God Has Come…Tears and Tables Overturned

Sunday we heard preached the Palm Sunday scene of Luke 19. But that’s not all that happens in that chapter. In verse 44, Jesus weeps as He approaches Jerusalem and says:

“They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

“God’s coming to you.” What would you think of if I said, “God came”? Would you think of a particular scripture, a particular image, or a portion of the story of Jesus? When we think of God’s coming, the Church generally thinks of Christmas. The Incarnation is the miracle of the God of Heaven condescending to earth even to the point of taking on human form and walking among us (well, first crawling). But in this passage of Luke 19, Jesus speaks as He prepares to enter the City of God of “God’s coming to you.” I don’t think He was merely reflecting back on Christmas or looking ahead to some final Judgment Day. He seems to be responding with all the emotion and intensity of a prophet to exactly what is about to happen. And how does He do so? With tears.

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This tells us so much about the heart of God. In his commentary, Luke for Everyone, N.T. Wright makes this statement about God’s judgment:

“If you’re in covenant with the holy God, disobedience doesn’t simply prevent blessings, bringing you back, as it were, to square one. It calls down the judgment that a sorrowful God will pour out on his people when they reject him and his purposes.” (Luke for Everyone, WJK Press, 2004; p.233)

The Good News still pierces through as we see the dramatic scene in the Temple, that this God-King is not above tears, is not weakened by display of sorrow, but the tears rather show the strength of His love. These are not the tears of a prophet foreshadowing the coming of God, a man weeping on God’s behalf. This is God Himself. The King has returned to His holy city. These are the tears of the God of love. If there is ever judgment upon the world, it comes from God’s heart of sorrow and love that is broken by choices of disobedience and rejection. But for all who would receive the King, we rejoice knowing that no matter what choices we have made of disobedience and rejection, there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The King has returned. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

A Good Way to Pray Pt. 6

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

As Jesus delivers the last line of His model prayer, it’s as if He already has in mind the cost of following Him. He knows the battle. He foresees the results. He began this sermon “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” It’s going to happen. There is evil in the world, there are evil people who do evil things. But behind it all there is an evil one. This evil one would seek to tempt us, lead us astray, and see evil done against us. Since He can’t get at God directly, the evil one will get at His heart by getting at the creatures God so loves.

James helps my understanding of God’s role in temptation even better:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 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)

The good news is, between the One we’re praying to and this evil one we contend with, it’s not an even match, not by an eternally long shot. When we pray that God help us steer clear of temptation and deliver us from the evil one, we can count on an immeasurable and unmatched source at our aid waiting to rescue. He is waiting always to take us from a place of death to a place of life in Him.

Take heart, dear soul, your deliverer has come!

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 5

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” . . . “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)

The entire prayer that Jesus is teaching has one goal – to get our souls oriented to God’s reality. We start with who He is – “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” We acknowledge the truer reality of heaven, His Kingdom, and His will in order to see the reality of earth correctly. We trust Him to provide and acknowledge our need for Him. And now, the hard part. It could be said that forgiveness is the most important and telling part of being a citizen of heaven. Why would this be so? While I don’t believe forgiveness is the climax of what God did in Jesus Christ (He did way more than just forgive us), I think it is the immediate answer to getting us back into right relationship with the Father. Over and over Jesus tells broken men and women He encounters, “You are forgiven.” If we are to live in God’s reality and completely sell out to it, we must walk in forgiveness – both humbly received and freely given.

This is the only line of The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus comes back to for emphasis and expansion. He includes it in verse 12 and then comes back and adds the comment of verses 14-15. Is He actually saying that if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven? That sounds like works righteousness! With God you have to give in order to get, behave properly in order to escape punishment. Is this what Jesus means? This week God reminded me of something: Our life reveals what we really believe. Are we forgiven? Then, we have forgiveness to offer. Are we a citizen of heaven whose currency is love and mercy, then we walk in that love and mercy towards those who wrong us. I like what Eugene Peterson does with these verses in his work, The Message:

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)

Holy Spirit, lead us on a tour today of our inner world, those places in our soul where we have been holding on rather than letting go, to hurt, to bitterness, to jealousy, and a begrudging spirit. Father, let us see the full magnitude of your love for us through the Son today. Jesus, help us meditate today on all you went through to communicate one life-changing statement: “You are forgiven.” Amen.

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 4

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

Do you know the key to every relationship? . . .

Honesty, you say? Well, I think you’re getting at it. Trust. That’s my humble opinion anyway. Look at the beginning of The Great Story and how everything went awry. God’s humans stepped outside of trust and did the very thing He told them not to because His trust was called into question by a snake in the grass. When they broke trust with God, they found they had broken trust with one another. Shame came into the picture, fear crept in, and the rest, unfortunately, is history. Our history. So what did God start doing that very day? Rebuilding trust. The ultimate expression of this grand project is Jesus Christ. You want to see the Father, know His heart, and become convinced He’s trustworthy? Look at Jesus.

What strikes me about this line of His prayer is that the very act of verbalizing it is an act of trust. If I ask you to give me something, it’s because I am trusting that you might actually give me what I’m asking for. If not, I’m wasting my breath. Why would I ask? Jesus is not just suggesting we ask God for stuff. I think He is suggesting that we trust the Father as our source of provision for all we need. Every line of this prayer points to part of its purpose – to orient our soul. Who meets my most basic needs? Do I myself? No, Father does.

