Christianity 201

October 31, 2021

Forever Amen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.6.9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

For eight weeks, Ruth Wilkinson shared a worship teaching segment on Sunday mornings based in the Lord’s Prayer. This was week nine, and she knew for some people the series wouldn’t be complete without thinking about the phrase with which we commonly end when reciting the prayer.

In the NIV (above), it’s a footnote:

some late manuscripts: for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The version in Luke 11 is even shorter. The phrase doesn’t occur in some earlier manuscripts, but in one of the earliest writings we have, the Didache, which we discussed here a few days ago, it does appear. The website Got Questions says the phrase “should not be discarded lightly” as there are “data points” on both sides of the discussion.

We looked at the first part, in a 2014 post entitled, For Thine is the Kingdom, and more recently in 2020, Clarke Dixon studied the phrase in a post titled, For Thine is the Kingdom, where he reminded us of this related scripture:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

Ruth shared that part with the congregation the week prior. Today she continued considering the phrase “forever and ever, Amen.”

Forever

Some of the prayer is for this lifetime. It speaks of having “daily bread” needs met, of forgiveness and forgiving, and of God’s leading in our lives.

Some of the prayer is about things beyond this life: God’s Kingdom, His holiness, His will (plans and purposes), His majesty and power, and His glory.

Having a ‘forever’ perspective reminds me that

►Faith isn’t just rose coloured glasses wear to get through the day; rather it’s more like prescription glasses help me see better.

►Faith isn’t just a template to make the complicated world seem simpler; rather it’s a perspective accept the complications and find my path through them.

►Faith isn’t a crutch help us limp through; rather, healing lets me stand firm, run toward, walk without fainting alongside those in need

Faith makes difference starting now, continuing forever.

Eternity has implications for my everyday: what I say, do, spend money and time on, how I treat people around me, how I interact with the world of which I’m a part.

Faith is therefore a response to what I see in Jesus, how I follow his example and live out his teachings.

Amen

The final word we recite is also a name give to Jesus.

NRSV.Rev.3.14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation…

The more common use of Amen occurs in our worship as affirmation of something just stated, confirming that “this is truth” or “this will be.” We say it here for the prayers about this life and the things that are prayers beyond this life.

Amen.


Here is a very short look at the prayer which Ruth shared 10 years earlier while serving at a different church. Check out, Before You Say, “Our Father.”

September 3, 2020

For Thine is the Kingdom… But Mine is the Driver’s Seat

by Clarke Dixon

Wouldn’t everything be better if we were in the driver’s seat? If we were in control and called the shots? This thought may cross our minds as we watch the news. Who thought it was a good idea to . . . ? Why don’t they . . . ? We might think it when we watch loved ones make foolish decisions, at least foolish in our eyes. What are they thinking?!

If only everyone would ask us, everything would run better. But we sit at the phone and world leaders never phone to ask our advice. Neither, it seems, do our friends and family members. We would love to be in the driver’s seat and make the all the important decisions but we don’t even feel like we are in the car.

And then we pray, and we might pray as if God has called us looking for our advice. Sometimes, perhaps often, we don’t just pray to God, we tell him how to answer our prayers. We want to be in the driver’s seat, even with God in the car.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, especially the last lines, we will be caused to consider and reconsider just who should be in the driver’s seat of our lives:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer (traditional)

The traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer is not actually part of the prayer Jesus taught. But it is Biblical, the language being very similar to a prayer of David:

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 KJV

David prayed this prayer while God’s people were experiencing their “glory days” as a nation. David was a good king, a loyal king, who though not perfect, had led the nation well. Under his leadership the twelve tribes gelled together into one nation, he led many military victories, built a grand palace for the royal family, and now was preparing for Solomon to take over as king including the provision of all Solomon would need to build a temple for the LORD. Solomon had already been declared king as well, so this was a time of transition from a great king to his son.

As we read about this time of transition, what might we expect from David? We might expect David to gloat, “look what I’ve done, look at my power, my victories, my majesty, my kingdom that I have built, and how I am exalted over it all. Look now at my son who is ready to take my place as your king.”

Does David gloat? No, David prays:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

David was a great king, but God is preeminent, the true and greater king. David knew it. David knew that it was far better to be a servant of the true king than to be a king.

This focus of God as king is found throughout the chapter. Where we might expect the word for temple in the first verse, we find the word meaning palace or fortress instead, as in the LORD is not just God who will reside in a temple as gods do, but is also the king who will reside in a fortress as kings do.

Also within Chapter 29, which is focused on preparations for the building of the temple, Bible scholars see allusions to Moses and the building of the original tabernacle. In other words, though we now have a king instead of a prophet as leader, nothing has really changed. The LORD is still our God, our leader and protector, our true king.

