In Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado writes:
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. Consider the genius of God's plan. The first generation of Christians was a tinderbox of contrasting cultures and backgrounds. At least fifteen different nationalities heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Jews stood next to Gentiles. Men worshiped with women. Slaves and masters alike sought after Christ. Can people of such varied backgrounds and cultures get along with each other?
We wonder the same thing today. Can Hispanics live in peace with Anglos? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along?
The early church did—without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. They did so through the clearest of messages (the Cross) and the simplest of tools (the home).
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can't be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality.
Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium you see the backs of heads. Around the table you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium one person speaks; around the table everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time to talk.
Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It's no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: "You matter to me and to God." You may think you are saying, "Come over for a visit." But what your guest hears is, "I'm worth the effort."
Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life (Nelson, 2010), p. 55
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12, ESV)
Jesus calls for his followers to pray daily for forgiveness. But some may wonder why. Doesn't scripture make it clear that we have already been forgiven through Christ (Eph 1:7-8; Col 2:13-15; 1 John 2:1-2)? So why should we daily pray for forgiveness?
The words of J.I. Packer are helpful:
A problem arises here. If Christ’s death atoned for all sins, past, present, and future (as it did), and if God’s verdict justifying the believer (“I accept you as righteous for Jesus’ sake”) is eternally valid (as it is), why need the Christian mention his daily sins to God at all? The answer lies in distinguishing between God as Judge and as Father, and between being a justified sinner and an adopted son. The Lord’s Prayer is the family prayer, in which God’s adopted children address their Father, and though their daily failures do not overthrow their justification, things will not be right between them and their Father till they have said “sorry” and asked him to overlook the ways they have let him down. Unless Christians come to God each time as returning prodigals, their prayer will be as unreal as was that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. (Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994.)
When we daily come to God broken and humble repent of our sins, we have the confidence of His forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and the joy of renewed fellowship with him.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)
Faith is essential to the Christian life. The above verse reminds us we cannot please God without it.
And yet, our faith falters sometimes. It's definitely very mustard seed-ish. Maybe even smaller. It seems so simple to say, "Just believe the promises of God." And it is simple. But it's not. Because life is difficult and the trials we face can be daunting.
There was once a dad who had a demon-possessed son (no, this is not a joke about hormonal teenagers). The situation was so dire that the demon had nearly killed the boy. The father and son encounter Jesus and in a moment of desparation the father cries out, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22–24).
Can anyone else resonate with that dad?
Help my unbelief.
It may be matters big or matters small, but if we're honest we, too, struggle to believe. Like this broken, honest dad, we need God to infuse our floundering faith with hope and courage. We need him to come along-side to encourage us and remind us of his promises and history of faithfulness.
Last Sunday, I found myself struggling to believe. The power went out just a few moments before our worship service was to begin. Our music team did a great job improvising on the fly and lead a beautiful time of quiet acoustic praise. As I stood there singing, I sensed the Spirit leading me to hold my message on the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer for next week. Rather than preach a sermon, I sensed him saying, "You've been preaching on prayer. I've gone ahead and made things nice and quiet for you. Let my people pray together."
I began to make excuses in my mind as to why that wouldn't work.
It's too quiet. People won't be able to hear. No one's going to want to pray in front of all these people. They didn't have any notice or warning. We didn't put any planning into this. I will look silly if I open it up and get nothing but crickets. The heat's off and people are going to be cold. I should just let them go home. What if no one prays? How will this reflect on me as a leader (see how self-centered I can be?)?
But yet I knew it's what God wanted us to do.
Help my unbelief.
And you know what happened? People prayed. And they prayed. And it was beautiful.
What are you struggling to trust him for today?
And ask him to help your unbelief.
Give us this day our daily bread, (Matthew 6:11, ESV)
Think about it for just a moment: God cares about your needs.
In a prayer that is centered on worship and requests regarding spiritual needs, Jesus wants us to be sure to come to God for the daily requirements of life. Martin Luther said this petition applies to "everything necessary for the preservation of this life." That includes a lot of stuff!
This means that our needs are important to God. Do you believe that? That your needs matter to him? Not just that super-spiritual guy you sit next to at church or that saint who prays for 7 1/2 hours a day. But your needs. Because you matter to God.
Not convinced? Check out these passages:
The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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 which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. … (Mt. 6:25-34)
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Mt. 7:7-8)
For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
God longs to meet your needs -- won't you take time to cry out to him today?
