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Friday, February 27, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 5: The Great Adoption

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)


The word translated here as "Father" is pater and comes from a root word that means "a nourisher, protector, upholder". This is a terribly difficult concept for me. I don't have any problem understanding God as the Father of Jesus. After all, He was perfect, sinless. What boggles my mind is that God willingly chooses to be Father to me. As anyone who knows me is well aware, I am neither sinless nor perfect. None of us are. 

Ponder that a moment. If we choose a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, His Son, He adopts us as His children, sons and daughters of God. It's absolutely incredible! Equally incredible is that, as Scripture tell us, Jesus is "not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters". (Hebrews 2:11, Mark 3:33-35) and that we are "joint heirs" with Jesus, the Son of God. (Romans 8:17) 

Jesus is not ashamed to be my brother. 

I could ponder that for a lifetime and never get over it. Just to be sure we are on the same page here, I was so sinful that there could never be enough sacrifice on my own to make up for all the sin I had piled up and continued to pile up, and so were we all. God created us for a relationship with him and I  messed it up terribly, we messed it up terribly. Something had to be done, so Jesus did it. He wasn't in love with the idea, but He saw it as the only way to save mankind, so Jesus laid down His life to pay for my sin, to pay for your sin. 

He left Heaven, which was a major sacrifice in itself, and came to earth. Consider leaving your beautiful and comfortable home, and all the people you love, to live in the most desolate place on this earth for thirty-three years, knowing that the very people you've come to help will hate you, spit on you, and kill you, then realize that His sacrifice was greater than that. 

On top of leaving Heaven to come to earth, Jesus took my Sin on Himself and died in my place, in your place. That is such a spiritually incredible event that I cannot begin to understand how such a propitiation happened, how He stood it, why He would do it, but He did. I know that's true because of the change His sacrifice has made in my life.

After all of the sacrifice to save my eternal life, made necessary because of my sin, I have the unmitigated gall to continue to sin and ask for more forgiveness. I have not taken sin seriously enough, and few of us do. When I look at the price my sin cost Jesus, it makes me sick. What is even more mortifying is that I continue to sin. I dare to have a haughty heart, a condescending nature, selfishness, greed. You name it. If it's sin, it threatens to entice me, and I'm not the only one. We are all easily entangled by sin. What is heartbreaking is that entanglement is not as horrifying as it should be. If I'm not entangled by some sins (the ones of others, for example) I'm not so worried about the ones that do entangle me, and this should not be. 

I have been given the greatest gift imaginable in this unfathomable adoption by Almighty God, despite my bent for sinning. I have not always understood the magnitude of this gift, but I pray that I will not only get an inkling of understanding, but that I will never get over the wonder of it, and that I will choose to live in accordance to the gift. Oh dear ones, the right to call God Father is something we should treasure, for in that gift He has transformed our lives and changed our eternal destiny.

Selah. Pause and consider.

Today, before we dare to speak His name, let us consider the price that was paid for our adoption, as well as the audacious insult of our ongoing choice to continue in sin. May we treasure the gift of our adoption so much that we choose to live accordingly. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 4: Our Father, Aba-na

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

In Matthew's record of the Model Prayer, he begins with the words "Our Father". He is not just my personal Father, nor simply the Father of the people who attend the same local church I attend or even the same denomination. "Our Father" indicates that He is the Father of all those who put their trust in Him, and we are all His children, brothers and sisters together as children of God. 

The rampages of hate conducted by ISIS toward believers in recent months have made me even more aware of the brotherhood of believers. When I saw earlier this week that ISIS had kidnapped 90 Christians in Syria, I wept. They are my family. They are your family, and they are suffering unspeakable torment and pain because of their faith in Our Father. 

As I was considering their kidnapping, I wondered about what language they speak in Syria (Arabic) and how "Our Father" translates in Arabic. How do Syrian Christians refer to Our Father, the One who is Father of us all? The transliteration to English is aba-na. Isn't that a beautiful name? Since that time, I've used the Arabic name for God when I pray as a reminder that I share the same Father as my brothers and sisters from Syria who have been kidnapped by ISIS.  


Praying with their language, even if only in this one word, has made me much more cognizant of my relationship with my family in chains, much more concerned, more brokenhearted. When I read of the travesty of Boko Haram in Nigeria, it breaks my heart because they are my people. They are family, and much loved. These Syrian Christians are my people, my family, and I long to do something. 

Sometimes I forget that I can do something. In fact, you and I can do something that just might rock the world of those vicious ISIS soldiers. We can pray, and a perfect place to begin is with Aba-na. Our Father. Use the words our Syrian family uses as a reminder of our connection to them.

