Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Lord's Prayer - Part 5

James 1:2-5, 12-17 “2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

The new president of CSB Canada, John Launstein, runs an out tripping company that takes people fly fishing near Pincher creek, Alberta. He would love to sit down with you in a spare moment and talk trout, rods and reels, and flies. The whole concept of going out in the wild and sticking a man-made lure or a hook with a piece of nature on it in a river is to entice the fish to take the bait. The successful fishermen know what lures to use according to the fish you are after, the weather, the temperature, and a few other variables. They know you have to give the fish something they think they want.

And so we spend a few minutes on the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:13 “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” There are some key words we will look at, and then talk a bit about how to deal with temptation. Before we go there I want to make a couple general comments.

The first is to consider the context of this verse. It comes at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer started with praise and the recognition of relationship… “Our father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” There is recognition that God is our provider. Don’t try to win the fight with temptation without first putting yourself in place before God. Understand that it is God who gives you and I the power to overcome; it doesn’t rise from within our will. Take comfort that “greater is He (God) who is in you than he (Satan) who is in the world!”
The second is a comment about total depravity. You and I are bent to sin. It is in our nature that we were born with. There is a salvation that leads to forgiveness of the acts of sin, but there is still a root of sin deep down. We are called a holiness church because we believe the power of God is greater than that root, and that He has made available to us everything we need to overcome sin. We call this entire sanctification, or perfect love. I think it is best described as complete surrender. The only way to deal with sin is in a moment by moment ongoing obedience to the will of God as the Spirit works in your heart. Complete surrender doesn’t mean you can’t ever sin again; it means that as you walk in step with the Spirit you can make all the right choices that is holiness, but it is a moment by moment thing that is a life of surrender lived by faith. If you are not at that point of your relationship with God you are still bent to sin. It is like walking on a road that is inclined to the side. You will gravitate down the slope because the road is bent that way.
The third comment is about the need to ask God to lead us not into temptation, as if we didn’t ask it would mean He would lead us there. A better rendering of this sentence would be “help us not be drawn into the occasion of sin, and if we are, deliver us from the consequences of that sin.” Note the passage we read from James 1:13-15 “13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Most temptation comes from within us. It is when our natural desires get pulled out of proportion, out of context. Take food for example. You need it for health and life, but if it takes over, it becomes gluttony and leads not only to physical complications but spiritual ones as well. We are asking God to save us from ourselves.

4 Words:
The first is the word “lead”. This is the fishing word. The Greek word has connotations of being drawn into something. C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters has a senior demon corresponding with his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter, about how to get their charge, known as the Patient, secured for damnation. Through 31 letters, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in his Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. These situations are all around us. They are highlighted when we are tired. They are highlighted when we are distracted. They are highlighted when we haven’t got full control of all our faculties. I grieve as I read and see the results of people throwing their life away in senseless acts. An 18 year old, out drinking with friends before graduation in Regina, trespasses on a golf course. He climbs 3 fences, one with razor wire at the top, and then tries to steal an ATV and drive it through the fence. He dies in the attempt. His 3 friends with him call 911 but there is nothing to do. A few hours earlier these guys were caught by police in a group of 20 on the same property and escorted off. How willingly do we run to these circumstances? It may not be alcohol, but invariably we all have weaknesses so that when we dabble with them, we get burned. So we pray, asking God to save us from ourselves.
The second word is “temptation”. This word refers to both trials as well as opportunities to sin. Note the prayer is for us to not be there. It is about the future, about avoiding the wrong place at the wrong time. You watch some of these mobs and riots on the news. You see people running to catch up, to get involved. In every sense of the word I would be running the other way. No good comes from that kind of confrontation, and then people weep because people are hurt and killed. Part of this issue is lack of control. We were living in Kitchener, Ontario a number of years ago. It was a bad snowstorm , preceded by freezing rain. As we looked out our living room window we watched a car approach a stop sign too fast. He went right through. A short while later there is a cautious driver. He manages to stop where he was supposed to, and then this yahoo at obviously too fast a speed. He hits the brakes and the car begins to turns sideways aiming right for the back end of the stopped car. Just before he smacks it he steps on the gas and the car somehow manages to go around the car without touching it. Ever been on a slippery slope? It is easy to get there before you even realize the ice is there – then things are out of control. Temptation and trials are like that. But look at the promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The third word is “deliver”. It is echoed in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” It is about being saved out of a situation. It is a plot in most movies and books, where the hero comes at the last minute to rescue the person in distress. God is about salvation – He is about helping and healing. He is God, The Lord God, Creator of the ends of the earth. Isn’t He someone you would like on your side? In a discussion about heroes people were saying they need a hero with a flaw; a hero they can relate to. I am thankful that Jesus has no flaws. And the flaws we have He came to save us from.
The last word is “evil”. This word is about destruction. It is related to labour and toil. Think of the fall of man. Here Adam and Eve were in paradise, the hardest part coming up with names. But sin and evil came in, and the result was expulsion from the garden and a life of work and toil, and separation from God. My wife wrote the following that is quite applicable:

