Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lord's Prayer Anew

Four years ago I shared this fresh look at the Lord's Prayer and felt led to share it again today. Enjoy!

In my study of God’s Word, I came across the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Too often I find myself just skimming over this very familiar passage, but this day God brought my eyes to a screeching halt. It occurred to me that because we have the privilege of speaking these words with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our weekly worship, we can sometimes lose the depth of our passion for the prayer’s meaning. As I read this prayer slowly over and over again, I began to gain a deeper understanding and a new appreciation for this sacred text. God blessed my heart through the Lord’s Prayer in a special way and I share it with you here in the hopes that you too will be blessed as I have.

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Our Father (the One who brought us into being; our Protector; our Provider; the Authority in our lives; the bigger, stronger One we admire; the One who loves us more; our Daddy) who art in heaven (where God’s people gather around the eternal throne to praise and worship the Lord; our spiritual homeland; our eternal inheritance; pure contentment of the soul; complete and absolute fulfillment; where the veil of mortality is lifted and God’s inconceivable glory is revealed; an all-embracing unity with the fullness of God) Hallowed be thy name (the mere mention of His Name is a sacred utterance–God is to be praised with awe and respect; He is holy and with admiration we revere the Lord; He is glorious and His presence demands our eager and undivided attention) Thy kingdom come (an existence with no war, no pain, no hunger or disease; where the Lord God reigns, peace rules and compassion is the native tongue; where love is the currency and joy is the air we breathe; where only God’s Word and will is sought after and received by grateful hearts) Thy will be done (empty us Father of our desires and our illusions of control; Your desires only we seek to accomplish in the offering of ourselves to glorify You Lord God; carve out our selfishness and self-centeredness that we may attend fully to Your commands in obedient service to Your just and merciful holiness) On earth as it is in heaven (You are the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. All heaven sings of Your glory and heeds Your beck and call with joyful and obedient hearts; with a word, You created the earth and we who live there. We too are subject to Your power and glory just as the heavens are and we, Your people, must submit ourselves to Your holiness with equal joy and obedience as in the heavenly realms) Give us this day (today, this minute, now – we seek audience with you Lord God; You’ve instructed us in your Holy Word to pray continuously – to be in communion with You this minute…and this minute…and this minute; today is the day You have made and right now is the time we have to worship You, submit to You, love You and serve You.) our daily bread (we were created with needs that must be met every day if we are to continue. These are not weaknesses but opportunities for us to rely on Your power and love to sustain us. You built those needs into us that we may always be drawn to You; fill us Lord God with Your presence; give us Lord what our bodies need to continue praising and serving You in this world until You call us home.) And forgive us (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debts (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) As we forgive (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debtors (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) Lead us not into temptation (guide us in Your way Lord God; take our hands and direct our paths; leave Your footprints for us to follow; give Your Spirit to push, pull, and point the way straight to You) But deliver us from evil (too often Lord, we stumble, we veer off the path or run in the opposite direction straight into the arms of the enemy. Rescue us Lord God. Dispense the crushing blow of Your power and glory upon the enemy and his armies. Come down into the dark valley of death and bring us up to Your holy mountain that we may praise and glorify You alone forever.) *For thine is the kingdom, (You created it all Lord. The universe, the earth and all that inhabits the earth. The spiritual world is Yours and anything else we may discover or uncover in the course of history, You created and it all belongs to You.) the power, (You are all-powerful Lord God. There is no power greater than Yours. With a thought, by a single utterance, You brought into being all things. With a thought, by a single utterance, You could wipe it all out in the blink of an eye with the ease of a single breath.) and glory forever. (There never was, is now, nor will there ever be anything more splendid, more magnificent or beautiful than You Father, nor more deserving of our praise and adoration.) Amen. (yes; as it has been said, let it be so)
*Presbyterian tradition adds this sentence which I believe is in keeping with the
spirit of the Lord’s Prayer and felt led to include in this new look at God’s Word.

