I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
PLEBS 1 PRAY
April 3, 2017
Pray: PLEBS (1) Genesis 18:20-33 Over the past couple of years, my son Stephen has become keen on basketball. The hoop that we’ve had outside has been hopelessly low, and so for his birthday this year we decided to get him a full height basketball ring. We picked up the big box from the sport’s store, and I got everything ready to assemble it. Now any who has ever worked with me on mechanical things, will know that it not my greatest gift! But hey this is for my son. I thought I’d give it a go. I then did something, that I don’t believe I’ve ever done in my life before. I read the instructions. It actually took a long time to find the the right page. Because the instructions were in Mandarin, Swahili, Spanish, Inuit, you name it. But eventually I found the right page and I began by identifying the various parts. So far so good. 1 I slotted together the three individual poles that form the upright pole. I attached the pole to the base. I added two supporting arms. Good. Then I attached the backboard, which wasn’t very easy because you have to do it all upside down. Stephen gave me a hand, and after quite a while we had attached it loosely to the upright. “Just 2 bolts to go,” I thought 2 bolts to attach the backboard to the upright at the correct height. 2 bolts and 2 nuts and we were done. But those bolts didn’t was want co-operate. I pushed them and wiggled them and finally I got them both and tightened both nuts. I was feeling so good about myself. Stephen helped me to stand the basketball hoop up to admire it… and it was 3 inches too tall. Can you believe that? The whole basketball rings 3 inches too tall! And I said, “O bother” 2 Anyway we put the basketball hoop down, and I went to work on getting those 2 bolts out. Do you think I could get those 2 bolts out? I pushed. I pulled. I used every single tool I had in my toolbox. But one of them seem to work. In the end, I resorted to a hammer. Now I know that you’re not meant to hit metal against metal, so went looking for some wood. All I could find was old old wooden ruler. It was the only thing that was handy. As soon as I hit the ruler and the end of the bolt with my hammer, that part of the ruler was smashed. So I worked my way up that ruler, until I had not ruler left. And given that I had no other wood, I just whacked that bolt end with my hammer. It still wouldn’t budge. Then I realised that the only thing to do was to take off the whole backboard assembly. And so that is what I did until I could finally take out those 2 bolts. I reattached the backboard, this time at the right height and then I put in my 2 bolts. And all I needed to do was to attached those 2 nuts. 3 But the first nut just wouldn’t go on. Try as I might, it just would not go on. And as I looked closely at the bolt, I could see why. The thread had been compromised by my hammer. So there I am sitting next to Stephen, I’ve got a basketball ring, he desperately wants to use, and because his dad was so stupid in whacking the bolt with a hammer, we cannot use it… So what do I do? I’ll tell you what I did. I turned to my son and said, “Steve, how about you pray.” And there is reason that I asked him to pray. I felt in my spirit that something was about to happen. I felt this strong urging that God wanted us to pray. I had this hunch the Lord would be glorified in this moment, and I wanted Steve to experience it. We sat there. He closed his eyes for about a minute and prayed. I looked up at him and I asked are you ready. He said, “Yep.” I as I twisted that nut, it slowly turned. Within 5 minutes we were shooting hoops! Praise God! 4 Now the Lord doesn’t always answer my prayers that dramatically or that immediately. I haven’t got a special hotline to God anymore than you do. But you know God loves to answer our prayers. But you know God loves to answer our prayers. Not just so that he can give us what we need, but because he loves working with us. He loves partnering with us, as he works in his world. He loves to work through ordinary human beings to achieve his great and glorious purposes. The vision of our church is “to fulfil the Great commission.” Jesus said in Matthew 28, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19) God loves to partner with us: as we seek to obey him, as we seek to make disciples. 5 Over the next 5 weeks, we are going to learn how to partner with God in making disciples. using 5 simple keys: Pray, Listen, Eat, Bless and Share. As the acronym tells us, we are going to learn how to be effective PLEBS! Pray, Listen, Eat, Bless and Share. Right now we may have very little confidence in making disciples, Just as I had little confidence in assembling basketball hoops, but we need to remember that: God is the senior partner, God is with us, God is going before us, & God will be glorified through us. It’s not about our skill, but about his power and his glory. Today we start with our first key in making disciples - Prayer. 6 In order to reach out to others and make disciples, the first key is prayer. In order to explore this first key, I’d like to take you to a fascinating story in the Old Testament, where Abraham converses with God, where Abraham partners with God, for the sake of a godless city. Turn with me, wont you, to Genesis 18:20-21 20 The Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The Lord is clearly moved by the evil in these towns. He says that the outcry is “so great.” Their sin is “so grievous.” The Lord is affected personally by the evil that hovers in these towns, so much so that is moved to do something about it. And the Lord makes these comments aloud, in Abraham’s presence, so that he can share his heart with Abraham. By speaking aloud, he is inviting Abraham into a conversation. And it’s a conversation that Abraham wants. For in one of these evil towns, lives his nephew Lot. And he cares about what happens to Lot. 7 We read in Genesis 18:23 “Then Abraham approached him [that is the Lord]” This word “approached” is a legal word, It’s like approaching the bench to talk with the judge. Abraham is taking up Sodom’s cause. He is taking on the job of being a legal advocate for Sodom. He is going to argue their case. Because his own flesh and blood, his own nephew, lives there. Let’s listen to Abraham’s case. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham says the Lord: “Look I know that there are wicked people in the city. I’m not disagreeing with you there. But in the city, there are also some righteous people. There are also some people who live a good life. Why should they cop it for the guilt of others? Surely if there were 50 righteous people in city, you wouldn’t destroy it, would you?” And the Lord’s response? 26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 8 Good. Abraham is happy with that. But Abraham is only just getting warmed up. 27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” Abraham is still incredibly respectful before God. He acknowledges that before the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth, he is but “dust and ashes.” And yet he wants to see how far God will go. He wants to test limits of God’s compassion and grace. He starts haggling for the people of Sodom. What about 45, Lord? The Lord replies “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Abraham approaches the bench again. 29 “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Okay. Now Abraham’s first 3 requests were received well. He goes in increments of 10 rather than 5. He wants to see just how merciful and kind God is. 30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” 9 He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Abraham then has one last go. 32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” 33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. As Abraham has tested the limits of God’s grace, and by asking question after question, he has confirmed something incredibly important about God. The Lord is unbelievably gracious. Beyond his wildest dreams. The Lord is not some policeman in the sky, just waiting to pounce on people who do wrong. He is not willing people to fail. He is a God of incredible grace and kindness. He will act. He will act decisively to punish sin - yes. But he takes no pleasure it. 10 God’s heart is broken when families are torn apart by violence, and drugs and alcohol leave a trail of destruction. God hates when evil and immorality raises its ugly head, because it ruins lives. God’s heart is that all people would turn from evil, and commit their lives to him. By conversing with God, Abraham is clearer than ever before that God is gracious. And Abraham has experienced first hand, what’s it’s like to wrestle with God in prayer. And as he has been questioning God, more and more he is absorbing God’s heart for the city. You see Abraham is not only concerned about his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. If he were only concerned about them Abraham could have easily asked God to get them out of Sodom, before he destroyed the city. Abraham is concerned here about the city: the ungodly city. He is interceding, he is advocating for, he is representing even, an ungodly city. In the Bible it is recorded that Moses interceded. David interceded. Nehemiah interceded. But they all interceded on behalf of their own people. 11 Here Abraham is interceding for a pagan city. An ungodly city. A city full of bloodthirsty and out-of-control men. But far from being mad at Abraham for questioning him, God is loving it. After all, it is God himself who has initiated and invited the conversation in the first place. God loves that Abraham is interceding for and developing a heart for the city. And it is exactly the same for you and I. God loves when we pray for our city. God loves when we actively intercede for those who do not yet know Christ. Because as we pray, and intercede, we are reminded of God’s grace, and we grow in our own compassion for others. (CHANGE THE TAPE HERE!) 12 Friends, are you praying? If Abraham can approach the bench and intercede for ungodly Sodom, then surely we can intercede for those whom we love? Our family, our friends, our work mates, our neighbours. Are you committed in praying for those who do not know Christ? Whatever you do, don’t give up! Don’t let anything stop you! There are people in this church who have been praying for their family and friends non stop for years and years and years, and they have seen little or no change. Take this as an encouragement today. Don’t stop praying! God loves to hear about your concern, your love for others. Every time you reveal your heart you are echoing his heart. We need to remember that we don’t need twist God’s arm in prayer. If we have a genuine burden on our heart to pray for someone or something, then where do you think that burden came from in the first place? God placed it there! God prompts our prayer. God hears their prayer. And then God answers their prayer. God calls us to pray and not give up. 13 This week, on my day off, I went to get a hair cut. And before I went, I prayed the prayer I usually pray going to hairdressers, “Lord help me to be your witness today.” As I’m sitting there in the chair, watching my precious last pieces of hair fall to the ground, I started to talk with my hairdresser. We had some laughs together as we shared stories. A little way in he asked me, “What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking.” I said, “I am a pastor of a church. The church with the crazy coloured doors here in Kingston.” And he said, “one of my friends recently started going to church. I actually went with her.” I said, “tell me about it. what was it like? were they welcoming?” I was glad to hear that they were. He said, “I’ve still got a lot of questions.” I said, “I had a lot questions too when I started out. I was at uni when I started to explore all this for myself.” 14 He said, ”I think I’ll always have spiritual questions.” I said, “You know one of the most dangerous prayers you can pray is God, if you are there, then show me. I prayed that and look what happened to me!” And this is what he said, “I prayed that prayer this morning.” Friends, God calls us to make disciples, but he hasn’t left us on our own. God loves to partner with us as we seek to make disciples, and the first key is prayer. Friends, let’s get our knees. Let’s approach the bench. Let’s intercede for our city. Let’s pray for our families, our friends, our work mates, our neighbours. Let’s pray and pray and pray and not give up.