prayer

Why We Do What We Do: Prayer (Part 1)

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Actual prayers from kids:

  1. Dear God,
please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now. 
Amanda
  2. Dear God,
Thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.
Joyce
  3. Dear Mr. God, 
I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart I had to have 3 stitches and a shot. 
Janet
  4. God,
I read the bible. What does beget mean? Nobody will tell me.
Love Alison

Two actual prayer requests I prayed as an adult:

  • DEAR GOD, please heal my father of this cancer.
  • DEAR GOD, let all of my sister’s triplets live (the doctors had told my sister twice to prepare to lose the smallest one after the umbilical cord has virtually stopped sending nourishment.)

The first one God did not answer in the way I had asked. The second one he did.From my vantage point, my father died when – for the sake of his family and for the kingdom of God - he should have lived, and my sister’s baby lived when – according to the doctors - she should have died.And I prayed for them both. Fervently. How can this be?

There are two ends to a spectrum of belief about prayer within Christian circles.

The first end focuses solely on the sovereignty of God. In this view, my prayers really have no impact on God or the world around me. If a verse talks about effective prayer, it can always be interpreted to say that prayer changes me and my outlook on life, but certainly it doesn’t change God and may not even change circumstances around me.

  • David prayed for the life of his son. The son died anyway because of David's sin with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12:13-23.(In fact, a lot of the Psalms David wrote express frustration that God is not answering his prayers.)
  • Elijah prayed that he might die. Not only did God not grant his requestimmediately, but in the end Elijah didn't die but was caught up into heaven by a whirlwind. 1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 2:11.
  • John The Baptist’s disciples prayed he would be freed from prison, and he was beheaded.
  • Jesus asked that “this cup” could pass from Him. It didn’t.
  • Paul asks three times that a “thorn in the flesh” be removed from him, and God said no.
  • The early church certainly prayed of Stephen and James, who were both martyred. In fact, all but one of the disciples were martyred, and an awful lot of early Christians were slaughtered quite horribly.

In this view, we pray to refine our character or align our priorities. My prayers for my dad and my niece were futile exercises when it came to their futures. God already had a plan. Those prayers were meant for my edification and sanctification. Prayer is for the pray-er. Prayer changes us as we pray.

If the first end focuses on God’s sovereignty and power, the opposite end focuses on our agency and my power. In this view, God has put a tremendous amount of power in our hands.

  • God answered Abraham's prayer by sending His angels to remove righteous Lot and his family before the judgment fell.
  • God miraculously answered many of Moses' prayers including the parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13-22) and giving the Israelites good water in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25).
  • God miraculously answered Elijah's prayer on Mt. Carmel when he rained fire from heaven in the showdown between God and the false god Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40 especially 37-38).
  • Daniel prayed to be shown the king's undisclosed dream and God answered him (Daniel 2:17-18). Daniel was thrown to the lions because he continually prayed to God and God spared him (Daniel 6:4-24).
  • The early church in Jerusalem prayed for Peter after his arrest by Herod and God miraculously answered their prayer by sending an angel to free Peter from prison (Acts 12:5-10)
  • All the miracles recorded in Acts.

On this end, prayer is for the prayed for.If we have enough faith, if we say the right words, God has to do what we ask. In this view, if we pray effectively and fervently, God must show up. In fact, God is waiting to move until we do that. If we don’t, everything bad that happens is our fault.  The right quantity and quality of prayer is what matters…. And by this thinking, my dad would have lived if I he or I could have prayed better, harder, longer, more intensely.  God really wanted to heal dad, but He couldn’t because I or someone else held him back.

There is a tension between these two ends. “On the one hand, “You have not because you ask not”; on the other hand, God gives us what we ask for according to his will.We pray knowing God allows our prayers to have power; on the other hand, our prayers have a divine safety valve on them: specifically, God’s will.

In Star Trek, “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” the world’s fate hinges on whether a social worker dies. She has to die; if she doesn’t, she goes on to lead a peace movement that keeps America out of WW2 and the Nazis win. And because they win, the world moves toward brutality and totalitarianism. Bones goes back and saves her life; Spock and Kirk have to go back and make sure she dies. Sometimes, what we want - would looks obviously good to us - is not the for the best. Even our best wisdom simply can't understand life with the wisdom God has.

I like how Tim Keller puts it: God gives us what we would have prayed for if we knew what He knows.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_rViLK1vG4[/embed]

So when we look at what all of the Scriptural record of acts of prayer and teachings on prayer, we see the following variety:

  • Sometimes, God waits to move until we pray. Sometimes, God moves before we even think to pray.
  • Sometimes, God requires fasting and confident, faith-filled prayer. Sometimes He accepts doubt-haunted requests.Sometimes He just does things.
  • Sometimes, He doesn’t answer like we expect Him too. Sometimes He does.
  • Sometimes, God allows prayer to impact the things for which we pray. Sometimes, prayer just aligns us with the will of God.Sometimes it does both.

I don’t believe we are meant to be able to reduce prayer to an understandable formula. If we could, we would be Christian magicians, manipulating reality as we forced God to jump at our whims. We might not even be meant to fully understand prayer.  Prayers, as portrayed in the Bible, happen somewhere between God’s sovereignty and our agency. In that huge area between, God moves in mysterious ways.

But in spite of the mysteriousness, there are important things the Bible teaches that we do know.

Prayer is an act of faith.  When we pray - not knowing how God will answer, but praying anyway because we know He is the only One who can answer – that is an act of faith.  If we knew He had to answer like we wanted—that’s not faith, that’s manipulation.

Prayer is an act of obedience.  When we pray, we are showing our submission to a God who asked us to pray.As a parent, my boys show respect for me when they do what I ask, but they show their greatest respect for me when they do things I ask even if they don’t understand.  We demonstrate our faith in and our respect of God when we do what He asks, even if the reasons are a mystery to us.

