Photo of the Week: October 9, 2019

Near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

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“This, then, is how you should pray”

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

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 6:9-15

Keeping the context of 6:1 in mind, take a look at this prayer, what do you see?

Do you see “look at me”? Do you see “gimme the goodies”?

Hardly.

What we can see here is humility, putting God’s purpose first and foremost, necessities forgiveness, and overcoming the evil one; it is elegant in its simplicity.

We are addressing the Father in heaven, acknowledging His glory and giving Him honor, and then asking for His kingdom to come in its fullness, where His will be the only will that is done on earth, just like in heaven. Notice that this doesn’t leave all that much room for my own will to be done, in fact, my will and your will are not mentioned at all.

There is a request that God would provide for us, a humble request to be sure, and then a request for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others; a scary thought for many, I might add. Finally, we are to ask God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one, again a request of supreme humility. When you put this all together, Jesus is teaching us to pray in a manner that is entirely foreign to the religious life of His time, and a lot more foreign in our own time than we might like to think about, with only God’s will being mentioned.

After this, Jesus goes on to expand a little bit on the whole subject of forgiveness making a conditional statement in verse 15, which must have blown the minds of the Pharisees and their gang of friends. Truly, this is radical now as it was back then.

Was it Jesus’ intention that we simply recite these words over and over? I really doubt it; I see this as a model for prayer, the elements to be included in prayer, rather than something to be memorized and recited to the absence of anything else, particularly when we lose what He is actually saying here. Of course, I would never say that there is anything wrong with reciting these verses, or any verses.

Here’s some homework: Reflect and pray on these verses, asking Him to reveal them in their fullness to you. I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating exercise in spiritual practice. Next time, we’ll see what Jesus says about fasting.

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Prayer

“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.

Matthew 6:5-8

For us to properly understand these verses, and the ones to follow, we need to be reminded of what Jesus was talking about in this entire section; He set the context in 6:1:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If we remember this context, and that prayer is His second illustration for this point (after giving to the needy) then the significance of these verses becomes quite stark, even convicting for many of us.

Prayer, talking with God, the very core of our relationship with God, is not intended to be a public spectacle. It is not something you do to impress your family and friends with how righteousness you are; it is never to be a “look at me” kind of thing in whatever form the “look at me” might take. In fact, there really is no part of our relationship with God that is “public” except that others will see the results of our closeness as He works through us to accomplish His purpose.

I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh; but to be fair, I’m being more diplomatic than Jesus was!

With all of that said, there is of course an important role to be played by corporate prayer and worship, but clearly that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here.

Let’s be honest, when these verses are considered in context, they really don’t need much explanation, but I would like to add a note on prayer and relationship with God. God created each one of us, He knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He comes to us where we are, relating to us in the way that He knows is most likely to be meaningful and significant. As a consequence, He relates to each one of us a little differently; there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to our relationships with Him, and anyone who tries to tell you that your relationship with Him must be like such and such is making a mistake, for our God is much bigger than that. In hearing people describe their relational experiences with God, I am often amazed by what I hear, they are so different from my own rather matter-of-fact “conversations” with Him, yet they are precious to the one describing them, just as mine are to me… and this is perfectly fine, perfectly normal, right and proper.

Yet God’s relational method is never just to make us look impressive to other people; that is the point Jesus is making here.

Next time we will continue in this passage, and in doing so, we will arrive at what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer”. I hope we will all keep this context in mind as we look at it, for in context, it is even more amazing than we might have thought… see you then!

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Giving to the Needy

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:2-4

There is a natural quality within most human beings to read an injunction like that in the verses above, and make a sort of legal check-list, so let’s be very clear about Jesus’ intentions in this teaching: He is not making a set of rules, procedures or protocols about how to give to those in need. Instead, He is speaking directly to our inner motivation for giving. Notice that whether or not to help those in need is not even mentioned; it is assumed.

The ones He has dubbed “hypocrites” are helping with a motivation for self aggrandizement, they want the praise and respect of their peers, to bolster their social positions. It would seem that this might impress “society” but it doesn’t have quite the same impact on the Lord. These folks wanted to impress their peers, and evidently they have their wish; and that’s all they will get.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, God wants His people to help those in need because they love God and their fellow Men, not for any worldly ulterior motive. Consider this: Has your relationship with God ever grown closer because you were praised by men? Everyone likes a little praise now and then, and a little recognition can go a long way to encourage people along the right path, but simply doing things to become popular never quite seems to bring anyone closer to God, for God doesn’t operate that way.

Quiet sacrifice for His Kingdom’s sake, on the other hand, will bring us closer to Him if we desire nothing in return for our sacrifice. The Kingdom is a place of love, community and healing precisely because the human motivation for self advancement is not present. Where this has not largely taken hold, there is little healing to be had, and love is merely discussed in academic terms.