David could gloat, and the people could praise him. The focus, however, is on God the true king. God is preeminent. David knew that it was better to be a servant of the king than to be a king. David knew that it was a privilege to serve the Lord as a passenger and not as the one in the driver’s seat.

When we pray, we may be tempted to take the driver’s seat, to tell God what should be done, and how it should be done. As we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever,” we are reminded that we are not in the driver’s seat. We will gladly take the passenger seat and let God take the wheel.

If David knew that God was preeminent, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and so many others we read of in the New Testament knew that Jesus is preeminent:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 NIV

When we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever” we are not just thinking of and praying to some generic idea of God, a God that cannot be known. We are praying to God who has revealed himself to us supremely through Jesus Christ. We are speaking, not just to our king, but to the one who has given us the right to call upon him as our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer begins “Our father.” May prayer be for us an experience of being a child of God. It ends with “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” May prayer be for us an experience of being his servant who seeks his glory. Being a child and servant of the one true king is far better than being a king. May prayer become for us an experience of letting God take the driver’s seat in our lives.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to pandemic precautions. The teaching segment alone can be seen here.

August 27, 2020

Forgiving Our Debtors Doesn’t Come Naturally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Matthew 6:12

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves
    release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. (Passion Translation)

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). It is added to “forgive us our debts” as if it is a matter of fact thing, something we have already done like it was no big deal. Forgiving someone, however, can seem like a big deal, or even an ordeal. Here are three things we may think about forgiveness which may add to the struggle.

We may think, “I am just not good at forgiving people.”

Forgiveness is not a skill. Rather, forgiveness flows out of character. Consider sailing. Without wind, all the skills and techniques of an accomplished sailor come to nothing. The sailor will struggle to sail. Without character we struggle to forgive.

Forgiveness flows out of a character marked by grace. It is not so much that we learn how to forgive, but rather we become people of grace. We experience God’s grace in Christ. Having experienced great forgiveness from God we become people who want to forgive.

We become people enabled to forgive. The Holy Spirit works in us, growing the fruit of the Spirit within us. Are we growing in our character such that forgiveness is just something we do?

If we are really struggling to forgive someone, maybe we can take a breather from trying so hard. Maybe we can focus on the offense less and God’s love for the offender more. Maybe we can focus on our relationship with the offending person less, and on our relationship with God more. Then we can go back to that person from a different place, as a more Christlike person growing in grace.

We may think “I tried to forgive and forget, but there is no way I can ever forget what they did to me.”

We have some good news; forgiveness is not tied to a superpower called forgetfulness. My Mum, who now lives in a nursing home, has that superpower. You know who is not at all worried about the pandemic? My Mum. You can tell her there is a pandemic and in five minutes she will have forgotten all about it. While I am happy my Mum is quite happy, none of us want that superpower of forgetfulness and all that goes with it.

We do not normally get to choose our memories, but we do get to choose what we do with them. When we forgive someone we may not forget the offense, but we can channel every memory of an offense into a gracious and wise response.

In some cases, it is unwise to forget the offense, good memories are necessary for health and protection.

Think of the example of a husband who abuses his wife. A wife with an unforgiving spirit might say “Though you have apologized I hope you go to hell for the hell you put me through.” A spouse with a forgiving spirit, but a “forgiveness = forgetfulness” kind of thinking might say, “since you apologized again, let us start over again as if nothing has happened.” A spouse growing in grace, but having a wise memory might say “I hope you get help, repent, and become a better man. I hope you live and die in the arms of Jesus. But if you raise a fist against me again, you will not live and die in my arms. You have apologized and I forgive you, but the past offenses are in my memory and my memories lead me to put boundaries in place for my safety.”

Forgiveness is not to be confused with forgetfulness. They are two very different things. If we struggle with trying to “forgive and forget,” perhaps we should stop trying to forget. Instead let us focus on responding with grace and wisdom when we face offense and when we remember.

We may think, I alone have difficulty forgiving others.

Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural. It is not “as I have forgiven my debtors,” but “as we have forgiven our debtors.” We are in this together.

There are many of us learning to forgive. There are many of us growing in grace. There are none of us who have arrived. You are not alone on the journey. This is why the experience of Christian community is important. We support one another on the journey. If we are struggling to forgive, let us take a deeper dive into meaningful relationships with people who are walking with Jesus and growing in the Spirit.

We thank God for forgiveness we experience in Christ. We thank God that he grows our capacity to forgive through His Spirit. Let us be so growing in our relationship with God in Christ that we pray “as we have forgiven our debtors,” and not “as we struggle to forgive others.”

