Archive for October, 2015

Matthew 6:16-18
Fasting
In the next passage, Matthew 6:16-18, we Jesus continuing to talk to us about inner reality of our soul vs. what we want the world to see when he says,

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There are a couple of things that struck me when I really looked at this passage for what it is

(1) This passage is rarely written about by itself. It is often lumped together other similar statements Jesus made about our inner motivations for the things we to appear being Christ-like and

(2) I don’t know what fasting truly is in a spiritual context. This leads me to believe that it is something that is really tough to do and, as such, it is often glossed over in our passive Christianity that many of us practice today. We only participate in the parts of our faith that are easy for us and do not require any real sacrifice.

So, I must look at what fasting is and why it is important in our worship of our God and then look at why Jesus said what he said in Matthew 6:16-18.

At http://www.christianbiblereference.org, I found that it said:
Fasting means self-denial by going without food for a period of time. Fasting may be total or partial — avoiding certain foods or eating smaller than normal quantities. The origin of fasting as a religious practice is unclear, but both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible mention a number of instances of fasting for various reasons:

• Distress and Grief. Loss of appetite is a natural reaction in times of distress, grief and mourning, and fasting was considered appropriate at these times. David fasted as a sign of grief when Abner was murdered (2 Samuel 3:35). There was a seven-day fast at the death of Saul (1 Samuel 31:13).

• Spiritual Preparation. Fasting is a self-sacrifice that makes one humble and more accepting of God’s will. Moses fasted for forty days in preparation for receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Daniel fasted for three weeks before receiving his vision (Daniel 10:2-6). Elijah fasted forty days before speaking with God (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus fasted for forty days in preparation for His temptation by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).

• Repentance and Atonement. When Jonah predicted the downfall of Nineveh, The Ninevites fasted as a sign of repentance in hopes God would spare their city (Jonah 3:3-9). The Day of Atonement was an annual obligatory day of rest and fasting for the Israelites (Numbers 29:7). When the Israelites had sinned, they often humbled themselves and fasted in hopes of regaining God’s favor (Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 7:6).

In both the Old and New Testaments, fasting is seen as useful for humbling oneself as a sign of commitment or repentance and for increasing faith, especially when accompanied by prayer. Fasting allowed one to be devoted to spiritual matters without distraction from earthly things. However, fasting was not to be considered an end in itself, nor a substitute for obedience to God and doing good deeds (Isaiah 58:3-10).

Jesus said that fasting, like prayer, should be done in private and not for show (Matthew 6:16-18, cf., Matthew 6:5-7). John the Baptist’s disciples routinely fasted according to Jewish custom, but Jesus and His disciples did not. However, Jesus said His disciples would mourn and fast after He had left them (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). The early Christians practiced fasting at least occasionally (Acts 13:3, 14:23, 2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:27).

Despite the tradition of fasting in the Bible, and Jesus’ references to it, the New Testament teachings do not require fasting, and neither Jesus nor His disciples made fasting obligatory.

Ok…so what I get out of this reading is fasting is a way to focus our attention on our dependence on God for our very existence. In times of distress and grief, fasting reduces us to complete dependence on God and to show us who is really in control. In times of spiritual preparation, fasting is a way to get all of our human needs out of the way so that we can focus through prayer on what God is trying to tell us. As an act of repentance and/or atonement, fasting is a way to demonstrate that you are so thankful for God’s forgiveness that you are willing to give up even food. So, then we see fasting as a way to express grief over loss of control, as way to focus ourselves for spiritual battle, as a way to express thanks for forgiveness. Fasting ultimately is about putting our dependence and need for God’s grace ahead of our own self-centric needs. Of course, fasting in whatever form it takes can easily become legalistic – a ritual performed without thinking what it means (i.e., doing it without a soul-felt need to do so).

Thus, Jesus is continuing to drive his point home in this passage is that what we do to demonstrate our love and allegiance to God should be done from the heart not to impress other people. Being an accountant, this reminds of the tax code on charitable contributions. Such contributions are only deductible if we do not get a benefit from the charity to which we made the donation. Jesus is saying the same thing here. If you are fasting just so you will get your ego massaged by others then you have gotten your own reward. When Ted Turner donated 1/3 of his fortune to charitable organizations and then called a black tie reception with the press and important Atlanta people, is this giving from the heart or giving to accrue benevolent benefits for himself? If I walk around all disheveled proclaiming to everyone that I am fasting to praise God, am I really doing it to glorify God’s position in my life.

To me, fasting involves me giving up something that gets in the way of my relationship with God. Fasting is symbolic of getting the toxic nasty stuff out of our systems. Thus, I think fasting is classically giving up food. But it can also be giving up something, like I said, that is earthly that gets in the way of my relationship with God. For example, if I am letting my job become my God, maybe my fast is to give 40 days where I leave work at a normal time and not work on weekends. During that time of focused attention, I may rediscover a deeper relationship with God. If I let keeping my house spotless become more important than anything, then maybe my fast for 40 days is to only clean my house when it is necessary to keep the house appropriately. If eating food is the most important thing in my life, maybe actual fasting from food is needed. If alcohol…If cocaine…if…if. Whatever we have put before God is a reason to fast from it. But along with giving that up, it must be accompanied with a repentant heart that really wants to change. God wants all of us not just the parts that we are easily willing to give up.

Jesus recognizes this when he says for shock value that fasting MUST be done in private. What he is talking about is motivation. If I have made my job my God and make some slight change to gain favor from others but have no real intent to make real and lasting change, then my fast is phony and God abhors such displays. A real heart that is broken coming to God saying I need to give this up and I need your help God is what He wants. Keep your shows for television. Jesus says God knows when we are giving him the real deal.

