Christianity 201

June 14, 2016

Our Father

Praying In Jesus NameMaybe it was the point form (or bullet point) nature of yesterday’s post, but lying in bed this morning I considered the possibility of doing something similar on a phrase-by-phrase basis with the Lord’s Prayer.

Specifically, I wondered, “What does this tell us about our Father?”

Our Father

  • The form of address is abba. It’s a familial term, a mark of family intimacy. But you’ve heard that before in countless sermons, so we’ll move on…
  • He provides us with the means to initiate the conversation.
  • He wants to continue to commune with us as he did in those Genesis moments before the fall.

In heaven

  • He dwells in eternity, outside of time. We don’t. His location versus our location shows that each time we pray, we are ripping apart the curtain separating his world from ours.
  • We basically access eternity when we begin to pray; our prayers take place at the intersection of the two realities.

Holy is your name

  • Despite the intimacy, he wants us to remember who he is. He is holy. His very name is to be treated with reverence.

Your kingdom come

  • We invite the coming of a kingdom that is very much in the future.
  • We are invoking the manifestation of something that is described in terms of the rule and reign of a monarch, and that is often expressed in terms of realm or territory.
  • We see a glimpse of the majesty of God.

Your will be done

  • God has volition, and undoubtedly has a plan for the bringing about of that which is in his will.
  • In stating this, we are placing our will and our plan in submission to his. If there is a conflict, we would defer to him. Better yet however is the idea that his will becomes ours. Then there is no conflict.

On earth as it is in heaven

  • Again we see the intersection of two worlds, the earthly realm mirroring the heavenly realm. We are to be an echo here of what takes place there.
  • In the heavenly realm, God simply speaks and it happens or it is.

Give us today our daily bread

  • This one is complicated, because here we are being told to petition and make supplication for our basic, mundane, run-of-the-mill provisions; some would have it that prayer should be more high-minded than this.
  • Implicit in this also is the idea that such provisions, though we may feel we earn them by the our own labor and effort, ultimately come, as do all good gifts, from God; he is the Lord our provider.

And lead us not into temptation

  • Theologically, this one gets even more complicated than the phrase it follows. Does God ever lead anyone into temptation? He certainly allows temptation to cross our paths.
  • Always important to note that the verse asks for help avoiding temptation, but not the sin that can result from it; in other words, while God may allow us to face temptation, he doesn’t lead us into sin. That’s not his nature.
  • Temptation reflects the freedom — I’m avoiding free will for obvious reasons — we are given. We continue to face choices. But we can also enjoy the contentment of not living in the place of temptation.

But deliver us from evil

  • Depending on your vocation or your location, temptation may abound even where a change of job or address isn’t possible. But the prayer asks God to rescue us from the consequences of bad choices vis-a-vis those temptations.
  • This tells us that God is able to deliver.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory

  • The prayer returns full circle to the majesty of God. Kingdom is repeated; the only key word to appear twice in the English text.
  • As a model prayer, God is asking us to affirm that it’s all his, it all belongs to him, it all emanates from his authority and omnipotence, and in all that happens he is glorified.

Amen.

 

June 17, 2015

Deliver Us From Deception

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (Gen 3:1 NRSV)

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” (Luke 11:4b MSG)

and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us; and keep us clear of temptation  (Luke 11:4b Phillips)

YouthGroup

This week’s Wednesday column by Clarke Dixon tied into a youth emphasis at his church this past weekend — which makes it timely after yesterday’s devotional here — but I feel the four principles listed could apply to all of us. Click the link to read at source.

Deliver Them From Evil: Prayers for Our Youth

Since Sunday was “Day of Prayer for Youth Sunday” we can look to making our prayers for youth more specific than a simple “bless ‘em Lord.” The Lord’s prayer in it’s entirety is a great prayer to pray over our youth, but consider especially: “deliver us from evil.” A better translation would be “deliver us from the evil one.” What does the evil one do? We do not need to read too far in our Bibles to find out. The very first thing we find him doing is asking Eve, “did God really say . . .?”  (Genesis 3:1). He sought to deceive, to sabotage Eve’s relationship with God. And he will be whispering in the ears of our youth, “Did God really say? Is that really true?” Perhaps not as a serpent in a tree, but through media, social media, friends, enemies, and yes, in schools, colleges, and universities. This is a key reason youth have been falling away from the Christian faith as they grow into adulthood. It is not staid music, or boring sermons so much as the deceptions of the evil one.

