November 2016


I will give you peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.

Leviticus 26: 6

 

This promise from God is a part of a list of conditional covenants that the Lord made with His people, Israel. They did not keep their side of the deal, and not much has changed since then, either. Humans are not good at keeping our bargains with God or with each other. What God asked them to do was not all that complicated. He wanted them to worship Him fully and totally and follow His statutes absolutely. That was it. There were no silly rituals or oppressive acts of subservience. There was much to gain and nothing to lose. Yet, we always think that we know a better way or that God left something out when He gave out the instructions for living; so, we humans need to interpret and to fill in the missing pieces.

 

Those ideas have never worked very well. That kind of thinking and the actions that it leads to got us removed from the perfection of God’s original creation. It has continued to plague our travels through life ever since. Today we live on a violent planet where life is often considered as a commodity at best and where some people view others as something less than fully human in order to use and discard them. Those harmful beasts have not been eliminated; instead, they lurk in the shadows of many of our streets, and they openly feed on our young in some places where we attempt to dwell. Because of our own disobedient and violent tendencies, weapons are everywhere in our societies, and they are employed under the pretense of bringing about peace.

 

Over the course of human history, all of this has caused God great anguish and grief, and He has responded to it with His righteous judgment. Although this judgment has and does include the removal of blessings and of protections, it also includes a significant outpouring of the Lord’s redemptive mercy and grace. This outpouring reaches its pinnacle when God allowed us to extend our violent natures to His Son on the cross and God’s rightful anger against humanity was placed upon the one being who deserved none of it. Now, in Christ, we can have a peace in our souls that persists over and against the ways of this world. Through Christ and in His power and strength we can and must stand against the violence and the oppression that travel through our streets so that peace can rule our land.

 

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

Acts 17: 6, 7

 

What a charge to have brought against you! Condemned for “turning the world upside down”. In more modern terms, they are charged with shaking up the system or with challenging the way that people in power are ruling and the decisions that they are making. So, the people of this town, Thessalonica, want to stand Paul and other followers of Jesus before the magistrates and have their seditious ways dealt with firmly and finally. You see, these Christians are trouble makers. They don’t act like the rest of the people. They proclaim allegiance to a different king. These men and women follow Jesus.

 

Their loyalty to Jesus is more than just an outward expression of submission to power and to enforced rule. The Romans who rule the land can never leave their swords behind, and their soldiers are quick to defend the rights that Caesar, their king, has claimed over the lives of the inhabitants of all lands where they are in power. Jesus is different. He commands that His followers lay down their swords, set aside dominance in humble submission to God, and seek to love the very people who oppose them. In this Christ-centric culture the strong give up their possessions and their position in order to care for the weak and the impoverished. They even do this to take care of the needs of people in far away lands. This sort of self-sacrificing and anti-consumerist life makes no sense. It was as troubling and anti-culture then as it is now.

 

It seems to me that our world is at least as worthy of being turned over as was the one that Paul lived in. There is much that can be done by each of us who know Christ to stand in opposition to the direction that our world is going. We can and should speak up and out for what is true, righteous, and holy. In doing this we need to continually seek God and be committed to listening to His voice as He directs us. Although we can and should care about the course that our nations and their leaders are following, we must also realize that we serve a different and a greater king than any national ruler. We also live in a far greater kingdom than any country can ever become. Our primary loyalty and our principle focus needs to be concentrated on knowing God. We do this by constant prayer and study and submission to His Word, both individually and in gatherings of other followers of Christ, and then by living out a committed response to following Christ regardless of the cost. Perhaps then, we too can be accused of “turning the world upside down.”

 

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in the doing.

James 1: 25

 

Liberty means many different things as that meaning is often determined by the context of the use of the word. For a sailor who has been on a long cruise it means the opportunity to go ashore and enter into freedom from the rules that govern life on the ship. Prisoners experience liberty as they are set free from confinement. Patrick Henry is quoted on the subject as he concluded his remarks before the Second Virginia Convention on March 20, 1775 with this famous statement, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was speaking about freedom from oppressive rule and he was counseling revolution as the means to achieve that form of liberty. It might seem that liberty in its truest sense involves taking action; it is not passive.

 

That is the point that James is driving at here, too. Christ perfects God’s law. His death and resurrection free people from our captivity to sin and its death, which is what made the law incomplete on its own. This law that Christ has perfected is the only way by which people can enter into the true liberty that God desires for us to enjoy. This liberty, like all forms of freedom, comes with responsibilities attached to it. In Christ, we are free to live fully, vigorously, and passionately within the will of God as He has expressed it in His Word. We are free, but to enjoy and employ that freedom we are required to submit ourselves fully to Christ. In what is one of creation’s greatest paradoxes our most important freedom also demands our total servitude.

