September 26, 2017 Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done- Matthew 6:9-10, Romans 8:26, Romans 12:2

christians-prayers

(Jesus said); “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (see Martin Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism here) is about who God is, and the second and third are about what God is doing.

God, of course, is holy. Our opinion doesn’t change that reality one bit, but the first part of prayer is acknowledging that we are addressing God.  We come to Him knowing that we don’t have faith in our ability to say the right thing or in the strength of our prayers. Our faith is in the One to Whom we are praying.  It doesn’t matter if we feel inferior or not worthy of approaching God.  He extends the invitation and command to us to come to Him in prayer.  He even sends the Holy Spirit to intervene on our behalf, so that we can pray effectively in spite of our perceived unworthiness or weakness.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

When we pray we need to know that we are coming to God because we want Him to make us holy, that we want to live in a way that is worthy of His naming and claiming us as His own. We want to live in a way that honors His name.  We can’t live in a way that honors God without asking Him for the strength and the abilities we need to be honorable.

God’s kingdom is a reality, and it will continue to be made more of a reality and it will come to fullness according to His plan. For us the kingdom of God is right now, but also not yet.  God’s plan is that His kingdom will be made a reality here on earth as well as in heaven.  Our desire and our purpose as Jesus followers are not just to be fully a part of the kingdom of God when we pass on to heaven, but to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Do we really want what God wants? This is why we pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth.  We can’t truly desire what God wants without His help.  Prayer is the way that God comes to us. It is a two way conversation.  Prayer is a means for us to invite God to transform our minds and align them with His will.

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)

 “Thy will be done” is at times one of the most difficult prayers we pray, especially when we want to say and believe “my will be done.” There are times when we don’t understand, when God says no to prayer, or His answer is, “wait, I have something better for you.”  Yet God still wants us to communicate with Him- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and even when it’s ugly.  He will align our hearts and minds to His purpose, and He will give us healing and strength when we need it.

God invites us to come to him anytime, in any way we know how, in prayer.

Have we come to God in prayer today?

September 25, 2017- The Power of Prayer- Matthew 18:18-20, Matthew 6:7-15

max lucado on prayer

(Jesus said): “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:18-20 (NRSV)

Sometimes we get it in our heads that prayer is an option- that we aren’t holy enough to pray, or that we don’t really have to do it- or that prayer is a last resort, or that prayer is a way of earning brownie points if we keep repeating the words enough. Martin Luther had much to say on the value of prayer in his Large Catechism in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus taught us to pray:

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,  Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:7-15 (NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer, that we learn as children as a rote prayer, is actually a template for prayer.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, but crisis is not the time to learn to pray. Prayer should already be natural to us and written on our hearts well before we are in desperation mode. Rote prayers, the Psalms and all of the encouragement offered in Scripture are given to us to study and pray and commit to memory so that we know how to pray, in good times and in bad. Then when we are in crisis and can’t find the words to pray, the words are already written on our hearts and minds.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us the prayers that God wants to hear from us. Prayer is God’s way of calling us closer to Him.

Have we come to God in prayer today? Have we agreed in prayer with another Jesus follower today?

Have we taken the time to listen to God’s response to us?

September 22, 2017 Liar, Liar Pants on Fire, and Be Happy With What You Have- Exodus 20:16-17

falsewitnessYou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

commandments 9 and 10

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:16-17

The Eighth Commandment is one that addresses our integrity. We are commanded to tell the truth about others, and not to say or do things that would wrongly incriminate them or damage their reputation.

Gossip has always been a juicy temptation for humanity. It is easy to get engrossed in (and embellish upon) the drama of other people’s lives. What we fail to realize is that gossip, especially when it is exaggerated and involving sensitive issues, can be highly destructive and damaging.  God commands us to stay out of the rumor mill.  He commands us to refrain from assassinating another’s character or incriminating an innocent person by spreading lies about him or her.

Those, then, are called slanderers who are not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another’s displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout. This is nothing else than meddling with the judgment and office of God, and pronouncing sentence and punishment with the most severe verdict. For no judge can punish to a higher degree nor go farther than to say: “He is a thief, a murderer, a traitor,” etc. Therefore, whoever presumes to say the same of his neighbor goes just as far as the emperor and all governments. For although you do not wield the sword, you employ your poisonous tongue to the shame and hurt of your neighbor…

For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.

