Christianity 201

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

September 4, 2017

God Explains Judgment and Punishment to Ezekiel

As we did last year at this time, we’re returning to the devotional page of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their devotionals don’t have titles, just a description of the passage under consideration and there are no links. Take in the truths of today’s reading, but also note the format; this is how to organize a thorough Bible study.

Highlights:

God warns leaders to repent (14:1-11). Each person clearly accountable for their own choice to be saved (14:12-23). A breathtaking, tragic account of the love and faithfulness of God to Judah and her callous attitude (chap. 13). Guard against spiritual adultery.

Ezekiel 14 to Ezekiel 16

Even so, there will be survivors left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out. Indeed, they will come out to you, and you will observe their conduct and actions. Then you will be consoled about the devastation I have brought on Jerusalem, about all I have brought on it. 23 They will bring you consolation when you see their conduct and actions, and you will know that it was not without cause that I have done what I did to it.”  This is the declaration of the Lord God. (Ezek. 14:22-23).

The Lord had sent punishment to Israel because of her idolatrous ways. The nation had turned away from the Lord and chosen to walk in the ways of their heathen neighbors. The people had followed their own desires for their lives instead of the perfect desires of the Lord. We have also read how the prophets themselves had gone against the will of the Lord.

The Lord is not some strict taskmaster who imputes His will on people just for His satisfaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the children of God. The Spirit itself testifies together with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).

God treats us the way any good father treats his children. The Lord gives us the Word of God as a guide to live our lives. These guidelines will direct us to the most fulfilling and abundant life available to us. God’s rules are not simply made for Him. They are made to protect us and to provide us with a way to live a godly life, rather than just a good life.

What happens when the inevitable time comes that God’s child strays from His Word? How should God respond? Should He just hope for the best and wait to see? Should He just mark them off and hope for better luck with the next human? We all know the answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

The Lord responds just as any loving father would. He corrects His children by sending punishment our way. The goal of the punishment is to open our eyes to allow us to see where we went wrong and thereby to correct our paths. Once redirected, we should be able to get back on life’s correct track, the track of following the Lord.For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This process worked with Israel at times. They would rebel, so God would send a judgment against them. As a result they would return and fall back into line with the Law of God.

In these verses, God is explaining all this to Ezekiel. There is always a plan when the Lord sends judgment upon His people. The Lord is desiring to bring them back to the proper path.

If we live outside the will of God, we will find life is not so easy. He has said that His four worst punishments are war, famine, wild animals and diseases. The Word of God is given to us to make sure that we live under the provision and protection of the Lord. Our best case scenario will always be not to stray. But if we do, we need to let His correction get us back in line with His Word.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,  for reproof,  for correction,  for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).

Thought for Today:

At the end of the day, will the Lord say, Well done good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:23)?

Christ Revealed:

In the everlasting Covenant (Ezek. 16:60). He is the Mediator of a better Covenant (Agreement) (Heb. 8:6).

Word Study:

16:8 I spread My skirt over thee = symbolic of a covenant of marriage (Ruth 3:9; Deut. 22:30); 16:25 opened thy feet = offered yourself as a harlot; 16:30 imperious whorish oman = shameless prostitute; 16:31 eminent place = prominent public location; thou scornest hire = you refuse a fee; 16:43 fretted me = provoked me to anger.

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

February 11, 2013

I Once Was Lost But Now I See

or: I Once was Blind But Now I’m Found

24 Ways to Explain The GospelI admit today’s post title was offered a little tongue-in-cheek, because today we’re looking at the various metaphors that can be used to describe salvation and sometimes we can get our metaphors mixed up!  This was inspired by one of the hundred-odd little laminated pamphlets issued by Rose Publishing of Torrance, California. In a bullet-point world, these pamphlets (many of which are also available as wall charts) distill information on a variety of Bible-based subjects, and for most of you can be tucked into your Bible.

Rather than simply plagiarize the material, I’ll discuss a few of them to give you the idea.  The pamphlet is called 24 Ways to Explain The Gospel and can be purchased individually or in packages of ten. Remember, don’t mix your metaphors like I did in the post title. Stay with a single one at a time.

  • The Biological Model

The idea here is that Jesus offers us a way to move from life to death. Our sin deserved death, a death that was introduced through Adam, but Jesus is the bread of life and offers us abundant life.

  • The Health Model

The concept here is our sinful state is characterized as sickness; that Jesus promises to be our physician; moving us from illness to health.

  • The Family Model

This will resonate more strongly with some people. Jesus takes us from being orphans to being adopted into his family, having the full rights of sons.  Thus Christians refer to God as “Father,” because of that adoption; even to the point of the more affectionate “Abba” meaning daddy.

  • The Relational Model

This is one that is used in many gospel presentations; the idea that we were once God’s enemies; that sin has separated us from Him; and that Jesus is a bridge that allows us to connect and be in relationship with God.

  • The Rescue Model

This has so many different possibilities but all would revolve around the idea that we were perishing but Jesus rescues us from death. This metaphor uses the term ‘saved’ more than the others.

  • The Freedom Model

This begins with the visual of people in bondage or slavery who then experience deliverance to new life and eternal life; from being slaves to being free.

