Monday, March 19, 2018

How to Pray Jesus' Way # 6 - "Thine is the Kingdom"

For the past several weeks, I've been sharing about the Lord's Prayer.  We've talked about each phrase in detail.  Finally, we get to the famous expression, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen."  That's the way we've been taught the Lord's Prayer.  But the interesting thing is, it's not in most modern Bible translations, because it's not in most of the oldest manuscripts.  Christianity Stack Exchange explains:

In Eastern-rite usage, the doxology is recited in the liturgy after the Lord's Prayer; this is probably how the phrase crept into Eastern Greek mediaeval manuscripts of the New Testament. These manuscripts are ultimately the ones on which the KJV was based. The KJV served as the Bible for English liturgy for a long time, thus becoming traditional for Protestants. 
On the other hand, the doxology never made its way into the text of the Latin Bible, which was the basis of Western-rite (Roman Catholic) liturgy. So it is not understood as part of the Lord's Prayer proper in the Catholic Church. 
Newer Protestant translations make use of a scholarly critical text of the New Testament. Biblical scholars stand in general consensus that the original Gospel of Matthew did not have the doxology. They believe this because the earlier Greek manuscripts don't have the phrase, and neither do early translations of the text, while there is a clear motivation for adding it in later Greek manuscripts. So the phrase is absent from the text of most modern translations (though it might be noted in a footnote).

         Even though it wasn’t part of the original prayer, it’s such a favorite that I want to talk about it anyway.  When we pray this phrase, we remind ourselves that when it's all said and done, it's all about God's kingdom, power, and glory anyway--and not about ours.  We begin by praying for God's kingdom and God's will, and we end by reinforcing the idea.  In Mark 8, Peter starts out by affirming Jesus' kingdom "You are the Messiah (v. 29 NLT)," but then turns around and reprimands Jesus for predicting the cross.  In other words, Peter is all about the Messiah working for Peter's will, but not so keen on Jesus doing the will of God.  In response, Jesus tells him that he was behaving as an agent of Satan, and that he is "seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s (v. 33 NLT).”
When we pray the Lord's Prayer, from beginning to end, we remind ourselves that it starts with God's kingdom, power, and glory--and it ends the same way.  When we come to church, too often we become like Peter, seeking after our own kingdom, power, glory, and will.  When we do this, we become puppets of the devil, working from an earthly perspective and not from God's.  Jesus gives a solution to this kind of selfishness in verses 34-36 (NLT:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?"

Praying the Lord's Prayer is a model for living the Christian life.  It's letting go and letting God have control.  We do this each day, no matter what challenges arise.  We do it at church, in the office, at school, and in the community, wherever we live our life for God's kingdom, power, and glory--and not our own.

How to Pray Jesus' Way # 5 - "Not Into Temptation"

Today, we continue our discussion on the Lord’s Prayer.  We’ve seen how each phrase draws us closer to God.  This week, we come to this phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,”  in which we ask God for protection against those things that entice us away from true relationship with God and other people.  This simple phrase might make you think sometimes God tempts people to evil—otherwise why would you have to ask God not to do it?  But Jesus’ brother James explains it like this: 

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  (James 1:13-15)

While God doesn’t specifically tempt us, God does allow temptation, knowing that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:4).”  Temptation happens when we decide to gain pleasure or end suffering by our own devices, rather than following the will of God.  By bypassing suffering or overdosing on pleasure, we keep that maturity from doing its work in our hearts.  Essentially, temptation is impatience.  Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to end their ignorance and gain wisdom by eating forbidden fruit, rather than gaining it over time in their relationship with each and with God.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to turn stones to bread , ending his fast prematurely before he had developed the self-discipline that God was working in him.  No matter the temptation, it’s always based on impatience, and a desire to take charge of things yourself, rather than letting God be in control.

Now, some people have a tough time fasting, or going any time at all without food.  I know a couple who does things the old-fashioned way, where she has dinner ready before he gets home from work.  It works for them—sort of.  The problem is that often he gets hungry on the way, and he’ll stop at Hardee’s for just a little snack—you know, one of those bags with two sandwiches and fries and a pie.  Of course, you know where this is going.  When he sits down to dinner, there’s no room for dinner.  She gets upset that he won’t eat her cooking, and the kids learn from his example that they don’t have to eat their vegetables—or anything, for that matter.  And what really takes the cake after dinner, is when he takes the cake after dinner!  He’s filled up on junk, leaving no room in his life for what will nourish him.  

You do the same thing when you get to the end of the day and are too tired to have your quiet time of Bible reading and prayer.  I do it when I fill up my mind with worry and overthinking things, rather than simply trusting God to handle life’s problems.  A teenager does it when he says yes to sex before he’s ready for lifelong commitment.  We do it whenever we take a shortcut around God’s will, letting impatience lead to rash decisions that get us into trouble.  Temptation is the drive-thru window on the way home, choosing the devil’s fast food over God’s home-cooked meal, and stuffing ourselves on life’s distractions that crowd out God’s intentions.  Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” because He himself was tempted, and He knows it sucks.  But He also models how can be delivered from evil.

