Sunday after Pentecost
September 7, 2014
"A Praying Church"
Friends, Greetings this morning in the name of our Lord
Jesus. It's good to be with you here today as we kickoff
our fall season and as we prepare ourselves for what lies
ahead in the coming year.
It was a good summer, a crazy summer, a number of things
that made it fill up and go by too quickly. Here at the
church, Pastor Judy was on sabbatical; a much-deserved time
away. We had a full slate of summer camps; there were nine
weeks (out of 12) with kids here on campus. And we took
on and completed an office addition, adding two new offices
and really shuffling the deck with our staff.
Almost everyone is working out of a new space. It's not
completely put back together yet. Hopefully that'll happen
in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you haven't
seen it, I hope you can find some time to take a look.
On a personal level, it was also a good summer. There were
a number of changes in our family. Our oldest daughter,
Elizabeth, for the first time, signed a lease on an apartment
and has moved out; an exciting time for her. Our youngest
daughter, Rebecca, went down to Biola (near Los Angeles)
and is beginning her final year in college. And, as of today,
Mary and I are celebrating a milestone in our married life.
Today marks the exact date when we have now completed (and
survived) 13? years with teenagers in our house! Can you
believe it! Today is our youngest son, Andy's, 20th birthday.
You can congratulate us anytime you'd like. For those of
you still in it, there is light at the end of the tunnel!
Before turning to our text, let's begin by turning to God
in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the summer
months and for the chance we have had to slow down and gain
some renewal and refreshment. We pray that you would be
with us here today, opening our hearts to sense your presence,
opening our minds to understand what you have to say, and
(through your Holy Spirit) to challenge us and encourage
us and invite us to build our lives on Jesus, in whose name
we pray. Amen.
A number of years ago, I had the chance to attend a gathering
of senior pastors serving in some of the larger congregations
in the United States. One of the presenters was Jim Collins,
author of "Good to Great" and "Built to Last."
In his presentation he made an interesting comment. He said
that visionary companies (without exception) know what they're
willing to go out of business for. They know what they're
willing to go out of business for. And then he asked us,
"What would you be willing to go out of business for?"
I remember thinking (when he asked it) that that's a tough
question to answer, because I'm 100% convinced that the
Church of Jesus Christ will never go out of business. It's
built on the rock of our faith. It's eternal, everlasting
- not even the gates of hell (the Bible says) will prevail.
When I first thought about the question, I wasn't sure how
I would respond.
And then he said that unless you can figure out what you're
willing to go out of business for, you'll never be able
to clearly identify what business you are in.
All of a sudden it became clear. From that moment on, I
knew that I needed to commit the rest of my life to making
disciples, to doing (with my life) what Jesus has called
and commissioned (all of us) to do. I also knew that for
as long as I was called to serve as one of the pastors in
this place, that this place would also be committed to building
and making and growing disciples who understand their calling
to be nothing more (nor less) than to make more disciples.
For the past several months we've been introducing new ways
to think about what we're doing. They're not new concepts
for us, new ideas. What we're doing today, and what we'll
be doing tomorrow, is no different than what we've done
in the past. But they do involve new approaches and they
will require us to think and to work in new ways.
Rather than following a purpose-driven model, built upon
the strength of the programs of the church, we are shifting
to a disciple-producing model, built upon the strength of
developing relationships and leading people to become followers
of Jesus Christ.
Instead of the five-M's from the old model, we're now talking
about base and front. The base is what happens here at St.
Timothy's: worship, Sunday school, Bible classes, opportunities
to serve. The front is what happens beyond our walls: discipleship
huddles, missional communities, house churches, sharing
our faith. Our goal is to strengthen the base and increase
Now, normally, in this kickoff Sunday sermon, I've used
the time to highlight what lies ahead, focused on ways to
get involved and to grow. What I want to do today, (instead
of looking ahead) and jumping right in is to take a step
back and slow ourselves down.