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The message portion alone can be seen here.)


We have two articles in this series from Clarke this week. Watch for the second one tomorrow.

August 13, 2020

Forgive Us Our Debts (What Debts?)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray “forgive us our debts.” Do we really need to pray that? With so many North Americans in debt, many would say yes, it would be great to experience loan forgiveness, to be released from the obligation to pay all that money back. Jesus is not talking about that kind of debt. So what does “forgive us our debts” even mean? Do we owe God something?

Where we find the Greek word “debt” in the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, we find the Greek word for “sin” in the Gospel of Luke. The term used by Luke has the the idea of missing the mark, like an archer missing the target. With Matthew and Luke each recording different words here, which word did Jesus actually use when he taught his disciples to pray?

According to Bible scholars, Jesus likely taught in Aramaic, so it is possible Jesus used neither of the Greek terms! There is an Aramaic term for debt which includes the idea of sin. Jesus possibly used that word, with both Matthew and Luke translating in ways that bring out the full meaning of the term. The full idea is that just as one who cannot pay back a debt needs to be released from the consequence of not paying back that debt, we need to be released from the consequence of sin, of missing the mark.

When we hear that word sin, however, we might think “I am not a sinner. I have never murdered anyone, or stolen from anyone, I am a good and decent person.” After all, I’m sorry to have to say it, but we Canadians are typically very nice decent people, eh?!

We may hear of people coming to faith in Jesus who made a real mess of their lives and the lives of everyone around them through drugs, theft, and sinful living. We might think they really needed Jesus, they really needed forgiveness because they really were sinners. Thankfully they found religion and now they are well behaved, more like us!

My own story is nothing like that, of addictions or loose living then a big change when Jesus stepped in. For me, Jesus seems to have always been around. But there was a big adjustment. Driving to university one day I needed to take a detour due to a car accident. On seeing the wreck at the end of the detour the thought struck me that the driver must surely have been killed. When I got home from school, my best friend’s mom came flying out of our house to greet me. Indeed the driver of the car had been killed. It was my best friend.

That was a very hard day for all of us. I am not sure why, but that evening I read 1st Corinthians 13 which includes these words:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (NIV)

This passage is often described as a beautiful hymn about love. For me that night, however, it wasn’t about love, it was about me. I could have been a better best friend. I had missed the mark in what friendship looks like. There was a burden of guilt that I needed to be released from. Before that day I knew in my head that I was a sinner who needed God’s grace. But I was a decent, well behaved young man, so it was a theological thought without much heartfelt conviction. With the death of my friend, however, my faith dropped from my head to my heart. I knew I needed forgiveness. I had missed the mark. I had fallen short of the glory of God. If I needed forgiveness, everyone else did too, because out of all the kids in high school, I was one of the few friends my friend had. Kids can be cruel.

We all need grace, even those of us who are so self-controlled that we minimise our sins by keeping the rules well, even those of us who have had a brilliant start in life with great teaching along the way so that we become the epitome of decent folk: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV)

Through the death of my friend, I saw that my sin was not really in the usual list of rules we think of, it was love that missed the mark of God’s love.

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14 NRSV

God is love

1 John 4:8 NRSV

We miss the mark when we fail in love. In fact the greatest commandments are all about love. Therefore the greatest sin is to lack love. God is love. Being created in the image of God we are to be characterised by love. When we are not, we show how far we have fallen from the glory of God.

There is good news; Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our debts,” then he went on to pay off our debts!

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:7-11 (NRSV)

When we pray “forgive us our debts,” the idea is of needing to be released from the consequence of our sin. There is a recognition that we are stuck. Stuck in patterns of living that alienate us from God. Stuck in patterns of living that alienate us from others. Stuck in patterns of living that make a mess in our own lives. Stuck in patterns of living that make a mess in the lives of others. Stuck in sin. Through sin we have all become unglued. Jesus came to get us unstuck.

When we pray “forgive us our debts,” we also learn to pray “thank you for answering that prayer through Jesus.”


Clarke (with an ‘e’) Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can also watch the message alone here.

August 6, 2020

More than Our Daily Bread

by Clarke Dixon

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)

Do we really need to pray for daily bread when so many of us have so much in our cupboards, fridges and freezers? It turns out that we do. Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for bread. In addition to praying for the necessities of life there are at least four other things we are praying for when we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” What are they?

Why pray for today’s bread when we have enough for the week ahead? Let us remember that not everyone is so fortunate. Let us also remember that in Biblical times, workers were often paid each day. In ancient times many people were just one day away from being without. Let us also remember a lesson God’s people learned in the wilderness following the exodus out of Egypt:

. . . in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”

Exodus 16:13-19 (NRSV)

God provided daily “bread” to his people in the form of manna while they were in the wilderness. Apart from special instructions to allow for Sabbath each week, there were strict instructions to only gather enough for each day. Why? God would provide what was needed for the next day on the next day. It was a lesson in trust. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in trust.

