Category Archives: worship

Teach Us To Pray

These are my speaking notes from this morning’s worship services. And during the  prayer time I DELIBERATELY left out the Lord’s Prayer. After a hymn, I started my sermon…

Anyone notice anything different about our service today?

We didn’t use the Lord’s Prayer to end our prayer time!

It’s not that I forgot it…

I wanted to see if anyone would notice.

You see, too often we end up doing religious things and say religious words during our worship services that just don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

And the Lord’s Prayer is far too important for that.

Let’s turn to one of the two places in Scripture where we find the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus’ teaching about it, recorded for us…

[READ: LUKE 11:1-13]

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name,
your  kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

How did you first learn to pray?

Maybe you’re like me and the kids in children’s time… “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

We talked with the kids and said it was like talking to your Dad…

And that’s exactly how Jesus started to teach his disciples…

1st part… FATHER…

Jesus isn’t just starting this prayer with a religious term. In fact, the very first word of this prayer was enough to catch the Jewish people of his day off guard.

To talk to God, one used a title like “Almighty and most holy, awesome Creator…” or “Eternal and Magnificent Lord…” And Jesus doesn’t do that. He teaches his disciples to look at God as their father.

God is someone with whom they can be in close, intimate, approachable relationship.

NOT ONLY THAT, but when you spoke of someone, you then also spoke of their reputation…

We do that nowadays, don’t we?

‘O, that’s Alice, you know, she’s the one who left her husband…’

‘Hi Patrick, pretty good game you pitched there the other day!’

 ‘Dear Brittany, you are such an AWESOME singer… I just love you!’

And that’s how we start praying to our Father, God… We speak of our love and admiration, our respect and HIS reputation… how we really see him.

It’s NEVER: “Dear God, gimme…”

Rather, “Father, You’re awesome… I love you… You are the One…”

2nd part…Your kingdom come…

As we step into the next part, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves and remind God of exactly who has the authority of ruling our lives… In the Lord’s Prayer we learn to proclaim that GOD’S the king of our lives… and we pray for Him as king to have HIS way in HIS kingdom… And that always begins with the one who’s praying the prayer…

If you’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer… you’d better make sure you’re allowing him to be your king… your ruler… and you are doing things HIS way… REGARDLESS of what everyone else is doing… REGARDLESS of how popular or unpopular it makes you!

“God, You are the holy one and I hope and pray that things will happen down here just exactly the way you want them to be… because you are our king and lord.”

3rd part…Give us our daily bread…

In the first 2 parts Jesus has us talking to God and about God… The pronouns are all second person, singular… “your name… Your kingdom… your will…”

Now we move to a different focus… NOW we get to us… All the pronouns are first person now…

But notice that they’re first person PLURAL… not singular…

Now preacher, I haven’t had English class in a long time… what are you talking about with pronouns and singular and plural and persons?

OK… I mean this…

In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, GOD is the focus and we talk ABOUT Him.

In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer WE are the focus and we talk about OUR needs… NOT Me, not You… US.

There’s no “I” or “ME” or “MINE” in this prayer.

I’m reminded of the poem:

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I’;

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘My’;

Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another,

For when you pray for daily bread, you must include your sister and your brother;

For others are included in each and every plea;

From the beginning to the end of it,

It does not once say ‘Me!’

(From an email from “Peter Wales” Sat, 24 Jul 2004 22:07:01 +0930)

ANYWAY… Jesus teaches us to look at God as our provider… of all our NEEDS… He doesn’t include our wants… he doesn’t include the needs for thirty years away… but rather that we look to God for what we need today.

Throughout Scripture, we hear that same message…

  • “be content with what God provides.”
  • “Contentment with godliness is great gain.”
  • “Having food and clothing, let us be content.”

Sometimes our unhappiness is because we’re so focused on what we DON’T have, that We can’t possibly be happy with what God provides…. Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need today… and to trust God as our provider.