When He was tempted, Jesus answered the devil by saying, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).’”  This is the solution to every temptation—to get so close to God that “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart (Romans 10:8)."  Every time Jesus was tempted, He responded by quoting the Bible.  After three tries, the devil realized he had to abandon the effort.

Now, does that mean that you defeat temptation by memorizing scripture and quoting it very time you feel tempted?  Nope.  Been there, done that, didn’t even want the ugly tee shirt.  Most Christians have tried resisting temptation by an exercise of willpower and quotation of Bible verses.  It’s not Bible verses that will save you—it’s being so close to God, so full of God, that there’s no room for the devil and his schemes.  If temptation is like filling up on junk food so that there’s no room for dinner, then resisting temptation is like filling up on a healthy meal so that there’s no room for dessert.  You don’t resist temptation by trying harder—you resist temptation by just eating more of God.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8).”  Perhaps this is partly what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).”  It’s only when you’re hungry or thirsty that you are susceptible to temptation.  When you’re full of God, you can push away from the table and say, “No, thanks.”

Of course, that’s when the devil comes along and says, “There’s always room for Jell-O.”  But who really likes Jell-O, anyway?  I mean, of all the desserts in the world, Jell-O isn’t very tempting.  When you’re full of God, it’s easy to say “no.”  As the song says, “Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.”   When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you’re claiming that as God’s promise.  Being full of God is what delivers you from evil—not willpower, and not keeping the law.  Being full of the bread of life, you don’t have room for anything else.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How to Pray Jesus' Way # 4 - "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to trespass all over the neighborhood.  It was a rural area, and there was always somebody’s patch of woods to explore, or a neighbor’s pond to skip rocks into, or an abandoned house to investigate.  We thought of it as archaeology when we discovered what was inside those collapsing homes.  Trespassing would have been a harsh word in our minds, but that’s exactly what it was.  If our mother had only known!  First, trespassing is dangerous—you could get yourself hurt.  Second, trespassing is rude—even though it’s not your place, you don’t have permission, and what if you break something.  Third, trespassing is illegal—what if you get arrested?  (Almost happened to me, once, but that’s another story.)  The fact is, I certainly have a past (and might have gotten a record) of trespassing—and if you’re honest with yourself, you do too. 

This is why, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Since my childhood, I now realize just how many trespasses I need to have forgiven!  And if God has forgiven me, then I’m under obligation to forgive those who have trespassed against me.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of an employee who owes his employer an astronomical amount of money that he could never repay—but in his mercy, the boss forgives the debt.  Then the employee turns on his friend who owes him a small sum, choking him and demanding repayment.  When the friend can’t pay, the employee has him thrown into prison.  The employer hears of this and says, “You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”[i]  As a harsh lesson, he has the employee thrown into debtor’s prison until he could pay this unpayable debt.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to forgive others AS we have been forgiven.  This little word “as” means at the same time, in the same way, and to the same degree.  In Luke 6:37-38[ii], Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  This means if you want to use a tiny amount of grace, you can expect a tiny amount of grace.  If you give a heavy helping of judgment, God will give you the same.  So we pray that God will forgive us AS we forgive others.  For our sake and theirs, that needs to be a lot.

In Luke 6:39, Jesus asks, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?”  Picture this ridiculous image of a blind man reaching out for someone to lead him—yet the person who offers guidance can’t see, himself!  “Sure, follow me!” says the blind guide, as he leads them both to destruction.  That’s the way religious people are when they think they can lead other people spiritually, but they themselves are so blinded by unforgiveness that they can’t see two feet in front of them.  Jesus continues with the blindness analogy by saying:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (verses 41-42).”

            Now, nothing is funny about blindness—and nothing’s funny about spiritual blindness, either.  Though Jesus might make His audience chuckle with this outrageous picture, unforgiveness and judgment are no laughing matter.  They blind us from our own condition, causing us to focus on other people’s faults instead of our own.  The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to give grace at the same time, the same way, and the same degree that we’ve received grace.  Any less, and we’re not loving people the way that Jesus loved us.  This is the only way we can relate to God honestly in prayer—if we’re also relating to people honestly, recognizing that “all have sinned (Romans 3:23),” including ourselves. 

            When I was a teenager, one night I sneaked out of the house with a friend and climbed one of those old fire observation towers—just to say we’d done it.  Whenever cars drove by, we flattened our bodies out on the platform we were on, so nobody would see us.  One of those times, the car slowed down and came to a stop just beneath the tower.  Our breath came heavy as we waited to see what would happen.  Then we heard the squawk of a police siren, and saw the blue light rotate just once, before the gravel crunched again and the car drove away.  In one squawk, that unseen officer spoke volumes to us.  He said, “Ok, boys—I was a teenager too, and I did things I could have gotten in trouble for, myself.  So instead of getting in trouble, why don’t you just come down before somebody gets hurt?”  And that’s all he needed to do—we scrambled down, and never climbed that tower again.  The officer had the power to bring judgment down on us, but chose grace instead.  He embodied Colossians 3:13, which says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

            So the next time you’re tempted to judge someone, choose grace instead.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It’s more than just a line in a prayer.  It’s the only way we can relate to a God of grace—by also being gracious to others.

[i] Matthew 18:32-33
[ii] All scripture quotations taken from the NIV.