If you are like me, you thank the Lord at the beginning of each meal, but not before a snack. Somehow saying grace before a snack seems a bit odd to me. I love Dairy Queen Blizzards, especially the Skor ones, especially the large ones, especially the ones with extra Skor bits added. The average adult needs 2000 calories a day. A large Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories before adding the extra bits. If we are being honest, we might be consuming more calories between meals than during meals! We thank the Lord at mealtimes for providing the food we need. Perhaps there is something unnatural about thanking the Lord for having too much to eat! This idea is reflected in a Proverb:

. . .give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Proverbs 30:8-9 (NRSV)

By teaching us to pray for daily bread, Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for enough, but also for not too much! When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in contentment. 

As mentioned, a large Dairy Queen Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories. When we eat one, we are potentially consuming more calories in one snack than some people do in a week. Lack of food has been a problem throughout history. Actually, lack of food is not the problem. The problem is with uneven distribution of food. Where you and I can go to Dairy Queen for an unnecessary treat then chase it down with water, others do not even have access to the water.

Have you noticed that Jesus did not tell us to pray “give me this day my daily bread?”, but “give us this day our daily bread.” Provision is a community thing. It is not just about me being able to eat, it is about my family, my people, ultimately all people being provided for. Provision for everyone without discrimination is baked right into the Old Testament law:

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (NRSV)

Following the law might hurt the financial bottom-line of the land owner, but it made life possible for many others.

There is a striking lyric in a U2 song called “Crumbs From Your Table”: ”Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.” Sadly, for many it does, because where you lives affects your access to food, water, health care, rights and freedoms, work, pensions, education and more.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in our practical love for everyone.

When we pray for daily bread, it is not really about bread, and bread only. The bread represents all that is necessary for life. I cannot help but think about the Lord’s Table when Jesus,

on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (NRSV)

God has provided everything we need for life. God has also provided everything we need for eternal life. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are are not just praying for food, we are praying for grace. God has answered that prayer through Jesus.

Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

John 6:35 (NRSV)


Clarke Dixon @clarkdixon is a pastor in south-central Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can also watch the reflection alone here.

July 30, 2020

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Do our prayers sound like the Lord’s prayer? Notice I am not asking if we pray the Lord’s Prayer itself, but rather if our prayers reflect it. Jesus did not say “pray this,” but rather “pray in this way.” Do our prayer requests sound like the requests found in the Lord’s prayer?

In twenty-three years as a pastor, having received many prayer requests, and having attended many prayer meetings, the number one prayer concern that has shown up is for good health. This is not surprising as health is so important. Surprising, however, is that though Jesus was known for healing many, many people, when he taught us to pray, he did not teach us to pray for good health!

What are the first prayer requests Jesus put before us to pray about?

hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

We may find that our prayers often begin from a self-centred place. Indeed we might not even feel like praying until something happens to us that causes us to go looking for help. It is not wrong to pray out of our needs, for the Psalmists often do, therefore we are in good company. We cannot pray, however, as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. When we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, we learn to focus on God and God’s agenda for the world.

What does that agenda look like? What does it look like when God’s will is being done? The Bible teaches us what life in the Kingdom looks like. Let us take just two examples:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:21-24 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, people experience justice and righteousness. Far too many empires have been marked by the opposite.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, even those considered as “the least” are valued and helped. Far too many empires have oppressed their people rather than helped.

We sometimes have a negative reaction to the idea of a “kingdom.” We want democracy! In Bible times, however, a kingdom was considered a good thing, a safe place. You did not want to find yourself on your own, defenseless against marauders who lusted after your possessions, your land, and your family members. You wanted to belong to a people who could stick together and be stronger together. It was even better if the people you belonged to had a good army, and a good king. The king of a kingdom was supposed to take care of the people and ensure their safety. In fact kings in ancient times were often referred to as shepherds.

In the Kingdom of God, people are taken care of. God is our shepherd. There is a good king indeed, one who is concerned for the welfare of his people.

We cannot pray as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. We will focus on God’s kingdom and the good king’s love for all kingdom people. We will focus on others, and God’s concern for them.

If there is a focus on self here as we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it is on how we might be part of the problems of this world, rather than the solutions. It is on how we might be supporting the empires of this world, rather than advancing the Kingdom of God. Let us consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

There is a word for being transformed in one’s mind: repentance. The New Testament Greek word behind our English word “repentance” literally means to have a change of mind.

