“In the Name of Jesus:” The Mission of Prayer

John 14:8-14

We have now come to our third lesson in the School of Prayer and, like any good course of study, it’s often helpful to have some review before moving ahead. In our first lesson, we looked at the reasons we struggle with prayer and one of those major reasons is that we don’t know why we pray. For that we need a comprehensive biblical theology of prayer in order to understand what prayer is and what it does.

We started into that biblical theology last week. The biblical phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” means asking God to come through on his covenant promises. We tracked that through the Old Testament beginning in Genesis 4, as people began to look for the offspring of Adam and Eve who would one day crush the head of the serpent and liberate humanity and creation from its slavery to sin and death. We know that God delivered on that promise in the person of Jesus—an offspring of Adam and Eve, of Seth and Enosh, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But this was not only a son of Adam, he is also Son of God. All prayer, then, is gospel-shaped and centered around this fulfilled promise of God in Jesus. We still live in a fallen world where the snake still speaks, but we know his days are numbered. We “call on the name of the Lord” with the confidence that God has already begun to deliver on his promise to his people in Christ.

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Calling on the Name of the Lord: The Beginning of Prayer

Second in the series “School of Prayer”

Genesis 4:25-26; Romans 8:18-27

What was the first prayer you ever prayed? For those of us who grew up in the church it might have been a table grace you used in your family (God is great, God is good…) or that nighttime prayer many of us were taught to say (“Now I lay me down to sleep…”)—nothing like beginning prayer with a potential nightmare! If you came to faith later in life, you might have prayed the sinner’s prayer or simply cried out with one of the three types of prayers that Anne Lamott talks about: “Help! Thanks! Or Wow!”

In many ways, our first prayers set the tone for the prayers we will pray later. We begin simply, even in a primitive way, but then as our relationship with God grows our prayers become more focused and rich. I think the same is true when we look at the history of prayer in the Bible—a history of prayer that should set the tone for the kinds of prayers and prayer lives God calls us to.

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Why We (Don’t) Pray

First in the series, “School of Prayer”

Luke 11:1-10

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Every time I read that verse, I think to myself, “Yes, Lord, teach me to pray because I’m not very good at it.” The disciples of Jesus were observing him in one of the many times he was at prayer—they admired his ability to connect with God, and I really admire those who have a great prayer life. For some, it comes naturally, but for most of us it’s a learned behavior.

Jesus proceeds to take his disciples to school—the school of prayer. And whenever we think about prayer we want to be like kids going back to school. We tend to start out well. We get our new prayer book and Bible, maybe even put on some new prayer clothes, we get out our pencils and journal and we think to ourselves, “This year I’m going to do be an A+ pray-er every day.” But a few weeks into it we become distracted, life creeps in, and we go back to sporadic prayers—the kind that are only prayed in worship, in church meetings, muttered before meals, and lifted when we’re in a desperate situation. The excitement of the first day of school soon becomes the panic of cramming for an exam you forgot was on the syllabus!

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The Jeremiah Option

A sermon given at the Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church Camp Meeting – August 6, 2017.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

Well, here we are—our second annual Camp Meeting worship service! They say if you do something once it’s an event, but doing it twice makes it a tradition. This is one tradition of our church that I’m very excited about.

I’m excited about it because it’s actually part of our larger Methodist tradition. When John Wesley began preaching the gospel of grace in 18th century England, there were many in the Church of England who were threatened by this upstart Methodist movement; to the point at which Wesley was banned from preaching in many of the churches. Wesley soon took up the challenge of his friend, George Whitefield, and began to preach outdoors in the fields and market squares. In one famous incident, Wesley was barred from preaching in the church in which he grew up and where his father had been the rector, so he went outside and stood on the one piece of ground he knew that the church leaders could not eject him from—he stood on his father’s grave stone and preached with power. From then on, Methodism became a kind of wilderness, outdoor kind of Christianity—always moving to the frontier and where the people were.

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Rules for (Not) Judging

Matthew 7:1-6

“Don’t judge so that you won’t be judged.” It’s one of the most widely quoted teachings of Jesus and one of the Scriptures that even non-Christians are quick to point out. We hear it used a lot these days in conversations that tend to be controversial as a way of kind of saying, “Live and let live” or “What I do is my business alone and no one has a right to say otherwise.”

In fact, a study by the Barna Group a few years ago, which was written up in the widely read book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, revealed that nine out of ten young people view Christians as “judgmental.” Given Jesus’ command to not judge others, this means that many people view Christians as hypocrites.

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