O THOU GIVING GOD,
My heart is drawn out in thankfulness
for thy amazing grace and condescension
in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
for special help in prayer,
for the sweetness of Christian service,
for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
for always sending me needful supplies,
for raising me to new life when I am
like one dead.
I want not the favour of man to lean upon
for thy favour is infinitely better.
Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations
and it matters not when, nor where, nor how
I serve thee,
nor what trials I am exercised with,
if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
No poor creature stands in need of divine grace
more than I do,
And yet none abuses it more than I have done,
and still do.
How heartless and dull I am!
Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
I am renewedly indebted to thee,
the God of all grace, for special assistance.
I cannot boast when I think how dependent
I am upon thee for the being and every act
I never do anything else but depart from thee,
and if ever I get to heaven it will be because
thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
hoping for no happiness but from thee;
Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
humble, solemn, mortified,
and conformed to thy will.
-The Valley of Vision
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name...Matthew 6:9
As I prepared Sunday's message on this, the first petition of the Lord's prayer, I came across an old, dead guy with whom I was unfamiliar: a dutch theologian by the name of Hermann Witsius (1636-1708). You know when you listen to someone or read their words and it hits you like a wave of fresh air, and you know this man or woman has been in the presence of God. As I read Witsius' words about hallowing God's name in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, I kept thinking, "Old Hermann knows his God." He was not only writing about a subject with which was familar, but he was also writing about a Person with whom he was very familiar.
First of all, it floored him that we're able even to talk to God at all:
It is a very extraordinary and almost incredible familiarity of [conversation] which a man is permitted to maintain with God in holy prayer. That a base wretch,—a sinner under sentence of condemnation, a worm that deserves to be trampled under foot,—should be admitted to [converse] with the Divine Being, whose majesty the brightest inhabitants of heaven approach with lively praise, and yet with the lowliest adoration, is certainly a high privilege.
But as it pertains to the hallowing the name of God, he recognized first that we must understand, The name of God, however, does not strictly denote God, as he exists in himself, but as he reveals and makes himself known to rational creatures. That is the name of God represents the sum total of who he is as he has chosen to reveal himself to us.
And therefore God's name is hallowed when he is declared to be holy. Now, the holiness of God is the purest love of his attributes and perfections. Or, if the expression be preferred, it is that purity of the divine nature which renders every act of his understanding and will consistent with his perfections, and fitted to promote their manifestation.
He goes on to say that when we pray for his name to be hallowed, we declare three things:
(2.) By moving our hearts, so that we may be at liberty to say with David, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.”
(3.) By exciting our tongue to praise him. “O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”
(4.) By regulating our whole life, through the influences of his Spirit, so as to promote the glory of his name, that in all he may appear “wonderful and glorious.”
He summarizes by saying,
Our highest happiness is to be entirely devoted to the Divine glory. Our highest rejoicing is to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)...Above all, we must frequently meditate on those works of God which are only taught in the school of Grace, and by which he has manifested his glory in obtaining eternal redemption for us. The highest powers of the understanding cannot be directed to a nobler object, or employed in a nobler manner, than in the contemplation of the truth itself, and of all the sublime and saving truths concerning himself which that truth has been pleased to reveal. In this manner, the name of God is hallowed by our understanding.
But we must not stop here. The knowledge of the Divine perfections must produce in us love, reverence, wonder, and adoration. Let us frequently, out of the full treasure of our heart, exclaim: “O Lord, how manifold are thy wonders! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” (Psalm 104:24)
This was a man who truly knew what it meant to pray, "hallowed be your name." May we learn from the heart of one who has communed with the Almighty.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven. . . (Matthew 6:9, ESV)
Perhaps one of the most unbelievable parts of the Christian life is that God lets us call him Father. Seriously, think about that for a moment. Out of all the things Jesus could have directed us to call God when we pray, he calls him Father. Not Soverign Lord. Not Mighty King. Not All-Powerful, Omni-present One. But Father. He is all those things to be sure, but we can come to him as needy sons and daughters and cast ourselves upon him and his grace.
There are many implications which come to mind but here are a few I jotted down:
1. This father delights in calling us his children. We are not unwanted refugees. We are chosen children (Eph 1:4). He handpicked us. That's amazing. Remember that next time you are tempted to tip-toe into his presence wondering whether he wants you around.
2. He longs to provide. He wants us to ask (Luke 11:5-13). He doesn't even mind if we ask him a lot (Luke 18:1-8). God is not a stingy God. Come before your Father knowing he wants to hear your requests.