If you were here at the beginning of the summer, you might
remember that I preached a sermon in which I challenged
those who (were here) to commit themselves to praying every
day from the time that sermon was preached (on Ascension
Day) until today (on our Kickoff Sunday). And I said that
for anyone who did, that there'd be a chance to share. Later
on in our prayer time this morning, we'll be hearing from
a few of those who took me up on the challenge.
I prayed for four things. For the enrollment in our school,
for the mission-driven focus of (our church body) the NALC,
for clarity in our staffing direction here at the church,
and for my own faith. Some of the prayers were answered
in the way I had hoped; others not quite there. But they
were all answered.
Our church council and strategic planning team helped us
to clarify a direction for our church staff. As a result,
we added one position, a Director of Discipleship Ministries,
and we put in place a plan that will help us with some of
the staffing transitions that will happen in the next few
years. We're in a much better (and clearer) place today
than we were then.
In the NALC, with that mission-driven focus, the day after
I started praying, I received a phone call from the national
office, asking me to be the Bible study presenter at our
national convocation; an opportunity to help set a mission
direction for the more than 700 pastors and lay leaders
who were there at the gathering in July.
On the enrollment front, I prayed for 35 students to be
added to the 95 who had enrolled at the time. As of today,
we're at 117; not what I had prayed for; we're not quite
there. There's still more work and more prayer needing to
And as far as my own faith, I can tell you without hesitation
that I have seen and experienced and listened to story after
story of how God has worked and responded to the prayers
of his people. Not always in the way the one praying had
hoped, but always as a result of a life and a heart open
and submissive to his will.
The title for our message today is "A Praying Church"
(a praying church). That not only describes what I hope
(and pray) we will become, but also what the early church
was. It was a praying church. It was a church that knew
and understood and practiced the discipline and the commitment
Acts, chapter one, Jesus ascends into heaven. Before he
goes, he promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and
then he tells them that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem,
and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And
then it says, "After he had said this, he was taken
up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their
I can only imagine what they must have felt. Jesus died,
he was raised from the dead, with them for 40 days, he lays
out this mission for them (to go to the ends of the earth),
and then he goes away.
Now, they're not an educated bunch. They have no funding,
no resources to speak of. They have no formalized training.
There're only eleven of them. I can just picture them saying
(to each other), "So, what are we supposed to do now?"
What are we supposed to do now?
Think back for a moment to a time in your life when you
might have asked that question. Maybe you're in a season
like that right now. You're just trying to figure out "What
am I supposed to do now?"
Often times, when we ask that question, it's with a tone
of desperation. You just found out that a position at your
work has been eliminated and you're no longer employed.
"What am I supposed to do now?" You find out that
your marriage is falling apart and your spouse wants a divorce.
"So what am I supposed to do now?" You go to your
doctor, get the test results and they're not good. "So,
now what? What am I supposed to do now?"
Sometimes it's in desperation. Sometimes it's because we're
simply confused, don't know what to do. Like that time when
you came home from the hospital with your first child. You
were all ready for the pregnancy and the birth, but now
what? This little baby depends on you.
Do you know what you're doing? Or you just finished college,
you have your diploma, but you're just not sure what to
Sometimes it's out of desperation; sometimes confusion.
Sometimes it's with excitement, a sense of anticipation,
but you're not sure about the next steps. You just landed
that new job, but it's all so new. You're newlywed, beginning
a new life together, but it's still a new chapter. Or you
just heard this new vision at your church and it sounds
exciting, but still a bit unclear as to what it all means.
I have to believe that the disciples, when Jesus left them,
that they were feeling all three. Desperation, confusion,
excitement? It's not just us, it was also them.
Here's what I want you to know. Whenever you ask that question,
(What am I supposed to do now?) there is always an answer.
There is always an answer. We ask it (oftentimes) as if
there isn't; like there's no answer. But there is always
an answer. And the answer is always the same. It's always
the same: pray, pray.
Chapter one, verse 14 (it says): "They all joined together
constantly in prayer." They were constantly (it says),
continually in prayer.
