Dear Friends in Christ,
Recently I preached on the Lord’s Prayer. I want to share those thoughts in writing and hope that you will use the Lord’s Prayer as a daily practice in prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer comes to us as a most remarkable specific prayer both for the church and for ourselves, and as an example of how we might continue on in our prayer life.
Each time we say the Lord’s Prayer it becomes more deeply ingrained in us.
Yet, we must always try to understand its depth of meaning. Saying the Lord ’s Prayer becomes an admission of our utter dependence on God. A confession of our need for forgiveness. A dedication to be servants to all those in need. And a cry for help as we live out the battle between God and the devil.
The first thing we need to do is make sure we understand what exactly is being said in the Lord’s Prayer.
Our father, acknowledges who God is as the source of our existence, and that it is God’s design that we should live our life of faith not individually, but together, as Christ’s body.
The next series of phrases ends with “on earth as it is in heaven.” The structure of these phrases is that each of them would be understood to include this phrase.
Hallowed be thy name
On earth as it is in heaven.
Thy kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, means; we do not need to worry about our life. God provides for our needs, food, clothing, home, family, work and church.
Many people are troubled by the phrase “lead us not into temptation.” This does not mean that God tempts us to sin, the translation “save us from the time of trial,” says it better.
This simply acknowledges that life‘s struggles will come, and that our weakness and sin is never completely overcome. We ask here that God would be with us in all these things and help us to avoid what can be avoided. Partly it is asking for God‘s guidance and strength to go through this life. Partly it is asking for God‘s mercy to prevent that which we would find hard to bare.
Think of Jesus prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.
It also seems to mean that the suffering we endure in this life is not caused by God’s action. Rather, it is the nature of even the very good gift of life that God has given. Trials will come, save us!
For example, Jesus prayer on the Mount of Olives, “father if it be your will let this cup pass from me, yet never the less that I will be done.”
Deliver us from evil, is not a vague sense of bad things happening, but that we would be delivered from the work and influence of the evil one, The Devil.
You will note that part of the Lord’s prayer does not come from the scripture passage. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”
It is drawn from various other scripture passages in the Psalms and the New Testament. It is a fitting conclusion that reminds us that all that we have prayed has a foundation in the greatness of God who can do all these things we have asked him for.
When we say the Lord’s prayer in worship, take note of these things. Ask yourself which of these petitions you most need to meditate on and apply to your life.
Include the Lord’s prayer in your Devotions, particularly when you pray with others. Think about its meaning, and apply it to your life like a foundation!
Dear Friends in Christ,
This week I was having trouble coming up with a topic for the Newsletter. You already know that God is not like a Genie in a bottle. You can’t make God give you something. However, like a Genie, when God decides to grant your request you cannot determine how it will be granted. An example is that if you pray for patience there is no telling how God will work in you to grow that virtue. Knowing that if I ask God for help on the Newsletter article that help may be more than I bargained for, I did not ask. That too is it’s own way of asking, and besides, God does not need to ask to be working in his children’s lives.
Luther said, “People speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted.”
He means that even when someone else has made a bonehead move and I’m suffering for it, my frustration is part of me. They did not make me angry. I allowed myself to sit in my anger and focus on blame, instead of starting the work of fixing the problem.
Case in point. Sunday after church I found that the sewer line was plugged and caused a back up into the basement.
I was frustrated because I was sure someone else’s actions were to blame, but I had to clean it up. I got the professionals in to fix the problem. Two days later it was clogged again, blaming the poor repair of the last guy, I looked into who might do a better job, but it took two days to get him out. He ran a little water and found no problem and said it was fine, but that we could let him know if it happens again. It happened again. I really blamed the new guy who didn’t even try to see what the problem was. I also blamed myself for believing him. I’m sorry to say I also blamed Lorrie a little because she didn’t want me sitting around while my laundry was going and sent me out to finish mowing the lawn. Although I could have told her I needed to keep an eye on the water flow, and did not.
To be fair, most of the time I did keep reminding myself that I am glad to be taking care of a nasty job and save someone else from having to deal with it. I reminded myself that I don’t know anything about fixing a plumbing mess and the professional does. I reminded myself that if they did make mistakes, my role is to be an understanding, supportive, and kind person who accepts the imperfections of others. If no one accepted me, imperfections and all, I would be a sad and very lonely fellow.
My point is this. Other people will make boneheaded mistakes. You will have to help. If you are frustrated or angry, that is who you are in the moment. Deal with your own short comings; don’t tell yourself you would be fine if not for the error of someone else. Plainly, you would not. Circumstances only show us who we are. No one else is to be blamed for who we are. When someone else causes a problem our only need is love, that we might stop ourselves from focus on the fixing of blame and get on with the fixing of the problem. You never have a right to be angry. You only have a responsibility to forgive.
Yes I know, easier said than done. Say it first, and it will be easier done.
