The Disciples’ Prayer

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”  (KJV)

These few verses may be the most familiar and most spoken verses in the Bible. There are so many people who know this prayer and can say it without missing a word. Even if they don’t go to church very much and regardless of their beliefs, they know it. It seems to be that perfect prayer to transcend denomination and creed and it always offers a sense of unity in any type of service. However, there is one word that does trip up many people. When we get to verse 12 of Matthew, Chapter 6 there is usually this cautious pause and a thought passes through our mind: is it sins, debts or trespasses? To this question, I have heard it explained:

  • The Presbyterians were from Scotland and had a very frugal nature so they were concerned about debts.
  • The Episcopalians were the wealthy and landowners so they were concerned about trespasses.
  • The Baptists were fearful of the fire of hell and so they were concerned about sin.

I don’t know if there is any meaning to this, but I do know there is a lot of meaning for each of us in this prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say. Much has been written concerning this prayer. It is often compared to the same prayer Luke records which Jesus gave to his disciples at another time and place. However, at its core, this prayer is designed to allow each of us to place before our Heavenly Father those things of which we have need. In so doing, this prayer covers three essential needs of three important spheres of time in our lives.

First, this prayer has us ask for bread. The Greek word connotes all of the loaf not just some. So we ask for all we need: all that which is necessary for maintain our lives. It is a prayer for what we need in the present, even daily. Secondly, this prayer has us ask for forgiveness. Whether we use the word sin, debt or forgiveness we ask for that which is in our past. This prayer brings the former things into the present realm of God’s forgiving grace. And Thirdly, this prayer has us ask for that which lays before us. It commits the temptations of our future into the hands of a loving God.

It is through this simple yet powerful prayer that we are able to present our past-present-future before the goodness, grace and love of our heavenly Father.         AMEN

Caleb

Two Builders

Matthew 7:24-27 – “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock… And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.”


 

Many of us are probably familiar this little parable about the two builders – or perhaps know the children’s song inspired by it.  A man builds his house on a rock and when the storms come, the house remains secure.  A second man builds his house on sand and when the wind and rain come, the house – predictably – collapses.  As any home builder (or owner) knows, if the foundation is faulty or unstable there are going to be serious problems.  Most problems with a home can be fixed relatively easily.  Leaky roof?  A crew can come replace your entire roof in a day or two.  Tired of that carpet in the living room?  Pull it up and lay down some hardwood flooring.  Foundation problems aren’t that simple.  A damaged foundation can result in a basement full of water, but it also might cause cracks in your upstairs ceiling or a front door that no longer closes properly.  If the foundation is not right, all kinds of other problems can occur throughout the whole house.

Our lives are like that house.  Throughout all of Matthew chapters five, six, and seven, Jesus has been laying out a revolutionary vision of what the kingdom of God looks like and how His followers should think and act – the foundational principles for Christian living.  Christ’s message represented a complete overturning of the prevailing religious and social culture of his listeners, and he concludes it all with this story about the two builders.  The difference between the two builders was the difference between hearing and doing.   In James 1:22 we are told to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only”, and this is the challenge and warning that Jesus is giving at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  Hearing Christ’s teachings and not obeying them is as futile and dangerous as building a house without a solid foundation.  We’ve spent the season of Lent opening our inboxes each morning to read reflections on Jesus’ teachings.  We’ve “heard”; but are we “doing”?   Are we living our lives on the solid, unchanging foundation of God’s word, or are we building in the unstable sands of this world’s values and ideas?

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Andrew

False Profession

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’                                           Matthew 7:21-23


 

At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is concluding his Sermon on the Mount. For the last 100 verses Jesus has tried to describe to his disciples and the other followers what the Kingdom of God is like. He has taken the time to show how radically different it is compared the kingdom of this world. However, the central truth is that the Kingdom of God is that place where God is King and the people don’t just call Him King but do his will. Jesus faced, in that 1st century, many false prophets. There were those who would in fact travel around the area doing all sorts of remarkable things and they would claim to be doing these things in the name of Jesus. It gave them credibility and a following. They did it for their own reward and purposes but it was all a pretense. It was all under the guise of: “The name of Jesus!”

But, we know what that is all about. It was not many years ago that a man by the name of Jim Jones built a temple in Guyana and “In the name of Jesus” set the stage for a 1000 people to kill themselves. And another Jim, Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye, built Heritage USA outside of Charlotte N.C. and “In the name of Jesus” invited thousands of people to give up their hard earned savings. Even today, the name of Jesus is invoked to try and persuade people to give money to a project, join a boycott or be part of a cause.