False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear. Therefore, if you encounter an idle tongue which betrays and slanders someone, contradict such a one promptly to his face, that he may blush thus many a one will hold his tongue who else would bring some poor man into bad repute from which he would not easily extricate himself. For honor and a good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored. – explanation of the Eighth Commandment from Luther’s Large Catechism

As Luther explains, there is more to the Eighth Commandment. It implies that we should avoid presenting others in a negative light and dragging their dirty laundry out for all to see, whether the rumors are true or not.  We should assume the best of those around us, and we should actively work to avoid causing injury to others by our words.

Luther’s explanation of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandment can be found here. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments address the desires of our hearts.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments are pretty straightforward also. Don’t have a desire for someone else’s spouse.  Don’t be obsessed with having other people’s stuff.

Those two Commandments can best be expressed as, “Be happy with what you have.” It’s not necessarily bad to admire someone else’s spouse- he or she might have qualities you would treasure in your own spouse, or to admire someone else’s car, because you aspire to a better model than you already have.  Our friend’s kitchen cabinets might inspire our own kitchen remodel for instance.   But covetousness becomes destructive when it becomes an overwhelming desire to have something or someone who is owned or bound to another.  God commands us to be thankful that those around us have good gifts, as well as for us to be thankful for the gifts He has given us.

Therefore we allow these commandments to remain in their ordinary meaning, that it is commanded, first, that we do not desire our neighbor’s damage, nor even assist, nor give occasion for it, but gladly wish and leave him what he has, and, besides, advance and preserve for him what may be for his profit and service, as we should wish to be treated. Thus these commandments are especially directed against envy and miserable avarice, God wishing to remove all causes and sources whence arises everything by which we do injury to our neighbor, and therefore He expresses it in plain words: Thou shalt not covet, etc. For He would especially have the heart pure, although we shall never attain to that as long as we live here; so that this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in the sight of God! –explanation of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments from Luther’s Large Catechism

The purpose of the Law is to hold up a mirror to our face, so that we can see how much we sin and fail.  Jesus knows we sin and fail.  The good news of the Gospel is that He came to earth and died on the Cross to save us from our sins.  It is only in Christ that we can look to God and obey His commandments- God’s own rules given to us for our protection and well being.

September 21, 2017- Love Builds a Fence?- Exodus 20:12-15

love commandments

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

 You shall not commit adultery.

 You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.

Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others.  The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.

Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us.  Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.

In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:

“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.

The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world.  Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.

In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken.  God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.

When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals.  While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.

The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others?  Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too.  We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do.  We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so.  We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.

We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection.  In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.

September 20, 2017- Keep the Sabbath Holy- Exodus 20:8:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Mark 2:27-28

the-sabbath

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)

Why is the concept of Sabbath- which almost seems foreign to us today in our 24/7/365 world- so essential to God that He commands it? Why is Sabbath still as important for 21st century Jesus followers as it was for ancient Jews?

Part of that answer can come from the natural cycles of the world that God created such as- day and night and the seasons of the year. As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes – who was most likely King Solomon- teaches us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)

God built in cycles for activity and rest and he built a rhythm into nature. Spring is for planting, new beginnings and birth.  Summer brings growth and coming to fruition.  Autumn brings the harvest and preparation for the deprivation and dormancy of winter.  Winter brings a sort of mini-death, a rest period in which the world recharges and prepares for the planting and growth of spring.  There is a time to work and a time to rest that is built into even day and night. We are called to work and do the good things God created us for, but we are also called to rest and to just be sometimes.  That is what Sabbath is for.

Sabbath gives us that recharging and rest time we need to disconnect from the world, from work, from the temporal cares of the moment and focus on simply being in the presence of God. The consequence of non-stop engagement and endless work is burnout.  God knows we need to connect with Him to be renewed and to have Him restore our strength.  Observing the Sabbath is not so much about “doing something for God,” but it is part of His provision to take care of us.  Jesus had to remind the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath command not for people to have to observe a laundry list of man-made restrictions, but so that people would see the need to take time out to simply be in the presence of God.

Then He (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28 (NRSV)

How do we make a conscious effort to observe the Sabbath, even knowing that some people must work on Sundays?

Take an alternate day- one who must work Sundays can take a day not scheduled for work to observe the Sabbath.   Those who have Sundays off should make weekly worship in a church with other Jesus followers a priority, along with receiving Communion when it is offered.  Even those who must work Sundays can find ways to connect with the Jesus community- through audio or video sermons and through study and discussion groups online, or with groups who worship or meet together on days other than Sunday.

