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?

August 28, 2017 – Ebenezer, The Lord, Our Help – Judges 21:25, 1 Samuel 7:3-13

God's own Heart

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. – Judges 21:25 (NRSV)

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”  So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”  So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  1 Samuel 7:3-13 (NRSV)

 

Today’s reading takes us back to the end of the time of the Judges. At that time, even though God had put judges in place to govern the people, they responded to the judges’ instructions and warnings by getting their freak on with foreign gods, and by doing whatever they felt like. There was no king, and people did what they wanted to (Judges 21:25.)

We can take a cue from the Fall (Genesis 3) that when human beings decide to just do whatever they feel like (especially when it comes to things God specifically has forbidden) that it is going to turn out bad.  It did turn out bad for Israel in the time of the Judges.

Samuel was in a special position. He was the last of the Old Testament Judges, and the one who would anoint the first two kings of Israel- Saul (who made a mess of it) and David, the unlikely shepherd boy who became the first great king of Israel.

Samuel starts out by reminding the people of what they should already know, and where their first priority belongs. False gods are exactly that- false. They can’t do anything for us other than separate us from the One True God.  This is important for us to remember too even though our idols aren’t golden calves or fertility gods.  Anything that we set up as first priority in our lives- the thing we turn our hearts toward- becomes our god.  In today’s society we tend to worship at the altar of ourselves, and that never ends well.

Samuel also intercedes on behalf of the people. Sometimes we can’t face our challenges alone.  Sometimes we are threatened and afraid, like the Israelites were terrified of the Philistines. We derive strength and courage in the prayers and support of other believers.  Samuel, as the leader of the people, also offers a sacrifice, which is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.  We don’t go around sacrificing lambs today because in Christ there is no more blood sacrifice, but there is still an element of sacrifice when we intercede for others.  We give of ourselves and we make ourselves vulnerable when we genuinely act on behalf of others.  When we come together in God’s strength we often find the impossible becomes possible.

Intercessory prayer- praying for and with others- connects us to God in a powerful way. Not only does God hear our prayers, but we respond to God and others when we pray for and with others.

It’s also important for us to remind each other of our place in God’s story and of our heritage. The word “Ebenezer(not to be confused with Ebenezer Scrooge from the classic story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) means, “The Lord, Our Help.”

The memorial stone that Samuel set up was not meant to become an idol, but to remind people when they saw the stone that our help- our very existence and being- comes from the Lord. When we view sacred art or the beauty in nature we are reminded of God and how He is in, with and through His creation.

We can always look to our Ebenezer, God, Our Help, and set our hearts on Him.

April 10, 2017- Monday of Holy Week – James 5:16

vulnerable

We need to make ourselves  vulnerable.  We need to admit that we are weak and fully dependent upon God.  We need the prayers and intercession of others.  We need restoring for our souls.

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].  The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 (AMP)

Traditionally Holy Week has been a time of prayer, contemplation and reflection.  As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey from the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Passion on Good Friday, we are called to examine ourselves as well.

The apostle Peter (who was anything but a wallflower) thought that he could hang tough with Jesus when the time came, but his reaction was very different when he was thrown into the time of trial.

“Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:33-35 (NRSV)

Who could blame the apostle Peter for acting as any scared human being would?  Sometimes we speak with crocodile mouths, only to discover we have canary patoots.  We can be cowards.  Sometimes the only way we can muddle through trials is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even then we struggle.  We only pray to have as willing a heart as Peter. Our intentions are good, though our flesh is weak.

If we were to enumerate our faults, sins, false moves, bad judgment, poor decisions, and so on, one by one, it would take us years.  We are inherently flawed. It is part of the human condition.

It’s important for us to see the apostles and other heavy hitter characters in the Bible for who they are- simple, human people who GOD used for big purposes.  Apart from meeting up with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the apostle Peter would simply have been an obscure fisherman like so many other fishermen of his day, and his name would be lost to history forever.

That’s why I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance with putting “saints” on a pedestal.  We should examine the lives of the people who are part of the Biblical narrative.  We should thank God for their record and their witness, but to see the players in the Biblical story as serene figures on stained glass windows misses the point.  They were flesh and blood human beings.  They made mistakes.

Saints in stained-glass

The aesthetic of stained glass windows is lovely, but we miss the point if this is the only way we see the “saints.”

The calling to the Christian life is a bold calling.  It is a calling that requires us to be open and vulnerable if we are to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us- not only through our own prayers but through the intercessory prayers of others.

The Christian community is important- it is the Church Militant here on earth.  Although the military reference is rather un-PC, we are called to fight, not with weapons but with healing actions and gentle words.  We are the ground forces here on earth who live out the Kingdom of God here and now.

We should see the apostle Peter as he was- a tough, barely educated, coarse, fisherman who worked with his hands.   It’s easy for us to relate to a guy like that.  He wasn’t someone with pretty clothes and a halo on a window when he was living and acting down here on earth.  He did some things right.  He made some pretty drastic mistakes.  He was human.  What made him and his witness special and gave him purpose was God working in and through him.

This Holy Week we pray for our friends and fellow Christians that we would look to Jesus for our courage- because we don’t have any reason to be courageous apart from Him.  We pray the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and make us vulnerable- not so anyone can take advantage of us- (we have all been there and done that too many times)- but so Jesus can give us a new heart and new strength, that He would transform us and invite us into His story.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:36 (NRSV)