Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our Father: A Sermon Jam

The last several days I wrote a handful of posts about The Lord's Prayer.  I also am teaching a series on The Lord's Prayer with the youth group.  Last night I taught about the phrase "Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name."

We talked last night about how the "who" of prayer is much more important than the "how" of prayer.  Not that how is unimportant, because why else would our Lord teach us how to pray if it wasn't, but the who of prayer is of upmost importance.

Last night I used a Francis Chan sermon jam in the lesson.  I highly encourage you to watch it today.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham Dead at 99

This morning I learned that the most prolific evangelist of all time Billy Graham died in his home.  He was 99.

Billy Graham's death is not a sad time because he was a man that lived out the Great Commission with all vigor.  Today he is in the presence of his Lord and Savior and I'm willing to bet that he was greeted by the phrase, "Well done good and faithful servant.  Come and share in your master's happiness."

When I heard of his death I couldn't help but wonder if he was met in Heaven by the thousands, if not millions, that he introduced to Jesus as their Savior who were this morning excited to introduce him face to face to Jesus.  I wondered what sort of glory he saw this morning and what sort of glory awaits me on the other side of my last breath.

Billy is a man that I admired greatly.  He was a man that focused on the Gospel and on the mission that Christ had given him.  He was not a perfect man but he strived for Godly character and a reputation worthy of his calling.  He is a man worthy of imitation.

I leave you with some of the best Billy Graham quotes below today:

"Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead.  Don't believe a word of it.  I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will just have changed my address.  I will have gone into the presence of God."

"I haven't written my own epitaph, and I'm not sure I should.  Whatever it is, I hope it will be simple, and that it will point people not to me, but to the One I served."

"The most thrilling thing about Heaven is that Jesus Christ will be there.  I will see Him face to face.  Jesus Christ will meet us at the end of life's journey."

"Heaven doesn't make this life less important; it makes it more important."

"I am not going to Heaven not because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times.  I'm going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: 'Lord remember me."

"The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith."

"The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us."

"It is God's job to judge, the Spirit's job to convict, and our job to love."

"I have never known anyone to accept Christ's redemption and later regret it."

"God proved His love on the cross.  When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, 'I love you."

"Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys."

"A real Christian is the one who can give his pet parrot to the town gossip."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Our Holy Father

For four days on this blog I've spent time looking at and thinking about The Lord's Prayer.  We've look at the phrases: "your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven", "Give us today our daily bread", "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" and "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."  Today I want to focus on the opening line of Jesus' prayer as recorded in the book of Matthew.

"Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be your name," Matthew 6:9b

The most important thing about Christian prayer is to whom we pray.  Obviously what we pray is important or Jesus would not have taught His disciples how to pray and that prayer wouldn't have been recorded for us.  But to whom we pray is of upmost importance.

Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal?  In 1 King 18:16-39 Elijah had a competition with the prophets of Baal.  They both put a bull on the altar and prayed for fire to come from Heaven and consume their bull.  The prophets of Baal went first and they yelled and prayed and danced from morning to noon.  Nothing happened and Elijah taunted them by saying maybe Baal was busy or sleeping or something else.  So the prophets shouted louder and cut themselves with spears and swords until the afternoon and even into the evening.  Nothing happened.  Then Elijah's turn was up and he made the competition harder on himself by dumping water on his bull. 

Then Elijah prayed one short prayer and fire from God fell from the sky and burned up the bull, the wood, the stones, the soil and evaporated the water that was drenched on all of it.

See, long prayers and fastings and dancing and even hurting oneself did nothing for the prophets of Baal.  The most powerful part of prayer is the one to whom we pray.

So, who does Jesus say that we pray to?

"Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be your name,"

Jesus says that the God of Heaven, the one true God is to whom we pray.  The most excellent part of any prayer is the destination of the prayer, the one on the other side of the line not the words said or the length of the prayer.

Also, Jesus teaches us that God, the One we pray to, is both hallowed and Father.

God is hallowed.  He is holy, holy, holy.  God is so other from us and all that exists in the universe.  There is an immense gap between all that we add up to and the infinitude of all that is good that is our great God.  Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge."  We must always begin with the fear of the Lord.  The prayer that Jesus taught us forces us to reckon with and remember the holiness of God.  When we pray we must have a magnified view of God.

