Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Pray the Lord's Prayer, Part Three of Six

Before we go any further with this post, take a moment and go look in your refrigerator. Seriously. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

You’re back? (Bonus points for any of you who actually looked in your frig. But deduct points if you brought back a piece of cheesecake. The rest of you who just kept reading, where’s your team spirit?)

Okay. Most of us who actually checked our refrigerator found enough food for a small army. Granted, some of it is old and turning an unusual color, but that’s because we decided not to eat it. We just made or bought some more.

So why did Jesus teach us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread? In the P-R-A-Y-E-R acrostic, this is A – Ask for daily needs.

But why? Why ask for something we already have in abundance? The majority of us have never had to miss a meal. Our major question at mealtime is about options. Should we get fast food? Reheat the chicken from last night? Order a pizza?

If you have enough food, and have always had enough, it’s easy to take it for granted. The same goes for clothing. (I could have asked you to go check out your closet, too). Or housing. Most of us don't have to worry about having a roof over our heads. We have the blessing of clean water to drink and relatively pure air to breathe.

So if we have these things, we may not pray for them. But we should. Jesus said so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Pray the Lord's Prayer, Part Two of Six

I heard a sermon on prayer from a seminary professor who said that prayer is basically asking God for stuff. I think he's right,  but the problem is that most of us ask God for the wrong things.

If we’re honest, we treat prayer as a wish-list, a mixture of needs and wants, often centered around our comfort and security. Jesus’ pattern for prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is like other prayers in that it does consist of a series of requests.

But what makes Jesus' prayer so different, and revolutionary, is that He teaches us to pray for what we really need. Last time I mentioned an acrostic summary of His prayer: P-R-A-Y-E-R. (I included a copy at the end of this post.) The P stands for “Praise Him,”and is actually the first request.

When we pray “Hallowed be Your name,” we are asking God to help us praise Him  Our request is that He might enable us to set apart, hallow, His name in our lives. The NET Bible puts it, “May your name be honored.”

Today’s post is about the second letter of the acrostic: R, which stands for “Render Allegiance.” Jesus teaches us to pray: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." This, too, is a request. We ask that the Lord would rule over us and that we would bend to His will, rather than our own.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Pray the Lord's Prayer, Part One of Six

The only thing His disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them was prayer. Of all the spiritual disciplines they saw Him practice, prayer is the one that stood out to them. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus’ response to their request is what we often called “the Lord’s Prayer.” (See Luke 11:2-4 and Matthew 6:9-13). Some churches, like the one I grew up in, recite it every Sunday as a part of congregational worship.

I’m not a fan of just reciting it, because I think Jesus gave us a pattern to follow, not a rote prayer. And for a long time I have used “the Lord’s prayer” as an outline to guide and shape my daily devotions.

Years ago I came up with a simple acrostic, P-R-A-Y-E-R, to help me remember the specific focus of the different parts of Jesus’ sample prayer. (I’ve summarized this in a little chart, included at the end of this post). Over the course of the next several posts, I’d like to share this outline, with the hope that it might be helpful in your prayer life.

So the first part of the Prayer is the P: Praise Him. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Joy of the Lord

"Faith may dance because Christ sings; and we may come in the quire [choir] and lift our hoarse and rough voices, and chirp, and sing, and shout for joy with our Lord Jesus."
--Samuel Rutherford

Have you ever been happy because someone you love is happy? You so identify with them that you enter into their delight and victory.

That's what Rutherford means, I think, when he speaks of our joy "because Christ sings." We are in Him, the Scriptures say. His death, burial, and resurrection become ours. And it is His joy that is our strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10).

Pursuing Him, we may enter His victory and that brings joy. By faith to see the satisfaction in His eyes, to feel Him full of power and triumph, to know He knows He has won everything and that everyone He loves will come home and be with Him forever - there is joy.

The hollow alternative is to look for joy somewhere else: the fleeting affirmations of others, the pleasures of the flesh, our own temporary successes. In the end this is the way of despair.