Prayer is an act of humility.  Every time I pray, I am acknowledging that there is a God, and I am not Him. Every time I praise him, I elevate him far above me. Every time I petition him, I am approaching him as someone who cannot handle life on his own.  Every time I pray for others, I am addressing the Messiah Complex in me that thinks I can fix other people.

A few final thoughts based on prayer being an act of faith, obedience, and humility.

  1. Our faith in God’s power to answer prayer is not negated by acknowledging His sovereignty.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, theGod we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not,we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  (Daniel 3:16-18)

You don’t have to feel apologetic for not knowing what God will do in response to your prayer. God’s plans are not undone when we say, ‘God can move, but even if he does not...” It is a prayer that shows both a faith in His power and a submission to His will. [1]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6fA35Ved-Y[/embed]

2. Our obedience to God’s command to pray is not negated when our emotions have a hard time catching up.

“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”…. “‘I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.”" Matthew 11:11-15(NIV)

God is honored when we boldly approach Him without any doubts or fears or questions. He might be even more honored when we approach him full of those things.  Don’t be afraid to speak to God when you are at your lowest or at you worst. Sometimes we take ourselves out of the race when we think, “God won’t want to hear from me in this condition.”  Oh, but He does.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjfdHtOJxJc[/embed]

3. Our humility in acknowledging our need for God is not necessarily negated by doubt.

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this? "From childhood," he answered. "It [ an evil spirit] has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes. Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  (Mark 9)“I entrust myself to you; help my disbelief and disobedience.”

You don’t have to be a faith superstar to pray. God is not scared away by “if you can” prayers. “If you can heal my marriage… If you can bring my child back to you…if you can find me a job…if you can heal me.” God is not handcuffed when we pray with doubtful passion.God hears the prayers of the timid, the prayers of those who have burned before, the prayers of those who aren’t really sure how things are going to work out.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qZOQO82y4U[/embed]

Ultimately, prayer is a connection between us and God.  We pray, we talk with God, because that is the way God has chosen to allow us to connect with Him. Everyone can show faith, obedience, and humility through their prayer. One final thought connecting us to last week’s discussion of the Bible and next week’s continuation on this focus:

“We speak only to the degree we are spoken to[ in the same way children learn to speak by being spoken to].  It is therefore essential to the practice of prayer to recognize… the “overwhelming previousness of God’s speech to our prayers...” It means that our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should “plunge ourselves into the sea” of God’s language, the Bible.  We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds…. that response to God’s speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God. If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak.”  ― Timothy J. KellerPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

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[1]“Prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something more like magic -- a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.”  C.S. Lewis

 

Because He Cares For You (1 Peter 5:6-7)

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You can see the Facebook Live stream of the sermon here. You can listen to audio here.

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Peter has written a lot about difficult matters so far in his letter to the church.

  • living in a hostile culture
  • being holy and genuinely abstain from sin and evil
  • living “above reproach” and never give anyone reason to come down on us
  • absorbing all the unfair criticism or suffering we will experience as we are faithful to Jesus
  • loving each other well in church community so that Christ’s love flowing through us can cover the multitude of sin around us
  • using our gifts maximally to lead and serve with mutual submission and humility?

The payoff is amazing: if a church community is like this, it would be a beautiful thing internally and externally. It would be a taste of heaven.  God has revealed what a fully embraced life in His kingdom looks like, and it’s a vision of the good life, at least as much as we can experience it on this side of heaven.

I suspect all of us have experienced it at some time and in some way.

  • Someone has loved us far more than we deserve
  • Someone has inexplicably hung in with us in spite of all the things we have done that would give them reason to push us away
  • We have seen holiness modeled – never perfectly, but at least in someone we have seen a serious commitment to living as one called out from the corruption of sin and callousness of culture
  • We have had an opportunity to see how our gifts make a difference, or we have benefited from someone else lavishly sharing and helping through the strength God has given them
  • We’ve experienced the grace of someone humbly serving us; we’ve had the privilege to do the same
  • We’ve seen the gospel both modeled and preached, where the words of life matched the life, where the hope of salvation and restoration is made clear in the real stories of broken sinners made whole.

That’s good stuff. That’s church at its finest.

But this “high calling” also sounds exhausting and little overwhelming.

  • “There is none righteous” (Romans 3:10).
  • There is a war within that Paul so clearly explained (Romans 7).
  • There is a need to “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “mortify” your sinful flesh (Colossians 3:5) as we “discipline our body a bring it into submission” so that we are not disqualified from effective ministry on behalf of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27).
  • There are “thorns in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12) that remind us that, at the end of the day, it is God’s grace the carries us, that it is in our weakness that God’s strength is perfected; that there is a reason God must increase while we decrease.

This call to unreproachable holiness and love sounds exhausting and overwhelming to me simply because I know myself.I don’t have to look any further than the mirror to know that the Bible raised the bar above what Anthony is able to achieve. But Peter knows this. How would he not?

  • He’s the guy who was really proud of forgiving his brother a whole seven times, which wasn’t even close. (Matthew 18)
  • He argued with the others about who was the greatest, and I assume he made the case for himself.
  • He went to sleep in the Garden when Jesus asked him to keep watch (Mark 14). Jesus said, “You’re spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.”
  • Then he cut off a dude’s ear, totally missing the point that Jesus’ Kingdom was not of this world. (Matthew 26)
  • And then he totally and publicly denied Jesus (Matthew 26)

It’s that Peter who insists we be holy and blameless. How could he demand this of us when he couldn’t even do it?

Because it’s also that Peter whom Jesus later forgave, reinstated, and commanded: “Feed my sheep…You must follow me.” (John 21) And it was that Peter who went on to be one of the authors of the New Testament, and eventually to give his life as a martyr for the sake of Christ.

Peter knew flourishing and failure; he knew forgiveness and restoration. He knew that the power of our testimony was not just about what we get right but also about how God moves in and uses us when we get it wrong. This too, is how we display Christ to the world. But that can only happen if we continually repent and surrender to the work of God. This brings us today today's text:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your cares (anxiety) on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Considering all of what has preceded this in 1 Peter, I assume the cares come from 1) persecution, and 2) the high call in our lives (he just talked about life together in the church). What is concerning his audience?  Living above reproach in their culture and in their church.