If you will, take time with me now to speak your heart to the Lord in the words our Savior gave us…

Our Father……...who art in heaven……...Hallowed be thy name……..Thy kingdom come……...Thy will be done…….on earth as it is in heaven……….. Give us this day………..our daily bread...........and forgive us………...our debts…………….as we forgive…………..our debtors……….Lead us not into temptation……….but deliver us from evil…….……. For thine is the kingdom………...the power …..........and the glory forever……….Amen.

Be Blessed!
Maureen

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Most Important 30 Minutes of My Day

I’m stretching myself this fall with a theology course called Perspectives on the World-Wide Christian Movement and I am enjoying it immensely. The first five weeks had me tracking God’s missionary movement from Genesis through Revelation connecting these 66 books in a way I never saw before and making the study of the Bible a new kind of adventure for me. This last week, we begin looking at the history of mission after the writings of the New Testament through the present day. I’m beginning to have new eyes for the Church during what is too often this forgotten time and how God has moved throughout the world. But I also learned something much more important and immediate or should I say “relearned.”

In those first five lessons, I was reading the bible a lot—looking at, easily, 40-50 verse references per lesson mulling them over and understanding them in a new light. I was back in my bible again and thriving on the wonderful new connections I was making with God’s word. I’ve already admitted some time ago (more than once) that I haven’t been reading the bible and praying like I know I should be. It was beginning to feel empty and flat so my personal quiet time with the Lord waned a bit. I increasingly became distracted by life—I always seemed to be rushing somewhere or needing to do something and couldn’t get it off my mind until it was done. Before I knew it, my personal, intimate time with God in his word and in prayer fell to the bottom of my priority list.

I’m not talking about the weekly worship, Sunday school class, or bible study you attend or the prayer or praise time you have while you driving to your next destination or waiting in line at the grocery store. I’m talking about the time you take out of your day to read God’s word asking him to speak his will to you or using his word to praise and worship him, or in repentance seeking his grace and assurance. And when you shut out everyone and everything else to listen for his voice, to intercede for those he has put on your heart, and rest in his presence. This is what has been missing from my daily routine for way too long.

Oh, I’ve tried in the past several times to get it back in the routine, but it never really got traction. But somehow, after digging deep into the bible for the first five weeks of the course, this last week seemed so empty again when I left the bible behind to track the history of the church instead. This morning I woke up feeling like something was missing and I wanted it back. I wanted to be in God’s word again and to put everything aside to totally be in his presence, so I opened my bible and read and took time to really communicate with God before my feet hit the floor and God’s peace is still filling my heart as I share this with you.

What did God teach me last week? God taught me that breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day—feasting on his word is. And that 30 minutes of exercise I’m supposed to get three times a week—it will never compare to the 30 minutes I spend in the morning in the word and in prayer being strengthen and molded by my God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Secret to Finding a Deep, Lasting Peace

This Sunday, I heard a sermon where the preacher shared that the secret to having a life of contentment is being content with my life as it is. Admittedly, he didn’t come up with the profound thought…he borrowed it from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

Paul wrote this when he was in prison. Being curious, I decided to do some research on the first century Roman prisons because my only understanding of prison is Hollywood’s version.  I learned that Paul was in prison for two years waiting trial—there hadn’t even been a trial let alone a conviction. Day after day for two years wondering if this was the day he would get his day in court.

These prisons were often subterranean, dug out solid rock with an opening the size of a manhole as the only entrance and exit.  Such was the Mamertine prison Rome where tradition tells us Paul was held. The prison itself was essentially two large rooms on different levels with iron shackles fixed to the walls. The Roman historian Sallust, writing a century before Paul, said of this dungeon, "[It] is sunk about twelve feet underground. Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness and stench." I imagine that conditions didn't improve over the century between Sallust's writing and Paul's stay. A few prisoners had friends who provided them with clothing, blankets, food and water. The others did without. It was in this place that Paul wrote to Philippians about the secret of contentment. 