As we pray today, let's spend more time praying for our people, our family, in chains around the world, than we do for ourselves. Pray for those being tortured by ISIS, those being brutalized by Boko Haram, and by all the other persecutors of the world. Pray for protection from their persecutors, quick deliverance, and that their faith would stay strong. Pray that their suffering would be limited and that their example of faithfulness would bring conviction and salvation to their captors. Pray for those who persecute as well as those who are persecuted. 

Those Syrian Christians are our family, and Aba-na is the Father of us all. Pray. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 3: saying thank you

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

There is always a wonderful lesson to be found in researching the meaning of the words of Christ. The original Greek is so rich and multilayered that even a brief study enhances our understanding of Jesus' intent. So it is with the word translated as "when". As I read this, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. 

The word translated as "when" is hotan and is used to indicate a little more than just "when". This particular word is used to mean "when you pray, and I am assuming that you will pray." This is the same word Jesus used when he said, "when you fast". Hotan. "When you fast, and I am assuming you will fast." 

Sometimes I forget that Jesus was not just talking to make a lovely sermon. He had a very limited time on earth, an outrageous amount to teach His disciples, and every word had to count. Jesus was not just talking about prayer to check that off His heavenly list of "things to teach disciples". He was talking to them about prayer because He expected them to pray, and to pray in the way He was teaching. It's important to remember that He also expects us, you and me, to pray in this way, too.

The word translated as "pray" is proseuchomai. Interestingly, it is always translated as "pray". There's no deep layer. It simply means pray. So what is prayer? I turned to an online dictionary and found this definition. "A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God, an earnest hope or wish." We will learn over the next few days (okay, over the next few weeks) that prayer is so much more than a series of requests. Prayer is a conversation between us and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This speaking with God is nothing short of a miraculous privilege, and one we do well to appreciate and take seriously.

There is a two-word prayer that I pray on a daily basis, usually throughout the day, and it is a good starting point for learning to pray. "Thank you." I try to thank God for everything from the air that I breathe to the eggs my chickens lay to the times when my horses exit their stalls without leaving me more to clean up (to put it delicately). It has been a recent goal of mine to thank God for everything He has given me, and I have found that it is very nearly impossible. I am blessed beyond measure and the more I thank Him, the more I find reason to thank Him. 

As we go along in these lessons on prayer, I hope to offer some suggestions to make our prayer lives a little more lively. For today, let's spend our prayer time thanking God for all the gifts He has given us. Don't just say, "Thank you for everything." Let's recall every family member, every friend, every person God has placed in our lives and thank Him for them. Thank Him for what they mean to us, the lessons we have learned from them. Go from room to room in our homes, thanking Him for every specific tangible thing He has given us. As we go about our day, let's thank Him for our work, our ability to move freely, to shop where we want, the money we spend, the freedoms we enjoy, the leaders He has given us (whether we like them or not). While we are thanking, let's not forget to thank Him for the adversity He has allowed, for how He has used it, what He will do from it.

 This is not the day to use the thank you's for thinking of more requests. This is the day to say "thank you" for what we have without asking for anything more. If we do it, it will change us in an amazing way. Start now. Thank you, Lord for...

"Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 KJV

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 2: Whose will do we want?

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

When you read the passage above, you probably noticed that this "model prayer" is not exactly the same as the model prayer we consider "the Lord's prayer". (Matthew 6:9-13) This is a "pared down" form of the prayer recorded in Matthew's gospel, but it still contains the basics. Luke has recorded the prayer of Christ in a very "doctorly" way. He has kept the skeleton, the basics, of the prayer and recorded what might be considered an outline for prayer. 

Luke begins with praise and honor to God, then addresses the needs for provision, forgiveness, and sanctification. "We want what You want, we need what You give, We want to live like You have said." If we can pray with that kind of submission to our Heavenly Father, we will have done well. 

My problem with praying in this manner is that my wants don't always line up with God's wants. In theory, of course, I want what God wants for my life. In actuality, I sometimes want something a little different. If you and I are going to pray the way Jesus prayed, we must begin by being willing to trade our desires for God's. 

Just as Jesus prayed in the garden on the night before His crucifixion, we must begin with "not my will but Thine be done." This prayer of submission is the prayer that never fails. When we choose to do what God wants, to accept what God sends rather than try to find a solution for ourselves, we have made a giant step toward intimate and effective prayer. 