The thing that I keep coming back to when I think about fasting is a football reference. Back in 2008, when Dabo Swinney became the coach of the Clemson Tigers in the middle of the season, the football program at Clemson was in disarray. Tommy Bowden had just resigned in the middle of the season. The program was adrift. Great recruiting never led to significant success on the field. The resignation rocked the program to its core. Clemson decided to promote its receivers coach and head recruiter to interim head coach. Dabo Swinney’s first catch-phrase he employed as head coach was to ask his team and the team’s fans whether they were “all-in” with the team. Are you committed to the program and are you willing to do the hard work to make the program great? Are you willing to have the patience to stick with us as we make the changes necessary to make the program great? Or are you going to jump ship because things are tough right now. He said he only wanted those that were committed to the hard work necessary to right the ship. Seven years later, the program has shed its image of being almost great but never being quite there. There in the midst of probably the most successful five consecutive years the program has seen and there are signs that the program could become one of the elite programs in the land.

Jesus is calling us to be “all-in” Christians. He wants us committed to him. He doesn’t want half-hearted, half-measure Christians. He wants us not just to do what is for show. He wants us to be fully committed to Him. He wants us to do the hard work. He wants our heart. He doesn’t want half-measures. Fasting for show rather than for the deeper spiritual commitment that fasting often brings was not what Jesus wanted. Jesus used fasting as an example of those who are fair weather Christians. As long as things are easy and good, then we are with the program. Once things require commitment and struggle, we bail. Just look at financial commitments to our churches. We say we believe in our church and what it does for the community. We say we love the fact that we are associated with a church that gives back to the community, shows love in uncommon ways to the community, and meets needs in the community, and it’s cool to say you belong to a church like that. But are we willing to sacrifice our finances to help make that happen. Are you committed to do whatever it takes to help finance these wonderful acts of kindness? Or is being seen going to the cool church all you are willing to do? When it gets tough, when it requires sacrifice, that’s when it requires an “all-in” mentality? Being seen at the cool church does not feed hungry families. Being seen at the cool church does not buy school supplies for needy families. Being seen at the cool church does not buy groceries to hand out in the community. Doing these things requires “all in” volunteers. It requires “all in” financial commitment to the church. Jesus doesn’t want our show. He wants us “all in”. He wants us fully committed to the reaching the world with the good news of the gospel. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to take the name of Jesus in the world? Are we willing to serve til it hurts? Are we willing to give til it hurts? Are we willing to be so committed to Christ that we will follow wherever He leads us no matter the sacrifice that is called for? All-in or for show? Fully committed or just be seen? What kind of Christ followers are you? What kind of Christ follower am I? How far are you and I willing to go, willing to commit, willing to give?

Advertisements

Our prayer life is like a marriage. It is ironic that this thought comes to mind when we are about to start a sermon series on marriage at church this Sunday. Our prayer life can be like a marriage. When prayer is intimate, our relationship with God grows and deepens. When we are attentive to God through prayer, our relationship seems so much more in-tune and He seems so much more real to us. Marriages are the same way. When we harbor anger and resentment toward others for wrongs they have done to us, our relationship with God suffers. Our prayer life suffers. We allow something to get in the way of our relationship with God when we harbor resentments toward others. It is the same in marriage. When we fail to forgive, the wrong becomes more important than the relationship.

Today, we conclude our review of Matthew 6:5-15. Yesterday, we finished our review of Jesus’ instruction on prayer in Matthew 6:8-13. After completing the instruction on how to pray to God, Jesus, then says, 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness of our sins is contingent upon our forgiving those who have sinned against us, but He is saying that our intimacy with God can be clouded and even damaged by our lack of forgiveness for others. So, the things that we will talk about today are that forgiveness requires humility and that forgiveness is the key to deepening our relationship with God.

Forgiveness requires humility. Prayer requires humility. When our prayer life grows and matures is when we finally get it that God is God and we are but mere humans. Sometimes our prayers are as if God is working for us and not the other way around. We pray as if He is there to serve us rather than the other way around. Aren’t our marriages like this as well? Many of us marry because we think our spouse is there to meet our needs. We think that the marriage is all about us and getting our needs met. We get angry with our spouse when they have that funny thing of wanting to have their needs met also. I don’t know why spouses are like that! LOL! However, when we make our marriages bigger than us as the individual husbands and wives in the marriage, it becomes a more intimate relationship. It becomes a deeper relationship. It becomes a more effective relationship. In order to make our marriages work, we must humble ourselves to our marriage. We must make the relationship greater than ourselves. When we learn humility, that our needs are not the only thing, we can find freedom in meeting the needs of others. When we put the survival of our marriages over the needs of our ego, our marriages all of sudden become awesome. When we are selfish and only see the marriage through that lens, our marriages suffer. When we are humble enough to realize that our spouse is only human and will make mistakes and that they have rights in the marriage too, forgiveness will come. It is the same with our prayer life. We must see God as the greater one than us just as we should see our marriages as greater than ourselves. Humility leads us to seeing God as greater than ourselves. With God on top, it makes it easier to see that we are messed up people needing forgiveness. When we see ourselves as messed up and unperfect then it becomes easier to see the rest of the messed up people in the world as just like us. Without pride, we can ask for forgiveness and be forgiving. We have no agenda of our own anymore. Pride has been the ruin of many a marriage. Pride is the ruin of our prayer life. Humility is required for an effective prayer life. We must recognize that God is not there to serve us. We are there to serve Him. When we finally get that, our prayer life has the proper order – God first, me second – then it is funny. It spills over into the rest of our life. When we learn that we are not the center of the universe and that God is, it improves our prayer life. It improves our relationship with God altogether. It improves our relationship with others. Just as when we make our marriages bigger than ourselves, it is amazing that we get more fulfillment from the relationship than we ever have. Our relationship with God is vastly improved when we see that He is greater than we and that starts in our prayer life.