I would rather try, and pray He gives me a greater vision, to see the light of His face, to imagine His voice like thunder, to settle in with all the great and small, the rulers and kings and shepherds and shopkeepers and soldiers and construction workers and single moms and little kids, to adore Him together, with never a thought of any glory but His. O, what joy, to shout and sing and laugh and clap and whistle and stomp and pray, all together: Worthy is the Lamb!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where is Pikes Peak?

My wife grew up in Colorado Springs, and the stately presence of Pikes Peak to the west helped her to orient herself in the city and to keep her directions straight. If you want to know where you are and where you’re going, just find Pikes Peak.

Sometimes life can be a confusing blur of pressures and opportunities, a swirl of daily routines and appointments, a collage of images and events and people. What am I doing here, and where am I going?

The other night I felt that vague sense of disorientation that comes from fatigue and stress. Not a crisis, but a sure sign that I needed to look again to the mountain.

I wrote in my journal: “What I know for sure.” Then I turned to Colossians 1, and starting at v. 13, I listed the following. Not particularly insightful, I admit, but a good reminder of who I am, where I'm going, and who I serve.
  1. Jesus has a kingdom – 1:13.
  2. He is beloved to the Father – 1:13.
  3. He is the Son – 1:13.
  4. In Him is redemption – 1:14.
  5. In Him is forgiveness of sins – 1:14.
  6. He is the image of the invincible God – 1:15
  7. He is the firstborn of all creation – 1:15.
  8. He is the agent of creation – 1:16.
  9. He is the goal of all creation – 1:16.
  10. He is eternal – 1:17.
  11. He holds all things together – 1:17.
  12. He is the head of the church – 1:18.
  13. He is the beginning – 1:18
  14. He is the firstborn from the dead – 1:18.
  15. He deserves first place in everything – 1:18.
  16. He is fully God – 1:19.
  17. He reconciled all things to Himself – 1:20.
  18. He makes peace by His blood – 1:20.
  19. He reconciles sinners – 1:22.
  20. He plans to perfect us and get us safely home – 1:22.
  21. He is worthy suffering for – 1:24.
  22. He is the great mystery revealed 1:27.
  23. He is the subject of our preaching – 1:28.
We all need to look again at Christ. Though I believe the whole Bible is about Him, certain passages provide an immediate, rich, and detailed focus. I continually return to Isaiah 53, John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1. They're even better than gazing at a mountain.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Illusion and Reality of Control

He was the picture of health, never sick a day in his life. Now he’s gone, in only six months.

I bet you’ve known someone who fits that description. I certainly have. And when a friend or loved one who seemed invincible succumbs to a sudden illness, it reminds us of the fragility of life and how we are not in control of it.

The other night I sat around the table with a group of leaders from our church. At the end of a long meeting we all shared personal prayer requests. One man made a light-hearted comment about losing control of his boisterous Sunday School class, and someone else joked that he only had the “illusion of control” in the first place.

That’s true, isn’t it? We have only the illusion of control, not just in leading a Sunday School class but in everything. Without Christ, this realization could lead us into despair. But we who follow Him take great comfort in knowing that our lives are in the hands of a sovereign God.

Our God exercises sovereign control over –
The weather: fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:8)
The rise and fall of nations: He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:21)
Human government: For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1).
Human Disabilities: Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11)
Wealth: You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth… (Deuteronomy 8:18)
Life and death: “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand (Deuteronomy 32:39).
The days allotted to us: My times are in your hand… (Psalm 31:15).  …in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16).
Those who are saved and brought to heaven: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37); “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).
Everything! Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:6)
I suppose some people look at verses like these, and conclude that, if God controls all things, our decisions don’t matter. But though we don’t fully understand it, God both holds us responsible and gives us responsibility.

Someone has said, “Responsibility = my response to His ability.” Maybe that sounds trite, but it’s also true. Since His ability, compassion, and wisdom are infinite, my responsibility is to trust and obey Him. And knowing that the hands which hold all things bear the marks of the nails gives me peace beyond measure.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Power Corrupts? Absolutely!

Last night, on the eve of the twelfth anniversary of Nine-Eleven, President Barack Obama addressed the nation and tried to explain the Syrian crisis and how it involved, or did not involve, the United States.