It is possible to engage in all sorts of activities that seem good and to even do these good things “In the name of the Lord!” But Jesus says it is not in what you say that’s important but rather the author of what is done. Demons can be cast out, prophetic words uttered and even displays of powerful acts; but if it is not God’s will, it is all good for nothing. So we stop and ask ourselves a simple question: what are we doing and saying that is not the will of God? It is just good for nothing!

Caleb

By Their Fruits

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit. – Matthew 7:15-20


Every so often Sarah sends me on a domestic hunt to the land of Kroger. If you’ve never been before, it can be a little intimidating. First of all, there’s no map. You have to rely on instinct to find mini marshmallows. To fill my list I have to search every aisle like it’s a journey. The one section I can usually find my way right to is the produce section. It’s just past Starbucks island, all the flowers and the sushi guy, and there’s a little thunderstorm area in the back corner. With two small children at home we eat a lot of fruit and my domestic hunter-gatherer skills can be hacked to find the right fruit, even in a land I’m unprepared for.

Sarah is good at spotting bad fruit. She knows what to look for. I can’t remember whether firm apples are good or bad. Bananas aren’t supposed to be too green or too brown. Avocados are supposed to be squishy like the end of your nose, which can lead to awkward encounters with less-informed avocado shoppers. Still, even with all the pointers she gives me, I come home with some bad fruit sometimes.

In our passage today, Jesus is preparing his followers for life without him, where false prophets may come around and gather a following. False prophets can be hard to spot, after all. Just like true prophets, they do produce fruit. Even fruit that looks good. The test of time will reveal who is good and who is false as the fruits cannot lie. In time, we will know them by their fruits.

Perhaps more self-revealing, we too, will be known by our fruits. Though few of us claim to be prophets, all of us are following Christ as best we know how. There is a particular kind of assurance found in this passage related to our bearing fruits. We are told that a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Transitively, if you are producing good fruit, then you are a good tree. Occasionally we all need to hear that you are doing good, and you are doing it well.

As you find yourself in the produce section in the grocery store, remember to search your own actions for good fruit. Remember that the Christian journey isn’t about arriving at a certain place but living as Christ would all along the way.

Mark

The Golden Rule

“In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7: 12


 

A boy and his grandfather stood on a sidewalk looking up at the words on a billboard. “Grandpa, what does that say?” the boy asked. “DO TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. People all over the world call these words the Golden Rule.” “What does it mean,” the boy asked. “And why is it golden?” “It means this: treat people the way you would like to be treated. It’s golden because it’s so valuable, and a way of living your life that’s so simple, it shines.”

Grandfather led the boy to another billboard farther down the sidewalk. “Some people put the Golden Rule another way: DO NOTHING TO OTHER PEOPLE THAT YOU WOULD NOT LIKE HAVING DONE TO YOU. “Either way,” he said, “it’s a very good rule.” “Who’s it for?” the boy asked. “You. Me, Anyone can practice the Golden Rule.” “A rule that’s the same for children and adults?” “Same rule.” “There aren’t too many rules like that.” “Very few.” “And it’s for people everywhere?” “Everywhere.”

“Whatever their religion, people find the idea of the Golden Rule in their holy books.” Grandfather said. CHRISTIANITY SAYS You should love your neighbor as you love yourself. JUDIASM SAYS What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow humans. ISLAM SAYS Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. HINDUISM SAYS This is the sum of duty: to do nothing to others which would cause them pain. BUDDHISM SAYS Do not do to others what would hurt you.

The boy and his grandfather sat on a park bench. “So, Grandpa, how can I start to practice the Golden Rule?” “You begin by using your imagination.” “My imagination?” “You imagine how someone else feels. For instance, a new child who is joining your class. How do you think that boy or girl is feeling? “New kids always look scared.” “Would you be scared if it was you?” “Oh, yes.” “What would make you feel better?” “If…if someone smiled at me.” “So to practice the Golden Rule, you would…?” “Smile at the new kid?” “YOU”VE GOT IT! I bet you can think of other ways you’d like to be treated. And ways you wouldn’t want to be treated. How do you feel when you’re teased? Or bullied?” “Sad.” “YES.” “Small. I feel small.” “Sad, mad, small. Do you like feeling like that?” “No.” “Neither does anyone else.”

The boy thought for a moment about the Golden Rule. “I see. There are lots of things I can do. I should tell the truth because I don’t like being lied to. I want people to listen to me, so I should listen to other people. When I’m sick or when I’m tired, sometimes I need help. So I should offer my help to those who need it.”  “You’re getting the idea,” Grandfather nodded.