Did you know that repentance can become self-centred? It becomes self-centred when our line of thinking is nothing but “I repent so that I can go to heaven.” Such assumes that the greatest problem to be solved is the disruption in my relationship with God, which will negatively impact my future. It is all about me.

Repentance runs much deeper than that. It is not just about negative consequences of sin for ourselves. Let us read again the passage from Amos above and consider how the injustice and unrighteousness was negatively impacting others. Let us read again the passage from Matthew 25 above and recognize the potential for positive and negative impact on others. Repentance is part of a growing relationship with God, yes, but it is also about leaving behind the old ways of empire and their negative consequences in the lives of others, to live instead in God’s kingdom ways, which have positive consequences. Repentance is not just about me getting to heaven, but about God, through me, making life a little more heavenly for everyone around me.

When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we will want to be aware of the old empire ways which harm others. When we do go to a self-focused place, we will consider if we are living in old empire ways, we will consider our impact on others. We do not want to stand in the way of God’s coming kingdom. Far from standing in the way of the experience of God’s kingdom, we will be ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus became for us the ultimate example of living out the prayer, of becoming the answer to the prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Jesus’ life was an example of helping people, until of course his kingdom principles got him into trouble with the empires of the world, the Jewish leadership, and the Roman leadership, each trying to protect their own interests, each seeking to advance their own agendas. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, on the night he had to decide between fighting the bullies, or flight from them, said “not my will, but thy will be done.” He chose the cross.

At the cross we saw how things work on earth. We saw how empires work. We saw the best man the world has ever known beaten up, mocked, and crucified as empires tried to hold onto their power. At the cross we also saw the ultimate example of things happening on earth as they do in heaven. We saw, and still see today, God’s love and grace overwhelming the powers of hatred. At the cross we saw an answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As we learn to pray that prayer, we will learn to pick up our cross and follow.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more of Clarke’s writing here each Thursday, or at the source, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Or should that be ‘shrunken sermon?’)

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

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.

April 22, 2020

The Forgiveness/Bitterness Dichotomy

Simon the Pharisee throws a party: The painting, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618. (via Wikipedia) Notice the woman at Jesus’ feet. See scripture below.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (in the Sermon on the Mount)

“Detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.” – Lord’s Prayer as translated from Aramaic (full text in C201 1.27.19)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Also Sermon on the Mount

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:32, NIV)

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. – Dialog found in Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-22, The Message)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Jesus teaching, as recorded by Mark (11:25)

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke’s account of Jesus responding to Simon’s objections to Jesus reaching out to a disreputable woman at a party Simon was hosting. (Full account in 7:36-50)

So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him...
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
– Paul, in a second letter to the Corinthians on reshaping their approach toward a man in the church who was the object of church discipline. (2: 8,10,11 NLT)


Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul. The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory. – Russell Young (C201 9.5.17)

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told [the woman caught in adultery] to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love! – Rick Apperson (C201 1.18.15)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship… – Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Matt Tullos and today we’re back at his site again.

Forgiveness is More about You Than Them

All was well in the Amish community in Lancaster Pennsylvania until a deranged man mercilessly shot 10 Amish girls and then turned the gun on himself in 2006. How did they respond to this shocking loss? Amazingly, the Amish community didn’t blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. They understood the importance of forgiveness, not for the killer’s sake. He was dead. But for themselves. Why? Because living in unforgiveness is debilitating.

Most of us will not have to endure that depth of offense. Most bitter people didn’t become a bitter person through the act of a single dagger. Most bitter people are dying from a thousand paper-cuts. The girl that rejected him… The backroom deal in the company that cost him a promotion… The humiliation experienced years ago from a father’s rage… Whether we can reconcile the relationship or not, we must forgive.

We get stuck. We fantasize about vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense with malice. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense. For many, this becomes a lifestyle that poisons every relationship they enter. It’s insidious.

Jesus is clear on this. In order to be forgiven, you must forgive. That’s easy to say but hard to do. And yet this is a primary hallmark of Christian manhood. It’s a heart issue. Who knows? Forgiveness might just save your life.

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert


 

February 4, 2020

The Hurt of Rejection

Today again, an internationally-sourced devotional for you that’s new to us; this time from down under! Christianityworks is a non-denominational, global media ministry headquartered in Sydney, Australia. They have additional offices in the UK, India, and the USA.  To read today’s article at source, or listen to each on audio, click the individual titles.

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Honestly, I think that rejection is one of the worst things that we ever have to deal with in life. Sometimes it’s a big rejection, like a divorce. Other times, it’s just the little things. But whichever form it comes in, rejection is just the pits.