God is Father.  This hallowed being is our Father.  God is not simply great, and He is beyond great; He is someone with whom we can have a Father-son or Father-daughter relationship.  We can approach God in prayer like we would approach the best of earthly dads.  We can come to God the way that my son comes to me with arms up begging to be held.  We can come to God without fear of harm knowing that He, as a good Father, wants what is best for us.

Our Holy Awesome Father is both capable to do what we need and willing to do what we need.  Good fathers don't always give what we ask for but good fathers have their child's best interest at heart. 

It is easy to get lost on either side of this coin.  We can be so struck by the holiness of God that we disbelieve a personal, intimate relationship with Him is possible or we can be so focused on the accessibility we have to our Father that we forget the magnitude of His holiness.  We must do neither and that, at least in part, is why Jesus teaches us to pray like this.

"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.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one" today.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.'  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  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

"And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."  Matthew 6:13

Why on earth does Jesus teach us to pray about a situation that James tells us is impossible?  Why, if God cannot tempt, does Jesus teach us to pray that God not lead us into temptation?  Is Pope Francis right in saying that this prayer's wording should be changed?

Well, Matthew records that Jesus was lead into the wilderness to be tempted.

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil."  Matthew 4:1

I don't believe that the Bible can contradict itself and I don't believe that is happening here.  There is some nuance in this passage, I believe.  God may lead us into places of testing where tempting may be present but He Himself is not the tempter.

"Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me."  Psalm 23:4

Following God closely may illicit a war of temptation from the evil one.  The Devil will not like it if you are following God closely.  My football coach used to say, "If you ain't getting blocked you're going the wrong way."

When we are the Shepherd's sheep the Wolf will come looking for us, especially if we are making a difference for the Kingdom.  What we pray is that God will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, through the perils of sinful temptation and not let us go into temptation.

In the war for the Kingdom we may need to go through enemy lines.  Our prayer is that temptation would not grip us, but that instead we would pass through.  This is not license to live foolishly and rush into tempting situations claiming that God will keep you from temptation.  No, this is an invitation to follow Jesus even into hard places where the temptation to quit, the temptation to abandon the faith is shot at you like a fiery dart by Satan and to keep following King Jesus all while praying that He delivers you from Satan and all his doomed schemes.

Following Christ is not an easy task.  We must pray for the protection and the ability to pass through seasons and situations where temptation rears its head.

"And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one" today.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

So Will I (100 Billion X)

On Sundays during Lent I want to share a worship song that has made me worship.  Many times these songs come from my Sunday worship at Grace Baptist but this one today doesn't.  Today I want to share "So Will I (100 Billion X)" as performed by Tori Kelly.  The lyrics are fantastic and call to mind so many Biblical passages including the two below.  Take time to listen to this awesome song today.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world." Psalm 19:1-4a

"O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set into place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you can for him?"  Psalm 8:1-4

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Debt Forgiveness

"Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors."  Matthew 6:12

We've been thinking a bit about the Lord's Prayer this week.  Today is what I think may be the most sobering part of the Lord's Prayer.  This is not simply the part of the prayer that sounds like a jumbled mess at services when local churches get together.  You know what I mean, the debts and trespasses mixed together until we finally align on the next part.  No, this section of the prayer sobers us because of what we pray.

"Forgive us our debts,
AS we also have forgiven our debtors."  (emphasis added)

"As" is such a frightening two letter word.  What if I don't forgive?  Is God's forgiveness for me contingent upon my forgiving others?

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins."  Matthew 6:14-15

Who else wants to pray a different prayer instead of this one that Jesus teaches?  Who else want to pray "forgive us our debts or trespasses" and leave out what follows the comma?  Well, you might not have your hand raised, but I have it waving like Horshack to Mr. Kotter.

In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus tells a story to further teach His point about forgiveness.

In the story the king was settling debts with people and a man owed him 10,000 talents which is equivalent to millions of dollars if the story was told in the U.S. today.  It was a debt that the man could never pay so the man was going to be sold as a slave in order to get something for the king.  But the man begged for the debt to be forgiven and the king forgave the debt.  However, that same man found a guy who owed him a hundred denari which is a small amount of money.  That same man chocked the man and demanded the money and threw that other debtor into debtors prison.  Word got back to the king and the king in anger sent the original man in the story to prison to be tormented until he could pay back what he owed, which obviously could never be repaid in a prison.