Here are four prayers for our youth reflecting four key areas where the evil one seeks to deceive. (I thank J. Warner Wallace for pointing me in the direction of these four categories in a recent podcast):

1. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Is it really true for everyone?”

Our youth will hear things like “it is true for you, but it is not true for me.” Or put another way, “there is no absolute truth.” There is a very relativistic way of looking at things these days. Let me correct that, there is a very relativistic way of looking at religion these days. This is something we rarely do elsewhere in life. Under normal circumstances the freezing point of water is zero degrees Celsius. But suppose I should say “that’s true for you, but for me it is minus fifteen degrees Celsius.” Being a motorcyclist in Canada how I wish that were true! But if I were to head out in minus fourteen weather, I think you would be quick to point out that I might encounter ice. The point is that truth is real and really important. We depend upon things being true every day. But when it comes to spiritual realities people do not want to commit, and so they pretend truth is not real. That Jesus is Lord is either true for everyone whether they believe it or not, or it is not true for anyone. To quote C.S. Lewis: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Lord, may our youth know the nature of truth. 

2. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really know anything beyond what science teaches?

Here is a common thought: “Science is the only way to know anything.” But is that true? Science works by studying what is, and so that in itself limits its knowledge. I think it was John Lennox who used the analogy of a car, so I’ll use that too, though I’ll not say it as well as Dr. Lennox. Suppose you were to give my Mitsubishi Lancer to a group of scientists to study. They might eventually be able to explain how the whole thing works, and they may point out that it works without the need for engineers or factory workers. But you and I know that engineers and factory workers were essential for the very presence of this car. As you study nature you will not find God under the ground pushing up daisies. Yet the daisies would not exist without Him. What the scientists cannot tell you by studying the car itself is anything substantial about the history of the car, the manufacturer, or the people involved in the development of the car and the company. They might come to some knowledge about how that particular car was put together but for anything beyond that you need a historian who will work with other sources of truth. The scientists may make take a stab at the history by an inference that somewhere along the line there was a Mr. Mitsubishi involved in the development of the car. While inferring a founder would be correct it would still be very lacking in truth as there was no Mr. Mitsubishi, it is a Japanese word meaning “three diamonds.” The historian knows this. The scientists cannot tell the historians what to believe about everything. And neither can the scientists tell the theologians what to believe about everything. Their scope of study is too limited. Lord, may our youth enjoy both science and theology.

3. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really trust the Bible?”

All too often people say things like “the Bible has changed so much from the original it cannot be trusted, therefore you can have no assurance that anything in Christianity is correct.” There are two perspectives on this. First there is the perspective of faith. If God is going to reveal Himself we can trust that He will also ensure that the record of His revelation will be accurate and trustworthy. God was not just involved in the original inspiration of the works we know as the Bible, but the editing, collecting, and preservation. Second, there is the secular perspective provided by something called textual criticism. Any work you read from before the invention of printing press has hand written texts in libraries and collections that scholars work with to best determine what the author originally wrote. More often than not the originals themselves have been destroyed or lost, and the copies always have some inconsistencies between them. Sometimes the earliest copy we have of an ancient text was written hundreds of years later than the original. Sometimes scholars have very few texts to work with. Yet no one reads Herodotus or Aristotle and thinks “this is unreliable to the point of being useless.” The amazing thing is that with the New Testament we have thousands of texts to work with and some of them are dated quite close to the original writing. The evidence that the texts are reliable is overwhelming. Lord, may our youth have confidence in the Bible.

4. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Did Jesus even exist, never mind rise from the dead?”

