Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer of the Spirit // Ask


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 07/13/2014

video available at
podcast here:
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A quick recap of the Summer of the Spirit; lots of Holy Spirit big ideas so far, etc.

· Growing our capacity to experience more life.


· Enabling each of us to be the same person everywhere, all the time, with everyone, because our source of life is internal and independent of our external circumstances.


· Increasing our security, confidence in God’s love and favor, transforming and freeing us at a core level to live in love and joy and faith, instead of in anxiety and the posturing, sword-wielding and hiding that goes along with it.


· Empowering us to be self-differentiated, non-anxious, loving presences in our communities, creatively participating in Jesus’ liberation of the world from the grip of fear and tyranny of anxious systems.

Going to make it a little smaller, more personal today.


The Holy Spirit’s pretty great. But how do I get it? Or more of it? Not that that’s even the right way to say it – I mean, I know the Holy Spirit is a person, God himself, and all that… Seriously, is there actually something I can do to experience in real life what we’ve been talking about? Because if I knew what it was, I’d probably do it.

Yes, there is something you can actually do.


You can ask.

As in, ask God to give you his Holy Spirit.

No, it isn’t rocket science.

It’s less complex than rocket science. And math free. But way harder.

Because rocket science feels like something we can control, master, get a handle on, with enough work. Which is a really good feeling for most of us. It feels safe.

Asking feels....well asking feels different for each of us, because we’ve all had different experiences with asking (and the kinds of responses we’ve gotten along the way). But at the end of the day, asking sets in motion a process that we aren’t in control of anymore.

Which isn’t our favorite feeling. It makes us feel vulnerable.

And asking is an admission of vulnerability. Which is terrifying for lots of us.

As a pastor, I hear lots of stories of people asking God for things. And lots of stories of them reporting God responding to their requests. Big requests and small. Parking spots. Good deals on stuff at the mall. Tickets to be available to the game. Pink Cadillac’s (seriously!). Growing to 6 feet tall. Weather. Finding lost things. Lost pets. Success or guidance with business or work. Jobs. Spouses. Healing from serious health problems, addictions. Healing from colds and bumps and bruises. Restoration of relationships. And on and on and on.

What’s going on with these stories? Does God really care about the little stuff, what with all the more serious stuff going on in the world? What about the things that seem worse than trivial, maybe falling in the category of sinful or unhealthy? Was it even God, or just things attributed to God, but actually coincidence or heaven forbid, the devil himself? I don’t know. Obviously. As if I get that kind of info.


But I’d recommend a perspective that makes room for those stories to be true in a way that strikes me as consistent with the God revealed in Jesus. And that perspective is this. God wants us to bring our needs to him to address. All of them. It’s at the very heart of faith. So much so, that I can imagine him addressing all kinds of needs out his love for us in such a way that might seem surprising to us. I can imagine him helping someone find the right 10 million dollar home of their dreams, for a million dollars below listing price, in order to teach them to bring every need that matters to them to him for him to address. Because for that person, their current step in discipleship was all about learning to bring their needs to God to address. And yes, you getting that parking spot maybe means someone else isn’t – someone else who is now frustrated and late. But I can imagine God is creative enough to sort out the details when two people ask for the same parking spot. And more than that, I can imagine him being so interested in someone’s growth as an asker that he would reward even the most trivial asks to demonstrate his desire to be engaged with a person. Simply because if God can develop that kind of faith in human beings, foster that kind of relationship with us, everything else can come along for the ride.

And because if that never develops in us, if we keep trying to meet all our needs on our own, out of the fear of embracing our vulnerability and need, we’re doomed.

Luke 11 is our text today. We looked at a brief portion of this on Father’s day, but now we’ll expand our view a bit.


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.”

2He said to them, “When you pray, say:


“ ‘Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

3Give us each day our daily bread.

4Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’ ”


5Then 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; 6a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And 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.’ 8I 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.


9“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. 10For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

11“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If 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!”


We could summarize this section of Jesus teaching this way: When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to talk to God, Jesus tells them to ask God to address all of their needs. And, maybe most importantly, he tells them that what they need most of all, and what they should ask for most of all, perhaps, in fact, what he asks for and receives most of all from God, is the Holy Spirit.

But summaries flatten all the details, and it’s in the details that the shape, texture, and power of Jesus’ teaching are revealed. Shape, texture, and power that are sometimes the difference between being impressed and being changed. So let’s dig in.



It all starts with Father, and ends with Father.

Father is to whom we speak when we pray.

And it’s our Father in the heavens who gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

Asking is not some spiritual formula for succeeding in life, in other words. This is a relationship, a personal, child to parent relationship. Which means being a human being is really all about being a child with a father.

Teach us to pray, the disciples say. Teach us to do the thing that you do all the time that seems to be so much at the center of who you are and how you live and how you do what do and experience things the way you experience them.

I’m a kid, and God’s my dad. So I go to him for help with everything I need. And you can too, if you’d like to. I know he’d really like you to. Because you’re a kid too. And God’s your dad, too.

It all starts with a Father and ends with a Father.

Growing to experience more life.

Being the same person everywhere, all the time, with everyone.

Being secure, confident in God’s love and favor, transformed and free at a core level to live in love and joy and faith.

Being a self-differentiated, non-anxious, loving presence in your communities, creatively participating in the liberation of the world from the grip of fear and tyranny of anxious systems.

We kids need our dad for any of that to happen.

Jesus goes on.


Hallowed be your name. In other words, Dad, we want you to have a great reputation – the greatest of anyone, anywhere.

So that when people think of you, they’d say, now that’s someone who’s proven himself capable of greatness and power beyond our imagination. So that when people think of you, they think, now that’s someone we can count on in any kind of jam we ever find ourselves in. So that when they think of you, they think, now that’s someone who loves us so much, he’d do anything for us.