Let me tell you something. That's the secret. That's what
moves a church from being a church that prays to a praying
church. That's what moves a person from being a person that
prays to a praying person. "They were constantly in
prayer." It says they kept on praying no matter what.
Now, for some of you, this is nothing new. You're already
doing it. For many, this is a big life-change. And it's
a big life-change because some of the things we've learned
(over the years) about prayer are actually working against
us. (I really believe that.) Now, they're not bad, in fact,
they're good. But they can (without our even realizing it)
get in the way. They don't need to be thrown out, but re-learned.
Let me give you an example. There's a right time to pray.
(Isn't that right?) That's what I learned. Before bedtime,
before meals, at the beginning of the day. Those are the
times you're supposed to pray.
Now, no one ever said to pray only at those times. Prayer
is something that can happen at any time. There's never
a wrong to time to pray. But to whatever degree we learned
that there's a right time to pray, we don't want to throw
that out, but to build on it, to re-learn it, to expand
it: all throughout the day; any time we want.
Let me give you another example. There's a right time to
pray. There's a right way to pray. Same thing. (It's not
bad.) Fold your hands, bow your heads, close your eyes;
then you can pray. That's all good. Jesus even taught some
of it, so we need to be careful. Get rid of the distractions.
Find a quiet place. Sit still, turn off your phone. (Now,
there's a challenge.) Turn it off; nothing wrong with that.
It's all good.
But what that does, or what (at least) it can do is to give
us this idea that there's a right way, and if you're not
doing it the right way, then it doesn't work.
Let me give you a challenge (here today), and this is where
this is all going. (Don't mishear what's being said.) Before
bedtime, before meals, fold your hands, it's all good. Let
me give you a challenge (and it's the first of two) I want
you to try. Here's the first: for this next week, rather
than praying with your eyes closed, I want to challenge
you to pray with your eyes open. Pray with your eyes open.
That means that when you go for a walk in your neighborhood
that you pray for the people you see and for the families
who live in those homes, with your eyes open. When you go
to the gym, instead of just working out, pray for the others
who are working out. At school or at work, in the break
room or at lunch, don't just talk with the people you see,
but pray for those people God has set in your path.
I'll tell you that it changes the way you see things. It
changes the way you relate to God. Next time you watch the
news, don't just watch the news, but pray the news. Pray
for our leaders, pray for the conflicts in the world. Next
time you watch the game, don't just watch the game, but
pray the game. Pray that God would smite those heathens
on the other side. (You get the point.) I'm trying to be
more intentional about it in my own life. It's amazing how
A few weeks back I was in WalMart, waiting in line to check
out. Usually when I'm in line, I'm looking at the other
lines, wondering which one would have been faster. This
time I decided to just wait and pray for those ahead of
The person ahead of me was a young mom. (I wondered if she
were a single mom.) She had two kids, trying to keep it
all together. She had all her things on the counter, got
to a certain point, and she said, "That's all the money
I have. Go ahead and put the rest back."
I tried not to stare. I even took a step back, so she wouldn't
be embarrassed. I started praying, "God, please help
this young mom. Maybe with someone who knows her situation,
who can help, who might have just overheard what just happened,
who has a chance to help out." (It's funny how God
answers those prayers.)
She finished up, loaded her two kids, walked away. I put
my things on the counter, saw these WalMart gift cards (staring
me in the face), and knew what I had to do.
I walked out as quickly as I could, saw her loading her
things into her car, walked up and gave her this card and
said, "I think Jesus wanted me to give this to you."
From what I could tell, I think she was appreciative. Maybe
a bit weirded-out. It didn't matter.
As I walked back to my car, I started crying. Not because
of what just happened, but because of how many opportunities
for what-might-have-just-happened I must have missed, if
I'd been praying with my eyes opened more often.
I'd challenge you this next week to pray with your eyes
open. Keep on looking, keep on talking, keep on listening
to what God wants you to hear, because he wants you to hear.
He has so much to give.
That's the first challenge. The second is to try something
different here this morning, and it ties in with the first
lesson we read. Remember the story? It's a fascinating story,
in the Old Testament: Exodus 17. Moses and Joshua and the
nation of Israel are about to go into battle with the Amalekites.
