Weather-wise, it was the worst of all weekends.
The storm was bad enough to impact church attendance but not so bad we had to cancel altogether.
(When the latter happens, a preacher can give a silent fist pump because he just bought a week of sermon prep!)
Nevertheless, we really had a terrific day yesterday. We cancelled 8:30, 10:00 was full with people who braved the elements, and 11:30 was pretty strong as well, full of people who one assumes stopped at church before heading to BOA stadium for Panthers tailgating.
But more than that was the content of what we did. The sermon was not the center of our experience; the shared life of the people of God was. I love that. The people ministered to one another, culminated by a communion celebration.
As far as the sermon goes, I was quite pleased to put Matthew 18:19 back into its context, thereby removing it from the realm of magic and restoring it to the place of relationship. To see what I mean, read below:
Today, we get to look at a verse in the bible (duh) that people have long used as . . . ready for this? . . . magic. Yes! Like Harry Houdini (AV), like Genie In A Bottle (AV, Barbara Eden), like a Phil Dunphy magic show (AV) magic on demand! Ready for it? Here it is:
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
Man, how many times has that verse been used with me? On me? By me! Always with the best of intentions and the worst of interpretations. Get people to pray, to agree, preferably with verbal “yes!” and BAM! God’s obligated to do what you asked! It’s like it works even better than Janis Joplin singing “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz!” Sing that song as a duet instead of a solo and you will be riding in style in no time!
Except . . . guess where that fails? Epically so? Ah, the bible is a library, the words are connected, the whole notion of chapters and verses and reader prompts comes much, much later, all of which leading to the absolute necessity of context. Because look what comes before our magic verse in Mt. 18:15-17:
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Oh boy. The messy, icky, shouldn’t be there at all notion of church fighting. It’s the living reality of the saying, “Church is like Noah’s ark: if not for the storm outside, you couldn’t stand the smell inside” hitting you square in the face. And apparently, church fighting has been occurring from the beginning . . . in Matthew’s time for sure & no doubt in Jesus’ as well.
Because this Jesus in Matthew’s hands outlines a challenging process whereby you seek restoration and reconciliation of broken church relationships. And then, after this detour about the power of forgiveness residing in the church in 18:18 – READ – Jesus lands back at our pivotal verse of the day in 18:19: READ.
You know what means? In context? The TWO people mentioned in 18:19 are very likely the same two that’s been fussin’ and fightin’ in 18:15-17!!! There’s nothing magic about it! If those two, in prayer, work on the relationship then the relationship will work through them. Contextually, it’s like the “agreement prayer” is both the fuel for and the result of that difficult, even tedious work of reconciling the relationship. And the cool thing is that when you take Matthew 18:19 out of the realm of magic and put it back in the context of relationship, it’s not less powerful; it is MORESO!
Praying together is no longer like casting a spell; it’s like preparing to serve. Prayer that’s rooted not in superstition but in the supremacy of Jesus’ name AND his grand design for the oddball community known as the church. Because here’s where we are going in Week 4 of PrayFast: Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
All the heavy lifting we’re going to do in this season of the church’s life as we launch into Zoar’s waters is going to be birthed in, surrounded by, and focused on praying over it TOGETHER. We want the Zoar effort to be based on sound strategy, excellent execution, but none of that matters if it’s is not first steeped in our collective prayers together. Praying together is a hell-stopping, Satan-stomping, Spirit-filling moment that doesn’t work magic beyond us. It mobilizes the work within us.
When we pray together, we’re not singing kum-ba-yah. We’re stomping Satan’s . . . . . Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
It’s so funny. It can be so frustrating. I have been in gropus that prayed things together that haven’t happened: the salvation of family members, the restoration of marriages, the destruction of the terrorists. And then, just when I am about to give up hope in the power of praying together, I think of this: (AV of Zoar Team). Here’s why: I have a Personal Prayer Team. A lot of us on staff do. They get periodic email prayer requests and updates. Anyway, for about a year, I kept asking them to pray for Zoar Staff. Pray we’ll get a pastor. Pray we’ll get music. Pray we’ll get kids. And for the longest time, none of it was answered.