Jesus ends the story with this line,

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."  Matthew 18:35

Forgiveness is a HUGE deal to Jesus and therefore to us.  Forgiveness isn't optional for the believer.  Now, this is not to say that our salvation is earned, because it isn't.  Jesus initiates His love, His sacrifice and His forgiveness to us while we are still sinners.  But this means that those who are Christians must be forgiving.

Forgiveness is fundamental to the Gospel.  Those who are forgiven much must forgive much.  The key to forgiveness is to remember that we've been forgiven.  The Lord's Prayer stings us when it comes to the subject of forgiveness and we must let God's Word sting where it stings.  Let the sharp, double-edged sword of the Word strike you.  Let it change you like a surgeons scalpel, but never forget the cross because the key to being forgiving is being forgiven.

Who do you need to forgive?  The Lord taught us to pray in a way that calls to mind the issue of forgiveness.  He taught us a prayer that won't let us ignore forgiveness.  So, who do you need to forgive?

If you don't forgive you aren't simply carrying the weight of unforgiveness, which you are.  If you don't forgive it isn't simply bad for your mental and physical health, which it is.  If you don't forgive you aren't simply denying them forgiveness for their sake, which you are.  When you don't forgive you are saying to Christ that His death on the cross didn't mean that much to you.  We can't read the parable of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18 and see it any other way.  When we don't forgive we slap our Savior in the face.  We announce that our debt wasn't that large; that what He paid wasn't that significant.

But when we do forgive we get the sweet reminder of His grace.  When we forgive we participate in Christ's reconciliation campaign on this earth.  When we forgive we announce that we love what Jesus did on the cross.

Who do you need to forgive?  Whether their debt is rather large or small it does not compare with the debt the King of kings forgave you of.

"Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors" today.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Nine months ago my son Joshua was born.  Before he was born we needed to pick out a name.  Now, naming a human being is a big deal.  We thought about what sounded nice, what nicknames might come from it, what his initials might spell and what it meant.  The meaning of his name was very important to us.

Joshua means the same as Jesus: "God saves".  We pray every night that God would make his name true for him.  So, Joshua means "God saves", Matthew means "Gift of God" and Christine means "follower of Christ".

One man in the Bible with an interesting name is the Apostle Paul.  Paul is the Greek name for the Hebrew name Saul and Saul/Paul was a man of importance in the world of Judaism.  As you can read in Acts chapter 9 and in some of Paul's letters he had a dramatic conversion experience.  Saul the Christian killer is Paul the Christian martyr.  Saul did not exactly have his name changed but God made him use a name that would forever teach him about grace.

The name Paul in Greek means "small".

God, through the naming by his parents and the use of language gave him a name that would remind him and announce to all he met that he was small.  The great church planter of the Greek speaking world introduced himself to Greek speakers by saying, "Hi, I'm small."  The greatest evangelist in the Bible's name means small and I think that tells us something about the Gospel.  Prideful Sauls need to be reminded they are small Pauls. 

Christians must be people that remember their personal smallness and announce it to all they meet.  Christians are small people with a BIG God.  This isn't about self-esteem; this is about the Gospel.  The Gospel tells us we are small but God loves us anyway, we are unimportant but God lavishes us with love anyway, we are sinful yet Jesus died for us.  We aren't saved because we're worth it, but we're saved because God wanted to save us.

Oftentimes we forget our petite nature and magnify ourselves and forget the majesty of our eternal, infinite, all-powerful, Triune God.  This self-over-evaluation  keeps us from enjoying more fully our salvation.

"Give us this day our daily bread" Matthew 6:11

Jesus taught us to pray for our most basic needs.  He taught us to pray for what we need to sustain us today.  Many of us never think about whether we have bread for today.  Many of us worry about the distant future but hardly ever today.  Most of us feel pretty confident about our own ability to take care of ourselves today.

We need to remember how small we are and in the Lord's prayer Jesus helps remind us of that.  Jesus instructs us to ask God for the very thing that we may have already bought ourselves.  Jesus instructs us to pray in a way that makes us announce our smallness to our BIG God.

This reliance on God.  This recognition of the infinite difference in size and ability between us and God is necessary daily.

"... give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God." Proverbs 30:8b-9

Sustained but not fat.  This must be the spiritual condition of the believer.  Saul was capable of being a "great man" in his "own right" and Jesus sent him to the Gentiles a people group with which he'd be wildly successful and yet always reminded of his size relative to God's.

Humility is a beautiful gift.  Learn humility and put it into practice.  Remember that we need God for everything from our breath to our bread. 

Jesus, give us our daily bread today.