This will cause care and anxiety. But God cares…so give that over to him. That will require humility, but it is in our humility that we are raised up. It’s dying so we can live. It’s decreasing so God can increase in us. It’s God’s plan for our flourishing in the Kingdom of God and embodying the good news of the Gospel in our culture.

This command concerning our cares is found many places in Scripture.

“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (made to slip, fall or fail).”  (Psalms 55:22)

“Blessed be the Lord, Who daily bears our burden, the God Who is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19)

“Be careful for nothing: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall watch over your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Bible address other things that cause anxiety: “Take no thought for the things of tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:34) This broadly covers all the things we worry about: jobs, health, family, relationships. Everything that keeps us up at night. The things that give us anxiety and fear.

I could talk a lot about why it’s a bad idea to let these things eat away at us, but you know this. I don’t think I have to convince you it’s a terrible thing to be overshadowed or weighed down by anxiety.

Anxiety and depression have become close companions since my heart attack (and depression even before then). In prepping this past week, I found myself comforted and encouraged simply by reading what so many Christians have said about this issue.

“But He cares for us. My soul, has not Jesus proved it? Did He not care for you when He embarked in the work of your salvation? Did He not care for you when you were dead in trespasses and in sins? (Ephesians 2:1- note) And when the Holy Spirit convinced you of sin, and broke your heart, and led you in holy contrition to the cross, did not Jesus manifest His care for you then by raising you up from His feet, enfolding you in His arms, and applying His atoning blood to your conscience, saying to your tempest-tossed spirit, 'Peace, be still,' and there was peace? The Lord cares for you still. He cares for your needs, for your trials, for your temptations, for your sorrows. Still more, He cares for…  the doubts and fears and tremblings which sometimes assail you--for the darkness which often enshrouds you--for the loneliness and solitude of the way by which He is leading you home to Himself.”  - Octavius Winslow

“Treat cares as you treat sins. Hand them over to Jesus one by one as they occur. Commit them to Him. Roll them upon Him. Make them his. By an act of faith look to Him, saying, "This, Lord, and this, and this, I cannot bear. Thou hast taken my sins; take my cares: I lay them upon Thee, and trust Thee to do for me all, and more than all, I need. I will trust, and not be afraid…"  -  F.B. Meyer

“There is nothing Christ dislikes more than for His people to make show of Him and not to use Him. He loves to be worked. He is a great laborer. He always was for His Father, and now He loves to be a great laborer for His brethren. The more burdens you put on His shoulders, the better He will love you. Cast your burden on Him.” – Spurgeon

“I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely—these are my native air.” – Dr. E Stanley Jones

“You are staggering beneath a weight which your Father would not feel. What seems to you a crushing burden, would be to him but as the small dust of the balance… O child of suffering, be thou patient; God has not passed thee over in his providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair; hope on, hope ever… There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you… He, if thou art one of his family, will bind up thy wounds, and heal thy broken heart. Doubt not his grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that he loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in times of happiness… He has never refused to bear your burdens, he has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul! have done with fretful care, and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God.” -Spurgeon

The Lord your God neither accepts nor rejects… because of the high or the low frame with which you approach Him. To suppose that He did—that the spiritual tone of your mind influenced His decision—were to make the turning point of His love to center in you rather than in Himself… God’s dealings with us from first to last, in the greatest and in the least… proceed upon the principle of His most free grace. And since He finds the motive of love and the bestowment of blessing solely within Himself, He, the unchangeable One, will not revoke the love, nor withdraw the gift, influenced by any fickleness or change He traces in you. Then, be your frame low, your heart dead, your faith weak—arise, and draw near to God… and the blessing, the richest God can bestow, or you desire, awaits your full acceptance. Little, obscure, despised, unworthy though you may be, or deem yourself to be, the Lord has an interest in you… Others may have ceased to care for you. Change has congealed the warm current of love, distance intercepts its flow, or death has stilled its pulse, and you feel as if there existed in this wide world no heart, no spirit, no mind that responded to, or that chimed and blended with your own. Yes; there is One!—Jesus cares for you.  – Octavius Winslow

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SOME RECOMMENDED SONGS

Selah – I look To You

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP2IzErAQPs[/embed]

Kari Jobe – I am Not Alone

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow4OfW4DP9s[/embed]

Kari Jobe -  Be Still My Soul

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY_csMVzvgo[/embed]

Laura Story –He Will Not Let Go

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaHISTo7g4w[/embed]

Laura Story - Perfect Peace

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKynh0Spy-Q[/embed]

Needtobreathe – Lay ‘Em Down

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PN-BMHi5L8[/embed]

Ginny Owens – If You Want Me To

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaXxwFpavj4[/embed]

Finding Favour – Cast My Cares

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKuAMmTqUbs[/embed]

Alisa Turner – My Prayer For You

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj_0pvIGkks[/embed]

 

 

 

Living With Kings: Prayer, Peace and Gravity (1 Timothy 1:18 – 2:6)

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 "Timothy, my dear child, I am placing before you a charge for the mission ahead. It is in total agreement with the prophecies once spoken over you. Here it is: with God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, making a shipwreck of their lives and ruining their faiths. Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these; I have had to hand them over to Satan so they might learn not to speak against God. So, first and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness, all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.  Because ‘There is one God and one Mediator[1] between God and us— the man Jesus, God’s Anointed, Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom.’The testimony was given to me at just the right time. This is exactly what I was appointed to do—tell everyone His story—as a herald, an emissary, a teacher of the outsiders in faith and the truth."

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Paul has already mentioned two kinds of doctrine in his letter to Timothy: the proper knowledge of Jesus (orthodoxy), and the proper embrace of life under the lordship of Jesus (orthopraxy).[2] Without these, we shipwreck our faith. If you want a sense of how seriously Paul takes this, watch The Finest Hours, or The Perfect Storm. Paul knew something about shipwrecks. I’m sure he didn’t choose this word casually.