Here is another common deception “you can’t prove that anything Christians say about Jesus is true.” On his existence, if you deny that, then practically everything you think you know about ancient history ought also to be denied. Some people are happy enough with that, but very very few serious historians will take that route. As for the resurrection of Jesus, if you come to the Bible with a belief already in place that miracles can never happen, that a dead man could never rise from the dead, then of course no evidence will be sufficient for you. You will be left, however, with a group of documents we collectively call the New Testament, with no real understanding of how they came to be, or how or why the writers came to write them. The existence of so many divergent theories about Jesus is evidence that scholarship is at a loss for explanation. However, if the door is open even a crack to the existence of a miracle working God, then the resurrection of Jesus becomes the simplest explanation as to why the writers of the New Testament wrote what they did. All the things written, all the things believed, and all the lives changed and laid down in service of Jesus, it all comes together and just makes sense. The evidence we have leads to the resurrection as the simplest and best explanation. Lord, may our youth know that Jesus lives . . . and loves.


Image: Youth Alive, Pottsdown New Life Assembly of God, Pottsdown, Pennsylvania

June 9, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer with Full Verse Cross-References

Monday morning at Thinking Out Loud, we offered a list of twelve (plus 3 bonus items) Bible passages (as opposed to verses) that every seasoned Christian should know. You can read that list by clicking here. Topping the list was The Lord’s Prayer. A few months ago at the blog Journey to the Center of the Soul, the author presented an expanded version of the prayer, which consists of incorporating a number of cross references; and I wanted to share that with readers here.  To read this at source, click the title below. Because we always put the scriptures in green here (to remind us of the similarity to a branch that is green when it has life) the entire post today is in green!

The Lord’s Prayer – Expanded Edition

We all know it by heart. We can recite the words without even thinking about what we are saying. I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent when He gave us that template for prayer we now call The Lord’s Prayer. So I would like to offer you an expanded version that I hope will help you think about what He was teaching us.

Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples1. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven2. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ3. [And] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him4.

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

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people5.  [Saying], for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life6.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you7.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven8.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come9.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ 10.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And he said to his disciples, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing… And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them11. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus12.

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses13.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses14.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift15. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive16.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it17.  Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted18. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you19. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil20.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen

There’s nothing else to say! Blessings.

References:   1John 15:8,  2Matthew 5:16,  3Romans 15:5-6,  4John 5:23, 5Matthew 4:23, 6John 6:40, 7Matthew 12:28, 8Matthew 16:19,  9Matthew 24:14, 10Matthew 25:34, 11Luke 12:22-23,30, 12Philippians 4:19, 13Matthew 6:14-15, 14Mark 11:25, 15Matthew 6:23-24, 16Colossians 3:12-13, 171Corinthians 10:13, 18Hebrews 2:18, 19James 4:7, 20Ephesians 6:11

May 12, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer, Expanded

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  Luke 11:1

This is another reading by Laura Steen from our worship gathering on Sunday.

Our Father in Heaven
We can call God our “Father” because he is
revealed to us by his Son, Christ Jesus,
who became man.
Lovingly, he adopts us as Children of God.

” in heaven” is Gods way of being;
majestic, transcending everything
we can conceive of his holiness.
His dwelling place is our homeland
to which we aspire.
This holy God lovingly calls us to him!

Hallowed Be Your Name
“to hallow” means we recognize God as holy,
and we treat Him in a holy way.
If we truly hallow the Father,
then we respect him in our hearts,
and he allows us to enter into
His plan for us and our salvation!
He lovingly saves us!

Your Kingdom Come
The Kingdom of God is brought near in the
Word Incarnate – the son he lovingly sent,
and it has come in Christ’s Last Supper,
death and resurrection.  “Your kingdom come”
prays  for the growth of the kingdom of God
in the “today” of our lives,
bearing the fruit of new life.
He lovingly gives us new life!

Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven
God’s expression of his will is the commandment that
“you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
This commandment expresses his entire will.
We ask for God’s loving plan to be fully
realized on earth as it already is in heaven.
He lovingly calls us into obedience!

Give us today our daily Bread
“Give us” expresses, in communion
with our brothers and sisters, our bond
of trust in our heavenly Father and the
covenant between the Father and all men.
The Father who gives us life, lovingly gives us “our bread,”
the nourishment this life requires, both material and spiritual.
He lovingly feeds us!

forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
We return to Him as His prodigals and begin our confession
as sinners in need of mercy. Our hope is firm, for in his Son,
whom he lovingly sent, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He lovingly forgives us!