Several years ago, I took a theology class at a small bible college in Southern
Ontario. I found I had an affinity for the subject, and delved in with great
delight and interest. I was often in the midst of classroom discussions, and
took joy in sharing ideas about God's word.
One day, the lecture was on the
doctrine of sin. The focus was on the first chapters of Genesis and the fall of
humanity. Of course, as a long time Christian, I had heard and read these
passages many times. But this time, it was different. As I listened, I allowed
my imagination to wander into the garden, and walk where Adam and Eve had trod,
hear what their ears had heard. A feeling soon overtook me. I sensed God was
showing me something; guiding my imagination.
The awe I had felt soon
turned to deep sorrow. Unable to withstand the moment, I put my head on my desk
and cried. I was about to dash for the door when I heard the professor call my
name. "Are you crying?"
I swallowed my embarrassment, and looked up.
He looked at me, mystified. "What's wrong?"
Forty sets
of eyes turned to gaze at me.
"I'm crying," I stammered. "Because of
all we've lost. We once knew the company of God. He walked with us as a friend.
We loved Him purely, without fear or obstacle." I glanced at my professor. "I'm
grieving all I lost in the fall. I'm grieving Eden."

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

3 things:
First, live life in the Present. Get focussed on today, on now, on where you are at with Jesus right now. There’s a guy that gets his car in the shop regularly for oil changes and tune-ups and everything else. He is focussed on the future in a sense. It is good preventative stuff, about what may or may not happen down the road. Unfortunately he is a lousy driver and his car never makes it to tomorrow because he rolled it while on a cell phone. He was good at spending time for future things, but he left the door open to for something to get him today. And sometimes it isn’t even our fault. This other guy – true story - goes fishing with a buddy south of Calgary. They wrap up after midnight. His buddy goes east towards Medicine Hat, and he heads west to home. He is cruising along in the dark and glances down at the speedometer. He realizes he is only going 70. He looks back up and sees the airbag and cows, in that order. He finally comes to a stop, after killing 4 cows and injuring several others. His SUV is banged up. He had a hole in his back window that his cell phone created. Long story short, we don’t know what’s coming around the bend. Live life in today. Make your plans, but understand tomorrow may not turn out like you think.
Second, know and live in your strengths. Use your strengths to overcome weak areas. A church gets their people to survey their commitments and behaviours. The object is to find where you are weak, and then to work on those areas. Imagine how frustrating that is. The analogy they give is one of a barrel with staves, and some are broken. You can only fill the barrel as full as the lowest stave, so fix the lowest ones… the problem is I don’t want to be a barrel. I may be looking like one more and more, but I prefer to think of myself in terms of strengths. It’s about usefulness. I would want to be a lion. I would be big and strong, near the top of the food chain – always a bonus. I would be fast, have big teeth, and would scare people silly. Others would look at the lion and say,” But you can’t eat watermelon, or swim underwater like a beaver, or fly like a raven. There’s a lot of downsides to being a lion!”I wouldn’t need to fly if I was a lion, or swim like a fish. I would understand that I was created a certain way and revel in the purpose of my creation. To constantly focus on my weak areas is self defeating, and takes away from my ability to live purposely. Looking at whom I’m not, makes me lose sight of whom I am. That is why I am excited about Bonnie’s book on strengths, as well as a shift in the church to looking at people’s strengths. Know yourself in Christ and you can overcome the temptations and weaknesses in your life. Bonnie did this strength based smoking cessation program. She met a lady who had a strong addiction to cigarettes. Bonnie helped the lady to discover her strengths and within 3 months she had not only cut down significantly her smoking, but she changed her peer group to people who were supporting her rather than dragging her down, she began to work on her marriage, she got a job, and all because she found out how strong she was.
Lastly, cling to Jesus. It is the power of Christ in you. Cling to Jesus.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Lord's Prayer - Part 3

Stuart MacLean writes about the daily goings on of a small family in Toronto. They own the Vinyl CafĂ©, a small record shop. Dave is the husband, Morley is his wife. Sam and Stephanie are the kids. There are neighbours and homeless people, dogs and cats. It is about life, the ins and outs of life. It is about the imperfections of life, the things that go wrong in life. Deep down most of us like to read those kinds of stories, because it gives us hope that there is somebody worse off or at least has made worse decisions than us. I know it is a pick me up for my self. Adrian Plass, Patrick McManus, Keirson Keller all write in this same vein. Daily life for those in books and movies and songs is never boring. But for you and me, it is the substance of life. Occasionally we end up in a place where the event becomes bigger than our reality, but for most of us, day to day is pretty even; sometimes a good even, a bad even, or somewhere in the middle (an even even!). It is in this context we find this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread…”