Dear Friends in Christ
Luther had a wonderful way of getting straight at things with a heart full of trust for God and a desire to encourage we poor struggling sinners. Especially things that matter like how do we draw near to God. "Begin with Christ. He came down to earth, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and then He died, standing clearly before us, so that our hearts and eyes may fasten upon Him. Thus we shall be kept from climbing into heaven in a curious and futile search after the nature of God. "
We should not take pride in how capable we are of thinking about God, but despair in our lack of understanding of the divine, so that we might see clearly how in Christ God reveals himself. Just as we only find God revealed in Christ, we should know that when we think with our own cleverness about God we only find ourselves.
Some of Luther's most encouraging words were directed at the strange condition we have in our relationship with God, faith. Luther focuses here on the reality that faith is not a thing we can attain by our wisdom or goodness. "Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see." If trusting in God is being "seized" by God it is not only not our doing, it is at odds with our will. The apostle Paul makes this most clear in the second chapter of Ephesians when he declares faith a gift of God, but Luther finds this truth expressed in a million different ways throughout the scriptures.
I encourage you to read Romans and ask yourself if you come to God in order to find faith, or if God comes to you and joins you to Christ.
One thing Luther knows is that life will present us with many reasons to despair for ourselves and those we love, and that faith grounded in my work of believing can never be strong enough to get me through. Faith that comes from God's taking hold of me is a comfort in the greatest of trials. As Luther puts it, "Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times."
Some of our darkest moments in life, Luther knows, will come to us because of our own sin. His only hope is that we will see our sin always as God does, not condemning ourselves, but realizing our need of Jesus Cross and Resurrection. "We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair." The realization of our sin becomes the occasion when we repent and turn to Christ , and know his forgiveness.
Luther realized the human instinct is to strive for a faith we can create. Seek after a god we can understand. Accomplish faith as a work of our own, which after all is an exciting experience. This allows us to judge others and their faith as inferior to our own.
Luther finds in scripture only the chance to let the Holy Spirit be in charge of our life and become humble servants of God and those in need. The world lives according to it's own wishes, what a person thinks and wants, becomes it's god. In Christ God offers freedom from ourselves. The world sees life as a constant exercise of our will and action for one's own sake. But faith in God knows better, it gives up the life of human effort and receives the life of trust, as a gift.
Where there is faith there is the work of the Spirit. Putting the emphasis on ourselves silences the Spirit and drives out humble service. As Luther expresses it, "The will is a beast of burden. If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills; Nor can it choose its rider...the riders contend for its possession." This month try thinking of yourself, not so much in charge of your life, but a steward of the life Jesus wants to live with you.
Dear Fool’s for Christ,
Did you know that many matters of our faith are not grounded specifically in faith? What I mean is that we have very good reason to believe as we do, not just faith! Even the existence of God, while not something that can be proved or disproved, is a very reasonable belief from the evidence we have. Even the idea that the universe had a beginning, points to the universe having someone begin it!
The same is true of Jesus resurrection from the dead. With or without faith, the most rational explanation for the particular testimonies about Jesus resurrection we have, is that it happened. Since Easter Sunday falls on April fool’s day it might be good to remind ourselves why we are not, as believers in the resurrection, fools.
We must remember that the resurrection is part of a larger work of God. It is the key moment in God’s relationship with creation. To create is part of God’s nature. To love is part of God’s nature. The result is that a process of self revelation takes place. Calling a people, Israel, into a relationship through which revelation could take place, was an excellent step. Entering into the creation to bring the relationship to a culmination is a reasonable fulfillment of that loving relationship.
Historical evidence is not as easy to assess as what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar, but the importance of historical events, like the signing of the declaration of independence, is of far greater importance. It would be strange that after Jesus crucifixion, and in the face of the threat of death to themselves, the disciples had started telling the most remarkable tale of Jesus resurrection, if it had not happened. All Peter had to do to save himself from his own crucifixion was say Jesus did not rise from the dead. Peter, who ran away from Jesus and denied even knowing him one day, and proclaimed him Lord and God three days later, was changed by something outside himself.
Paul went in a moment from being a persecutor of the church, to being a believer! In the 15th chapter of his first letter to (cont’d) Corinthians he attributed this change in all he believed to the last resurrection appearance of Jesus, given to him on the road to Damascus. But he admits, one testimony may not be enough for a skeptic, so he points to the more than 500 eye witnesses who would gladly tell of what they saw, go and ask them.
It’s true that not all the accounts of the resurrection agree. However, this is itself evidence of the truth of the resurrection. Consider for a moment, if the police interview several witnesses of an event and they all tell the same story, the conclusion is not that they are all telling the truth. The conclusion is that they have worked to get their story straight. In the early days of the church each Apostle and disciple went out spreading the word of Jesus life, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection, and it’s meaning. The faith grew up in many different communities spread from Spain back to Jerusalem. Then, as the witnesses began to die, it was necessary to write down what they had taught.
What is amazing is that even with some differences in details from one community to another, the central message of Jesus teaching, death, and resurrection, and what it means for us, held true across great distances and many cultures. And this at a time when to be a Christian meant dismissal from a job, confiscation of property, persecution, and very often martyrdom. Yes, we have very good reason to trust our lives to the God of Abraham, and of Jesus!
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Hitterdahl Lutheran Church