the day that our work is largely done and we send the child we’ve nurtured for 18 years out on a great adventure of discovery and a new life of her own. On the other hand, it’s also heartbreaking in that she won’t be here to make me laugh with her hilariously sarcastic comments about dumb TV shows and to say goodnight to us in French in the easy and pleasant way she does so every evening. I already miss her.
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Two average pastors in a shameless selfie.
My ministry teammate Joe Iovino and I have started a new podcast we’re calling “The Average Pastor.” Since neither of us is a celebrity pastor and both us wrestle with ideas, issues, and insights for the local church, we thought it’d be great to have a podcast for regular preachers and church folk whose church are less “mega” and more neighborhood–a “festivus for the rest of us,” if you will (grievances may be aired but feats of strength will be minimized). These are the kinds of conversations that we often have here in the office basis, and we thought it would be great for our church (and anyone else who’s a pastor or a member of any church) to have access to our average-yet-maybe-inspirational thoughts. We’ll be doing our best to put out a new edition every week. So far we’ve talked about the nature and order of traditional worship, and about the devotional life. If you’re looking for something to listen to in the car on the way to work or consider while you’re taking a walk–and have always wanted to listen to the ramblings and rumblings of a couple of average pastors–this podcast is for you.
You can download the podcast from iTunes by searching “TLUMC Podcasts” (we’ll be setting up a separate podcast channel soon), or you can listen or download from our website. We hope this will spark some conversation and get you thinking about your own life in Christ!