The boy looked at his grandfather. “Practicing the Golden Rule seems like it can be hard. I said it was simple. I didn’t say it would always be easy.”  “Grandpa, the Golden Rule is a very big thing, isn’t it.”  “Very big. And very small. And very old. It’s been around for thousands of years.”  “Thousands of years? Well, then, I don’t think everyone is practicing the way they should. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many problems. Between people. Between countries.”

“You’re right my boy. I wonder how things would change if everyone lived by the Golden Rule?” “I think people would be nicer. Kinder. They’d act better toward their families and friends and even strangers.”

“What if countries lived by the Golden Rule?” Grandfather asked.  “Well, then people wouldn’t want to hurt each other because they don’t like being hurt. Maybe there wouldn’t be wars.” “That would be wonderful wouldn’t it?”  “Wonderful, Grandpa.” “But you can’t make everyone in the world practice the Golden Rule. There’s only one person you can ask to do that.” “Me?”

“YOU. IT BEGINS WITH YOU.”

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper   Abrams Books For Young Readers: New York, NY 2007.

Mardee

Ask, Seek, Knock

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.  – Matthew 7:7-11


As a parent with kids born in this late decade of the 2010’s, my ears perk when I hear complaints about the way children are being raised today. We all have thoughts on how to better raise children. Parents buy their children fast food instead of healthy food. Parents give their children participation awards and teach them that showing up is all that’s required. Parents don’t let their children fail. Parents plug their children in to phones, TVs and computers instead of providing real skill-forming interaction. It seems that our society believes parents today are generally just too soft on their ill-prepared children.

As a parent, however, I cringe at the terrible parenting philosophy found in our passage this morning. We are told that to receive the things we want, we should only ask for them; not work, sweat and persevere. We are told that when we seek for answers or solutions, like a life-long faithful partner, a better job, or meaning to suffering, that we will find it. We are told that having the door opened, to opportunity, to college, or to happiness, is as easy as knocking and waiting for someone to welcome you in to the place you deserve. How strange it is that the God of commandments, of punishment lasting generations, of strict obedience, can be such a loose, enabling parent.

It is easy for us to play the role of the ill-prepared child when we read about receiving divine gifts, finding what we’re looking for, and stepping through doors that open for us. We like simple instructions for happiness. “My life would be so much better if God would just answer me when I ask, search, and knock!” My own children simply don’t understand why I don’t just hand them the whole cookie jar. Sometimes we don’t understand God’s responses to our prayers either.

During the week, I wake up Charlotte and Alexandria, get them dressed, get them ready for the day and then I take them to Grandma’s. On Fridays, I keep them by myself and part of my responsibility is feeding them breakfast. The menu consists of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, bananas, oranges, yogurt, and cereal. Even though I give them exactly what they like, and what’s healthy for them, Charlotte will want extra gummy vitamins and Alexandria will eventually splatter leftover food all over the kitchen floor. Charlotte doesn’t understand that the gummy vitamins are supposed to be taken two per day. Alexandria doesn’t understand that pushing extra food on to the floor is wasteful. They only know that their asking, seeking, and knocking is either answered, or not. They don’t understand why, even though I offer them explanations. In the same way, God know what we’re ready for, and what we’re not. God honors our persistence of prayer, however, the timing and the answer are often something we are too quick to misunderstand. Be persistent in your prayers, but trust that God knows what you need even when you may not fully know yourself.

Mark

Judge Not

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete (deal out), it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote (sawdust) that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5 (KJV)


 

Oh how many times have I heard this expression – do not judge.  Verse 1 is painted with such a broad stroke, it would take much more room than I have here to color it all in.  I will try to be brief.

This verse shows up in the part of the ‘Sermon on The Mount’ where Jesus was showing what HE requires in the character and conduct of HIS disciples.  It was radically different and superior to the religion of the scribes and Pharisees.  If you review Matthew 5:20; “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”, you can see the comparison.

There are four kinds of judging which are lawful and required by the scriptures.  The first belongs chiefly to the minister who is preaching GOD’S WORD.  The second is the judgment of the Church when looking at the credibility of the profession of one applying for membership.  Then there is the civil government which examines those charged with criminal offenses.  The final one is a private judgment between individuals.  Of course, the last one is applicable to this verse.

I believe here that Jesus is telling us to exhibit the uncritical temper.  Make sure you remember how GOD treated you in moments of disobedience.  Did you identify the sin and ask forgiveness?  Was GOD’s mercy there?  How much more so we should examine our own lives when we see things in others.  The old adage “I am glad that I am not like that guy”, is like the religion of the scribes and Pharisees, not like our LORD.  We must be careful not to feel superior over others.