Jesus will say later in this very chapter, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (things like food and clothing). On one hand, we are to be “poor in spirit,” recognizing our utter need for God. On the other hand, we are to learn that in God we find all we need, and therefore we lack nothing. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1). In praying this line of The Lord’s Prayer, we rebuild trust in the One who promised in the first place to give and sustain life.

Trust me. It’s a good way to pray.

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 3

“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

We are Kingdom people. Jesus once said, “I can only do what I see the Father doing” (John 5:19). In prayer, we have the opportunity to intercede for the world and ask God to step in and act, pulling back the veil between heaven and earth to release God into places He will not force Himself into. However, prayer is not just about getting God to do something. C.S. Lewis once said that prayer “doesn’t change God – it changes me.” When we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are pledging allegiance once again to the reality of God (His Kingdom) at work in the world. This is why Jesus came! This is what He brought. He preached, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). When we arise from prayer, we do not yield to the temptation of thinking,

“Ok, God, I prayed for you to bring your kingdom and do your will here on earth the way it is in heaven, because heaven knows it’s not going to happen otherwise! And even though I prayed it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Just the same, bring it when you’re ready.”

No! No! No! Jesus has brought the Kingdom. Those who follow Him join in His movement empowered by the very Spirit of God that raised Him from the dead to actually live as citizens of God’s heavenly reality and do His will on earth. When I arise from prayer, I am conscious of the Spirit of Christ in me to go and “do only what I see the Father doing.” How can earth look more like heaven? Every Christ-follower to pray for more of God’s Kingdom and His will to show up on earth, and for every Christ-follower to be the answer to that prayer.

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 2

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name'” (Matthew 6:9)

Praying to “Father” seems to be really important to Jesus. This is the sixth time, in fact, in this chapter alone that Jesus has acknowledged that our actions of faith and devotion should be addressed to our Father. Prayer does not begin with ourselves. Often, our own needs or struggles drive us to prayer (I’m not saying this is how it should be). But prayer in the character of Jesus begins with proper focus. Before we can let our eyes descend to reading the lowest line on the optical chart, we begin with that big bold E at the very top: “Our Father in heaven.” We come from earth often in need of changing our perspective from earth to heaven. We are reminded that this is where He is. And it’s not just where we will join Him one day. It’s where we are called to live now even as we walk this earth. More on this in the next post.

His name is “hallowed” – holy, deserving honor, reverence, and respect. How do Americans begin our statement of national loyalty? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” What is the proper beginning point of Christian prayer? We start with our highest, primary, and most foundational allegiance – “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” The beautiful thing about this allegiance is that it’s not about homage paying. It’s about right relationship. In Greek, “our father” is actually written more like “Father of us.” So the prayer actually begins, “Father.” Anything that comes next is defined by that first word. Now we are prepared to pray . . . to our Father.

I pray you will let this relationship and this allegiance define you today. This is the beginning of Christian prayer.

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A Good Way to Pray

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“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray…

I love the Lord’s Prayer. The only prayer I learned before the Lord’s Prayer was one that began “Now I lay me down to sleep…” The Lord’s Prayer is recited in worship services all over the world in different languages across denominational lines, because after all, it is “The Lord’s” prayer.

Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray…” This can be taken one of two ways: 1) pray these words in this order, for this is the perfect and model prayer or 2) your prayers should reflect the character of the one I’m about to share with you. I believe, according to the rest of this chapter, and indeed the whole sermon,  that the latter is the more likely. I’d like to use the next several posts to move through Jesus’ prayer itself examining the character one concept at a time. For today, we needn’t look any further than this introduction. Here I find three initial thoughts that lead us into a deeper life of Christlike prayer:

Pray to the Father. Verse 6 redefines our prayer audience. We are not merely praying to the distant and all powerful God of the universe who wants only the bowing down of his humble subjects. And we are not praying for others to evaluate. Our audience is a divine Creator-Father. It is relational like a child talking to a parent, private to one degree (but not exclusively) and deeply personal. Prayer is about nurturing a relationship through which we are changed in a rewarding way.

Concise and simple. (Verse 7) Is God complex? Yes! But how did He show up in human form? As a carpenter from a rural outskirt who made spiritual matters understandable to local fisherman. Bottom line: we will never talk to God on the level of His complexity nor impress Him in the attempt. And again, we are not trying to impress others either. Prayer is earnest, simple, pure, and genuine. We pray grateful that in prayer the Father meets us at our level and answers the smallest and simplest prayers when prayed in earnest.

We pray as if we are intimately known. After all, this Father knows all we need before we ask Him. One thing I am able to laugh at myself about is the familiar folly of “informative” prayer. You know what I’m talking about. “Dear Heavenly Father, we lift up Gina. You know she’s been through a rough time with her hip surgery and all. The doctors are saying she has some repercussive vertebra issues and she needs extra care, Lord…” Sometimes it occurs to me I am trying to bring God into the loop (with many words) rather than letting prayer reveal to me how intimately aware and at work He already is. I may even be subconsciously avoiding God revealing some new thing to me about myself in prayer out of His intimate knowledge of me and His desire to make me new. I love knowing I am intimately known, and this changes how I pray.

Today, practice. Pray to your Father a genuine prayer, nothing fancy, as if you are known intimately and yet He still desires to have the conversation.