So Timothy has to address that. In this case, “turning them over to Satan” does not mean he has some kind of authority to damn them. It seems to be more of a formal church pronouncement where they pray that God removes his blessing or protection so that the two men mentioned can experience the disaster of where their lives and teaching are going - but for the sake of restoration.

This opening section of warning about protecting orthodoxy and orthopraxy is followed immediately with the command to pray in every possible way. The four words used all mean different things, but they basically cover the full range of prayer. Just…pray.

 Then Paul gets specific.The church is to pray for all people and for kings and those who are in authority, so Christians can lead quite and peaceful lives. God really likes this, because He desires the salvation of everyone.

I heard the verse about quiet and peaceful lives a lot growing up. That was the Mennonite goal at the time. We just wanted to be left alone. We got our wish, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Our community was quiet and peaceful, but not necessarily evangelist or welcoming. We liked things how they were. We didn’t need someone to show up and rock the boat.  (NOTE: A lot has changed in that community since then. I don’t think that characterization still holds true).

We forgot to read the rest of Paul’s thought. This prayer is specifically related to evangelism. We pray for rulers to allow us to live peacefully, which is good in the eyes of a God who wants all people to be saved. We don’t pray for our leaders simply so we can live comfortably. We pray for our leaders so that they will create or at least allow a cultural climate in which we can freely share the gospel.

This practice began with the worship of the Jews when they were in exile (Jeremiah 29:7). There were times the Jewish people would even offer sacrifices for the kings - not to them, but for them (Ezra 6:9-10; also recorded in the historical, non-canonical book 1 Maccabees 7:33).

The Jews, by Augustus' order, offered a lamb daily for the Roman emperor until the destruction of Jerusalem, which the Zealots apparently brought about by stopping the practice (as recorded by Josephus in Wars of the Jews). So there was a practical reason for trying to honor rulers as much as possible.

The theological reason is that human government is part of God’s design (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13). The church was to pay taxes (Romans 13:7), honor the ruling authorities (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17) and pray for them. Note some early records in the church: 

  • "We pray to God, not only for ourselves, but for all mankind, and particularly for the emperors." (St. Cyprian, defending himself before a Roman proconsul)
  • "We pray for all the emperors, that God may grant them long life, a secure government, a prosperous family, vigorous troops, a faithful senate, an obedient people; that the whole world may be in peace; and that God may grant, both to Caesar and to every man, the accomplishment of their just desires." (Tertullian)
  • "We pray for kings and rulers, that with their royal authority they may be found possessing a wise and prudent mind." (Origen)
  • "Let us pray for kings and those in authority, that they may be peaceably inclined toward us, and that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all piety and honesty [or, 'gravity']" (Liturgy of St. Clement).
  • "Remember, Lord, our most religious and faithful kings... that in their serenity we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. Remember, O Lord, all rulers and all in authority, and all our brethren in the palace, and the whole court." (Liturgy of St. Basil)[4]

So we pray for the state to fulfill its God-given function of maintaining an orderly, peaceful environment, and we live in obedience as best we can without breaking our conscience or denying the gospel, because it’s in the best interest of spreading the good news of the gospel. But there is more. The description of the manner of Christian living (godliness and holiness) contains hints of how our witness is bolstered by the quality of our lives.

Godliness covers the idea of bringing together knowledge of and faith in God and the accompanying lifestyle. It’s living in a way that pays homage to God. When my dad died, I didn’t speak at his funeral. I had my uncle say that I wanted my life to be his eulogy. This is kind of the idea of godliness. The way that we live now pays homage to God. If this was accomplished, there was a practical advantage as well:

“In the first age, when the disciples of Christ were liable to be persecuted for their religion by their heathen neighbors, it was highly necessary, by praying for kings and all in authority, to make the heathen rulers sensible that they were good subjects. For thus they might expect to be less the object of their hatred.” – from biblehub’s commentary on 1 Timothy

Holiness has been translated as dignity, honesty, or reverence (the original word allows for this variety). It suggests a deportment of respectability that is evident to observers. Some translators suggest we should use the word ‘gravity’. There is a weightiness to our lives, one that acts as a lifestyle witness (1 Timothy 3:7; 6:1; Titus 2). I like this commentary’s conclusion:

“The church's prayer for all people is an essential aspect of its participation in the Great Commission. It is prayer that seeks the gospel's penetration into all parts of the world and every aspect of life. The closely related prayer for those whom God has placed in charge of government finds its ultimate purpose too in the accomplishment of God's plan of salvation. Perhaps it is worth noting that we find Paul praying not for the liberation of the land from Roman rule, but for the responsible administration of that rule.”  -from commentary at biblehub.com

There is a universality to this passage on a number of levels.

First, our stance as Christians should be to pray for our political leaders for the sake of the gospel. We should have been praying for President Obama and we should be praying for President Trump like the early church prayed for Roman emperors. If I may offer a sample prayer for this moment in our nation’s history:

“Lord, may President Trump flourish in the pursuit of justice and goodness; may our nation be safe and full of peace; may our national presence in the world bring justice and peace; may we as individuals and institutions care for the poor, the sick, and the outsider; may our political leaders be full of character, integrity and wisdom; may your Holy Spirit and truth work in them to bring them to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And may we, your children, be granted quiet and peaceful lives for the sake of the gospel.”

If someone new gets elected four years from now, just insert his or her name and keep praying.

Second, a quite and peaceful life is wasted if we do not live in godliness and holiness. We must live with spiritual gravity so that our presence carries godly weight in the world. We can pray all we want, but if our words and actions do not honor God, the kingdom of God and the spread of the Gospel will suffer.  We must commit, with God’s help, to living lives in which our actions testify to the goodness and glory of God.  