And lead us not into temptation
We ask God not to allow us to take the
path that leads to sin.
He gives us the Holy Spirit that helps us
discern between the trials,
necessary for the growth of the inner man,
and temptation, which leads to sin and death.
He lovingly sends us His Spirit!

But deliver us from the evil one
We pray in communion with the Church
for the deliverance of the whole human family.
Victory over the dark prince of this world was
won once and for all at the Hour when Jesus freely
gave himself up to death to give us his life.
He lovingly gives us life on earth!

The Kingdom is Yours, the Power is Yours,
and the Glory, forever. Amen.
This is the final doxology of the Lords prayer.
By the final “Amen,” which means “So be it,” we confirm what is
contained in the prayer that our Lord has taught us.
Let us lovingly offer him our prayers and praise!

We invite you to sing this prayer with us now.

March 6, 2015

Living the Lord’s Prayer

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The Voice – Matthew 6:5 Likewise, when you pray, do not be as hypocrites who love to pray loudly at synagogue or on street corners—their concern is to be seen by men. They have already earned their reward. When you pray, go into a private room, close the door, and pray unseen to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not go on and on, excessively and strangely like the outsiders; they think their verbosity will let them be heard by their deities. Do not be like them. Your prayers need not be labored or lengthy or grandiose—for your Father knows what you need before you ever ask Him.

Your prayers, rather, should be simple, like this:

    Our Father in heaven,
        let Your name remain holy.
10     Bring about Your kingdom.
    Manifest Your will here on earth,
        as it is manifest in heaven.
11     Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—
12     And forgive us our debts
        as we forgive those who owe us something.
13     Lead us not into temptation,
        but deliver us from evil.
    [But let Your kingdom be,
        and let it be powerful
        and glorious forever. Amen.]

Diane Lindstrom posted this earlier this week on her blog Nice One Nana. Click the link to read at source.

Live the Prayer

I stumbled on this explanation of The Lord’s Prayer and because I’ve been thinking about “passion for Christ” these past few days, I appreciated the breakdown of the words in Matthew 6.9-13.

I like the idea of living the prayer.

Living the Prayer means…
Our Father in Heaven… A Passion to live the LOVE of God.
Hallowed be Your Name… A Passion to live the GLORY of God.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done… A Passion to live the WILL of God.
Give us this day, our daily bread… A Passion to live the CARE of God.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive… A Passion to live the RECONCILIATION of God.
Lead us not into temptation… A Passion to live the TRANSFORMATION of God.
Deliver us from the evil one… A Passion to live the DELIVERANCE of God.

 

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Teach us to pray”, Jesus provided them with a wonderful pattern to follow when they pray.

Here’s some simple observations I made this morning.

“Our Father” confirms a spiritual reality — God has made me His child.  Thank You, Lord. 

As long as I live under heaven, I cannot escape the nearness of God. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145.18) Thank You, Lord. 

God revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM”— that’s His sacred name and He is sufficient and unchanging. Thank You, Lord. 

I am reminded to pray for His will to be done on earth, not mine. He has a divine claim on my life. “He must become greater. I must become less. (John 3.30) Thank You, Lord.

I can’t make it on my own. God gives me breath, strength, hope and purpose. Thank You, Lord.  

I need God’s forgiveness. It’s difficult to confess my sin and to admit my desperate dependence on His grace for forgiveness…but oh, how cleansing. His mercies are new every morning for me. Great is His faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3. 23) Thank You, Lord.

But it goes further – other’s sins against me are miniscule compared to my sin against God. I need to keep short accounts in all my relationships. He forgives completely — “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103.12) He is my model for forgiveness. Thank You, Lord.

Temptation is everywhere – no question, there is an ongoing spiritual battle for my mind. There is such power in prayer. I can talk with God. Imagine…He’s as close as the mention of His name and He is my refuge and my strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46.1)  Thank You, Lord.

“Live the prayer.”   I like that idea.

July 28, 2014

For Thine is the Kingdom…

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Okay, let’s be clear here. We do have a six month rule. We don’t revisit a blog more than twice a year. And it’s only been three weeks. But last night I found myself back at Glen Scrivener’s blog with the unusual name, The King’s English. People often wonder about the differences between how The Lord’s Prayer is recited in Catholic versus Protestant churches. So here’s the 411 on that. But let’s do Glen a favor and click through to read at source. (You’ll find a whole series on the prayer.)