  • The Legal Model

This metaphor begins with people under the the penalty of their wrongdoing — basically a crime and punishment consequence — but Jesus enters the picture and offers us forgiveness.

  • The Nationality Model

Again, this has the potential to resonate more deeply with anyone who has ever emigrated from one country to another. The idea is that we were aliens — without a home — and Jesus provides a way for us to become citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

  • The Vision Model

Referred to in today’s post title, this is the idea of moving from blindness to sight.  Anyone who has ever sung “Amazing Grace” has heard this metaphor expressed. Sight allows us to see God and His wonders.

  • The Knowledge Model

The person who develops a real relationship with God moves from ignorance or foolishness, to understanding and wisdom.

  • The Truth Model

Salvation is described as knowledge of the truth. We move from falsehood and false teaching to the truth of the gospel which makes us free.

  • The Navigational Model

This is the other half of the “Amazing Grace” metaphor, I once was lost but now I’m found.

  • The Ambulatory Model

This is the idea of moving from falling or stumbling to standing and walking; the latter being a commonly employed metaphor in scripture.

  • The Illumination Model

This is another popular theme in scripture; moving from darkness to light. Jesus is that light.

  • The Purity Model

This metaphor expresses what many people desire: Jesus cleanses us, taking us from being dirty (impurity) to being clean (purity).

  • The Agricultural Model

This one goes a little deeper, there are actually several agricultural models including the idea of being trees planted by the Lord, but also including the metaphor of being grafted onto a vine.

  • The Creation Model

Sometimes this takes the form of a garment; the metaphor includes the idea of moving from old creation to new creation. This is the model wherein we would employ the term ‘born again.’

…You’ll notice we had no scripture verses today. I hope the scriptures suggested themselves to you as you reading. It’s also possible that in your discussions with people God will give you some other metaphor from some other aspect of life. I know this is possible because I’ve seen it happen in my own life. If you purchase the original copy of the pamphlet you’ll find ample scripture references for each point; and remember that I did not list all the models here.

Well, okay; one scripture; one that I hope encourages you to commit to imprint a few of these models on your heart and mind so that you can easily share them with people at any time:

…concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.  (I Peter 3:15 J. B. Phillips tr.)

February 15, 2011

Letting God Be Your Mentor

Back in August we connected with Tim Burt, a devotional blogger and associate pastor in Minnesota.  Today we decided to see what Tim’s been up to lately, and discovered this piece at Fresh Manna, which he titled, Mentored By God.


One definition for mentored is “to be instructed by a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Did you know that people pay good money to be mentored? They really do. Many times when people want to experience higher levels of achievement and success, they hire personal trainers or mentors that observe their thinking and behavior so they can make suggestions for improvement. Did you know that the greatest mentor of all time wants to be your mentor… for free?

1 Th 5:23 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through…” Did you catch the words “May God Himself… sanctify you…” The word sanctify means to be set apart. Set apart from what? He want us do be set apart from or to think and act differently from how those that don’t know how the Lord would have us think and act. He wants us set apart in how we approach life, in how we think through life, and in how we speak, act, and walk out our day-to-day life.

How are we going to do that? The verse says that God Himself will help us accomplish that. It begins with holding Him in our heart with reverence as Almighty God. At the same time, He wants to be a Father to us. That is His heart behind the words, “May God Himself…” It’s pretty amazing that the God of the universe Himself wants to be a Father to us. In being a Father, He desires to mentor us.

It’s interesting—many times I’ve had people ask me if I would be a mentor to them. I do not have the resource of time available to mentor people one-on-one. I’ve told them if they want to be mentored by me, they will simply have to be a part of what I am doing and become a part of my leadership team. My leadership is more exposed to my thinking and doing than most and they can learn from listening and observing. (And of course they can read Fresh Manna!) I am just a man and just one man. I can only accomplish so much. That’s the very reason we want to be mentored by God. He is not limited. He is really the only one that is absolutely capable of steering each and every individual into right thinking and the plan for their life. Knowing this then—knowing that the God of the universe loves you so much that He wants to set you apart and mentor you personally—is truly a mind boggling statement of just how awesome and loving the Lord is. The way He will mentor you is through His Holy Spirit whom lives within every person who has accepted Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit will take the Word of God and bring understanding to it so that we can understand God’s ways. This is a very special and supernatural thing. It is what allows you to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the God of the universe.

Now as today’s Fresh Manna verse continues, it says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through…” What does that mean, “…through and through?”

God wants to teach you how to think through each decision in your life from His perspective. How do we do that? That could lead to volumes of writing. The simplest way to hear from God’s Holy Spirit in a practical ongoing way is for you to ask yourself, “What would Jesus think and do?” And then, in putting it to work in your life, remember that the rudder for all you do in Christ comes from Galatians 5:6 “…faith working through love.” You have to have faith that God is mentoring you and HE WILL help you think through every situation. But, you also have to make sure your heart is guided by the spirit of God’s love. God’s love is filled with forgiveness, mercy, and grace toward you and that must be how you think it through toward others. This is the rudder to good decisions and to being mentored through and through by God Himself.

Psalm 143:10 (NLT) “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.“

In His Love,
Pastor Tim Burt