Forgiving others requires that we lose our pride. We must have a heart that is not demanding compensation for wrongs. We always want payback that never comes when we have pride. Forgiveness comes from a place where we no longer seeing ourselves as the central figure in this play called life. How can we have an effective relationship with God if we cannot forgive others? God could be like we are sometimes when we refuse to forgive others. He could be so offended by the actions of humans that He permanently crosses us off His list. He could be like us in that He drops us like we’re hot. He could be like us and has nothing more to do with us. He could just condemn us to hell the first time we sin and be done with us. However, God is patient with us. God is kind to us. He went so far as to send His Son to us, to die on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we could be restored to a right relationship with Him. He does not write us off. He went out of His way to save us, to redeem us, to restore the relationship. God could be prideful and forget about us, write us off, dump us, ashcan our relationship. He didn’t do that though. He let his love for us be greater than our offenses against Him. Yet, we cannot forgive others. God did it for us. Why cannot we be that way with others. Love is greater than pride. Pride destroys and consumes til there is nothing left. Love redeems. Love survives. Love requires the loss of pride and gaining of humility. Our marriages are greatest when we can forgive and strengthen. Our prayer life is greatest when we see God as greater than ourselves. That loss of pride in prayer leads us to humility. Humility leads us to forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to restoration. Forgiveness leads to better relationships. When we lose our pride, we have better relationships with others and with God. It all starts with learning our proper relationship with God in prayer.

Thus, here we stand right. Is it not ironic that God put it on my heart that prayer and marriage are similar? All the ways that we must approach God through our marriage to him which is exemplified by prayer are the ways that we should be in our marriages to our wives or husbands (or even, if not married, with our significant other). So, prayer is intimacy with God just as earthly marriages are intimacy with our spouse. If we neglect our marriage to our spouse, treat our marriage as secondary to our personal needs, they fail. If we neglect our prayer life, our marriage to God fails. And, through Jesus’s instructions, we find out how we are to love on God. This was eye-opening for me. Prayers are not just some rote thing we do. It is how we show our love to the Maker of All Things. Jesus shows us what it is and how to do it. Its’ right there and if we are really in love with God like we all claim, then man, why aren’t we loving him the way he deserves. He deserves our prayers. He deserves our placing Him above our needs. We must pray to Him as if He is the greatest thing there is – because He is! All day. Every day.

God, here I am! I love you sooooo sooooo much! Just a quick love note to you! Just quick little prayer! Amen and Amen!

Do you remember the first time that your parents left you at home alone on the weekend? It was a major feat for us when we are growing. Finally, our parents trust us enough that they are willing to let us stay at home while they go have some parental romantic weekend (Ewwww!)! We revel in those moments as soon as the car gets out of sight. Take the old records off the shelf! Grab the music and play it loud on Dad’s precious sound system. Go to the fridge and pull out the whipped cream and spray it directly into your mouth as you are jamming to your favorite tunes blaring throughout the house. Driving your Dad’s sports car without him knowing! Calling your friends and saying the party’s on! The party was epic, of course. But at the same time, stuff got broken. The house is a mess after the party ends in the wee hours of the morning. Only your real friends are left and the house is a disaster. This was a test of the parental trust system. And you have failed. We’ve all been there. Temptation to rebel against our parent’s rules are almost too much to bare. It is similar when you go off to college for that first fall semester during your freshman year. The temptations to go wild are great and most of us fail at the temptations and often find it difficult until late in the semester to get our stuff together to keep from failing at least one course. We’ve all been there. Free will means that we can find ourselves in situations where we are tempted. That idea comes into play in the final phrase of the Lord’s prayer.

Today, we conclude our detailed look at the Lord’s Prayer. In this blueprint for how we should pray, Jesus concludes the model prayer with the phrase, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” This reminds us of a saying that I have heard stated in various ways but the sentiment is the same, “Jesus never said not if but when we would face temptation…” When we ask God not to lead us into temptation and deliver us from the evil one, just what is it that we are asking God to do? There is something subtle to notice here. First, we are recognizing that God will never lead us into temptation. Second, temptations will come and it is apparent that they cannot be avoided. Finally, God has the power to deliver us from them.

The first thing that we will notice here is that Jesus says that we should be praying not to be lead into temptation. God will never lead us into temptation. James 1:13 tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil so He himself does not tempt anyone. Therefore, temptations come not from God. He is pure and holy and completely righteous. It is not in His nature to lead someone toward evil thoughts or evil actions or situations where we will be tempted to participate in evil thoughts or acts. He won’t. He can’t even take us to that neighborhood. Evil and God do not co-exist together. As a result, He cannot lead us astray. He can only lead us to goodness, truth, and life. God may allow us to be tested by temptation to see if we really are His children or just pretenders, but He himself will not tempt us. God allowed Job to be tested by temptation (but with restrictions). So, too, are there times when temptations are allowed just so as to see what we are really made of. Are we really Christ followers? Luke 16:10 tells us that God will see if we can be trusted in the little things then we can be trusted with much more. If we are faithful in the small things, then, we will be faithful in the bigger ones. Our parents often give us small bits of freedom like staying at home by ourselves as teenagers to see if they can trust us with bigger things. They may start out by leaving us at home for a couple of hours to see if we can be trusted to stay alone without killing ourselves or someone else over a whole weekend. They may see if we can be trusted over a weekend so that they can give us bigger and bigger responsibilities later on in the process of growing up. Have you ever noticed that your parents will start treating you more and more like an adult when you start acting like one? God allows temptations in our lives to see how we measure up. God allows temptations to mature us as well. We may find ourselves in subtle temptations and resist them. As we mature, we become more battle-tested and more easily see the difference between God’s way and the ways of Satan. As we trust in God’s way, we are able to see through the temptations for what they really are – Satan’s attempts to draw us away from God, and it is way to make us ineffective followers of Christ. Satan’s siren call can sound so sweet, but as we mature in Christ, we can see the rocks in the water that will rip us to shreds and we choose to steer away from the siren’s call. As we mature, we see that which is opposite of God’s Word as being a temptation. We see that which is opposite of God’s consistent truth as expressed in His Word as not being of God but rather as being of Satan. God would never lead us toward that which is in opposition to His Word. We must be mature enough to see the difference. However, even the most mature Christian is not above temptation and not above succumbing to it.