And yet those prayers lined up with working and interviewing and idea-sharing, and now we have assembled this team that I have to believe is answered prayer. The people in the case of my prayer team weren’t in the same room praying at the same time (like we’re gonna be, shortly!), but they were nevertheless praying together. And prayers got answered, not like magic, but in the sense they empowered others in this body to do what we need to do. Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
But there are many other times when praying together is at the same time and in the same place. It’s why I love praying with our Healing Team. If you’ve never been, we set up little quads of chairs here at the front, and assign healing pray-ers by two. Very rarely do we have folks pray solo. And then we give the reminder to people receiving prayer not to wait for a certain station to open up, thinking you gotta have the right pray-er, and we conclude all that by saying, We don’t have celebrity pray-ers at Good Shepherd. The Holy Spirit is all the celebrity we need. So folks come and at my station at least, I gain strength from those who pray alongside me. How cool that we have ppl at this church who are not intimidated to pray with the preacher. And often for me! Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
My goodness, all of us have “work” that needs to be mobilized. We, together, as a community, are harnessing so many of our resources and our will power towards the Zoar launch. But I can’t think that’s the only “work” that would go so much better if saturated in prayer. So … LifeGroup leaders: when is the last time you had your LifeGroup pray together for specific people who are currently far from Christ? How long since you prayed together, as a group, that those same wandering people would be loved into a living relationship with Jesus? Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
Married couples who are parents, wondering how in the world to raise kids who love Jesus: when is the last time you agreed in prayer – which, HELLO!, leads to greater agreement in parenting strategies – that your children would grow up and love Jesus? That teenage rebellion NOT be inevitable in your household. That your sons and your daughters would protect and preserve their sexual purity until marriage! You pray that, together, and I guarantee that you will teach it and model it much more effectively. Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
Singles . . . when is the last time you located someone who would be praying the same thing at the same time with you? Even that your singleness be a source of strength and not frustration? You can write prayers to each other via email. That’s praying together.
All of us . . . when is the last time you decided to agree in prayer for an end to terrorism and even in those lands where Jesus originally walked but his name is now reviled . . . that his gospel would re-gain a foothold there? Or: when is the last time you were moved enough by our Christian friends in India who are beaten & arrested for believing that Jesus and not Krishna is Lord of the Subcontinent, that you decided to pray with someone else for revival in that land. You pray that and I promise you you’re motivated to go there, to give there, or both. Praying together doesn’t work magic; it mobilizes work.
Because, ultimately, as you know, this series is less about the telling and more about the doing. So instead of talking about praying together, we’re going to do some.
Let’s start with the sort-of-easy, OK? We’re going to pray together the Lord’s Prayer. Because while we may be a high-tech, modern church, all that is so that we can convey the old through the new. We love the ancient and unchanging. And today, as we pray words we inherit and not those we invent, there will be a slight twist. If you know the words, pray it by looking at people around you. It’s OK. It will feel kind of weird and then it will feel really cool. So let’s do that . . .
And now, to keep on praying together, but this time with some of our own words and needs, we’re going to do it in a way we haven’t done in a long, long time.
Praises: God is good.
Needs: Lord hear our prayer.
And now, one more. Are you ready for some weird? Some of you may know that in 1900 there were virtually no Christians in what is today South Korea. But Meth & Pres & other missionaries came in, the people were receptive, and today the % of Xn people in SK is higher than in the US. The largest churches in the world are in Seoul. And one hallmark of Korean churches is the way they pray; in fact, when Americans come to them to learn about strategy for growing they’re like: just pray more. Together!
What they do is this: people pray out loud. Their own prayers. At the same time. We’re going to give you a couple of prompts on the screen, focusing on people around Zoar who might have died inside . . . praying they’d come to life when that opens. But we’re going to ask you to pray out loud, in your own words, at the same time. It may be distracting at first, but think of it this way: it takes away from any public embarrassment of praying out loud; the audible prayers of others remind us we’re praying out loud, and more than anything, it’s a tangible expression of how God can listen to every prayer at every moment from thousands & millions of people.
Do Korean prayer
Finally, communion, the ultimate in “together”