Monday, July 26, 2010


What’s the last thing you could not do?  That question came to mind as I was preparing for yesterday morning's preaching.  As I was considering what I could use as a visual example of that, I thought of opening pickle jars.  As a child, I would go to mom or dad and ask them to do it for me.

I thought of this as the "pickle jar principle." When you can't do something, ask.  During the children's sermon, I brought out a pickle jar and opened it with a "pop." 

Below are the notes I prepared in advance of preaching.   If you want to listen you can click here... The audio includes the gospel reading (Luke 11:1-13) and the song "Seek Ye First."

In order to understand part of this sermon you just had to "be there."  Why?  In addition to the pickle jar, I also brought in a fan from my office and plugged it in during the message.  This particular fan has a problem.  It works fine once it gets going, but it takes a full minute or two for the blades to start turning.  The fan is quiet so you can't hear it start, but it started with good effect just at the proper time... 2-3 minutes after I plugged it in.  So it is when we ask God.  Sometimes there is a delay as we wait for God's good purposes to work themselves out.
Preaching Notes for July 25, 2010

The pickle jar principle only applies when we’re up against something that cannot be done by ourselves. At this point in my life I don’t have much trouble with pickle jars. So, instead, God blesses me with situations I can’t handle on my own. Why? Because those situations force me into relationship—into closer relationship with God and with others.

In our first reading (Genesis 18:16-32) we heard how Abraham asks… persistently… Abraham comes to God with his prayer… Will you sweep the righteous away with the wicked? God has told Abraham that he will destroy a city… and in that city, in the city of Sodom… Abraham’s nephew and his family lives there.

Oh, God, Abraham prays, Oh God—won’t you be fair? There are some in that city of Sodom who are not evil. And then he prays that if 50, 45, 30, 20, or even 10 good people are found in that city that God not destroy it.

He prays again and again… and as he prays, Abraham is drawn closer and closer to God. He is drawn closer to God because he is a faced with a situation he cannot handle on his own.

Abraham cannot help those innocent people. Even though some of Abraham’s loved ones lived in Sodom he could not help them.

The only thing he could do was to turn his attention to God and ask.

Asking God—asking God in prayer—persistently coming to God, trusting God’s goodness in the face of whatever seems impossible, that’s what God wants.

And, with God, we never outgrow our need to ask.

Like I said, at this time of my life I have no trouble with pickle jars… but if I think I’m independent or strong on my own I won’t be drawn into a trusting relationship with God or others.

So, God gives me situations where I can’t handle it on my own. So I need to ask… and asking draws me closer to God… and to others who I ask to pray for me and with me… and those relationships are precious—precious to me and to God.

God never wants us to think we can get by on our own. He wants us to ask.

Our gospel reading from Luke is all about asking. Verse 2 and following has the Lord’s Prayer… in the Lord’s prayer we admit what we cannot do and ask for God’s help…

• Can you or I make God’s name holy? You or I might be able to can say “God” or “Jesus” only for good, but you can’t make anyone else praise or pray. All you can do is ask God… We cannot change other people. We cannot make God’s name holy in this world. It’s too hard. So we pray: “Make your name to be the most precious thing in all the world!” And, as we pray, as we pray for others and see God’s answers, that’s what happens. Praying... asking God… that makes God’s name holy in & among us… and beyond.
The Lord’s prayer is full of things we cannot do. Things we must ask God to do.

• Can you make God’s kingdom come to this broken world? Can you provide everyone with daily bread? Can you forgive your own sins? …You might be able to forgive someone else… but if you’ve really done wrong, you can’t wipe away your own sins or pay the debt you owe to God or anyone else. Asking God is the only way to do that… to make God’s kingdom come… to provide what is needed… to forgive.

We must ask… and asking draws us nearer to God.

• Same thing for staying away from times of trial. There’s no way you or I can guarantee we’re going to stay out of hard times. The trials we’re going through as a church or just in our every day lives… they are not something any of us can avoid on our own. The only thing we can do is pray.

And praying, asking, begging God… it’s powerful… it connects us with a powerful God.

This is a fan I bought about 10 years ago at a garage sale. Prayer is like the connection between the fan and the power source. I like this fan because it’s quiet and because it moves a lot of air. Let’s say these extension cords are the prayer chain—or all the people that are praying for good and Godly things.

Now why this fan takes awhile to get going I don’t know. But it’s a great illustration of prayer. Sometimes the prayer just needs to keep coming… until finally God’s Spirit—the WIND of God—until finally the spirit of God takes control.
Like I don’t know why this fan doesn’t get going right away, I don’t know why we sometimes don’t get instant answers to our prayers.

Yesterday I was on the phone with Karl Kruse, the pastor who was here with Nate the Sunday he and the youth presented on the Good Samaritan. If you were here, you’ll remember Karl—I was told he had a 15 minute prayer.

Why does he pray so long? Again, much about our relationship with God is not easy to explain, but I do know this: Karl Kruse’s wife Nancy has had Stage IV lung cancer. They went to Charlotte, North Carolina to a special prayer conference specifically for those who need healing from cancer. Karl said the trip to Charlotte and the first days there were very hard. Nancy was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. But, by the last day of the conference, Nancy was up out of her chair and dancing—with no oxygen.

I don’t know the rest of the story. I don’t know why going to a particular special prayer conference was important. But there’s something about prayer… something WONDERFUL… and when we’re willing to abandon ourselves to God’s will in prayer—Praising, Repenting, Asking and Yielding—letting God take control—so often amazing things happen.

So often we become ready to dance and sing and praise for grace even before healing is complete.

So, Jesus says, this is verse 9… keep on asking… the word “ask” here is not just a one time thing… it’s not ask if we “ask” and the gift is given and there’s no more need to ask anymore. Asking is never in the past. Asking is always for now.

So we live in prayer. Asking. Seeking. Knocking.

We do not know when or how God will give. We do not know where or how we will find. We don’t know when or how the way out or the way in will be opened… so we come to God and we do not give up. We live in prayer… asking… seeking… knocking… drawing near to God more and more every day.

And amazingly, God gives the the best gift… the Holy Spirit… the powerful presence of our amazing God.

I praise God for what I cannot do. Because, when I cannot, I ask. And asking can bring me into a deeper relationship with the Lord.