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

1 Chronicles 29:10-22; Matthew 6:5-15

Modern translations put this verse in footnotes.  It does not appear in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, nor in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew that we have.  It does appear in the Textus Receptus and so, for 300 years it appeared in all the English translations from Tyndale onwards.  In that time it has taken root, most particularly in Protestant Churches where it is said as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is a doxology (word of praise) that bears a resemblance to the prayer of David from 1 Chronicles:

“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)

It is a glad-hearted affirmation of the LORD’s all-sufficiency.  And perhaps it’s significant that the Lord’s Prayer ends this way.  The prayer that begins “Father” ends on a note of power and glory.

The person who rests in the Son and is brought to the Father will, in the end, confess His power and glory.  To such a Father as this we ascribe all majesty, and gladly so.  But this is the way around which Jesus would have it.  He does not ask us to approach the glorious Potentate and then to seek fatherly care in Him.  That would be quite a different spirituality.  No, Jesus our Brother introduces us to His Father and invites us to call Him “our Father.”  As a little child we pray for His Kingdom to come and, as we wait, we ask for daily provision, pardon and protectionThen, knowing His Fatherhood and our own littleness, we confess “Thine is the kingdom!”

This total self-abnegation is not the precondition for prayer.  If it were, it would be something we drum up in ourselves, therefore not self-abnegation at all.  Instead what Jesus calls us to is a joyful outflow from delight in a Father who will indeed provide, pardon and protect.  How happily we place the kingdom in His hands, knowing who He is!

So, this is the Lord’s Prayer. And Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” (Matthew 6:9)

Is this the manner in which you pray?

CS Lewis compared the Lord’s prayer to a Christmas tree.  The lines of the prayer are like the boughs and our own personal prayers are like the decorations that we hang.  That’s good advice.  When we pray, perhaps we can use the Lord’s Prayer like that.  At each line we pause, adding our own prayer, decorating the Christmas tree.  And as we put words to our desires and needs we can enjoy, in a deeper way, our union with Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.  Then we’ll gladly declare “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.”


I wanted to add a performance of Thine Be The Glory here; the one with the clearest fidelity featured a slide of Easter eggs the whole time!

This song appears in some hymnbooks as Thine Is The Glory

Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

July 20, 2013

Hallowing the Lord’s Name

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. (Exodus 20:7 NASB)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God. (same vs. NRSV)

Since I’ve been writing I have taken The Lord’s Prayer as a theme for several blog posts.  One looked at the prayer in Aramaic which is quite different from the one we know. Another was much more lighthearted; an imaginary dialog wherein as an individual is ‘talking’ the prayer to God, who is interjecting questions and comments.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches on prayer:

Matthew 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

One chapter later, he continues this theme:

Matthew 7:6:“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

I wrote about that passage just a few months ago, when I talked about trivializing important moments in worship or times on the Christian calendar.

What got me thinking about all this is a quotation from the book Tell it Slant by Eugene Peterson.

Tell It SlantFor several years I was part of a group in Baltimore called the Jewish-Christian Roundtable.  Twenty of us met monthly, ten orthodox rabbis and ten pastors and priests.  We basically conducted a Bible study alternating the leadership between Jew and Christian.  The rabbis always brought a handout of the Hebrew text that we would study together.  And they always collected the pages afterwards – meticulously.  I observed that they always counted the pages to make sure they had them all.  One day I asked the rabbi in charge what he did with the pages afterwards.  He said that he took them home and reverently burned them.  He told me that it was a tradition with them.  They were not permitted to leave the holy name in the hands of gentiles, lest it be inadvertently used or treated irreverently, or even blasphemously.