Finally, our peace and our godliness are squandered if we do not use the opportunity to spread the gospel. For the 1st century church, the hurdle was Gentiles and Samaritans, two groups of people the Jews figured God just didn’t like and maybe didn’t care about. Those groups aren’t our hurdles today: what groups of people, what kind of people, do we assume God just doesn’t like and maybe doesn’t care about?  What kind of people are the ones we think are least likely to make it into the Kingdom or that we are sure are deserving of God’s wrath? Are we pursuing them? Are we praying for them, befriending them, and being present in their lives?  

Let’s say we are committed to praying that the next four to eight years are times when we as Christians can live quiet and peaceful lives.  Are we just as committed to surrendering our lives so that godliness and holy gravity characterize us? Are we equally committed to using this opportunity to reach out with the good news of the gospel through word and deed?

_________________________________________________________________________

[1] “And one mediator - The word μεσιτης, mediator, signifies, literally, a middle person, one whose office it is to reconcile two parties at enmity; and hence Suidas explains it by ειρηνοποιος, a peace-maker. God was offended with the crimes of men; to restore them to his peace, Jesus Christ was incarnated; and being God and man, both God and men met in and were reconciled by him. But this reconciliation required a sacrifice on the part of the peace-maker or mediator; hence what follows.”   - from Adam Clarke’s commentary

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/archive/1448-orthopraxy-over-orthodoxy

[3] In pre-Christian times, the Jews employed  "there is one God" formula found in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) to counteract polytheism. Paul talked about the oneness of God to demonstrate that all have access to God's salvation: the fact that there is one God of both Jews and Gentiles means salvation for the Gentiles too (Romans 3:29-30; Ephesians 4:4-6).

[4] The first three examples are from Adam Clarke’s commentary; the rest are from commentary found at biblehub.com

A Sunday Of Prayer And Worship

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Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day, issued March 30, 1863. The context is the middle of the Civil War, so some of the language reflects specifically the challenges of that situation. However, the content is applicable to us still today.

….Whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is Lord: And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be hard on high and answered with blessing no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

This will be a morning of musical worship interspersed with prayer for our nation, followed by communion. I didn’t know who will be elected on the 8th, so this is not a partisan response. I’ve just been thinking that we as a church need a time of refocusing on Christ, gathering together in unity as we pray for the peace of our nation and remember our Savior’s love for the world. 

•Prayer for Political Leaders 

1 Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

 

• Prayer for Military/Law Enforcement

Psalms 18:31-36 “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.”

 

• Prayer For Families/Youth 

Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

 

• Prayer For The Marginalized and Downtrodden 

Psalm 146:5-7 “But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners.”

 

•Prayer For Peace and Justice 

Proverbs 21:15 “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

Psalm 106:3 “How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!”

 

• Prayer For The Mission of the Church 

Romans 10: 13-14 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

 

• Prayer For The Health of the Church 

Acts 2: 41-47  “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.  They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles.  All who believed were together and held everything in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts,  praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Show us your mercy, O Lord;

And grant us your salvation.

Clothe your ministers with righteousness;

Let your people sing with joy.

Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;

For only in you can we live in safety.

Lord, keep this nation under your care;

And guide us in the way of justice and truth.

Let your way be known upon earth;

Your saving health among all nations.

Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;

Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Create in us clean hearts, O God;

And sustain us by your Holy Spirit. 

 

--- Book of Common Prayer 1979

Prayer (John 14-16)

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23,24

Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples on prayer is pretty eye-catching: five times he says,  “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” I see three question begging to be answered: What does it mean to ask in God’s name; do Christians get anything and everything they ask for; and ultimately, how should we pray?

I am going to address this by walking us through what’s commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. After my dad died, I really struggled with the concept of prayer. Lots of people had prayed – and felt really confident that God’s plan was healing – and yet he died. I spent years reading about prayer, talking with others, and regaining my footing in this area. The Lord’s Prayer was huge to me during this time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to pray or how prayer worked, but I knew Jesus said, “Pray like this.” So I did.

Jesus offered this prayer to his disciples as sort of a model. There’s nothing magical in the recitation of it, but in it we see foundational principles in how to pray, and why. Some have claimed we see the whole of the gospel message revealed in this prayer. Perhaps that is so. At the very least, this prayer offers some answers to the questions I raised earlier.

Our Father, Who Is In Heaven…[1]

“Our Father” starts us off with good theology. God is not a deistic God, aloof and uncaring. God is not a pantheistic God that is just part of nature. God is not the Force. God is person[2] who is relational, immediate, accessible God.[3]  

“Our Father” reminds us that he’s our father. Not mine; ours. We cannot forget when we pray this that we are raised from death into new life in a family, a Christian community. In this, we are recognizing that while God is for us, He is for all of us. I cannot be content to simply think of God in terms of “me and God.” It must be “us and God.”

“Our Father” reminds us of our status as Christians. We are meant to  approach God as a child approaches his father. “Abba” is often described as ‘daddy,’ but it’s more than that. It’s conveys the idea of a nickname, the word that children say before they can fully pronounce the word.[4] It’s the best, unquenchable expression of a deep, gut-level, unrestrained cry of joy when daddy walks into the room; it’s the instinctive wail of his title when a child in pain believes only daddy will make it better. It’s a word that is used only in a relationship of safety, trust, and love.

“Our Father” reminds us that God cares for us. God will guide and discipline us for our growth into maturity, but he does so because of His love. Charles Spurgeon wrote,

“A father who is a father indeed, is very dear! Do we not remember how we climbed his knee? Do we not recollect the kisses we imprinted on his cheeks? Do we not recall today with gratitude the chidings of his wisdom and the gentle encouragements of his affection? Who shall tell how much we owe to our fathers according to the flesh, and when they are taken from us we lament their loss, and feel that a great gap is made in our family circle. Listen, then, to these words, "Our Father, Who is in heaven." Consider the grace contained in the Lord's deigning to take us into the relationship of children, and giving us with the relationship the nature and the spirit of children, so that we say, "Abba, Father."

So just in this opening, we establish a theology of God, our status with Him, and our place within the Christian community.