“Give us…”Hebrews 10:19 “…we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…”

Some people can never ask for help. For them, it is really easy to give help to others, and to even be self-sacrificing in there help, but it is hard for them to have the table turned around. Sometimes it is because they have a profound sense of emotional debt. The only way they get through life is by paying off this debt and taking on no new debt. To ask for help increases the amount they have to pay off. So they go through life working hard for everybody else and take no regard for themselves. The unfortunate part is that they don’t see what they become. There is a rigidness and inflexibility in their lives.

When we pray “Give us…” we are recognizing our needs before an almighty God. We recognize that He is the supplier of all things. We recognize that we can’t do it all by ourselves. We recognize that we can’t even know the whole scope of work and ministry that needs to happen. There is an acknowledgement that indeed it is about Jesus. James 4 talks about prayer and asking for things. He cautions that sometimes we don’t get answers to prayer because we don’t ask for things specifically. Sometimes we don’t receive because we ask out of the wrong motive, too. The context of this chapter in James is about where our hearts are. It challenges us about loving God or loving the world. The two are not compatible.
When we pray “Give us…” we are starting from the bigger perspective of who we are before God. We don’t demand from God, “Give us… or else!” We also don’t grovel like a worm saying “I am unworthy!” Instead, we enter the throne room of God, the Holy of Holies with confidence because of our redeemed status before God. We understand we are forgiven sinners who live by grace which we receive by faith. We understand we are on a spiritual pilgrimage leading to Christ-likeness and holiness in our lives. And because we know that, we pray, “Give us…” Hebrews 10:19 shows us this relationship we have with God. The reason we have this assurance, this sincerity is because of Jesus’ finished work at the cross. Last week I talked about how we don’t have to worry about going up there to heaven because God came down here to us. So we pray “give us…” because we have a god who cares and listens and answers.

“…this day…” – Matthew 6:34 …be not “anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. “

I have come to love the story of manna. It is the story of understanding God is big and powerful and is in our details. Grace Fox at Girls’ Night Out talked about how God specializes in solving issues when we follow His lead. Some 3 and a half million people left Israel and headed for the Promised Land. They are in a desert. That is like 3 ½ times the population of our province, in one group, in a desert. What about food and water? And so God provides manna. It appears over night. The people gather enough in the morning for the day. The next day it appears again, and so the people are told not to hoard it – don’t gather more than you need for the day. Of course, several people try to beat the system and they get several days worth of manna. The next morning, though, the manna has gone bad and there are worms in it and ewwwww! And the Scriptures tell us that the manna is there until Israel is done their wanderings. God provided for them, every single day.
Jesus Himself said that of all the things you could be anxious for, daily bread is not one of them. Read Matthew 6:25-34 and understand that Jesus wants to take away all your anxiety, your worries. He says in verse 34 to not be “anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. “ Seek first His kingdom.
So when we pray “Give us this day…” we ask for strength and wisdom for today. We may begin to think about tomorrow, but the presence of Christ is about today. What are you doing for Jesus today? Not what are you doing for or with Jesus tomorrow, or next week, or when you graduate, or when you have more money, or a better job, or a better spouse, or a new spouse, or anything but, what are you doing with Jesus This Day?

“…our daily bread” – Hosea 6:3 “He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth."

As we remember that story of the manna, we recognize that the principle behind it was more than just daily bread from heaven for the physical body. It was also about spiritual bread that is baked in the oven of faith over coals of patience. We’ve talked about how life is more than just this touchy feely stuff that the 5 senses can interact with. There is another dimension, a spiritual dimension that we get glimpses of here and there. When you sense the still quiet voice of God encouraging you to talk to someone, you’ve touched it. When you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin, you’ve touched it.
When we pray for God’s provision, we are praying that we would allow ourselves the patience to rest in Him and what He provides. The lesson of manna was about trusting in God whether you are in the desert, or in the land of plenty. In the desert we want to go out and hoard and rely on what we can grab to survive. In the Promised Land we rely on the stuff we have around us. Life is bearable, if not comfortable or excessive.
Think of the desert, of the dry, parched land. My lawn has been quite dry. In the south west corner of the province they have had drought conditions for a few years. Listen to this verse from Hosea 6:3 "So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth." Do you get the sense of refreshment from God? What a wonderful promise as we see the spring bring green to the trees and the flowers bloom.
Bonnie and I met in January 1999. We married in January, 2000. Ben came along in February of 2001 and Heather 2 years later. We started in Kitchener, moved to Elmvale, then Wyevale, then 3 places in Stettler, and now finally here. I have had 6 jobs in that time. Bonnie has attended both a college and a university. She has worked in several places and started a new career. With all that instability, with all the changes, with all the financial pressures and expenses, with all the upheaval of friends and families, of goodbyes and hellos and goodbyes, I can testify that not once has God failed in providing what we needed for that day.