4th part…Forgive us like we forgive others…

The version we use in our worship services here is actually out of one of the very first English Bibles…

Our Methodist background is British… and when James, the new king of England (that is, new in 1603) had a government authorized translation of the Bible made which he approved of, a lot of the British Christians loved it and a lot of them did not… King James wasn’t known for his holiness or purity, and our spiritual ancestors REFUSED to pray the Lord’s Prayer out of the government’s Bible…

It would be like having the president you dislike the most (but don’t say that name out loud right now). If that president had folks create a new version of the Bible and then made a law that said that you HAD TO USE THAT version of the Bible and no other. Would you want to?

A lot of the folks in the early 17th Century felt the same way about the government’s authorized version of the Bible… the one we call the King James Bible, and so when they came to the Lord’s prayer, they used the wording from the older English Bible, rather than use the King James Version wording about debts and debtors.

That’s why we spit out words like ‘trespasses’ and that crazy phrase ‘those who trespass against us’… and we lose the meaning sometimes.

You know, the truth is, this has got to be the SCARIEST part of this prayer. You had better be aware of what you are asking God to do here…

We are essentially asking: ‘Dear God, I know that you want to forgive me… but please Lord, only give me as much forgiveness as I’ve given to the people around me who’ve messed up my life.’

No wonder Jesus makes such a big deal in Matthew 18  (verses 15-17) and other places about being reconciled with the people around us. You and I have to make a choice between hanging on to a grudge and unforgiveness or being forgiven by God… we can only hang on to one at a time… We ask God to only forgive us in the same way we forgive others…

Even in the prayer He taught us, Jesus reminds us that we need to be known as forgiving and gracious people…

5th part…Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…

You know, in the book of James, we read how God will allow tests to prove us and see if we’re ready for the next chapter of our lives… Some of the translations call them tests, some translations call them temptations. Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s using that Greek word we translate as “tests” but in the older Bibles it said “temptation” as a way of speaking about God allowing us to be tested… And that’s a good thing!

Sort of like a 16 year old WANTS to be tested in order to be able to move into the driving portion of their lives… No test means no license, which of course means no driving…

James goes on to say that the tempting part of the various tests is when we still have some evil desire in our hearts… that turns a test into a temptation for evil…

For instance, You could walk up to me and offer me a cigarette… and I have no desire in my heart or mind (or lungs) to smoke that cigarette, so I’m not going to even fall into that trap… I won’t take it. It’s not appealing for me… I don’t have that desire in my heart, so you can’t tempt me.

Now, when I was younger, and thought it was COOL to smoke, I was tempted big time and actually stole cigarettes from my mom… It was a temptation for me because I had an evil desire in my heart.

(Of course, it only took about two puffs for me to get sick and realize how addicted I am to oxygen… and cigarettes have never been a temptation since then.)

That’s what we’re asking here…

‘Oh God, don’t let me be tested in the areas I haven’t already surrendered to You… Help me to surrender those areas to You so I’m not even tempted at all by those things.’

And thus, even in the prayer he teaches, Jesus reminds us of our need to let God keep cleansing us and teaching us His ways so that we have pure hearts that are free from all of that evil that comes so naturally.

So those are the basics…

Luke records the essence of what Jesus taught… In Matthew’s gospel, we have the version of Jesus’ prayer that started being used in worship services… and over the centuries we even have tacked on a liturgical phrase that ends back where we began… giving the honor and glory back to God…

Some church traditions have taken Matthew’s intro where Jesus says, “Pray like this…” and have decided that the Lord’s Prayer is just an example… not something you ought to actually quote while you’re praying.

In part, they’re right… we don’t always have to use these exact words… we can use the example of this prayer to guide us in how we ought to pray in our own lives… outside of church… any time we want to talk to God…

But there’s also this passage in Luke where Jesus says specifically “When you pray, say this…” so I believe the Lord’s Prayer DOES have a part in our regular worship… as long as it never becomes just a memorized, meaningless bunch of words…

With that qualification… If you can pray this prayer honestly… from the heart… if you even dare…

Then I invite you to join me this morning, in praying the Lord’s Prayer together…

OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN,

        HALLOWED BE THY NAME.

THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE,

        ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

GIVE US THIS DAY, OUR DAILY BREAD,

        AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES,

                 AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,

       BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL,

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER

       AND THE GLORY, FOREVER.

AMEN.

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Can I help you?

As a pastor for the past 21 years, I would LOVE to be able to see exactly what my listeners in the congregation are thinking… and where they are in their faith journey to help steer my praying (my private praying mostly, but also the public prayers) and to guide my sermons to help where people really are. HOWEVER, we can’t see these thought bubbles in real life! We only have two resources in this: people sharing directly with the pastor about concerns, questions, and struggles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
Because of the Holy Spirit, we do “get it right” quite often as we follow the Spirit’s leading and “nudging.” But what JOY when people talk directly with us and we can work directly with the Spirit to meet needs, offer clarification, provide comfort, extend a listening and caring ear, and pray personally with someone. 

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Christmas Offerings


A year ago on this date, our family went to a Christmas party for pastors and their families. After the party we went into the sanctuary of the host church and just sang Christmas carols and worshipped our Lord Jesus. When we were getting ready to leave, adults started talking and visiting, and little Miss Elizabeth got bored (quickly) and started looking around. We hadn’t taken an offering that night, and she’s been in worship enough to know we usually “pass the plates.” So when she saw the empty plates, she walked around giving folks a chance to give to Jesus. 
So many people expect the church to meet their needs; MY kind of music, MY kind of ritual or casual style, MY pastor ‘feeding’ me. But our granddaughter, still a month before we finally were allowed to adopt her, had caught one of the keys of real worship: Real worship is about what we bring to church to GIVE to God. Clear back to Old Testament times we read how the people worshipped by taking an offering to give to God (a bull, a lamb, a bird, some of your grain perhaps). Other than that, you would bring your praises and singing, your prayers, and a heart that was ready to listen for God to speak in your heart. And then worship continued as you went home and lived for God according to His ways as much as you were humanly able. 

As I look at this picture of our granddaughter/daughter with her attempt to mimic the missing piece of worship that night (in her eyes), I am reminded that as we approach Christmas and as we approach any Sunday worship gathering: What gift am I giving to Jesus? How about you? What will you give him?

Give him your teachable heart. Give him your listening ear. Give him your excitement and praise and joy. And yes, give him whatever physical or financial offering you feel he’s leading you to give. And there’s one more thing you COULD give… Give him the one silent, unspoken, often unrecognized gift you can offer: the gift of giving God your time by simply being present. That’s often one of the hardest parts because there are lots of good activities and good groups that decide to make competing programs, practices, and fundraisers at the exact same time as the time your church has worship services. For you to give your time is truly a sacrifice. Which is how worship started so long ago. 

What will you give Jesus this year for his birthday? Give him your best!

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God Give Me … A Daily Prayer

At some point when I was in school, Rev. John Clark, pastor of the Shinglehouse UMC, ran a prayer in the Sunday bulletin that caught my attention. I remember buying transparent contact paper in order to laminate it and then carried it in my wallet for over a decade. I used to pray it every day.

It still is a touchstone for me.

I have no idea who wrote it or what it’s title is. If you do, please let me know! Thanks!

Here it is…

God, give me eyes that I might see The work that can be done by me.

God, give me ears that I may hear The cries of those who need me near.

God, give me lips that I may speak Comfort and peace to all who seek.

God, give me a mind that I may know How to help those who need me so.

God, give me hands that I may do Some large or simple task for you.

God, give me prayer that I may pray Thy help and guidance every day.

And this one thing all else above God, give to me a heart to love.

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Breathe

“This is the air I breathe… Your Holy Presence living in me ” Michael W. Smith sings a worship song that starts with those words.