We will sin. We will give in to temptation on occasion. The key for the maturing Christian is recognition and repentance. Satan will place a big ol’ target on our back when we become a Christian and particularly when we become a gospel-bearing, fruit-bearing Christ follower. He will try to bring us low and small ways and sometimes in big ways. Being an effective Christ follower is not easy. Satan wants to destroy and devour us. He will tempt us. He will win many, many times. We are by the nature inherited from Adam sinful creatures. A Christian is still a sinner but He is covered by grace. A Christian is being changed by the Holy Spirit over time to become more and more like Christ but it is a lifetime job. There are still sins that are committed. The difference is that a maturing Christian will recognize his sins through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We may battle for a while with the Holy Spirit trying to justify why our sin is OK this one time but the Holy Spirit will smack us around until we see the light. When we recognize our sin, it begins to revolt us. Just as an ex-smoker is often revolted by how a cigarette makes them feel after having been off them for a while. Our sins when we have the Holy Spirit living in us will revolt us at ourselves. Temptations are going to come my friend. Especially if you have accepted Christ as your Savior. Many think that accepting Jesus as their Savior is going to make their lives easier. They think that it is an arrival place. Once there, everything’s cool and no more trouble will come. Trouble will come. Temptations will come. We are not immune as Christ followers. Maybe in many cases we are more of a target for Satan’s temptations AFTER we become Christ followers. We must be aware of this. We must listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We must not rationalize our failures to resist sin. We must admit our sins and repent of them. We must recognize sin as not a pleasure to had but as a road to trouble.

How do we realistically resist temptation in a world full of them? Temptations abound. They are everywhere. What do we do when we give in to them and we realize that we have screwed up? We must allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us and we need to listen. We must run to our Father when we realize that we have sinned and beg Him to help us make it right again and for Him to forgive us. We will run to our Abba Father and ask Him to deliver us from our sins. How do we resist temptation? Jesus knew Scripture. He used it as His weapon when Satan was tempting. We can use Scripture too! We must first know it though. We must study Scripture and bury it in our hearts so that when temptations come, we can do the file/retrieve function in our minds. Some of us will be able to quote exactly what Scripture says but if you study the Bible enough, you will at least remember the general tenor of an applicable passage. Satan fleed from Jesus when He used Scripture to resist Satan. He will flee from you and I too when we invoke Scripture in our mind when we are tempted. We then can make the mental choice to walk away from the temptation. In this way, God delivers us from evil. He will help us extract ourselves from evil when we get ensnared in it.

Gotquestions.com says it best on this question of temptation when it says, “If our minds are filled with the latest TV shows, music and all the rest the culture has to offer, we will be bombarded with messages and images that inevitably lead to sinful lusts. But if our minds are filled with the majesty and holiness of God, the love and compassion of Christ, and the brilliance of both reflected in His perfect Word, we will find that our interest in the lusts of the world diminish and disappear. But without the Word’s influence on our minds, we are open to anything Satan wants to throw at us.”
Father, help us to trust in your Word and help to be in it daily. Help to recognize temptations as the road to destruction and not to some personal fulfillment. Help us to resist temptation. Help us to admit our failings and repent of them. Help us to seek your shelter from the storms of temptation. Amen.

Matthew 6:5-15
Blueprint for Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer)

The next phrase that Jesus says we should make part of our prayers is a petition to the Father in heaven about sin. Jesus says, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As you can see here, there are two parts to this statement. First, we must ask God to forgive us for our sins, our trespasses, and, second, we must forgive those who have sinned against us. Short phrases but it seems these are pretty tall orders for us to live out not only in our prayers but in our actions as well. The first part requires honesty. The second part requires humility.

Father, forgive us our trespasses. Most of us have blind spots here. We have no problem pointing out the sins of others. However, it is our sin that is the most difficult to admit. It is funny that we do not see our sins but yet we live with them 24/7/365. We live with our sins all the time but yet we refuse to see them. We can point out the sins of others while not living in their skin but we are unable to deal with our own. In order to ask for forgiveness of our sins, we first must recognize that there is a sin or sins in our lives. Just as an alcoholic or a drug addict must admit that they have a problem before they can begin recovery, it is the absolute same for us when it comes to sin. The alcoholic or drug addict has a tendency to refuse to admit they have a problem so that they can continue drinking or using. Addiction is a sly disease. It makes you justify behavior as someone else’s fault. It makes you rationalize bad behavior. It makes you justify how that behavior was not beyond the line. All of this is done so that the addict can continue to dance with their true love, alcohol or drugs, even though this harlot strings them along in search of that perfect high that never comes. Our sins are the same. We justify our sins as not being like other people’s sins. Our sins are OK. We have a reason for our sin. We have valid justifications to sin. Admitting that we have sinned is as big a struggle as it is for the alcoholic or drug addict to admit that they have a problem. In order to admit that we have sinned, we must first have to be honest with ourselves. We must quit lying to ourselves. Just as the alcoholic and drug addict knows that they have gone beyond the line many times, we as sinners must admit and be honest with ourselves that there is no rationalization that will take away that we have sinned. The person that is having an affair with another woman who is not his wife has knowledge that they are sinning against God.