Hallowed be Thy Name

In the Bible, God’s name has to do with his character, nature and reputation. Doing something “in his name’ meant acting as a representative on his behalf, trusting in the character and nature of God while doing one’s best to faithfully represent him in thoughts, words and deeds.[5]

Praying in God’s name is not a magical incantation of the name of Jesus. The Bible clearly models over and over that we pray and invoke the literal name of Jesus, but the power is not in the syllables (Acts 19 records what happens when some Jews tried to cast out demons by invoking the name of Jesus). They broke one of the commandments and “took God’s name in vain” – that is, they took  him lightly or casually.

The power of the name of Jesus comes from 1) the character and nature of the one who is being called, and 2) the submission and allegiance of the one who is calling. So when Jesus says, “Whosever prays in my name” he is not saying anyone can grab the name of Jesus and wait for fireworks. He is saying, “If you are my disciples – if you have taken my name seriously enough to endure persecution and even death for me – and you pray, I will answer.”

“Hallowed be thy name” is a plea, not a statement of fact. It’s saying, “Please, make your name revered or holy.” It’s asking for God to start the process in a world full of people – including the one praying – who takes the name of Jesus too casually. It’s asking that God’s character and nature be recognized as great by all who dismiss, insult or ignore it. This should humble us, because that includes us.[6]

It’s also a plea of both humility and hope. “Help me not to take your name lightly or casually. Help me to appreciate the majesty of God. I want the entirety of my life reflect that great weight and value I give to you; with your help, all I think, say and do will offer an accurate representation of you. ”  

May Your Kingdom Come And Your Will be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven.

It’s hopeful in that we are reminded that one day, all the kingdoms of the earth will come under the Lordship of Christ. This reflects a longing for future reality of heaven – and the hope that here, in this life, we will catch glimpses of the glory that awaits us. Robert Law writes , "Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done.” Whenever we pray for justice, mercy, hope, and love, truth, and holiness, we are praying with hope that these heavenly realities will actually manifest here and let us see in part now what we will see fully in the life to come.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaXxwFpavj4[/embed]

It’s humbling in that we are asking God to reign in our lives in ways He does not now - emotions, desires, thoughts and commitments. We want His desire to be our desires; His will to be our will; His loves to be our loves; His holiness to be ours. It’s also a reminder that, at the end of the day, we want God’s will to be done, not ours.

It’s not always easy to tell if what we are praying is within God’s will, or if it is selfishly motivated. It’s not possible for us to see all that God sees, so in many situations our best prayer is one where we ask God for life to unfold in a way that makes complete sense to us – but it might not be in the will of a God who has faultless wisdom, live and power. Even Jesus prayed 22: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22)

This is another part of praying in God’s name, and brings us back to the question of whether or not we get everything we pray for. Praying in his name means praying in tune with and in trust of God’s nature and character, and therefore praying for something to happen as God would have it happen.

The phrase “in my name” is not a talisman for the command of supernatural energy. He did not wish it to be used as a magical charm like an Aladdin’s lamp. It was both a guarantee, like the endorsement on a check, and a limitation on the petition; for he would grant only such petitions as could be presented consistently with his character and purpose. In prayer we call on him to work out his purpose, not simply to gratify our whims. (Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)[7]

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread…

Literally, “that which is sufficient for our life.”  This word is only found in the Bible in ancient literature and is used only twice, so there is a lot of uncertainty about how to translate it correctly. It can convey everything from  bread today, to bread tomorrow, to the bread of heaven that will sustain us for eternity.[8] I’m leaving in the ‘daily’  for now because, well, #KingJames.

The main idea is this: trusting God to provide what we need.[9] We can take for granted that we can take care of ourselves. If that fails, our family, church or government will provide. This part of the prayer a reminder that everything happens under the sovereignty of God; all our blessings find their source in him. For that reason, we thank God ultimately for supplying for our needs. It’s a constant reminder that life is saturated with the presence and work of God, and even in our greatest accomplishments or in the most generous deeds of others it is God who sustains and provides. There is a future hope here as well. We are trusting that God will sustain us into and through eternity, which will require the true “bread of life,” Jesus Christ.

Forgive Our Transgressions As We Have Forgiven Those Who Transgress Against Us.

Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek philosopher, a contemporary of Jesus whom a number of scholars have compared with Jesus. They shouldn’t. He once prayed,  “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”   This is not the prayer of one who understands Jesus or the Christian faith.

Here is the first acknowledgment: We have all sinned against God, broken His law and harmed others, and we are in desperate need of forgiveness of an unpayable debt we owe. This is a plea for God, in HIs mercy, to cover the cost of our sins.

The second acknowledgment is that we must forgive those who sin against us. This is much tougher than praying that God forgives us of our sins. We must forgive those who have sinned against us: our spouse, our parents, cruel people at work or school. This list includes users and abusers, manipulators and liars. We all have sinned; we all are in desperate needs of God’s forgiveness. We want God to forgive us; as representatives bearing His name, we must offer forgiveness as well.

This portion of the prayer is what Augustine called “a terrible petition.” If we pray these words this while harboring unforgiveness, we are actually asking God not to forgive us. Ponder that for a moment. We would be saying, “I haven’t forgiven my friend/spouse/neighbor yet, so please don’t forgive me.”  John and Charles Wesley wrote of this passage that, if we pray this while harboring unforgiveness, it is as if we were saying, “Do not forgive us at all…We pray that you will keep our sins in remembrance, and that your wrath may abide upon us.”

We know that God forgives even when we don’t deserve it (Psalm 103:12Micah7:18, 19, Isaiah 38:17, 43:25). This is not about the repentance and forgiveness of sins that initially brings us into the family of God. This is about a crucial spiritual marker that says something about the sincerity of our ongoing surrender and discipleship. John Piper says it this way:[10]

“If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone… we are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing… Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive.”

There does not seem to be any wiggle room here: if we claim to love God and hate our brother, we are liars (1 John 4:20). If we claim to love God and have a settled position of intentional unforgiveness, we are liars then as well.