This morning I picked up Abingdon Press’s Wesley Study Bible: NRSV (2009) and it literally fell open to an article on John Wesley’s understanding of “Spiritual Respiration.” I immediately thought of Smith’s song and began hearing it in my mind as I read these words:

Our need for God can be compared to our need for air. We must breathe air in order to live physically, and we must breathe God in order to live spiritually. John Wesley uses this image of ‘spiritual respiration’ to help us think about the closeness we ought to have with God — constant and intimate connection. When God fills our lives the way that air fills our lungs, we are refreshed, alert, and energized for God’s work. The image also helps us to see what happens when we do not pay attention to that relationship. If we stop breathing God, we will lose the connection that is essential to our spiritual lives. Our relationship with God is not automatic the way our physical breathing is, so we have to concentrate on it through prayer, Bible study, worship, and other practices that help us cultivate our spiritual lives.

(from the Wesley Study Bible p. 753. It also refers to two of John Wesley’s sermons with this article: Sermon 45 “The New Birth” and Sermon 19 “The Great Privilege of Those Born of God.”)

No wonder Smith’s little song repeats, in and out like breathing, “I’m desperate for You” and “I’m lost without You.”

Oh God, I need you even MORE than I need to physically breathe air… and I get busy, even as a pastor, and sometimes get to doing things in ministry by habit or by necessity without seeking You first! Forgive me… and help me remember to BREATHE!

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ADVENT 5: Christmas Eve

FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Reynoldsville
ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING LITURGY
December 24, 2007

READ SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:6-7

READING: In this prophecy, Isaiah offers hope to the people of Galilee of the Gentiles… for out of them will come a great light shining in the darkness… a Deliverer to free them from oppression. And with those famous words: “For unto us a son is born…” God let them know that the Deliverer would be one of their own… Born into the chosen people of God who would know them and their ways and understand them in their entirety.

But the oppression the Deliverer would set them free from wasn’t just a political system… as evidenced by the names God ascribes to the Deliverer… “He will be called WONDERFUL COUNSELOR… MIGHTY GOD… EVERLASTING FATHER… and PRINCE OF PEACE.” They didn’t yet realize it, but God was telling them in advance that this Deliverer would come to rule a kingdom of hearts… and set them free from the oppression of evil… And destroy the power of Satan.

As we light this last candle in our Advent Wreath, the white candle in the center that we call the CHRIST CANDLE, we remember that Jesus came as Deliverer… for them and for us… to deliver them, and us, from the oppression of evil. Thousands of years have passed, and Jesus still offers to deliver people from the effects of sin and evil… if we will allow him.
Let’s make this Christmas complete by inviting Jesus to be our Lord, our Savior, our Friend, and… our Deliverer… Let’s allow Him to reign as King and Lord of our lives.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we welcome you to our church, our homes, and our lives. Reign on the thrones of our hearts as our King and Lord. Deliver us from evil and help us to follow you for the rest of our lives. AMEN.

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Advent 4

This is the liturgy for our fourth week of Advent Candle Lighting.

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

ADVENT 4

 

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:2

READING: Isaiah offered hope to those who lived in times of spiritual darkness… There was a LIGHT that was coming… and that light would shine forth and pierce the darkness. All in darkness would be able to see the light… even those that actually lived in the midst of great darkness… even the ones that lived in the shadow of death would see the light.

Hope WOULD come!

The light WOULD shine!

HALLELUJAH!!!

As we light this fourth Advent candle, we remember that although Isaiah’s prophecy spoke about Jesus coming some 2000 years ago, it also speaks of His second coming which is yet to happen. And like that first coming, He will come as the light when there is a time of great darkness… and everyone living in darkness will have a chance to see the light… Even those who live in the darkest recesses of the darkest, most grievous shadows of death itself.

Hope IS coming!

The light WILL shine!

HALLELUJAH!!!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you said you were the light of the world and then, for those who follow you, you said we also would be light. Lord, as we live our lives we recognize more and more the deepness of the darkness around us. We need to be light like we’ve never been before… sharing the good news that YOU love us and want to save us. But ultimately Lord, it’s YOUR light that we hope for and wait for. You are coming! HALLELUJAH!!! AMEN.

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