Have you ever been ignored by other people? It hurts, doesn’t it? You know – a bunch of people at work decide to go out for lunch and they forget to invite you. I even remember back when I was single, all the married couples would go out for lunch after church, but I wouldn’t be invited.

Man that hurts, because even though it’s not a big thing sometimes, those sorts of slights, if I can call them that, tell us that we’re not worth anything much to those other people and that, at the end of the day, we’re not worth anything much … period. You know what I’m talking about.

So the question is how do you deal with that feeling of rejection and loneliness? How do you stop it from eating away at you?

Well, it’s in that moment that you and I need to experience the magnitude of God’s love for us – not just in words or as a concept, but for real. Words are cheap. But God’s actions speak louder, much louder, than words.

This is how the Holy Spirit puts it in the book of Romans:

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Just breathe that in. Let God’s Word fill you with the love that you need when the rest of the world ignores you.


Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Christianity Works:

Forgiveness – A Surprising Twist

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

There are many things we know that are incredibly wrong. Murder for instance. Rape. Adultery even. We know they’re wrong. And then there are the things that we like to sweep under the carpet. Things like, unforgiveness. Surely that’s not up there with those others.

One of the things that many so-called Christians are incredibly good at is ignoring the bits in the Bible that they don’t like. The bits that … Well they’re probably there for someone else’s benefit, but not for mine. We don’t like to think about it quite as brutally as that, but it’s the truth.

There are lots of very inconvenient things there in the Bible that we’re just dying to ignore – take for instance the whole thing about God’s forgiveness. The conventional wisdom is that if you believe in Jesus, then you’re completely forgiven, right? That’s what the Bible says. That’s the whole “saved by grace through faith” thing … correct? And nothing can ever get in the way of that. And yet, when Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, this is what He taught:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sinned against us.

That has a definite sting in the tail and just in case they didn’t quite get it the first time, He added this little bit – a surprising twist if ever there was one – to the bottom of the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

Now remember – Jesus said that. And there’s only one way to read it. What unforgiveness is rotting away there in your heart? And what’s it doing to your salvation?

January 27, 2019

Three Prayers

Today’s Sunday Worship piece consists of three prayers, though we only have a link to the source for one of them. You also won’t see anything in green today because there is no specific scripture text, but two of the three prayers are variations on The Lord’s Prayer.

Becoming Like the One We Worship

Father, we thank you for your Word,
which is sober but not without hope.
Jesus has reformed his true people into his own image
on the basis of his own person, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit,
and he wants us to trust him and not be idol worshippers.

And so Lord,
cause us to revere you so we resemble you
and are blessed and restored to you,
and not ruined.
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth
and give “us understanding so that we might know him who is true”
and to abide “in him who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.”

Give us grace to guard ourselves from idols.
Be with us to this end for your glory.

In Christ’s name,
Amen.

– G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 311.

The Lord’s Prayer as You’ve Never Heard It

This appeared in 2010 at Thinking Out Loud, but never here.

The following is a version of what is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ However this version is one translated from Aramaic, rather than Greek.

Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your will come true
in the universe
just as on earth.

Give us wisdom for our daily need,
detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things,
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will,
the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

The Sibling’s Prayer

I have no idea how this got its name. We ran it at Thinking Out Loud many years ago and the blog it is from is no longer online. I also have no idea why we placed it in a black text box, but decided to run it as is!

Inspired by the Lord’s Prayer…

Dear Father,

We, Your children in Jesus, who live throughout the world, who love and revere You and await your perfect Kingdom…

Together we pray that Your will be done here on earth, in all our lives, as it is always fulfilled in Heaven.

We pray for one another, asking You to take care of our needs. We ask You to forgive all that divides us from You and from one other. And to lead us away from the temptation of trying to control our lives or the lives of others.

Keep that enemy of ours from distracting our focus upon You. We depend upon Your strength for we are but weak vessels.

This is Your Kingdom at stake, Your power and glory. Help us to put aside our differences and remember all that You’ve done for us and how much You love us. We love You. 

~Dave Aldrich

December 11, 2017

Temptation: Who Leads Us Into It?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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While we sometimes cross-post items from here to my topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, we don’t usually cross-post items from there to here, nor do we do newsy, time-specific items here. However this one raises something that we think is of interest to readers here at Christianity 201.

Matthew 6:13a

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (KJV)
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  (HCSB)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one  (NLT)
Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil. (J. B. Phillips)
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (The Message)
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (NRSV)
Do not put us in temptation, but deliver us from evil, (Spanish RV1975, Google translated)
Do not expose us to temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.  (Spanish Dios Habla Hoy, Google translated)

Last week Pope Francis raised a theological point which wasn’t exactly new, but made headlines.  The New York Times article explains:

…In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in [The Lord’s Prayer] — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit…

Then followed some reactions, including Southern Baptist Rev. Al. Mohler, who not surprisingly was horrified. Then the article continued.