If Paul could find contentment there, I should be able to find contentment in my warm, clean, spacious apartment even if I could use a little more storage and an updated living room set. While we’re at it, I’d love to replace the kitchen cabinets and maybe a little color on the walls too. Today on my way to work I saw a homeless man dressed in the same dirty gray sweatshirt and ripped tan trousers that he’s been wearing every day for years, walking alongside the road with his little cart that holds all his worldly belongings and the aluminum cans that he picks up to recycles for money. I bet he would be more than content with an apartment like mine and my 4-year old car, even if it doesn’t have blue tooth capability. Sometimes my blessings are so continuous that I take them for granted and the joy and gratitude I should be receiving them in diminishes until they almost disappear. Shame on me for that.

Now I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to others—it makes for some real unhappiness when I’m the poorer person and sometimes can lead to arrogance when I’m the richer. But I have to tell you that seeing that man today reminded me that God has blessed me greatly and not so I could be happy, but so I can share it with those who are waiting for God’s blessing to come to them through me and my stewardship of what God has given me. 

I also learned in my research that visiting a first century Roman prison could be dangerous. Visitors ran the risk of being associated with the alleged crimes of the accused. When early Christians visited those who were in prison, they were let down into the prison by rope and left only at the convenience of the guards. They weren’t just performing an inconvenient or unpleasant act of kindness—they were risking their own lives and freedom as well. This is the kind of love and concern we are to have for each other. Am I that giving—that selfless, that I put others’ needs above my own convenience let alone my own safety? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is no. No, I’m not that selfless and giving and I’m leaning on God’s grace right now to see past this when he looks at me.

Want to know the secret to finding a deep, lasting peace? I’ll let Paul share it in his own words: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Monday, October 6, 2014

I'm Working My Way Back to God...Not!

Things were so busy for me this weekend and I didn’t spend a whole lot of conscience time with God. When I woke up this morning, I felt distant from God and was hesitant to approach him in prayer this morning, to re-establish that dependence I work so hard on most of the time. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be in God’s presence and I should have to do something before I earned that intimacy back.

When I was growing up, it was a well-known fact that you didn’t want to end up at the top of my mother’s sh** list. That’s the list of people who did something to anger my mother and if you were foolish and unfortunate enough to make it to the top of that list by doing the latest, biggest bad or annoying thing…well then you were there until someone else did something bigger or more recent to knock you off of the top of the list. The goal was to earn your way back down to the bottom with the eventual hope of falling off the bottom of the list and being totally in her good graces. This could only be achieved by being good and helpful and better than the others who were working their way up or down the list.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, when I’m feeling guilty about something, I feel like God is a cosmic version of my mom and we’re all on his cosmic sh** list trying to work our way off by being good, or at least better than others, in our effort to end up in his good graces. There’s an old Bill Cosby joke my father quotes when he’s caught doing something unexpectedly nice for someone: “I'm just an old person whose trying to get into heaven now.” Too many Christians approach their faith with this erroneous idea. We can’t earn God’s grace. God’s grace is not the currency of our redemption—Christ’s blood is! Christ paid for our sins with his blood and we all have received God’s grace. We just have to accept that gift of grace in repentance with humility and gratitude.

Some Christians I know think they have to suffer their way into heaven. They say they believe in God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice but they insist that they must suffer the appropriate amount if they are to get into heaven. Yes they're forgiven, they say, but they still have to pay the price for their sinfulness. It’s as if they are criminals in some sort of cosmic jail serving their time for their crimes before they get to go to heaven and maybe with good behavior they might get some time taken off their sentence—again trying to work our way into God’s presence. Why do we do that?

Maybe because our ways are not God’s way and if we were God we’d expect someone to pay for what they’ve done to earn their redemption. It’s only fair—You do the crime, you pay the consequences. We just can’t wrap our minds and hearts around free grace. We all know that nothing good is ever free and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These clich├ęs are absolutely true, when dealing with humans. But when we are talking about God’s grace, his way is not our way. Yes, redemption is costly and God paid the price for us because we could never afford it no matter how hard we tried.

That’s why, even though I felt like I needed to earn my way back into God’s magnificent presence this morning, I walked right into the throne room of God in prayer and came out blessed.