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Relationship With God

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Matthew 6:1

Thus far in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been showing the people how to have a better form of righteousness in their relationships and dealings with others, now He shifts the focus to show them a better relationship with God. The people of His day were used to a form of righteousness that was centered upon showing others how righteous you are, and maybe that is still the case; I’ll leave that to others to debate. It is Jesus’ clear purpose to teach something quite revolutionary and different.

The first sentence of this verse tells the story: “be careful” tells us right off that we are to be intentional in this, intentional not to practice acts of righteousness or “piety” in front of an audience. Why is that? Because it does not matter what other people think of your level of righteousness, for they have nothing to say on the subject; even when they talk quite a lot. It is only important that God knows where you are, and He knows what we do in private. That first sentence continues to the point: “…in front of others to be seen by them” tells us that if the whole reason we are doing something is to impress people, then we have a problem.

Years ago I worked in a place where everyone was made aware that on Christmas Day the boss served meals in a homeless shelter. It was common knowledge that one way to get ahead in the organization was to do the same; there was a fair amount of not so subtle pressure to be there on Christmas when the boss was there… To be sure, what the boss was doing at the shelter was a good thing, but then quite a few “movers and shakers” were there making a point on Christmas, but who was there the day after and the day after that? Christmas isn’t the only day of the year on which a person must eat. No, the gesture was merely a political one; I didn’t participate in it.

The second sentence of this verse tells the story about what Jesus is trying to impress upon His listeners: If we perform acts of righteousness simply to impress other people, then we will not receive a reward from our Father, for we have received our due from the people we have impressed with our “goodness”. Again, many people do good deeds for the wrong reasons, and let’s be honest, the guy in the homeless shelter is just happy to have a warm meal. Yes, that may be “good” but it isn’t righteousness in God’s sight. Rather, it is the same thing as trying to attain righteousness by our own ability to keep the Law instead of having faith in God.

God wants a people who do the right things when nobody else is looking, who do the right things not for worldly advantage, but because they love God and they love others: Radical indeed!

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TLP Living: 10/7/19

A Time for Everything Under Heaven

It’s been a long time since I have posted anything here, a very long time. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t even intended; it just sort of happened.

I found myself in the Wilderness…

Winston Churchill once said that every leader finds himself in the wilderness at one time or another, and I suppose that is true enough, yet I’m not quite sure that I quite fit that bill. In my case, I simply didn’t have anything to say.

I did have some adventures however.

I discovered the world of vlogging, although I did so only as a spectator.

I’ve always been interested in adding a video dimension to this blog, and I’ve seen some things out there that I might like to try in the future… if I can get the hang of video editing and production.

I’ve also been forced to learn a great deal about healthcare, Medicare, insurance and how doctors do their work− things I never really wanted to know. In that arena I have learned one thing that I can share right now: Medicare for all is not a very good idea.

I’ve learned a great deal about colon cancer, hemoglobin levels, heart failure and mental acuity and how the medical profession assumes things that aren’t always entirely accurate…

What’s that you say?

Oh no, I’ve never been better; it isn’t me. (Thanks for asking, though) Maybe we’ll get into all of that sometime; it has all been an interesting adventure that is still playing out.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: I also found out what the “Lindy Hop” is! (It has nothing to do with illness or medicine)

Suffice it to say, I have a number of stories to tell and things to share here, even though most aren’t all that happy; I’ll start slipping them in from time-to-time. For now, yes indeed, I’m back on the blog, and will resume my posts on Matthew tomorrow… and who can really say what else I might throw in along the way.

Thanks to all of you who have sent best wishes and inquiries as to my well being during my absence; I appreciate you all very much indeed!

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TLP Inspiration: 10/7/19

God is My Help

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.

Psalm 54:4-5

It doesn’t sound like David was having a good day when he wrote this; he was under attack from his enemies as it happens. Most of us aren’t on the run from assassins or cut-throats, but there are times in this life when it seems like we are under assault and feel overwhelmed by our circumstances.

One thing we can take from these verses is that David knew where his help would come from, it would come from God. The only problem, was that David didn’t know when God would act or why God didn’t set things right immediately.

But he did know that God would have his back.

Like David, we don’t know God’s timing, nor do we know God’s reasoning for His timing. In fact, other than a bunch of theological abstractions, I can’t even tell you why God allows so much trouble in our lives…

Yet we do know that God has our backs.

In difficult times, God is our Rock, our strength, and in such circumstances our relationships with Him take on a whole new significance for most of us as a source of strength and hope, transcending the problems of this life.

Oh, what an awesome God we have!

Oh yes, and He’s pretty awesome when things are going smoothly too.

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