…A commentary on the website of TV2000, the ecclesiastical television station in Rome that interviewed the pope, acknowledged that the pope’s words had stirred controversy. But it said, “it is worth recalling that this question is not new.”

“This is not a mere whim for Francis,” it added.

The basic question, the commentary said, is whether God brings humans into temptation or whether “it is human weakness to surrender to the blandishments of the evil one.”

Francis recently took the controversial step of changing church law to give local bishops’ conferences more authority over translations of the liturgy. He was responding, in part, to widespread discontent with English translations that were literally correct but awkward and unfamiliar for worshipers.

On Sunday, French churches began using a version of the Lord’s Prayer in which the line “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly, “do not expose us to temptation”) was replaced with “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us give in to temptation”)…

Saturday morning, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk — who prefers the type of rendering in the NRSV above — offers a different type of response from New Testament scholar Andrew Perriman:

The Catholic Church is unhappy with the line “lead us not into temptation” (mē eisenenkēs hēmas eis peirasmon) in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). The problem is that it appears to attribute responsibility for a person falling into temptation to God. Pope Francis has said: “It’s not a good translation…. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.” If anyone leads us into temptation, he suggests, it is Satan. So an alternative translation is being considered, something along the lines of “Do not let us enter into temptation”.

What Jesus has in view is not general moral failure (the modern theological assumption) but the “testing” of the faith of his followers by persecution. The word peirasmos in this context refers to an “evil” or painful situation that tests the validity of a person’s faith.

The Lord’s prayer is not a piece of routine liturgical supplication. It is an urgent missional prayer, best illustrated by the parable of the widow who prayed for justice against her adversary. Jesus concludes: “ And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:7–8).

The petition not to be led into a time of testing has a very specific eschatological purpose—to keep suffering to a minimum. When it came, as it inevitably would, testing was the work of the devil, aided and abetted by sinful desires. But even then it had a positive value: it proved the genuineness of their faith, and if they passed the test, they would gain the crown of life, which is a reference to martyrdom and vindication at the parousia.

 

 

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 14, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Outward

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. – Matthew 9:35

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. – Matthew 11:12

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

Yesterday we began a two-part look at the two nouns which occur twice in The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. (There’s a third word that’s a verb…we’ll get to that one!)

Kingdom occurs twice in the version of the prayer recited by Protestants because of the inclusion of text found in later manuscripts of Matthew 6.

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

and

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
and the power and the glory forever.
For yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

At BibleStudyTools.com we see that there are various kingdoms mentioned in scripture, but it’s the kingdom of God we’re most interested in. Quoting Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

Kingdom of God

( Matthew 6:33 ; Mark 1:14 Mark 1:15 ; Luke 4:43 ) = “kingdom of Christ” ( Matthew 13:41 ; 20:21 ) = “kingdom of Christ and of God” ( Ephesians 5:5 ) = “kingdom of David” ( Mark 11:10 ) = “the kingdom” ( Matthew 8:12 ; 13:19 ) = “kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 3:2 ; 4:17 ; 13:41 ), all denote the same thing under different aspects, viz.: (1) Christ’s mediatorial authority, or his rule on the earth; (2) the blessings and advantages of all kinds that flow from this rule; (3) the subjects of this kingdom taken collectively, or the Church.

The last one is important to remember; we — the Church — are part of that kingdom. We represent that kingdom.

Also at BibleStudyTools, as we did yesterday, we want to look at Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. This is just the first part of the entry

The heart of Jesus’ teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3, 5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” ( Matt 3:2 ); Jesus’ earliest announcement, “The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” ( Mark 1:15 ; cf. Matt 4:17 ; Luke 4:42-43 );the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “your kingdom come” ( Matt 6:10 ); in the Beatitudes, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:10 ); atthe Last Supper, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” ( Mark 14:25 ); and in many of Jesus’ parables ( Matthew 13:24 Matthew 13:44 Matthew 13:45 Matthew 13:47 ; Mark 4:26 Mark 4:30 ; Luke19:11 ).

It was once popular in certain circles to argue that the expressions “kingdom ofGod” and “kingdom of heaven” referred to two different realities. It is now clear, however, that they are synonyms. This is evident for several reasons. For one, the two expressions are used in the same sayings of Jesus, but where Matthew uses”kingdom of heaven, ” Mark or Luke or both use “kingdom of God.”Second, Matthew himself uses these two expressions interchangeably in 19:23-24, “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Finally, we know that “heaven” was frequently used as a circumlocution for “God” by devout Jews. Due to respect for the third commandment (“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” [ Exod 20:7 ]), pious Jews used various circumlocutions for the sacred name of God (YHWH) in order to avoid the danger of breaking this commandment. One such circumlocution was the term”heaven.” This is seen in the expression “kingdom of heaven” but also in such passages as Luke 15:18, 21 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”) and Mark 11:30.