We are programmed by God to know the difference between right and wrong. We are programmed by God to know that have sexual intercourse with a woman who is not your wife is wrong. We do not have to be told this fact. We know it. We know it even if we are not a Christ follower. But yet an adulterer will rationalize away the wrong so that he can continue the sin. Admitting we have sinned takes honesty. We must take a cold, hard look at ourselves and be honest. Sin is a liar. It blinds us. We must have the honesty to say that we have sinned. Just as a child often has to come to their parents with their pride in their hand and admit their wrongs to their parent so that they can be restored to their parent’s love. God wants to shower us with His love but He expects obedience from us. When we disobey Him, we must be honest enough to admit when we are wrong and that we have actually disobeyed him. Honesty leads us to come to Him and ask forgiveness. Is there a sin you are justifying so that you can continue practicing? For example, have you noticed how much more justification is required to make the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage acceptable? Gay marriage requires reams of editorials in papers. It takes television documentaries. It takes an Oprah Winfrey special. It takes the media giving it air time and dedicating whole shows about how it is right and wholesome. It takes court cases to enforce that such behavior is justifiable. Just think of the billions of dollars that are spent each year on justifying the lifestyle. However, male-female marriage keeps right on chugging along without fanfare and without the need for defense. It needs no defense. It is right and honorable and it is glorifying to God. It needs no defense. The truth does not need an alibi. The truth needs no defense. When we sin, we justify it. We go to great lengths often to protect our right to sin. We spend money and spend webs of lies to make it sound justifiable. Adulterers may be in bad marriages but adultery is a sin. There is no justification for violating God’s law. No matter how you cut, slice, dice or justify it. Sin is sin. Some sins are blatant and out and out there such as theft, greed, adultery and so on. However, we sin against God daily and it is often subtle but yet no less powerful the control it has over us. We even justify before God the sins that we commit that no one else sees. Admitting that we sin is the toughest thing. Admitting that we have a sin problem is a problem. When we sin, we must admit first that what we have done is a sin. Honesty is painful. Honesty leads us to the cross. We must admit that we are out of control and that we need help. Honesty is the beginning of forgiveness from the Lord. We cannot overcome our addiction to our sins until we are honest enough about ourselves to admit that we cannot control our sin nature. Honesty is the beginning of recovery. Honesty is the beginning of redemption.

Equally, we are called to forgive others for their transgressions, their trespasses, their sins against us. How difficult is that? Pride sure does get in the way of that. Wow, Lord, you want me to forgive my ex-spouse and her lover? Wow, Lord, you want you me to forgive the man who was driving drunk that killed my family in a car wreck? Wow, Lord, you want me to forgive my business partner who screwed me over in a business deal? You want me to forgive my son or daughter whose drug addiction has cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars and uncountable heartache? You want me to forgive the thief who stole from me without reason? You want me to forgive others who have just reamed me a new one for no reason other than the joy of doing it. You want me to do this over and over again. I once heard that saying that forgiving is forgetting. And to a certain extent I think this is wrong. Forgiving is remembering but choosing to forgive anyway. At some point you may forget, but forgiveness happens while we are remembering. True forgiveness requires humility on our part. Pride often prolongs forgiveness and restoration. Pride wants revenge. Pride want my ego to be massaged by the offender. Pride wants to wallow in the pain and suffering caused. Pride wants martyrdom for the suffering we have been caused. Just look at what my ex-husband did to me. How many wives and husbands have been consumed by pride when their spouse commits adultery. They become so consumed by the offense that it destroys their lives because the offense becomes their god. Sometimes, we become so obsessed with the offense that it consumes us. When we get so obsessed with the offense, we let others live rent free in our heads. We inadvertently let our pride become our god. Forgiveness does not mean that we let people walk all over us. It means though that we leave the hurt at the cross and ask God to deal with it and help us overcome it. It does not mean we continue to let people walk all over us. We may need to learn to reduce their access to our lives but it does not mean that we hold on to the hate. It does mean that we pray for that person. It does mean that we pray that they will come to understand the sin that they have committed against us. It does mean that we leave it at the cross on not let it consume us and let it get in the way of our relationship with God. Forgiveness means remembering but forgiving any way. Forgiveness requires humility. What if God never forgave our sins? He has a right to do that? He knows our sins. He remembers. He loves us anyway though. He remembers and forgives when we seek forgiveness from Him. Help us to demonstrate His love to others through our remembering but yet forgiving.

Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those you sin against us. Simple words. Tall order. Honesty required. Humility required.

Matthew 6:5-15
Blueprint for Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer)

Today, we look at the sixth phrase that Jesus uses in the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus says, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” When you think about this statement, it is profound. In America, we generally have more food and more of everything than the vast majority of the world. It is why people come from all over the world to seek a better life here. Even the poorest people here in the United States are most often better off than many people in the world. We have a vast middle class in this country where in most countries, there is no middle class. There is only the ultra-rich and the poor. Most of us sitting here reading this live in comfort with no real fears or worries about our daily existence. We worry about the two brand new cars and the boat in the yard. We worry about whether we have the newest iPhone. We worry about whether our TV is the newest and the best. We worry about whether the internet is up. We worry over things of excess not things of necessity. We worry about our ability to advance our careers so that we can make more money to pay for more stuff. We worry about self-sufficiency and everything is wrapped up in our ability to accumulate things through our own efforts. Often, we have our priorities all wrong. We worry about having obligated ourselves to debts greater than our ability to pay them. We do not have to worry about survival. So, this thing that Jesus says is a slap in the face to us in our excess and our self-sufficiency.