My immediate but unspoken reaction was negative.  Wasn’t this being a bit over-scrupulous?  But as time went on I began to feel the weight of their reverence, this hallowing of the name.  The experience continues in my memory as an implicit rebuke of the glibness in which the name is often tossed around in the circles I frequent.  And it often enters my mind still when I pray “Hallowed be your name.”  (p. 173)

When I read this story, it reminded me of an experience I had, also with a group of Jewish people, but a group of Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah. Our church youth group had been invited to visit a youth group of a Hebrew Christian church. I should explain that there are two streams among converted Jewish people, one is the Messianic Jewish style of worship that continues to meet on Fridays and follows the order of service of a typical Shabbot meeting. The other adopts the forms familiar to Evangelical Protestants, with a church building and worship style that is similar to Baptist.

Our group had brought musical instruments and taught them some songs, and several from our group shared their salvation stories. Up to that point, I thought we were doing a reasonably good job.

However, when we turned the youth meeting back over to their leader, he basically said, “These stories and testimonies are all well and good, but we need to focus on what the Bible actually has to teach us.” He then launched into a highly focused, very sober Bible study using a catechism type of teaching format (i.e. question and answer) which proved very quickly how well his group of teens knew their Bibles… and how much our group didn’t.

The contrast between “serious faith” and “casual faith” was striking. We were good kids. We attended youth group. We attended a church renown for the excellence of its programs, speakers and teachings. But we did not have the same reverence or thirst for the things of God in the same way as the group we visited. You could feel the difference. It was for more pronounced than simply the ability to answer Bible questions. It was humbling.

Someone has said that “a fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” That said, could something also be said of someone who takes seriously, and more deeply reveres the things of God that you or I?

February 19, 2013

On Earth as it is in Heaven

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]  (NASB)

Nearly three years ago I barely scratched the surface of this phrase from The Lord’s Prayer (or more correctly, The Disciples Prayer)  in Matthew 6.   Today, in keeping with our motto — Digging a Little Deeper — I thought I would see what some commentaries have to say about this phrase, which is found in Matthew’s version of the prayer, but not Luke’s. Unfortunately, a few of them skipped over this particular clause entirely.

The International Bible Commentary points out that the phrase modifies all three of the previous petitions, the bringing about of God’s Kingdom, His will, and the hallowed-ness of His name.

The NIV Study Bible concurs with this, suggesting that the phrase might be repeated after each line:

  • May your name be holy on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Evangelical Bible Commentary notes two things. First the phrase makes the petitions personal:

  • May your Kingdom come and your will be done by me, right now.

Second, it links the phrase to the familiar text in verse 33,

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. 

In other words

  • May your holiness and righteousness and your kingdom be the thing we seek (or long for) (or strive for) before anything else.

This would then link the line in the prayer to verse 33’s promise that

and all these things will be given unto you

(or ‘added unto you’ in the KJV, the things being the concerns we often are preoccupied in the ‘worry’ section in the Sermon on the Mount which precedes it.)

Matthew Henry enhances the text with these words:

“…that the earth will be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will.”

And some of you know that in The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson takes this line from a prayer already known for its extreme concision — contrasted with those who pray long prayers thinking their “many words” will make their prayers more effective — and renders it even more concisely:

as above, so below

Scanning the Christian blogosphere, we see people taking this phrase as a springboard for everything from a glimpse of heaven, to a call to social action, to beginning from where we are and then moving out beyond, to the impossibility of doing anything without the Holy Spirit’s power.

The blog, Ragamuffin Ramblings quotes N. T. Wright:

We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The life of heaven — the life of the realm where God is already king — is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and the beatitudes in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because the future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up.


In some unrelated online research a few days ago, I came across this rendering — not necessarily recommended — of the prayer found in a used bookstore from The New Zealand Prayer Book:

“Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.

Amen”

April 27, 2011

Give Us This Day — In 2011 — Our Daily Bread

Jesus was asked by his disciples for some teaching on prayer.  He told them not to just repeat the same prayers over and over again, and then he gave them a sample script which, sadly, many repeat over and over again.

Someone asked me recently what Jesus actually meant by, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In a world without refrigeration — though they used salt — it was probably more vital in their day to have an idea where your next meal is coming from.  Especially if you were a people that was constantly on the move. This of course led the Israelites to a superstitious adoption of some of their pagan neighbors’ views that certain gods controlled certain weather and soil conditions in certain geographic territories.