 

As servants of Christ, followers of the true reigning King, we are to be people who are not content to just hear good sounding words and become satisfied that we are different from our culture by virtue of a momentary period of association such as attending church or a bible study. Those are good things, but that is not all that Christ desires for us to do with our liberty. We are free to speak truth into our culture and to do so in a manner that brings loving care and righteous zeal into the conversation. Our liberty should remove fear and self-protection from our approaches to others whether they are neighbors who do not seem to know God or are people from vastly different cultures with foreign languages and customs. The liberty that Christ so painfully purchased for us demands that we, in turn, touch our world with the love, truth, and saving grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

[For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]

Matthew 6: 13

 

With temptation, evil, power, kingdoms, and glory all mixed together Jesus gave us the content for a great adventure or fantasy story. But He was not telling a bedtime fable or giving us some light entertainment. Jesus was entering into the holy realm of prayer, and He was speaking about the reality of life when He did this. There are no wasted words here. All of the content is important, and that is why I have chosen to add the bracketed last line from the New American Standard text to my usual ESV version here. There is a completion of thought that these final words of this prayer bring out that seem to matter to me today.

 

Temptation swirls about us every day. God does not place it there. In fact, it comes about because there is a very real and quite active presence of evil in our world that is continually working in opposition to God, for we live squarely in the center of today’s battlefield where Satan engages with God for power and dominion and for the ownership of souls. Temptation and the sinful thoughts and actions that it can lead to are placed before us and are used as weapons of war by Satan in order to distract and disable followers of Christ from our callings as servants of the true King. When we pray for protection and for deliverance from these temptations and in repentance for our sinfulness, we are recognizing that Christ is our Lord and Master and that He will lead, guide, and empower us in living righteously.

 

Jesus is giving us words of respectful and loving submission to Christ, and He is our one and only hope for walking through these perilous days in a manner that conforms to God’s Word and that brings honor and glory to the Lord. Yet, this singular hope will not be frustrated or defeated if we continually reach out in faith and trust to Christ who does actively work to save us and to redeem this world, for God does rule this world, and He has granted to Christ the power and the authority to save people and to enact that same sovereign authority on Satan’s attempts to exercise false rule over people and places here. As people who know God and who seek to follow His will, we must continually seek out His protection and guidance as we trust Him in all aspects of life’s journey; so, we pray from deep in our hearts as Jesus models for us.

 

Forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6: 12

 

Forgiveness in its totality, its width, breadth and scope, is not a very comfortable subject. Most of us don’t really want to admit that we have been wrong, and when we do know that about ourselves, we still pull back from actually seeking to admit the wrong-doing and attempting to do something positive about the harm that we have caused. If I look at my life with any sort of clarity and honesty, there are many things that I say, do, and don’t say or do that are cause for hurt or pain for others. Yet, there is not all that much that I recognize as harmful and then enter into the process of restoration with that person. This also works in reverse, for seeking out a person who has wronged me and with gentle and loving concern attempting to work through the hurt is risky and uncomfortable.

 

In our discomfort and relational fearfulness we leave behind us a debris field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and relationships that are tarnished and scarred as if they have been assaulted by a sandblasting machine. Jesus is speaking to this sort of interpersonal damage when He leads us into praying about forgiveness. At this point we also encounter the underlying basis for all of the tension and the strife that we create in our lives. We have done the same things to God. We are rebellious and defiant, we seek after our own way without regard for what is right, and we manipulate and control others for advantage; and we attempt to do all of this with and to God as well as to other people. We humans are just not all that pleasant to be near at times.

 

Regardless of the way that we behave and the things that we do, God continually holds out a hand of mercy and has a heart filled with loving grace. He comes to us and even follows us when we wander to the far reaches of the earth. God also sees deeply into our hearts; so, He is ready and prepared to engage with us in all matters and with every issue of relational breakage that we might need to repair. The Lord wants us to take responsibility for what we think, say, and do in our relationship with Him and with other people. He is present with us and will walk into and through all of this hard journey of self-discovery, repentance, and rebuilding of trust and respect. Christ pours out God’s grace on us, and He leads us into doing the same with others. As we know Christ and follow Him, our lives are marked by forgiveness granted before it is requested, accepted in full faith and trust of its genuineness, and sought out whenever there is a hint of hurt or harm done.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Matthew 6: 11

 

When you think about bread, what comes to mind? Perhaps it is the picture of a great bakery where many styles, flavors, and colors greet the senses as you walk in. Think of bread and your mind may return to a morning when the sleep of the night was pushed aside by the aroma of fresh baked goods coming from the oven. That same commodity, bread, might be the primary item that sustains you and prevents hunger from winning the day. It seems that bread is rich and sumptuous, and it is also basic, fundamental, and even necessary. Thus, when Jesus used bread as the item to seek after from the Father, He was talking about much more than just filling the stomach.