Your kingdom come.

In other words, we kids want our world to be ruled by you, by Love, not by the current prince of this world, by Fear. Because when it’s ruled by fear we’re all fighting for ourselves, for survival, and it’s ugly and brutal and violent and discouraging and lonely and ultimately futile. But when you’re in charge, when Love rules, together we can share our needs with you, and ask you for help, and share our needs with one another, and help one another.


Give us each day our daily bread.

In other words, we’re kids with needs. Lots of them. The kind that at best we can satisfy for a little while before they crop right up again. Like we need bread, food. Subsistence. Protection. Affection. And on and on. All the way to identity and freedom. So we’re coming to dad, saying, Dad, can you help us with this stuff? We’ve got so many needs, and so many desires, we can’t even sort out all the time what we actually need to make it through today. You’re our dad; we trust you to take care of us.


Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who sins against us.

In other words, us kids realize we’re deeply flawed, broken, confused. We’ve gotten off track with ourselves, and others, and you, and we get off track all the time, it seems like. That terrifies us, because in the world we grew up in, the world ruled by Fear, most of the time when our flaws get exposed it means we’re out. It means we aren’t worthy of belonging anymore, because we look like damaged goods unlikely to help anyone else survive. So we’re pretty harsh on ourselves and on everyone around us, and it doesn’t seem like it’s really done anyone any good, even though at the time it seems like the only right thing to do. Would you forgive us? Embrace us, make our belonging with you secure, in spite of our flaws and brokenness? Then we can do the same with each other. Together we can put an end to this Shame business. And get on with love.


And lead us not into the trial. (Note the misleading translation of peirasmon as “temptation.” Peirasmon is probably better understood as “trial”.)

As a general rule, as kids, there are things bigger than we are, that are more than we can face successfully. This is a basic reality of being a vulnerable mortal alive in this world. So one of our basic needs is to avoid such things. Trusting that if in fact we must face such a thing, our Father will have some good purpose for it, and find some way to put us back together afterwards. As he did, in Jesus’ case.

That’s it, all of our needs as vulnerable, flawed human beings, presented to our heavenly Father to address.

Which, as we noted earlier, is difficult for us to do. Because to ask for help with our needs means our next step is to wait on God. Wait for his response to our request. Wait and see how he’ll address our needs. Receive whatever he has for us. That’s hard. That’s a vulnerable place to be!

And it’s hard because to even say we are kids coming to our Father for help is to admit we are vulnerable in this world. Vulnerability is so terrifying we spend most of our time trying to hide the fact, even from our selves.


Jesus gets how hard this is, so he tells this next story to encourage us. The one about going to the friend at midnight, asking for bread for a friend that has arrived after a long journey. What’s the key line here? “…and I have nothing to set before him.”

This is an admission of need, isn’t it? Of lack. Of the inability to provide on one’s own for one’s friend. This is vulnerability.

At the same time, it’s also picture of real abundance in the face of need. You don’t have bread for your friend, but you do have a friend with bread. And in the end, having a friend with bread, and having the courage to ask, and keep on asking, is all you really need.

Jesus’ point, which he makes a little later, of course is that God is more even than a friend to us. He’s a Father, and a good father at that, one delighted to give us good gifts.

But the point within the point is that there is no getting around asking. Ask. Ask. Ask. This is the relationship between us kids and our Father. And this is the relationship between us kids and each other. Vulnerable before each other. And well provided for.

Finally, let’s notice this, right at the end. The last sentence.


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.


If you then, beginning under evil (translated again, unhelpfully, “though you are evil”)…

In other words, if we, who have grown up in the world where Fear rules, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father, the one who lives in the heavens, where Love rules, give the Holy Spirit to us when we ask.


Because when we ask, addressing God as Father, we need the Holy Spirit to see him as Father and to see ourselves as his children.


For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8v14-16


And when we ask for God’s name to be hallowed, we need the Holy Spirit to see him as someone who loves us, to whom we can bring our needs to be addressed, so that he can be glorified in answering our needs. Because that’s how God’s name is made great: in coming through for people who wait on him.


Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

Isaiah 64v4


We need the Holy Spirit in order to pray for our daily bread too, and for forgiveness, and to be spared the trial – all of our weaknesses…


In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Romans 8v26

The whole of the life of faith begins here, with the Holy Spirit letting us see the truth of our neediness, the truth of our Father’s love, and reminding us of everything Jesus taught us about bringing our needs to our Father to address. And out of that experience of his forgiveness (the end of our exile, the reality of his embrace of us despite our sin, because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross) and provision, we come to our heavenly Father with our needs, he addresses them, and we grow up, step by step by step, more and more under the rule of love. At ease with our vulnerable nature – because we’re not naked in the garden any more, we’re clothed with power from on high! – and at ease with each other – because we have no need of judgment but rather a call to love, something we can do even more profoundly when we are at ease with our own vulnerable nature – and at ease with God himself, because we have been adopted as sons and daughters through the Holy Spirit.

Listen to Jesus, as we close.

All this I have spoken while still with you. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”


John 14v25-27

And it all begins by asking for the Holy Spirit. And waiting, that most vulnerable form of worship, for our heavenly Father to respond.


Practical Suggestion:

1. Pick 6 and Ask. The first 6 needs that come to mind, each morning. I’d recommend at least 3 are your own personal needs. Write them down. Then pray, “Dad, would you address these needs for me/us? And I want your Holy Spirit. As much as you know that I need today.” And then wait.

2. Keep at it. Do this until your natural response when you come into awareness of a need is to bring it to God to address. And to ask for the Holy Spirit when you feel the anxiety that usually accompanies an awareness of need.

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