Christianity 201

March 12, 2020

Lord’s Prayer? Disciple’s Prayer? Is There a Better Title?

by Clarke Dixon

It is often said that “the Lord’s Prayer,” really ought to be called “the Disciple’s Prayer.” Is that the best title? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a template for, and teaching about, our prayers as his disciples. Yet I don’t think “The Disciple’s Prayer” is the best title either. Read on to find out why.

We have considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and recognized that Jesus was not really giving new rules to add to the old ones, but rather was teaching us about becoming a certain kind of people. Here too, with prayer, it is not so much about techniques, or practices, or even words, but about the kind of people we are as we pray.

We have already looked at not being a people who pray to put on a show in Matthew 6:5,6. Let’s move on to verses 7 and 8:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)

“Do not be like them.” The people who were practicing pagan religions are not the kind of people we are to be when we pray. They could be very superstitious about prayer, thinking the gods need to be manipulated through certain words and prayers. We are not to be superstitious people when we pray.

As Christians we can fall into superstition. For example, while some people may find it a meaningful and symbolic experience, the idea of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in one’s front yard, then praying to St. Joseph in order to sell a home, is basically superstitious. Look again at what Jesus said in verse 8; “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (italics added). We don’t need superstition in our prayers when we have a relationship with God. We are not to be a superstitious people, but a people who know and trust that God is a caring, and helpful heavenly Father who knows us well. Prayer is not about manipulating the divine, which is what superstition is about. Rather, prayer is about relationship.

To give an example; imagine if I was not already a motorcyclist, but now wanted a motorcycle. However, I am married, so I am aware that my wife may not be pleased. I know what to do, I will put a St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, on a toy motorcycle in the garage, and boom, my wife will come up with the idea! Will that work? Obviously not. Wouldn’t it just be better to talk with my wife? Superstition does not work. Conversation does. This is also true with God. Superstition in prayer does not work. Honest conversation does. God is not a smartphone, that we use, that we manipulate, that we poke in certain ways to get certain results. God is personal, he is a Person we relate to, he is our heavenly Father. Likewise, we are not smartphone apps, that we hope God will find useful and not delete. We are His children, in a relationship with a good Father. We pray as people who are in a love fuelled relationship with a devoted and committed heavenly Father.

In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus goes on to teach us more about the kind of people we are to become as his disciples. As we pray;

  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a father-child relationship with God.
  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a family relationship with others.
  • in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of the transcendence of God, and who desire of the presence of God.
  • Hallowed be Your Name” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, the glory of God.
  • Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, God’s Kingdom in the world. Therefore we are to be the kind of people who value servanthood over power, justice over injustice, and good over evil, to give some examples.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s provision, and who desire to grow in contentment and trust.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – we are to be the kind of people who desire and are aware of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, both to receive and give.  We recognize where reconciliation is needed, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others.
  • And do not bring us to the time of trial” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s help, who desire God’s presence, in the time of trouble.
  • but rescue us from the evil one” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of evil in the world, and who desire something far greater.

In a recent email I received from “The FOR Company,” pastor Jeff Henderson highlighted how pivotal a moment in history it was when Jesus taught us to pray. God’s people would never pronounce the actual name of God when they came across it in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed we continue that tradition when our English translations use “LORD,” all in capitals, instead of using God’s name, “Yahweh.” Jeff points out that when Jesus taught us to pray, we went from not even daring to use the name of God, to calling him “Dad.”

What kind of people are we to be when we pray? We pray neither as people who are performers, nor superstitious, but as people who know God as a Father who is for us and not against us. We pray with an awareness of being, and a desire to be, God’s child.

So what is the best title, “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I think it should be “The Much Loved Child-of-God’s Prayer.”


Clarke Dixon is a motorcycle enthusiast, a musician, and a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays.

August 12, 2015

Absalom, The Rebel

After several weeks away, regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon returns. We don’t indent his stuff like we do other guest writers, since we like to think C201 is his second home online!  Clarke is a pastor (and motorcycle enthusiast) in Ontario, Canada.

Loving the Rebel

How do you love the rebel in your life? I’m not referring to an enemy, but rather someone you love deeply. They have hurt you, or hurt someone you love, or you fear that because of their rebellious decisions, they themselves will land in a world of hurt. Do you say “you reap what you sow” and let them suffer the consequences of their decisions? Or do you mount a rescue operation and try to fix everything?