Take Sabbath moments every day. Observe a time of prayer, meditation and conversation with the Lord for a set amount of time every day.  Such a simple practice can easily become a part of our spiritual disciplines and part of the cycles and rhythms of our lives.

Sabbath is God’s gift of rest and recharging for us. It is part of the rhythm of life that He created. We need to work, but we also need to rest and reconnect with Him.

 

 

September 19, 2017- The Holy Name of God- Exodus 3:4-6, Exodus 20:7, Matthew 15:16, Matthew 23:27, Psalm 51:10-12

moses burning bush

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he (Moses) said, “Here I am.”  Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6 (NRSV)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16 (NRSV)

God is holy. We are given the privilege of calling on His Name for prayer and praise and worship, because His Name is a holy name. Are we rightly offended when we catch others (and even ourselves?) in a fit of anger or frustration using God’s name to swear?

It’s important for us as Jesus followers to understand and submit to the sovereignty of God, even as we know that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. We need to be reminded of the humanity of Jesus and the humanity of the apostles and others in the early church, because we need to know that they were human like we are, with the same frailties.  They had the same temptations that we have.  But even as we realize that Jesus hurt and loved, and cried and laughed just as we do, because He is fully human, unlike Jesus, we are not divine.

Who do we say Jesus is? Not just by our words or our church attendance or our financial giving, but by the thoughts of our hearts and by our actions? The heart of the Second Commandment is, “OK, we know who God is, and we know that He is holy.” Since we claim to follow Him, do our lives reflect His holiness– do we shine the Light of Christ? That doesn’t mean false piety, or prudery, or a perceived moral superiority masquerading as righteousness, but a real and true love and reverence of God.

(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. Matthew 23:27 (NRSV)

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Jewish Law in and out- the letter of the Law.  But they missed the heart of the Law.  On the outside it looked like they honored the Name of God, but their motives and actions proved differently.  Each of is a hypocrite in his or her own way, because we are sinners, but in Christ we have the opportunity to confess our sins to Him and call upon the Holy Spirit to put a clean heart in us, and to give us the right motives. (Psalm 51:10-12)

How many atrocities and persecutions have people tried to perpetrate while hiding behind the Name of God? How does God feel about that?

What does it mean to honor the Name of God?

September 19, 2017- The I AM God- Exodus 20:1-6, Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5

in the beginning

I AM, the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (NRSV)

The Ten Commandments are about healthy relationships and safe boundaries. The purpose of the Law is to maintain harmony and order and keep our lives productive and safe.  It is God’s will for us to have a right relationship with Him and with those in the world around us.  The first three Commandments have to do with our relationship and our boundaries with God.  The final seven have to do with our relationships and boundaries with others- rules for harmonious society.

Genesis 1:1 introduces us to not only our journey in Scripture, but to the Source of everything: In the beginning, God. John 1:1-5 expands upon that beginning, letting us know that Jesus is the Eternal Life and Light and Hope.

In the First Commandment as in Genesis 1:1, and in the introduction to the Gospel of John, we are reminded Who God is. This revelation about the being and nature of God is important for us to bear in mind.  He is not a material object.  He is not someone or something we can dismiss or ignore.  We may choose not to believe in God, but God is real and active as He has been and will be throughout all of time. He is the One from Whom all creation springs forth.

Because God is God, He commands certain respect and exclusivities from us.

Idolatry is not confined to golden calves or various venerated man-made icons. We can worship at the altar of money, or status, or attention, or pleasure.  We can set up mortal people as idols, especially ourselves.

There are some that claim that the ultimate idolatry- the sin of the Garden if you will- is the condition of pride. Instead of surrendering the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done,” in our own weakness and arrogance we insist that, “my will be done.”  It’s the rebellion of man that is old as time, and that we struggle with daily as long as we have breath and walk this earth.  Pride is the sin of Eve believing the serpent when he tempts her with, “If you eat of it… you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  We all know how that one turned out.

For our own good, God set a boundary around worship. In the First Commandment, He says to us, “Worship Me only, because I made you, I am your Creator, and I have only good for you in My heart.”  When we worship God and put Him first, our lives reflect His sovereignty.  The Law shows us the way to run toward Jesus and the Gospel- so that His light and love in the Holy Spirit are free to flow in and through us.