In related news from the New York Democratic primary:
  • Serial tweeter/exhibitionist and former Congressman Anthony Weiner garnered only 5% of the vote in his attempt to become the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City.
  • Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 because of his own immorality, failed to become the Democratic nominee for city comptroller.
It was the British historian Lord Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If you elect an inept or morally deficient leader to a minor position in city government, the damage he can do is minimal. But if that same incompetent or ethically challenged person becomes Governor or President or Prime Minister, millions of people may suffer.

For Christians, our confidence is that the only incorruptible leader is the one truly and ultimately in charge. 
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
In these troubling times, when we are often dismayed or ashamed of those who end up being our leaders, it does our hearts good to remember, and to be able to say, "All Hail, King Jesus!"

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Broken Plant, Revisited

A few months ago I told you the tale of The Broken Plant,  which you can read again with much hilarity by clicking here.

Or I could summarize, with less hilarity: I sat on one of my wife's house plants and broke off a main stem. Since my wife inexplicably likes these things, sitting on one of them was not the smartest thing I have ever done. To be honest, it joins a very long list of "probably not the smartest things" I have been compiling over the course of our marriage. So I suppose she should be used to random acts of plant-breakage.

But I immediately took the coward's way out and stuck the broken branch back into the dirt. My granddaughter, who witnessed my horticultural mayhem, counseled me to come clean and tell Nana. "Just say you're sorry." This proved to be great advice. As King David said, "when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." Of course he had committed adultery and murder, and all I had done was murder (so I thought) a peace lily. 

But the principle is the same. Fess up, throw yourself on the mercy of the court, tell your wife you busted a cap in her plant, so to speak. And I did, and Dionne wasn't mad at me. 

Actually she started watering my hastily buried branch, and now, five months later, the whole plant is doing great. Go figure. This picture, which I took with my dumbphone, shows the actual plant, with the actual branch, growing like a weed. Or a peace lily. (I added the arrow. We don't really have a literal red arrow floating above our hearth.)

Anyhow, I'm sure there are lessons to be learned here. For example, my wife did an internet search for "peace lily," and found out this plant has, and I quote,"resiliency and a forgiving nature." No kidding.

But, no, I mean spiritual type lessons. So here are three:

1. Don’t trust your instinct to cover up brokenness. Truth and humility are always a better way to go.

2. Listen to little kids, especially your grandchildren. They can be pretty smart.

3. Maybe what you think is irreparable might not be. If Christ can forgive people like you and me, busted plants can grow again. And who knows what else He might fix?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Three Ways God is For Us, Part Three

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!” So said Robert Murray McCheyne, the Scottish preacher, pastor, and poet.

This is the third (and last) post on why "God is for us." I said last time, God is for us by satisfying justice and declaring us "innocent!" As Paul put it in Romans 8:33, Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

The next verse in Romans 8 takes the thought a step further: but would it be possible not only to bring a charge against you, but actually to condemn you? Should you worry about a future where, despite your faith in Christ now, your sins catch up to you and you end up in hell?

Scripture’s answer is to point to Jesus. Yes, God is the one who justifies (v. 33). Justification stresses how justice is satisfied by Christ’s perfect obedience and infinitely valuable death. But don’t think only of Good Friday. Remember Resurrection Sunday. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Monday, September 2, 2013

Three Ways God is For Us, Part Two

If you were really confident that the God of heaven was on your side, is there any challenge you could not overcome? If you truly believed that the Lord of the universe was for you, any trouble or heartache or setback would be small in comparison.

So this is the second of three posts where I’m hoping to show how God is for us. I’m writing for people who are already Christians, but also with the hope that anyone who isn't yet a follower might be encouraged to become one.

Romans 8:32 was where I started last time, to say that God is for us because of the sacrifice of His Son. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? The very next verse offers a second way in which God is for us: By Satisfying Justice and Declaring Us “Innocent!” Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).

We admit there are charges that come against us. Satan himself is called the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), and he is relentless to remind us of our sin.

Other charges come from people who blame us, fairly or unfairly, for ways we have failed them. And then we have charges that well up within us. Old tapes play in our minds, messages from our past that pronounce judgment upon our present and our future.