We see this tension being played out in 2nd Samuel 18 as the army commander, Joab, treated the rebellious Absalom in a very different manner than what his father, King David, would have. Absalom had rebelled against his father and led much of Israel to follow him instead. This led to David fleeing Jerusalem with his loyal armies who now stood ready to fight the numerically superior armies of Absalom. As David’s men went out to fight he gave some very clear instructions regarding the rebel son Absalom:

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. 2 Samuel 18:5

Though his son had rebelled, David’s heart was filled with compassion and hope for him. Joab, on the other hand, had a different attitude toward Absalom. We discover this when Absalom gets stuck in a tree and his misfortune is told to Joab:

Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom!. . . Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. 2 Samuel 18:11,12,14,15

Where David wants to be gentle with his son, Joab wants to eliminate the rebel. Where David wants to be compassionate, Joab wants to be practical, eliminating the possibility of any future rebellion. Where David wants to see no harm come to Absalom, Joab wants to ensure he never again harms another. David believes in second chances. Joab believes strongly in the Biblical affirmation that “you reap what you sow.”

So who is the better leader? And which one better reflects how you deal with the rebels in your life? Compassion or justice? Gentleness or practicality? “Let’s fix this,” or “you reap what you sow”?

Is there something we can learn from Joab and David here? At first we might not think so in that their lives seem to be in a greater mess than ours. However, their handling of the rebel points us to the One who really knows how to handle a rebel. Let’s take a look:

First, While Joab enforces consequences without compassion, God lets us sit with consequences because of love. Something we don’t see Joab doing is having any kind of conversation with Absalom. The opportunity is there to discuss the possibilities of repentance and reconciliation, but Joab does not go there. Instead he dishes out the consequences of rebellion with brutality, and, it would seem, out of hatred. On the other hand, God will let us sit with the consequences of our decisions, but when He does, He does so out of love. God does not rescue us from every bad decision like a “helicopter parent” but rather lets us learn from our mistakes. Learning from mistakes is important for our growth and our growth is important to God:

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children— “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11

God disciplines from a place of love. Do we lash out against the rebels of our lives like Joab, or do we let our loved ones sit with the consequences of their decisions out of love?

Second, while David was the absentee father who was not there for his son in a time of need, God is the loving Father who has made Himself present in our greatest need. We can imagine a very different ending for this story had David come across Absalom rather than Joab. But David was not there and was not able to help. At first David wanted to be with the army as they moved out, but they convinced him to stay behind because his life was more important than theirs. His life was too important to be put on the line. However, on hearing of his son’s death,

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33

In the end David wished he could have died in the rebels’s place. God is the One who did die in the rebel’s place through Jesus Christ at the cross. God is the One who made himself present to us, in Jesus, and even now through His Holy Spirit. Though it is a Biblical truth that we reap what we sow, it is also a Biblical truth that we reap what God has sown. He has sown and shown love, rescuing us from a predicament and calamity that we could never rescue ourselves from. Do we remain present in the lives of our rebel loved ones to rescue with a second chance when their predicament is too much for them? And do we have the wisdom to know when to rescue, and when rather to call off the helicopter so that a timely lesson may be learned? Do we love enough to put the hard work into thoughtful prayer and discernment?

But perhaps it is not David or Joab that you may relate to in 2nd Samuel 18. Perhaps it is Absalom. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s loving discipline. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s rescue and salvation. Absalom was the rebel son. Jesus is the obedient son who was obedient even to death on the cross. Your rebellion has its consequences. And Jesus suffered those consequences on the cross for you. Unlike Joab with Absalom, you are given the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation.

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

 

December 31, 2014

Adopted into the Family

We end the year with weekly contributor Rev. Clarke Dixon. We appreciate Clarke’s contribution here over the past year, his writing and perspective is a really good fit for Christianity 201. You can read this at source by clicking the title below.

Adopted into God's FamilyHis Birth, Our Adoption

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 NRSV)

Jesus was born, so that ultimately we might receive adoption as God’s children. There are few things we can note:

  1. We cannot think of ourselves as automatically being God’s children just because we happen to exist. The Bible does not affirm that all people are God’s children, if we were, there would be no need for adoption. It does affirm that we are separated from God by sin. God therefore has no “fatherly” obligation toward us. Thankfully, it also affirms that we can become His children: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12 NRSV)
  2. Adoption is a result of God’s will, God’s desire. A parent who goes to an adoption agency has no prior obligation to adopt a particular child. God has no obligation to adopt us, or do anything for us. But He chooses to do so. It is His will to do something good for us, He sent His Son, that we might be adopted.
  3. Our background is not an issue for adoption. When God has chosen to adopt you, there is no “but Lord, you know that I am . . . or I have done . . .” He already knows and has gone ahead with the adoption anyway. There is repentance from those things in the past that separate us from God, but our past does not keep God from adopting.
  4. We are adopted by One who will be present to us and intimate with us: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Though we can point to the Lamb’s Book of life, an adoption certificate is not our proof now that we are His children. His fatherly presence through His Holy Spirit is. And through His Spirit we are to call him by what is really the more familiar “Dad” rather than the formal “Father.”
  5. We are no longer enslaved. We have been enslaved to sin this side of Eden. A particular people were called through whom God would bless all, they were enslaved to the law. Through adoption we are no longer slaves to sin or the law, but we are free children of God. Being freed, our desire will be to honour the One who has freed us from slavery, and adopted us as His own.
  6. As God’s children we look forward to an inheritance. While I appreciate translations that look to being appropriately inclusive in language, these are verses where it helps to know that the word “son” is used throughout. In fact it is even found in the very word for ‘adoption’. This is important because it was written at a time when sons enjoyed the inheritance, the daughters not-so-much. So the ladies among us also look forward to a full and equal inheritance in Jesus.
  7. A familiar expression is true: “God has no grandchildren.” Perhaps some prefer to think of God as a grandfather type of figure, close enough to enjoy a relationship, but far enough to enjoy freedom from a father’s discipline. When we are adopted, we are adopted as children, not grandchildren. We can expect His wonderful presence, we can expect a wonderful inheritance, and we can also expect His discipline. This too is wonderful!

At the right time Jesus was born so that someday you might be adopted as God’s child. Have you experienced that?

May 22, 2013

Son of God, Son of Man

Crosswalk.com is running a series of excerpts from the book Praying the Names of God by Ann Spangler.  You might want to dive in and cover the entire study, or better yet, pick up a copy of the book.  Here’s the link to today’s reading.

The Name

Like the Father, Jesus is God. He always was, always is, and always will be. But unlike the Father, Jesus is also a human being. Though  charged with blasphemy and crucified for claiming to be one with the Father, Jesus’ resurrection validates his claim to be God’s Son in a unique way. When we confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, we share in the love the Father has for the Son, becoming adopted children of God.

Though Jesus was the Son of God, he was also the Son of Man, a title that emphasizes both his lowliness and his eventual dominion. Near the end of his life, when the high priest asked him whether he was the Son of God, Jesus no longer avoided the title but said that he would one day “see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

When you pray to Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man, you are praying to the One who is your Brother and your Lord.

Key Scripture

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 16:15 – 17

Praying the Name

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God. . . .’ ” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:41 – 43, 50 – 54

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

Reflect On: Matthew 27:41 – 54 and Deuteronomy 33:27.

Praise God: For sending his beloved Son.

Offer Thanks: Because God considers you his child.

Confess: Your faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

Ask God: To deepen your sense of being his son or his daughter.

Have you ever played a game in which you let yourself fall backward into someone else’s arms? It’s difficult not to hedge your bets, not to sneak a look around to see whether the other person stands ready to catch you. Now imagine a more difficult challenge. This time you stand with your back toward an open grave and your task is to fall backwards into it. Your friend has assured you he will be there to catch you as you fall. The success of this venture depends on two things: your trust and your friend’s ability to keep his promise.

I imagine that Jesus’ death must have been something like that. Though he was God, he had to fall back helplessly into a human grave, trusting that the Father who loved him would raise him up. To do this, Jesus had to have been absolutely secure in his identity as God’s Son. In fact, Jesus never called God by any other name than Father, except once, when quoting directly from a psalm. Over and over, it was always “Father”:

* Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
* Father, protect them by the power of your name.
* Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.
* Abba, Father, everything is possible for you.
* Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
* Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Jesus was crucified for one thing — for claiming to be God’s Son. So it is interesting to note that when the earth shook at the moment of his death — the exact moment when the Son, falling into the grave, had need of his Abba’s all-powerful arms to raise him up — the centurion and those with him guarding Jesus exclaimed in terror: “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

Abba, a word derived from baby language to describe Almighty God! A word that would have sounded shocking to pious Jews! This is how Jesus expressed his relationship with Yahweh — as my Daddy, my Dear Father. It is the way he wants all of his followers to think of God.

Listen to what Paul says to the Galatian Christians:

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Galatians 4:6).

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Because of what Jesus our Brother has done for us, we too have become children of God. As his sons and daughters, we can be absolutely confident that underneath our deepest griefs will always be the everlasting, ever-loving arms of God our heavenly Father.

Related article on the Humanity of Christ.