 

Jesus was talking in terms of life and of life-giving. Praying about the provision of bread was entering into faith, trust, and dependence at the same time as it involved active participation in living out God’s will and calling for life in His kingdom. Jesus helps us to recognize the way that God has always engaged in granting to people the basic necessities of life at the same time as He has given to us all that we require to have our deep, spiritual longings satisfied. From the garden to the wilderness and on to the cross with its attendant empty tomb and forward to today and tomorrow, God provides the bread, that perfect substance of life, to anyone who is willing to seek and to receive it.

 

Although we work, we grow, we produce, and we earn in order to have the food that we eat, all that enables and empowers those activities is a gift from God to us. At the same time all people possess souls that are hungry to be fed with the substance of eternal truth, and God has also given that to us in the person of that same Jesus who spoke these words about bread when He was, in fact, seeing the presence of God, the Father. In and through Christ we are fed, and the food that we are invited to consume is lush and exquisite in its bounty and in its variety. Christ satisfies in ways that exceed the capacity of all else that we might seek after and experience. He brings life to our souls and to our hearts and minds. Jesus invites us to trust God for the provision of all that we need and then to follow Him into living fully in expression of the truth of that abundance as we share its life giving and sustaining properties with our world.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6: 10

 

God’s will can seem to be a strange and a mysterious thing. This earth just doesn’t feel like it is present all that much of the time, and if it is what prevails here much of the time then I just might not want to have anything to do with it. Perhaps Jesus is talking about some ideal situation, or an understanding of the future, or perhaps He is telling us about the reality in heaven where God resides full time. For from what I can see as I look outside my door, this world is willfully calling its own shots much of the time, and God is not very visible in what transpires as a result.

 

Yet, I think that Jesus was not merely setting out a model for prayer form or talking about some sort of visionary ideal. He was speaking about a central idea that related to His presence among us. Jesus was God’s Kingdom come to earth in its fullest form and expression. Although Jesus was a person in the same way that you and I are also people, He was also God among and God with us. Jesus, the Christ, walked our streets and felt our pains and our joys. He also brought the truth, righteousness, and love of God to a place where they and their Creator touch our lives and effect the way that we conduct them. God’s perfect will was present here in Jesus, and it remains with us in the real and tangible presence of Christ’s Spirit.

 

So, God’s will is really not so strange, except when considered from the point of view of a world that has lost its righteous way, and its mystery is resolved by knowing Christ deeply, intimately, and personally. God’s will is manifest in Christ, and it is carried out through the committed prayer, words, and actions of people like you and I who seek to know it and who courageously live as Christ calls and leads us to do. God’s will brings the love, the grace, the right living, and the peacemaking of His Kingdom to the streets of this world. God’s will is expressed as we love Him completely and so love others sacrificially. It also brings people to a place where we no longer view ourselves as citizens of this world, but instead, we know that our true home is found in the presence of Christ both now and into eternity.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Matthew 6: 9

 

Everyone has a father. Some are extraordinary, others have been inconsistent, there are the ones who just are, and sadly, for many, their fathers have been absent or it would have been better if they were. God knows all of this, and He is aware of the fact that the images hat people attach to the idea of father are wildly variable. Yet, God made each of us with a need and a desire for relationship with a father. When it is missing there is a hole in our hearts and in our souls that seems to seek after its own repair and resolution. We fill in the missing places that even the most perfect of human fathers leave with drives, actions, strivings, and ambitions. Many of them are valuable and healthy, but that is not always true, either.

 

In these few opening words to a prayer, Jesus is framing an attitude toward God that is born out of the way that God sees and values each of us. God’s engagement with people is such that He views each of us as His own child, as the product of His creative touch. We are delightful to His eye and each person is blessed with our own singular expression of the divine image in flesh and blood form. This is how God, the Father, sees us despite the disasters of our lives, the messes that we create, and the chaos that we perpetrate upon this earth. The Lord’s heart sings with a love song for us that is the heavenly lullaby of a father who seeks to be close to and to travel life with His child.

 

Yet, God is holy. He is separate from all of this world’s destruction and loss, and that name, Father, carries with it that holiness. Therefore, there would seem to be a disconnect between God’s desire to be an intimately involved father to us and His separation from our sinfulness. To that end, God does not demand that we become perfect in order for us to ascend to His holy presence. Rather, the Father gave us the gift of Jesus and the presence of His Spirit with us in this world and within us in this life so that He could come to the place where we are, and, through the efforts of Christ alone, we are elevated out of our existence as orphans in this world and into the loving care of our true and perfect Father.

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