Psalm 37:25 says, “I have been young and now I am old; yet I have not
seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.”

Want a promise to claim, to cling to? Cling to that. Cling to the faithfulness of God, to the love that He sheds abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit. I invite you to pray if God is working in your heart and you need to meet Him in a special way today. Kneel where you are and get things right with God.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Lord's Prayer - Part 2

“Your kingdom come…” “the heart where the rule of Christ is felt”

This is where the Romans had issue with the Christians. This talk of a “kingdom” seemed to threaten Rome’s rule. Note that Jesus used the word “kingdom” dozens of times, but the word “church” only twice. They are not the same. The kingdom of God is where the rule of Christ is felt. It is every person in whose heart there is a sworn allegiance to the King. Notice this prayer says “your kingdom”, and “your will”. Part of having this sworn allegiance is being about the King’s business. One neat thing about God is that even though He is the Creator of the ends of the earth, even though He is awesome and above everything, He desires relationship with you and I and He has something for us to do. I never get tired of this truth. Because I wrap my life around Jesus I find meaning and purpose. I find the answer to the “whys?” of life.
The church is just the container for this kingdom of hearts. That is why hymns and choruses, piano or guitar are not worth haggling over. This building itself is just a tool, a vessel, to hold the surpassing greatness of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why people can do church in a secluded forest location in China and be as connected as someone in a nice air-conditioned building here in Canada. In fact, they are perhaps more easier to access community in Jesus than we are, because we so easily get distracted by the stuff we have. We have a salary and utilities to pay, grass to cut, carpets to clean, and on and on. We need to always make sure that we don’t replace the heart kingdom of God with this stuff around us.
And what is this kingdom of God, if not a kingdom of peace, love and righteousness? As you look through the Scriptures you see God’s kingdom is worked out in acts of compassion for those in need – the widows and fatherless, those on the edges of society. This ministry, reflected in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), is about followers of Jesus having respect for all people. When we help someone, we don’t do it out of a “holier than thou” attitude; we don’t do it out of just duty; and we don’t do it just to get a reward in heaven. We do it because God loves that person just as much as He loved us. So out of genuine love and respect, we extend love and grace in the same way God extended it to us. That is the kingdom of God.

“Your will be done…” - predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son Romans 8:29-30

What is God’s will for us? Is it to get everybody saved? No, that is God’s business. Notice in 2 Peter 3:9 that “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
We have commands about being thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Ephesians 5:13-19 talks about how we live our lives, with priorities bent towards Jesus. Several verses talk about perseverance, that regardless of what happens in life, as you cling to Jesus, you will receive what was promised. The will of God then, is about His work in your life, about you becoming more Christ-like as the days and weeks and years go by.
This is what Romans 12:1,2 talks about. As we surrender to God, as we offer up ourselves as a living sacrifice, we will be transformed from the inside out and the will of God will be realized in our lives. Look at Romans 8:29-30 where this is very clear: “29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Being a Christian means the end result of our life is to be conformed to the image of Christ! That is God’s plan for every child of His. We are saved to become like Him in our thoughts, words, and actions. Like the water in the picture above, our life is to become a reflection of Jesus.

“On earth as it is in heaven” – “live from a bigger perspective”

I don’t believe God sees the world as someplace over there – It is something He dwells in, rubbing shoulders with us as we walk down the street, as we shop at a store, as we sit in church, as we eat with family and friends. In the incarnation there was very much a sense of God dwelling among us. One of the reasons we struggle with vices and habits and things like anger and gossip is because we have this narrow view of God, that He lives up there somewhere. We get the idea that He is someplace else, where we are not.
What if we were to live from a bigger perspective and see the world through God’s eyes? What if we understood that the spiritual world filled with angels and demons and thrones and powers and principalities was not just up there somewhere, but right here, beside us, around us, where we live? This is how the Bible describes life. This is what God’s presence is all about. We don’t have to do anything to get up there, God came down here. We have to stop our selfish pursuits, though, and listen and look, and surrender. Satan is doing his best to get you distracted by finances, by relationships, by even good stuff like studying theology or compassionate works. Just don’t let those things distract you from what God is doing in your life.

So when you pray, pray that God’s kingdom would come to your heart anew each day. Pray that His will would be done in your life, that you would become more like Him in your thoughts, your words, and your actions. And pray that your eyes would be opened up to the reality of life as God sees it.