But I answered the question differently.  I think in our day, the equivalent consists of our prayers for health and safety.  Think of how health concerns — those of ourselves and our friends and relatives — preoccupy our prayer lists.  We know where our next meal is coming from.  The freezer is full and the grocery store is stocked full of more food.  Health concerns are often the source of our anxiety and concern.  Travel — by car, rail or airplane — fills us with further worry; the accident reports in the media are simply all too vivid.

Some pastors — including recently, Andy Stanley — are somewhat frustrated by our need to be petitioning God for “traveling mercies.”  Or for “a good night’s sleep.”  But I think there is something in the relationship and communication equation whereby God is quite willing to listen to our request for our ongoing, daily needs to be met.  It also acknowledges that all our basic necessities only happen by God’s grace, by Him who “holds all things together.”

David said he’d never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread, but Jesus taught us to pray for “our daily bread.”  I think our various health and safety concerns are simply the modern extension of this in a world where bread is — for now — plentiful.

March 13, 2011

Before You Pray, “Our Father…”

This was part of our worship time this morning.  My wife adapted this from something one of our team members sent.

If my religion and my life have no room for others and their joys and needs,

…I cannot pray “Our”

If I do not live as a child, beloved and learning,

…I cannot pray “Father”

If all my interests and pursuits are earthly things

…I cannot pray “Who art in Heaven”

If I — called to be holy as he is — am not holy

…I cannot pray “Hallowed be thy name”

If he is not King in my own life,

…I cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come”

If I will not listen for and obey his voice on Earth

…I cannot pray “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

If I will not make an honest effort, or if I ignore the immediate needs of others

…I cannot pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

If I choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted

…I cannot pray “Lead us not into temptation”

If I am not prepared to fight the spiritual fight with faith and truth and love

…I cannot pray “Deliver us from evil”

If I insist on my own rights and my own way

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Kingdom”

If I live according to what my neighbors and friends may say or do

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Power”

If I’m controlled by anxiety about every day’s problems and promises

…I cannot pray  “Forever”

If I cannot honestly say ‘Cost what it may, this is my prayer’

…I cannot pray “Amen”

July 15, 2010

Something, Anything

Today I had a brief conversation with a woman who was looking for a book containing The Lord’s Prayer to give to a couple of grandsons who are not (yet) part of God’s Kingdom.   The boys are both around ten years old.  Twins perhaps.   We looked at some picture books, but they seemed rather juvenile for age ten.  I made some suggestions that I thought were better, but of course, she already had her mind made up.

I thought it was interesting that, by extension, she thought that the boys not knowing The Lord’s Prayer was the situation to be remedied.   On the one hand, I can see how an older person, raised with elementary school readers which contained scripture portions, and a school day that began both with the national anthem and the prayer, would find it a bit of a travesty that a new generation of kids don’t know the words to Jesus model of communication with God the Father.

On the other hand, these kids need Jesus, not knowledge or awareness of a particular form.   It was almost a Protestant version of, “They don’t know the Hail Mary;” or “They don’t pray the rosary.”   The “Our Father” prayer is a beautiful prayer, taking into account so much of what conversing with God is all about.

But it seemed like a rather desperate — and even random — act.  “Give me something, anything…”

We were part of a group of seven people, so this particular exchange was rather atypical, but I wish I had told her this:   ‘Don’t give them a book, give them Jesus.   Tell them who He is and who He is to you.    Tell them there is something [someone] in their lives they are missing and point them in the direction of the Jesus of the Gospels, not just the prayer He taught.

Maybe buying a book is easier.

April 20, 2010

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

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We’ve prayed it many times:

Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

But how is God’s will done in heaven?

I see two things, but perhaps you can think of others:

(1) There is constant worship. The KJV of Rev. 4:8 says “they rest not.”  The NLT reads:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty — the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

So if you want to see a bit of the will of God done here on earth, there’s going to be non-stop worship.

(2) There is instant compliance. God simply speaks the word and it happens.   “And God said…” is the constant theme of the creation narrative, giving new meaning to the old phrase “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Except the missing middle part wouldn’t be “I believe it;” but something closer to “I’m obeying it.”

Unlike creation, God cannot always simply make things happen unless we’re willing to be used as partners with him; he has chosen in this time and place to work through willing people.

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