3. He wants our trust. I know, it's easier said than done. But just as a child simply believes the words of his own mother or father, God desires for his children to simply believe what he says and to take him at his Word.
What a comfort to be able to pray the words: Our Father in heaven!
Recently, on a Sunday morning, we listened in to hear what John (that is, 1 John 2:15-17) had to say about worldliness. Something all of us are dying to talk about!
He bluntly says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world" (v.15a). Pretty straightforward.
Why does the idea of worldliness unnerve us a little? I think, in part, because we all live in the world. And sometimes it’s hard to live in this world and not be worldly. Most of us have cell phones, houses, money (a little anyway), hobbies and eat donuts . . . just like the world does! Does that make us worldly.
I think there’s another reason we get a little restless when the topic of worldliness rolls around: because we are worldly in a lot of ways and we don’t want to admit it.
But does a topic like worldliness really even matter? Don’t we have bigger spiritual fish to fry? Don't things like discipleship, building projects, spiritual disciplines, marriage, parenting, lust, getting along with one another command more of my attention than worldliness? According to John, the stakes are pretty high: "…if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (v.15b).
Yeah, that's serious.
So what is worldliness anyway? What does it mean to "love the world." David Wells says worldliness is that "which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange."
John Wesley said it was anything that cooled his love for Christ.
John helps explain it for us further when he says:
"For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world" (v.16). Worldliness involves sinful longings that come from within (cravings), the temptations the world offers us (coveting), and our default preoccupation with ourselves (conceit).
Worldliness is not always easy to spot in our lives, but that's often because we don't want to look. It cuts to the heart of our affections. When something tugs on my heart, it's usually something that will give me, at least, some sort of temporal enjoyment. But when it pulls on my heart, it draws me away from Jesus.
You know, worldliness is starting to sound a bit like idolatry. Hmmm.
So how do we spot it in our lives? Does this mean we need to stop enjoying, watching, eating, playing, or driving anything that is not explicitly "Christian" (whatever that is)? I don't think so.
Here are some questions to identify if I might be in love with the world:
But those things might just be exactly what you need to do.
O God, give us patience when those who are wicked hurt us. O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled and hurt! Christ suffers blows upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide one rough word for his sake. O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with goodwill, and with a gentle mind overcome it. And if necessity and thy honour require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that they truth and thy glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived.
-Miles Coverdale (1488-1569)
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, ESV)
Marriage is precious because it was God's idea. It's important to Him because it is a rough sketch of the unity which exists within the Godhead. It is mysterious because husbands' love for their wives should mirror Christ's love for the church. I am so thankful for the gift of marriage and for my lovely wife.
I listened to a marvelous sermon on marriage this week by Denny Burk. If you have the time, it's well worth a listen. He closed the sermon with a beautiful poem he wrote to his wife on their third anniversary. I realize that not everyone will marry, but most will. By God's grace, may we press through the good times and the bad and hold our sacred vows for His glory.
The old man took her tired hand
to hold for one last time.
The years had fin’lly pressed her to
her final breaths of life.
Their wrinkled hands in warm embrace
brought back the long-gone years,
The memories of their happy times,
and those dissolved in tears.
The old man saw in her ill frame
the girl that stole his heart.
He saw in her that gracious gaze
that filled their home with warmth.
His mind turned back to lighter days
when she did make her mark,
The children her love reared for them,
Her single heart for God.
He also felt the weight of grace
that marked her many years,
How she had borne him patiently
when he did cause the tears.
The old man said, “My love, the time
was cruelly short to me.
I cannot say goodbye to you
and let your passing be.”
“How can I ever say farewell
or ever let you part?
You are my only precious thing,
the joy of my old heart.”
And as his eyes began to well,
she reached to touch his face.
And then her quivering voice began
to give one final grace.
“This is the day the Lord has made,
The one He’s brought to pass.
This day was written in His book
before my first was past.”
“The Lord has granted us to spend
together all these years.
He’s also granted all the joy
and even all our tears.”
“And though this is a bitter day,
we owe Him so much thanks.
Dear, we made it! By Him we did!
Yes, we made it! By grace!”
Oh Father, grant that we may see
our days as at their end.
Oh let us know the weight of grace
in every year we spend.
We make this prayer unto You,
for there is no one higher.
This testimony of Your grace
we desperately desire!