Understanding what we want in prayer is vital as we begin our study on learning to pray like Jesus prayed. Do I want what God wants or not? If I do not want what God wants, and am not willing for Him to change my wants to His, my prayers will never achieve the intimacy I desire, nor the answers I hope to find. It is only when I enter into conversation with Almighty God, fully convinced that He knows best and completely willing to accept His will, that I am ready to begin to pray. 

Selah. Pause and consider.

If we want to pray as Jesus prayed, if we want to see mighty works of God, if we want to have intimacy with our Creator, we must begin with the submission of Christ. "Thy will be done" must be our heart's cry. Even before we speak a word to our Lord, we must begin by submitting to our Lord. 

Today, let us take those burdens we carry and present them to the Lord with no request but the one our Lord prayed on that fateful night. "Thy will be done." In every need, every hurt, every desire, may our prayer begin with His will, and not our own.

Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42 KJV)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 1: Why?

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1 NASB)

We move today to Luke 11, to begin a section on prayer.  

John the Baptizer had previously taught his disciples about prayer and, according to this passage, had taught them "how to pray". One of Jesus' disciples asked Him to do the same for them. Every Jewish boy is taught the Shema, which is a vital part of their daily prayers. Every Jewish girl is taught the Psalms, which includes many of David's prayers. The disciples knew how to recite the prayers of others. What they wanted was to know was how to talk to God personally, as Jesus did, and how to pray the kind of prayers that "get results". 

When Jesus prayed, He was talking to someone He knew intimately, because He was talking to His Father. The disciples certainly wanted to know how to have that kind of intimacy with God, but there was likely something else that they wanted, as well. They may have also wanted the power that Jesus seemed to derive from time spent in prayer. 

Jesus had wonder-working power, and there was no doubt about it. Throughout his ministry, He spent a considerable amount of time in prayer. He went to the mountain or the wilderness to pray, and would spend hours alone with His Father. He considered this time vital and certainly conveyed the importance, the priority, of His prayer time to the disciples. 

Jesus didn't have to tell them there was something different about His prayers, because they could see it for themselves. When Jesus  prayed over a few loaves and fishes, he was able to take a meal meant for a child and feed thousands. When the disciples failed to heal a child, Jesus told them that some things could only come out by prayer and fasting. The disciples likely wanted to be able to pray prayers that resulted in answers they could see, as well. 

As we begin this study on prayer, let us begin by asking one important question. "Why do I want to learn to pray?" If what we want is simply power, we may be in for a surprise. The power of Jesus' prayers did not come as a result of a good choice of words, a large number of words, or the amount of time spent on His knees. The power of His prayers was a result of His intimacy with His Father and His complete submission to His Father's will. 

I have prayed many prayers and seen many incredible answers to my prayers. I've seen God do incredible wonders. All those answers have been exciting and have taught me that the first place I should take my need, my hurt, my fear is to my Heavenly Father. The best part of learning to pray, however, is not the tangible answers that come from that time in prayer. The best part of prayer is the intimacy with our loving Heavenly Father that I find in His presence. It is the place of greatest joy, greatest comfort, greatest peace and is, most often, the reason I go to God in prayer. 

Do we desire that kind of intimacy with God? Are we willing for that kind of submission to the Father's will? Let us ask ourselves these questions before we turn to Christ and ask Him to teach us to pray. There are exciting days ahead, so let's draw close to our Lord. When we do, we will find that He will draw near to us, as well, and what a glorious time that will be!

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you... (James 4:8 NASB)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Visit at Martha's House, part 22: the Call to be a Mary

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

There is a notation in my Bible just after this verse that reads: "i.e. "Mary has done what I wanted you to do!" It is a reminder to me of that Still, Small Voice that called me to be more than Martha, to be concerned about more than preparations, more than cooking and cleaning. It is a reminder of the call to start at the feet of my Master before anything else, to treasure His opinion above all others, to seek His words, His truth, His righteousness.  

It is the same call He gives to each of us and it is a call for us to draw close to the heart of God, regardless of the actions or preferences of those around us. It is a call to genuine worship. This is not a call for "fake church", where we are simply there by habit, passing the time until we can go to the restaurant or home to eat a nicely prepared lunch, daydreaming our way through the sermon and worship time. I have done more than enough of that, and the rebuke of God to me was well deserved. When our Lord reprimanded Martha and commended Mary, it was a word to me, as well.  It was a word to us all. 