Various Interpretations Despite the centrality of this expression in Jesus’ teachings, there has been a great deal of debate over the years as to exactly what Jesus meant by it. One reason for this is that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists ever defined exactly what they meant by this expression. They simply assumed that their hearers/readers would understand.

Then follows a description — click the link to read at source — of each of these interpretations including:

  1. The Political Kingdom
  2. The “Liberal” or Spiritual Kingdom
  3. The “Consistent” or Future Kingdom
  4. The “Realized” or Present Kingdom

[If you need to stop here today; that’s fine; what follows is bonus content…]

…So…why are there two versions of the prayer?

This explanation was linked to OurLadyOfSorrows.us, a Catholic website, but the particular page is no longer there:

Very early on in the Catholic Liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer was concluded with a doxology (a prayer of praise), “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever”. This was not part of the original Greek Scriptural text and consequently is not included in many modern Bible translations.

However, there are other non-Scriptural writings which have been preserved from the early days of the Church. It was here, where the doxology was first found in the important document called the “Didache,” (written between 70-140 AD). “Didache” (Did-ah-kay) simply means ‘teaching’. The “Our Father” in the Didache had the doxology tagged onto the end without the words “the kingdom”. The tradition of the doxology was carried into the Liturgy, and became so closely associated with the Lord’s Prayer that it is now often mistaken to be part of the prayer itself. The words “the kingdom” were added later and are preserved in the document “The Apostolic Constitutions” (written 250-380 AD). The “Our Father” is contained twice in the Bible (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) with no doxology for although very ancient, it is not found in the original manuscripts. This is simply a prayer from the believers in the early centuries of the Church whose spirits were moved by the Holy Spirit to close this beautiful prayer in grandiose fashion. These early writings never present it as an essential part of the “Our Father”, but rather an “embolism,” (added prayer), intended to increase fervor and direct the intention of the faithful.

The early Church did use the doxology in the Liturgy just as we do today. The doxology has been included in and taken out of the Mass throughout history. This prayer had been omitted from the Liturgy of recent centuries until Vatican II when it was reauthorized for use at Mass only. It is recited and acknowledged as an ancient prayer of praise. This is why it is not said immediately following the words “deliver us from evil”. So why do Protestants use these words?

It is believed that a copyist when copying Matthew’s Gospel put a note in the margin, noting that in the Mass, we follow the “Our Father” with the doxology. A later copyist mistakenly transcribed the margin note into the text itself and it was preserved in all subsequent copies of the manuscript…  [sourced at]

For a Protestant explanation we looked at a much longer article by Dr. Tim LeCroy. The first part was very much like what is above, the second part is below, and a third part dealt with the text from the viewpoint of church history. Click this link to read it all.

You ask, “Why do we pray [it] when it is not in the Bible?” Well, the fact that this is not in the Bible is not certain. This is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Granted most biblical scholars will say that it is not original to the text of Matthew. But this is a guess on their part. A very educated guess based on solid scholarship, yet a guess nonetheless.

You see, the text of the New Testament you hold in your hand is based on two different families of manuscripts. One family is called the Alexandrian and the other the Byzantine. On 99% of New Testament these two families agree. Yet they differ on some points. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is one of them.

First let me tell you about these two families of texts.  By far, most of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that we (and by “we” I mean the scholarly community) have are of the Byzantine family. The oldest of the Byzantine texts dates back to the 4th century. That’s about as far back as we go with complete texts of the Bible. The Byzantine family is also the basis for the text used in the King James Bible.

Then we have the Alexandrian family. There are far fewer texts of the Alexandrian family and they weren’t discovered until the 19th century or so (when I say discovered, I mean that Western scholars didn’t know about them). Biblical scholars like the texts of the Alexandrian family because they are cleaner (meaning there are fewer variations between them) and they omit some of these section of the bible (like the ending of the Lord’s Prayer and the long ending of Mark). For biblical scholars, shorter = simpler = less contaminated = closer to the original. Almost always when the Byzantine differs from the Alexandrian, biblical scholars will go with the Alexandrian. This is a generalization, but it is normally the case.

So the New Testament you hold in your hand is mostly of the Alexandrian family, while the King James is of the Byzantine. Thus there are the differences.

Tim ended with this verse, which is where we need to stop today!

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV)

all scriptures NIV except as noted

 

 

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