“After what has been said… it will not be thought that our Lord here teaches that our exercise of forgiveness towards our offending fellow men absolutely precedes and is the proper ground of God's forgiveness of us. His whole teaching, indeed—as of all Scripture—is the reverse of this. But no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men.… God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

If we want to be forgiven, we must be committed to being deliberately and habitually forgiving.[11]

Lead Us Not into Trials, And Deliver Us From The Temptations Of The Evil One.

Last week, I noted that persecution is not the same as trials and temptations. A trial is “trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's faith, holiness, character.”  Temptation is “an enticement to sin, arising from  outward circumstances, within, or from Satan” (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:9; Luke 4:13). Both these words use the same root word; translations will differ on the usage at times. (http://biblehub.com/greek/3986.htm).  In this case, the commentaries I have been reading are noting that “lead us not into temptation” is better understood as “lead us not into trials”; the second part of the phrase focuses on temptation. Once again, #KingJames. Wuest’s Translation says: “Do not bring us into the place of testing where the circumstances in which we are tested lead us on to the place where we are solicited to do evil.”

So this is once again humble and hopeful. It’s humbling in that we acknowledge we are a proud and rebellious people whom God in his love will need to send trials to refine us. This prayer does not ask God to stop transforming us into the image of Christ this way; it asks that God keeps us from giving into the temptation from the Evil One (Luke 4:13; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8) or from the lusts within ourselves that undermine us (James 1:14; 4:1-4). It’s a prayer to save us from moral failure within and the ravages of moral evil all around.[12]

But there is the hopeful part of the request: we don’t have to be broken by trials. With God’s help, we can grow from them. Jesus said, “Ask God for this kind of help.” So we do, and He does.

For Thine Is The Kingdom, And The Power, And The Glory Forever, Amen.[13]

This phrase is not in the earliest manuscripts, but it was written in the margins beside this prayer so often that the early church added  it relatively quickly – think of it as a doxology, a short closing song. After focusing on our needs, our troubles, our frailty, we return to the glory of God. All kingdoms answer to God. All power comes from God. All glory belongs to God.  In a world where kingdoms rise and fall, and power corrupts, and glory is tarnished and fleeting, it’s a reminder that God is uncorrupted, lasting, powerful and good, and true glory is found only in him.[14]

* * * * * * * * * *

What does it mean to ask in God’s name? It means we petition God in alignment with His character, nature and purpose. We want our desires to mirror his will. It means we have taken His name seriously – our commitment and His Spirit are forming and transforming our lives. It means that as we pray, we are actually praying that His will and not ours be done. This requires a lot of trust, especially when life unfolds in a ways that are painful or baffling. This is when we cry out to God like a child: “Abba: hear my prayer.”

Do Christians get anything and everything they ask for? No. God is in the business of giving us what we need, not just what we want. That distinction is not always clear to us, but it is to Him. The more our heart, soul, mind and strength are transformed into the image of Christ, the more our wants reflect God’s will, and the “prayers of the righteous will be powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Perhaps that effectiveness is seen in how a circumstance changes; perhaps it is seen in what God does in our hearts in spite of our circumstances.

How should we pray? With hope and humility, trusting that a Father who loves His children will give us what we need for life and godliness.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES (that also helped to form this sermon)

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[1] Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” Romans 8:15, 16: “You received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

[2] http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/god-is-a-person-but-what-does-this-mean

[3] “In the word Father — that you are my Father — is the gospel in miniature. If God is my boss or my employer, then even though he might be a good boss or a good employer; nevertheless, in the end, he is not unconditionally committed to me. If I act up, he may give me a break or two, but eventually my boss will terminate me…to say that God is my Father and I can always know that he will hear me and I can rest and I can adore him, that doesn’t mean I can sin away. And the reason is, of course, that if you break your boss’s rules, that doesn’t hurt your boss as much as if you break your father’s rules, because that is trampling on your father’s heart.” – Tim Keller

[4] I first heard this point made by Tim Keller in a sermon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqxXABgRhVo

[5] “Whoever receives one such child in my name (because you belong to me) receives me.” (Matthew 18:5)  “For where two or three are gathered in my name (under the mantle of my authority), there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)  “Many will come in my name (as a representative), saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:6) http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/18-5.htm

[6] I pulled some ideas about the radical nature of the Lord’s Prayer from this excellent article: “The Lord’s Prayer Advert Has Been Banned For Being Offensive - Which It Is.” http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/the_lords_prayer_advert_has_been_banned_for_being_offensive_which_it_is\

[7] “The prayer of Gethsemane—“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done,” should teach what prayer in the name and spirit of Christ means. We commonly attach to our prayers, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We do not always bear in mind that this implies an absolute self-sacrifice, and is a prayer that our very prayers may not be answered except in so far as they are in accordance with the divine will.” Elliot’s Commentary

“Anything that can rightly be asked in His name will be granted; there is no other limit. By ‘in My name’ is not of course meant the mere using the formula ‘through Jesus Christ.’ Rather, it means praying and working as Christ’s representatives in the same spirit in which Christ prayed and worked,—‘Not My will, but Thine be done.” Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges

“These are not “blank checks”—promises to supply everything anyone requests. “In My name” corresponds to “according to My character” and thus is parallel to other texts that require us to leave room for God’s will to overrule ours.” (e.g., Mt 6:10; Jms 4:15). (Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1601). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.)

[8] From Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers: “The word translated “daily” is found nowhere else, with the one exception of the parallel passage in Luke 11:3, and so far as we can judge must have been coined for the purpose, as the best equivalent for the unknown Aramaic word which our Lord actually used… The form of the word (see Note in Excursus) admits of the meanings, (1) bread sufficient for the day now coming; (2) sufficient for the morrow; (3) sufficient for existence; (4) over and above material substance… I find myself constrained to say that the last meaning seems to me the truest. Let us remember (1) the words with which our Lord had answered the Tempter, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4); (2) His application of those words in “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (John 4:32); (3) His own use of bread as the symbol of that which sustains the spiritual life (John 6:27-58); (4) the warnings in Matthew 6:25-31 not only against anxiety about what we shall eat and drink, but against seeking these things instead of seeking simply the kingdom of God and His righteousness—and we can scarcely fail, I think, to see that He meant His disciples, in this pattern Prayer, to seek for the nourishment of the higher and not the lower life... So when we ask for “daily bread,” we mean not common food, but the “Bread from heaven, which giveth life unto the world.”