The last part of verse 5 has a ‘then.’  Once examination has been done, then a loving and prayerful approach is an option.  But keep in mind it is the HOLY SPIRIT that convicts us of sin.  Intercession is a much better idea, for the HOLY SPIRIT is able to show what is wrong without wounding and hurting.

If you have been gentle, you will be met with gentleness; if you mete out criticism and suspicion to others that is the way you will be treated.  Also our daily witness as a Christian is an example to the unbelieving world of who JESUS is and what HE did for them, too.

Jan Zabarac

Anxiety

Matthew 6:25-27, 33

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body.  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I confess: I am a worrier by nature. I worry about things a lot less important than food or material existence. I stay up sometimes at night worrying. Night times seem to be the worst times to doubt things I have said or done, or to suppose that something bad MIGHT happen, even if there’s no real evidence for it. I pray a lot to God to help me be less anxious. That’s what makes this passage so reassuring. The birds don’t worry, and God feeds them. And we are so much more important than them.

In order to give up anxiety, we have to focus on the opposite – trust. If we trust, God provides. If we give up worrying, and instead focus on being in right relationship with God, we don’t have time to get anxious about the small stuff. God cares for us. God yearns for us to work for God’s kingdom on earth. If we do that, the other things that nag at us at 3:00 in the morning just melt away. Jesus says that we are also not to worry about tomorrow – to focus on today. That is enough. Tomorrow will take care of itself, and after all, it rarely turns out the way we think it’s going to be anyway. Today, we can ask for God’s blessing to work for God’s kingdom. Today, we can quit fretting about the unknown. We can live into the joy of the known – that God loves us and wants what is best for us. God will help us work it out, bit by bit, anxious thought by anxious thought. We can breathe deep into the aroma of the day, and smell the love of God.

Jeanne

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21: – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When I was young – probably 10 or 12 years old – my parents and I returned home from church on Sunday evening to find a box of frozen pizzas laying out on the kitchen floor.  I was reprimanded for taking them out of the freezer, even though I insisted I had not done it.  Later that evening my father went downstairs and discovered the basement door wide open.  As the basement was regular play area for my friends and me, I was scolded for leaving the door open even though – you guessed it – I insisted that I had not opened the door.  It wasn’t until the following morning, with the help of daylight and further protestations of innocence by me, that my mother noticed a few things missing and my father noticed the glass shards on the basement carpet and the broken window. It turns out that we had most likely returned home while the thieves were still in our home and they fled out the basement door while we entered upstairs.

In today’s passage found in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tell his disciples: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”.  The things we accumulate here on earth can be destroyed, lost, or taken away from us; but God himself provides and secures our heavenly treasure and, like his love, nothing will be able to separate us from it.  We may not get to enjoy it here on earth but the rewards of God’s kingdom will last forever and be worth the wait!

I think though, that the real crux of this passage is in verse 21: “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.  Jesus isn’t ultimately interested in how much “treasure” we are storing up – on earth, or in heaven – He is concerned with our hearts.  An honest look at our own priorities, checkbooks, and schedules, will probably reveal the focus of our hearts and the things we truly treasure.  We may say that God is our #1 priority but if someone else were to investigate our lives, how much evidence would they find to support that assertion?  As we continue this Lenten journey, let’s take some time for self-examination and prayerfully consider our priorities.  Let’s aim to have our heart and treasure in the right place.

Andrew

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

My father died in the summer of 1999 but I still miss him. I miss being able to just talk with him, ask him questions or just enjoy his presence. I remember those times when I needed something; he was the first person I called. When I was scared, I would go to my father and there I found safety. There were those special times when it was just me with my dad: no one else, no distractions. Just a father and a child. I talked and he listened; then, he talked and I listened. Those times with my father always seemed to help straighten things out and make the way ahead much more clear.

I think this is exactly what Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples as he explained the part prayer should play in their lives. He was trying to show them that prayer was as simple and as powerful as a child talking with their father. Jesus wanted them to know that prayer is a unique time when anyone can have a heartfelt conversation with his or her Heavenly Father. It is not about doing it right but simply about doing it. Jesus said go to the Father and get alone with him. Shut the door so that no one and nothing would interfere with the moment. Just you and your Father! Talk and he will listen. Then he will talk so make sure you listen.

That ‘room’ and that ‘door’ are necessary: food needs to be put on the table, bills need to be paid and obligations must be met. It seems that our calendars and agendas cancel out most of our good intentions regarding prayer. So, Jesus says, find that place where you can talk, in private, just you and your Father. Then talk and talk and talk. Then listen and listen and listen some more.

Caleb Clarke