Wow, this phrase is so amazing when you break it down. Jesus is saying that we should ask God to “give us.” To be able to give something to someone, you must first own it. So, if we are asking God to “give us” then we are admitting that He owns it. God give us. We are taught in America that we are to live the American Dream. The American Dream is that we can do whatever we want in this country through our own hard work and ingenuity. We are responsible for our end game. We can go as far as our ambition will take us. We are taught to be self-sufficient. Certainly, God does want us to work hard and receive and honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Certainly, He wants to be self-sufficient and not habitually depend on others for our existence. But we must recognize where our abilities come from. We must recognize where our talents come from. We must recognize where it all begins. It is God who gives us our talents and our abilities to go out in the world and earn a living. It is then from God that we have the ability to buy homes, cars, and toys. So, when we pray “God give us” we are recognizing the proper relationship that we should have with God. He is the giver of life. He is the sustainer of all things. Without Him neither you nor I would exist. He provides the spark of life at the moment of conception. He makes our heart start beating in the womb. He is the start of who we are as humans. “God give us” is respect where respect is due. “God give us” is recognizing that God is in charge of everything. We are asking Him to allow us to have something that belongs to Him which is, of course, everything. How often do we in prayer demand things of God? How often do we think that we are own gods and God is just there to fulfill our wishes? How often do we think of Him as a magic genie who will grant our three wishes? In this American Dream world in which we live, we sometimes have a hard time with this concept that God is greater than we are. Just look at how we handle our money. We should be living off 90% or less of what we make, according to God’s instructions in His Word, but, no, we rationalize away tithing and spend, on average in America, 104% of what we make. There is no room to honor God in that economy. Let us begin to think of God in the proper perspective. He is the giver of everything we have and He is our sustainer. He is the source of all things including our money, our talents, and our abilities. Let us begin to understand that and honor God as the giver and us as the recipients of His pleasure and His grace.

The next words Jesus chooses are “this day.” Give us this day. Give us this day. That’s limited isn’t it? We are asking just for this day. Not tomorrow. Not two week’s worth! Just today! Wow, that is radical thinking for us Americans. Just what we need, no more, no less! We are trained to believe more is better. If not one, why not two? If not 2,000 square feet, why not 3,500 square feet? Excess is better, right? In this prayer sequence, Jesus is saying that we should ask God to give us provision as we need it and be content with that. Isn’t always in excess that we face sin’s greatest temptations. When is enough, enough? It seems that, when we have more than what we need, things become our gods. Maintenance of a certain lifestyle becomes our gods. Keeping up with the Joneses is our god. Possessions become our god. The worship of money whether it be too much of it or too little of it becomes our god. Surely, God does not mind us being wealthy, does He? No, He encourages us to be wealthy as long as it does not become our god and gets in the way of our relationship with Him. If we live a God-centered lifestyle, we can use our wealth to be generous to others, to help solve social problems, to further the cause of His church in spreading the gospel but that is generally not what we do with our wealth. We let it consume us and we purse it instead of God. It is a freeing thing when you discover that God is the sustainer of all things and when we believe in and trust in Him as that, it changes everything. We no worry about provision because we know it comes from God. We no longer see possessions as the most important thing. We no longer see having the newest car and the biggest house as the most important thing. We know that we can be content in any situation because the Lord will provide. He will give us what we need when we need it. This day’s provision is enough. We will let God worry about the rest. We trust in Him to take us where we need to go and provide for us along the way. I can only see this day and trust Him with the rest of the days.

We finish up today’s phrase with the words, “our daily bread.” This set of words seems almost too austere in our land of excess. Bread is just a basic thing. We can have foods of unimaginable imagination. Bread is just blah. It’s the stuff of basic sandwiches and other basic things. But in other parts of the world, bread is life. It is a wonderful thing. It is food. It is sustenance. God give us this day our daily bread. God give us what we need each day. Our daily bread implies to me that we are dependent continuously on God for what we need. It is not something that we come to Him for once a lifetime, even once a decade, even once a year, even once a month, even once a year, but daily my friends. Everything comes from God and we are dependent on him to give us what we need for today and EACH day. Thus, when we pray our prayers to God we should recognize our complete and utter dependence on God and that he knows what is best for us, better than us, each and every day of our lives. God give us what we need daily. We must return to you daily for what we need for this day. We must come back every day. We must seek you every day all day to give us what we need for this day. We must see you as our Providing Father and we are Your children. You are Father and we are child. We depend on you to provide for us. You give us what we need and we are dependent on you. It is not the other way around. You are not our puppet or our vending machine. You are the provider and we are the recipients of our loving generosity.

Father in heaven, may we have the right frame of mind about our relationship with you such that when we pray, we pray recognizing who you are. Help us to recognize that you are the source of everything. Help us to recognize that you are our sustenance and our provider. You are God. We are the created. You are provided and we are being provided for. Help us to see that dependent relationship. Help to put ourselves in proper perspective when it comes to who You are and who we are. Amen.

Matthew 6:5-15
Blueprint for Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer)

Have we ever really sat down and thought about the content of our prayers? How many “I” and “me” and “help me” we put in our prayers. Sounds kind of selfish when you think about it, doesn’t it? Yes, there is no doubt that God wants us to be personal with Him. He is a personal God. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He knows every hair on our head. He knows us personally. However, when we pray, as we learned earlier in this visit to the Lord’s Prayer that we are on, we should understand the relationship. We are the children and He is the Father. We are to bring our personal needs to Him in prayer. He is our Daddy. He is our Abba Father. When thinking about this concept of “your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”, I am reminded of two songs from pop culture. The first is “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin and then “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks. I think these two songs will help us understand what Jesus is talking about when He says, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

First, when you consider the song, “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin, it is a song that satirizes how we often treat our Father in heaven in prayer. We ask for things that are of a personal and selfish nature. Janis Joplin says, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. All my friends drive Porsches. I must make amends!” The song is blatantly selfish to grab our attention and it certainly will make us think about what we are praying when we pray. We often treat God like he is our puppet or a vending machine. We pull the strings and God is supposed to do what we want. We push the button on the vending machine and out comes our desired response. Later in the song, Janis sings,

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?”