Remember what happens? Moses tells Joshua to go down into
the valley and fight. Meanwhile, Moses goes up on the mountain
and begins to pray. Sounds sort of like a copout, like he's
throwing Joshua under the bus. But he's not. He's entering
into the battle, only in a different way.
You remember. Moses stands on the mountain and prays. When
he lifts his hands to God, the nation of Israel wins. When
he lowers his hands (they get tired), here come the Amalekites.
Can't you picture it? Up and down. Up and down. I wonder
when Moses realized what was happening? Did he do one of
these, just to see what God would do? It would have been
fun to watch! It's a great story! It's a fascinating chapter.
It's a picture of life.
My friends, the battle of life isn't fought only on the
field. The battle of life is fought also on the mountain,
praying to God, submitting our lives to his will, trusting
that what he's doing in our lives is all for his glory.
I want to challenge you today to try it; not to change this
Lutheran congregation into a bunch of Pentecostals, but
(if for nothing else) as a one-day reminder of our dependence
In the Old Testament, hands raised signified two things.
One, that God is great and we are not. And two, our daily
dependence on him. Jesus taught us to pray, asking God for
our daily bread. I'll bet when the markets crashed (a few
years back) there was more was praying (going on) than there
is now. How come? Because we were reminded of our dependence
Guess what. You are just as dependent on God when things
are going well (in your life) as when they are not. We just
don't remember it quite so clearly. It's a daily dependence.
Today I want to challenge you to something a bit different.
And even if it feels strange, I want you to try it. (We
have two/three hymns/songs left in our worship before it's
over.) I want to challenge you today, as a reminder of our
daily dependence on God, to lift your hands during those
Now, if you don't do it (all the way), that's OK. You can
do it in little ways. Just hold your hands like this, (at
your side), like a ninja. There's nothing wrong with ninja's
in the church.
You can hold your hands like this, like you're carrying
a stack of wood. Every congregation needs some wood-stackers.
You can pretend you're an escalator, if you don't want to
go all the way. One hand up, one hand down. Whatever you
And if you're really up for it, you can do the double high-five.
Just go for it. You could even do the YMCA. Nothing wrong
I don't want this to be silly. That's not the point. I do
want it to be different and to be remembered. And so does
Saint Benedict established (what was called) the Benedictine
Order. It was in response to the worldly approach to life
that says all we need to do is to work. (He knew better.)
He had this saying: "Ora Labora." "Ora"
meaning to pray. "Labora" meaning to work. "To
pray is to work." He said that prayer needs to be our
And so, there are the challenges. Pray (this week) with
your eyes open. Pray (here today) with your hands raised.
Prayer allows us to be constantly in the presence of Jesus,
continually submitting ourselves to his will.
Let me close with a story. It's about a man I met years
ago. The man was growing old, unable to care for himself,
so the family's best option was to put him in a care home.
And it was a good place, a helpful place, it was a good
The family came to see their father every Sunday. They'd
drive to be with him every week. It was this man's favorite
time. He'd always wait for his family on Sundays, couldn't
wait to see them.
As he grew older, he became more confused. After a while,
he had a hard time even recognizing his kids, had a hard
time making it back to his room. But he was always there
when they showed up.
One day, when his daughter arrived, there he was waiting.
She said, "Daddy, do you know what day it is?"
He said, "No." She said, "So, how did you
know to wait today?" He said, "I wait every day."
That's a picture of God. That's what God the Father does
for us. He's waiting for you. He's waiting to hear your
voice. Each day, every day, it's his favorite time of the
day, favorite time of the week, when you begin a conversation
with him¡Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you today for this time we've
shared and for the chance we have to be in your presence
and to hear your voice. We pray that you would help us to
pray. Each day, every day, throughout the day. There's no
wrong time to pray. There's no wrong way to pray. Help us
to pray. Help us to begin those conversations. To talk and
to listen. Thanks for waiting every day. Amen.