He calls me, calls us, to the most intimate relationship with the Almighty imaginable. It is one I do not deserve and cannot comprehend. That I would regard it casually is arrogance in the extreme. That I would disdain the coming together of my brothers and sisters in Christ, demanding entertainment rather than seeking truth and worshipping from the depth of my heart, is nothing short of blasphemy. That may seem an extreme statement, but consider this. "Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God, to religious or holy persons or things, or toward so,etching considered inviolate." (Wiki) 

Dear friends, it is past time for those of us who call ourselves "the church" to become the body of Christ as He intended, knitted together with the strong cords of love, loving The Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As we consider attending worship services today, join with me to worship, to love, to honor the One who conquered our sin and defeated our certain eternal death. Choose with me to be more than Martha. Choose with me the place of Mary, seated at the feet of Jesus, intent on worshipping the One our heart most desires, the One we love over all others.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Vist at Martha's House, part 21: Defending Piety and Zeal

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

Once again, I fully expected to move to Luke 11 today, but another point caught my attention, and I am compelled to stop here once more. As I read through Luke 10 today, I wondered if Matthew Henry (my favorite theologian) had found a treasure in this passage that I had missed. It turned out that he had. Read his words:

"However we may be censured and condemned by men for our piety and zeal, our Lord Jesus will take our part: But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me. Let us not then condemn the pious zeal of any, lest we set Christ against us; and let us never be discouraged if we be censured for our pious zeal, for we have Christ for us." (Matthew Henry)

I attended the community-wide Lenten Luncheon hosted at my church earlier this week and, as I glanced around the room I noticed people from a variety of faith traditions. There were Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians seated together around the tables. I'm sure other groups were represented, too (at least I hope so). As I surveyed the room, I thought the gathering was the most representative of heaven of any church gathering I'd attended recently. We put aside our own traditions to celebrate the Savior who died for us all. For one hour on Thursday, we were the body of Christ, and it was beautiful. I hope Jesus was pleased.

Since then, I've been thinking about this business of denominations and traditions, the controversy about hymns versus praise songs, raising hands in prayer or not raising hands in worship, speaking in tongues or not speaking in tongues, prayers for healing, liturgy, and this general grumbling that goes on about the worship style of others. If the truth be told, we don't just grumble about worship styles, we sometimes judge others, as well as condemn them when their worship is a little different from our own. In fact, what is even worse, we don't limit our bad attitudes to those outside our own faith group. There is a tendency to disdain for anyone who worships in a way different from our own, and recently, I've been wondering how Jesus feels about it. One of the last things he prayed for us was that we would be one, even as God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one. He wanted unity for us, not division. I'm afraid our disharmony appalls Him.

The problem, as we can see, is not new. King David's wife condemned him for his public display of worship, and it cost her the love of her husband. Martha condemned Mary for her choice to worship rather than "make preparations" and it cost her a rebuke from Jesus. I wonder what our own snipping about worship styles costs us. If Jesus defended the one who was at His feet worshipping, and rebuked the one who condemned her, you can be sure that we do not go unnoticed when we do the same to those worshipping around us. 

Because I attend a church that is somewhat "stiff" during worship, I once asked a friend what prompted the different worship styles and what they meant. She explained this business of raising hands in worship in a way that made perfect sense to me. When a little child is sleepy and wants to snuggle, is hurt and needs consolation, or is tired and can't walk another step, what do they do? They reach up their arms to their parents and say, "Hold me, Mommy. Pick me up, Daddy!" In that same way, we raise our arms to our Heavenly Father asking Him to draw us near to Him, comfort us, carry us through a hard time. Holding our hands out, palms up, she said, is often done to symbolize that we come to Him with nothing of our own, willing to receive anything He sends our way. It is a symbol of humility and submission. 

Once I saw this business of uplifted arms and open hands in this way, I began to wonder, why don't we all raise our hands with desperation to draw closer to our Lord? Why don't we all hold out our empty hands before our God? I fear our lack of demonstrative action may be due to a lack of accompanying humility. (pride) After all, who wants to be the one raising hands in a room full of people who don't? We must ask, if we hold back in worship because of those around us, who then are we worshipping? 

How foolish we are to argue about worship! Why not get up in arms about sin, instead? Matthew Henry was absolutely right. Let us be sure that we do not condemn others for their piety and zeal "lest we set Christ against us". Our Lord wept and prayed for our unity as He was facing the cross. It was His heart's cry, and it should be our own. This weekend, as we prepare to attend worship services, join with me and try something radically new. Instead of condemning the worship style of others, let's give it a try. Embrace a fresh style of worship, whether it be raising hands in worship or kneeling in adoration. 

What matters, dear ones, is not the position of our body nor the location of our hands. What matters is the humility, ardor, and love in our hearts. What pleases Christ is unity among those who love Him. Let us love one another, let us welcome our differences, and let the worship begin!