[9] Tim Keller suggest that it’s also a prayer for justice. If one does not have bread, particularly in Jesus’ day, it wasn’t because of a lack of resources. There was either oppression from the Romans or disdain from the Jews, whom the Law required to take care of the poor. It’s a plea for justice to be done to yourself; it’s a prayer for society; it’s a reminder to the one praying that he or she can, as a representative of God, fulfill this prayer request for those around them. It’s not just that I need bread; so does my neighbor. And the manna that God gave his people supernaturally He now gives to His children through the hands of His people.

[10]  http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-i-fail-to-forgive-others-will-god-not-forgive-me

[11] “Yet not as though human forgiveness can be supposed to merit the divine pardon, but the former is the necessary moral “requisitum subjecti” (Calovius) in him who seeks forgiveness from God.” – Meyers NT Commentary

“The parables of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41) and of the Unforgiving Creditor whose own debt had been forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35) were but expansions of the thought which we find in its germ in this clause of the Lord’s Prayer. In striking contrast with that clause is the claim of merit which insinuates itself so readily into the hearts of those who worship without the consciousness that they need forgiveness, and which uttered itself in the daring prayer attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”  - Elliot’s Commentary For English Readers

[12] How does God  answer this prayer and deliver us?  His Word. (Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 6:20-24); Prayer (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:40); The Armor of God (Ephesians 6) Salvation, Faith, Truth, The Holy Spirit, the Gospel message – in other words, dedicated discipleship in which our heart, soul, mind and strength are surrendered to God as His Holy Spirit works within us.; Wise Boundaries ( 1 Corinthians 7:5; Proverbs 5-7); Resistance and flight (1 Timothy 6; James 4:7; Matthew 18:8-9; Proverbs 1:10-15; Genesis 39:7-10; Daniel 1:8)

[13] http://www.pinevillefumc.org/clientimages/45029/forthineisthekingdom.pdf

[14] N.T. Wright says, “If the church isn't prepared to subvert the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God, the only honest thing would be to give up praying this prayer altogether, especially its final doxology.”

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kind of Roads

(Read Part 1: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: A World Without God")   
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  In Luke Chapter 24 we see an event that takes place in the time between the death and the resurrection of Jesus

A time without hope. 
A time where it looked like they had been the prophets of a failed Messiah. 
A time when they tried so hard, but in the end it looked like nothing they really mattered.

Luke 24:13-27
     Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel...  Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 

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     There is a world of hurt in this statement: “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Can we all be honest?  There are times when Jesus feels GONE, and even if Jesus were standing right next to us, we wouldn’t be able to see him.
      There are times in life in which we feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless.  The Bible’s honest about it – there’s no shame in acknowledging what we all know to be true.  But those times didn’t last.  They are just seasons the Christ redeems.   
      There was always hope;  a God of Resurrection know how to bring life from death.  I didn’t see it at the times I was struggling, but Jesus was always there, on my Emmaus Road, walking with me. It just took me a while to see Him.
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     So what is the solution? Are there things we can do to get out of these times of despair? I don’t have a magic formula, but the Bible gives us basic principles: 

Psalm 121:1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— 
where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, 
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 123:1-2
Unto you I lift up my eyes, O God who dwells in the heavens… our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.”
"My voice you will hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you, and will look up.”  Psalm 5:3
    I hear the language in the Bible over and over again about directing our sight toward God, toward Christ. “I will lift up my eyes…”  We even see this imagery embedded in the story of the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:30:
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
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     How do we look up and find Christ in the midst of despair?  I notice three things in the Emmaus Road story that are instructive.
1)     A community of Christians.  Cleopas was with a friend on the road to Emmaus. Even in the midst of his despair and disillusionment, he walked life's road with a friend. So often, we want to retreat and not let people in to the areas of our hearts and lives that seem desolate.  But we need the company of others!
2)     A study of the Bible.  Among other things, Jesus explained the Word to them.  He opened up the Bible and showed them truths that had always been there, but they had somehow missed.  The Bible is given to us so that we meet the Way, the Truth, and the Life through a message He has preserved for our hope. 
3)     A conversation with our Savior.  It's one thing to read about the Way, the Truth, and the Life - it's quite another to speak to Christ and experience his presences.  We see on the the road to Emmaus that the travelers fellowshipped with Jesus himself.  They talked; they shared supper and communion with Him. We can't talk to Christ like this, but we can pray - we can speak to God, knowing He hears, and that He is near.

Sovereignty and Prayer

“Instead of making these great plans as if you have everything under control by your own power, you ought to say what you have been taught:  “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
 – James 4

There are things we pray for already knowing God’s will.   Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Kindness, Self-control, Holiness, Purity, Faith, Hope, Forgiveness, Humility. You don't have to pray, “God, do you want me to have these??!?!”

James warns against "double-minded" prayers, prayers that waver when we doubt that God’s plan for our character is really the best option.

“Purity? Really?  Self-control?  I have to forgive her? I have to love him? That can’t be right. I’ve seen the gods of this world and they are self-indulgent, tough, and certainly not pure.  And look what a good time they are having on Jersey Shore!”

Then there are things we pray for without knowing God’s will: A new job…a spouse….College….. money…. government leaders...vacation plans….business decisions…. amajor purchase…health.

We may not know these with certainty – maybe we’re not supposed to.  We would never have to “step out in faith” if we knew with certainty.  We waver here when we doubt that God is sovereign no matter what we choose.

“How could you have let me do this?  I don't see a why out! Why did you let this happen to me?” 

Do we believe that God is truly in control, or are we confident that our perspective is the one that should win the day?  This prayer of faith is one in which we say, alongside Christ in the Garden, "Not my will, but yours be done."