Man, those lyrics hit us square in the eye. I am counting on you Lord…don’t let me down. Prove that you love me. Prove to me that you love me, Lord. Wow. It is often an expectation that we have that if we pray it that it is proof of God’s love when He answers in exactly in the way that we desire. Prove to me that you love me, Lord. If you do this for me, I will believe. If you do this for me, I will obey you. If you do this for me, I will try harder. If you do this for me, I will be convinced and will do what you want, Lord. We have the relationship all wrong when we pray this way. We should not come to the Father demanding like an insolent child. We must remember that God is our Father. He is the ultimate authority figure in our lives. He is the Creator. We are the created. We must come to Him in all humility. We must approach Him as a child seeking favor from his father. We do not know best. He does.

That leads us to the second song. Garth Brooks had a huge hit in the 90s with the song, “Unanswered Prayers.” In that song, he says that “sometimes God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” We sometimes pray to God as if we know what is best for our lives. We want this because this is what I want. I want this now. We come demanding our Mercedez Benz. We come demanding to have the homecoming queen. We think we know what we want and we want God to oblige us. There used to be a show back in the late 70s-early 80s called “Fantasy Island.” In that show, people came to the island to live out there long-desired dreams or fantasies. In almost every case, the episodes would teach a morality lesson that sometimes our dreams, our fantasies, have unintended or unforeseen side effects that spoil the dream. It was a lesson in appreciating what you have. Dreams can become nightmares. Garth Brooks thanked God that he did not get the homecoming queen because if he had, he would have never met the love of his life. The song was a thanksgiving of sorts for Garth’s character in the song for God not giving him what he wanted but rather giving him what he needed. We do not know best. God does. We are the created with limited scope. He is the Creator who sees the big picture. We must trust in Him that He does know what He is doing in our lives. We must come to Him seeking to know and understand what He wants from us and for us. Sometimes, we cannot see the consequences of the fantasies that we have for our lives. Just as kid who when allowed to eat all the sweets he desires ends up with severe stomach ache, we, too, think we want all the sweets but we do not see the consequences of indulging our fantasy island. We must trust God to know what is best just as we trust our earthly parents to know and understand what is best for us.

OK. So, we have established that we do not know what is best and that we sometimes selfishly pray for our desires to be met. And, we have established that what we want is not always what is best for us. Then, what is God’s will. This is what Jesus says we should be praying for? What is that exactly? Jesus is saying that our prayers should reflect that God’s perfect will exists in Heaven where everything is perfect and nothing is there to prevent His will from being carried out. In Heaven, his humble servant/saints do and act in perfect ways and through their humbly given servitude to God. Heaven is made a place of perfect godliness. Thus, in wishing that on earth, Jesus is saying that we should ask God to have His will on earth and not ours and those things are not in alignment with him are brought into alignment here on earth. We must pray in our prayers that God is in control of this thing. We must pray that His will, his perfection that we can’t begin to understand has its way. We must pray for what God wants. He sees the big picture. We do not. Then our prayers should not be so presumptious as to be about what we want, what our will is. They should most certainly be about what God wants.

Does this mean that we take a resigned attitude toward life and just take what comes? Does this mean that we do not pray bold prayers? Does that mean that when we pray for healing of a friend that we should qualify that by saying, “…but if it is not Your will…” No. I don’t think so. We are not resigning ourselves to whatever may come. When we pray for God’s will, we are praying that God’s perfect purpose will be accomplished both here on earth and in heaven. On earth, that will is accomplished when we obey Him. When we pray for His will to be done, we are offering ourselves up as a people willing to do his will. It is our purpose in life to do those things that bring glory to God.Therefore, when we pray unselfishly for a friend’s healing, we are praying for God’s glory to be shown in the world by a miraculous healing. When we pray, we should be considering how to give God glory through the end result that we are praying for. We should be praying for His glory to be shown in what we are praying for so that there is will be no doubt that it is was God’s doing. We should be praying for that which draws people unto God because there is no mistaking that it was Him who answered our prayers. Instead of demanding our own desired result, we should be praying for God’s glory to be shown in the answer to our prayers. That certainly will change our perspective when we pray. May Your will be done. And, it is God’s will that all people from all nations be drawn unto Himself and that He will be glorified. When we pray we should seek His guidance and leadership in accomplishing His purposes here on earth. So, with the right frame of mind as to what God’s will is, yes, let us pray bold prayers. Let us pray for miracles in our own lives and the lives of others. Let us pray boldly that the only explanation for the result of our prayers is God. Let us pray boldly that He will show up and show out. Let us pray boldly that when the result comes that people walk away scratching their heads because the only explanation is God. When that happens, people are drawn unto Him. Let us pray boldly for God’s glory to be unmistakable. This is God’s will. Let us keep that in mind and pray for it boldly!

Matthew 6:5-15
Blueprint for Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer)

Thy Kingdom Come. We pray this in the Lord’s Prayer. It seems a far cry better that what we have. Doesn’t it? Wars, violence, poverty, greed, murder, lack of respect for human life, racial strife, sexual sin, you name it. Our world has it. It seems that the world is getting progressively worse each day. Things that were accepted as morally abhorrent just a few short years ago are now acceptable as forms of self-expression. We survey the landscape and find the world to seemingly be headed for self-destruction without even realizing it. The world seems to be reveling in the ride without caring that the cliff lies dead ahead. The state of human affairs as they exist now leads us to the next phrase in Jesus’ blueprint for prayer. We must pray for God’s kingdom to come. When we pray this, though, what exactly are we praying? What are we calling for? I think that we are praying for two things. First, that the kingdom of God comes to all men’s hearts. And, secondly, we are praying for the day when God will make all things new. So, as you can see, there is an immediate aspect to this phrase and a future one.

Thy Kingdom Come is about us right now. This phrase is a reference to God’s spiritual reign. It is about the condition of man’s heart. We are sin-filled creatures whose nature creates a world of strife, suffering and trouble for ourselves and one another. As lifehopeandtruth.com states,

“Man cannot rule himself because he has rejected the divine revelation and the authority of God. Instead of following God’s instructions, which would produce peace, he has, to his own detriment, decided for himself what is good and what is evil. When He said to pray “thy kingdom come,” Jesus knew that man and his nature would bring him to the place that “unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.”

This to me is a call to us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a dying world. We are the instruments through which our Almighty God has chosen to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. We are the messengers of His Word. We must share the story of change. We must share the story of the value of each and every human being who has been wonderfully created and is known by their Creator. How do we change the world that seems headed for destruction? How do we bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth? One person at a time is how. We must make the gospel real to millions who reject God’s authority and reject His Son. The kingdom of God is in our hearts. The most important decision each of us will make is to decide who will be Lord over our lives. If we submit to God’s authority and follow His instructions, we can find the way to peace and eternal life. Rejecting God brings us to the world that we know now. How can a world that has either not heard the good news at all or has chosen to reject it extricate itself from the mess that is this world? It is only through hearing the gospel. We must teach it. We must preach it. We must get out of our comfort zone and plant the seeds next door and around the world. That is how the kingdom of God comes. It is through people finding Jesus. Isn’t that what, bottom line, really matters? People finding Jesus. That is the kingdom of God. We are compelled by this statement! It is a challenge to us. Thy Kingdom come is an imperative statement. It has a sense of urgency to it. Let us stop bemoaning what the world has come to and change it. Let us work to end social injustice. Let us work to end racism. Let us work to end poverty. Let us work to end the devaluation of human life. Let us work to enlighten people that our sexual freedoms that we seem to seek only enslave us more to Satan. Let us use these opportunities to show people that we are Christian by our love. Let us work to change the world, to make the kingdom come in men’s hearts. We cannot do that sitting in ivory towers commented on the desperateness of the world below and pat ourselves on the back for being saved. Thy kingdom come is a call to action. We are to be bearers of the gospel. We cannot do that withdraw behind fences. We cannot change governments of nations by complaining that Washington is a bunch of crooks and harlots. We speak of “they” as if we did not participate in electing them by either voting for them or by not voting at all. Thy Kingdom come is a call to be in action. Thy kingdom come is a call to be active in the sharing of the gospel and bringing about the Kingdom of God in men’s hearts, one person at a time. They great pyramids of Egypt were built one stone at a time. So, too, is our call to change the world and bring about God’s kingdom on earth. It is done one person at a time in the here and now. Thy Kingdom come. It is our call to action. It is our call to bear gospel fruit in a world in desperate need of this food.

There is also a future scope to this statement, Thy Kingdom come! In Revelation, we are promised victory in the end and judgment for those who reject the Lamb. In this future, there is the New Jerusalem. God will establish His new kingdom on earth. All things will be made right and made new again. When we proclaim, “Thy kingdom come”, it means that we yearn for the day when God will put an end to the world as we know it today. We yearn for the day when there is no persecution and there is no brokenness in the world. We yearn for the day when there is no evil and that evil has been fully subdued in the lake of fire. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come!”, we are saying that we believe that God is in control even when the world around us seems out of control. We are praying that we believe in God’s sovereignty over our lives. We trust in Him that all of this is going to get better. We believe that there is indeed something better than this. Why is it that Christ followers, I mean the true ones, seem to have peace in their hearts in any situation. They know of “Thy Kingdom come!” We know that God has got this. We know that we are heaven bound and also that God will bring about the New Jerusalem in the end. We are trusting that He will never forsake us or leave us alone. We are trusting that there is so much more than this. We are trusting that God is trustworthy and true. We believe and have seen evidence of God’s protection and provision in our lives regardless of circumstance. Thus we can truly believe that there is a kingdom of God that awaits us both in our death and in the return of Jesus to judge the world. Thy kingdom come is our confidence in the trustworthiness of God. We have seen His providence in our lives and we feel confident in wishing for His kingdom to come. Those without Christ as their Savior have nothing to look forward to. They make things here on earth their gods and they are constantly disappointed and see life and meaningless and without purpose. How dreadful is that? Remember that? We have hope and a purpose now. We have something more than awaits. Thy Kingdom come is the belief that God has got this no matter how bleak things get for us. We believe in the kingdom to come. We believe that it is ours. We believe that there is a kingdom of God and we want it to come. We believe in the victory! We believe. We believe. We believe. Bring it on! Bring us the kingdom!

Father in Heaven, give us the urgency and the caring hearts to see that judgment is coming to those who have chosen to reject you. Help to teach them about you and what you did through Jesus for them through our love and our willingness to fight for the kingdom here on earth. Help us to have full confidence to that you kingdom is coming. That you will make all things new one day. Help us to firmly understand that we are but passersby in this world and that your kingdom awaits us. Help us to yearn for your kingdom and express that through our obedience to your Word. Help us to change the world through our love for you. Amen.