Monthly Archives: August 2016
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33
Praying for the Kingdom to come.
We’ve talked about God as Father – this heavenly Father – and what it means to make his name holy in our lives.
The focus of the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” thus far is about honouring and adoring this amazing God.
So close to us – yet so different and perfect – holy is the word we use.
The transition to the next concept may seem all too familiar to us. After all we can pray this prayer blindfolded and without really thinking about the words and their meaning.
- A Father, loving and faithful
- A holy God before whom we cry like Isaiah “woe is me” because we are unholy
- And now a KING.
Images of royalty – singing “God save our gracious Queen” – the idea of a King Charles verses a King William – all these come to mind.
And on Wednesday the world will think again of the tragic death of Princess Diana – and at the same time thinking people will wonder why people made so much fuss, when one considers aspects of her lifestyle.
The current Queen has a much greater sense of duty and decorum – of being worthy of the role she has faithfully carried out.
But what about God as King?
- If it’s his Kingdom we are to pray for – then he is the King.
- How do you feel about that?
When you wander into this place on Sunday (whether on time or not) – in the presence of the King – do you think our approach is worthy of his Kingly honour?
Or are we more like people in a shopping mall or a market? Just a thought.
And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently as his subjects.
John the Baptist, and Jesus, spoke about the Kingdom being near. For John the preparation required that people clean up their act. The axe was at the root of the tree – a symbol of judgement.
For Jesus – his ministry ushered in the Kingdom – which was effectively a declaration of war on the powers of darkness – sin, sickness, and sedition if you like. Sedition or revolution – the usurping of power – symbolised by Satan himself who rebelled and was cast out of heaven because his behaviour was not fitting for that holy place.
And Jesus spoke endlessly about this Kingdom – near us, within us, and described in the many parables as a new force with upside down qualities like the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest being servants of all.
If his Kingdom came in Christ – and we are to pray for it to come – we suddenly find ourselves with a different agenda – to line up our lives with the values and standards of this King.
And since the death and resurrection of Christ – and His exaltation – Jesus is the King – the one with the name that is above every other name – whom we worship and obey.(Philippians 2).
Praying for the Kingdom to come as Christians positions us differently – we are no longer self-serving. We serve Him. We obey Him.
And we do this until the end – whatever generation of Christians is around at the end. Paul gives us a glimpse of how this Kingdom will be wrapped up. Just as there is a succession process in the House of Windsor – there is one in heaven too.
Listen again: 1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1Co 15:24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
1Co 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently in the community of the Church
You have to read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians to understand the implications of Christ being King and head of the church.
We talk about his often – how we are members of His body – that each part matters – that all gifts are valuable – that we are to build each other up in love.
All we do here – the things we reflect on today in the AGM reports and plans for the future – are actually not about a club having a meeting to pat ourselves on the back each year – they are actually because we want to glorify the King, obey Him, and see his Kingdom touch the lives of others.
As we have said before – the church is the only organisation that exists for an invisible head and for it’s not-yet-members – whom we want to see enter into the life of the Kingdom of God.
And Christ is the head of the church. We have to be connected to Him. (And not like a headless chicken running around – they eventually fall over.)
All we do together and for each other – is to the glory of the King.
- Our first priority is always WORSHIP. As the shorter Westminster confession says in its very first question:
What is the chief end of man? (What is the main purpose of people?)
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
- And we have to listen to what he says. King Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim the gospel to everyone – here at home and beyond to every nation. PROCLAMATION.
- King Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and teach them to live by his teachings. DISCIPLESHIP.
- King Jesus gave us the new commandment to love each other – declaring that people would know we are his followers by our love. That’s what drives our pastoral care in our FELLOWSHIP. It’s not keeping members happy like a club. It’s care that is linked to DIAKONIA – ministry or service of those in need in the community too, the hungry, homeless, lonely and depressed.
PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –
- positions us differently in terms of our priorities in life.
At a basic level – He says
- “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33)
- When you pray say: “Your Kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)
And then we have the rest of our lives revisiting his teaching on the Kingdom.
He didn’t speak so much about the Kingdom for fun.
Just a couple of his declarations about the Kingdom for today:
- Joh_3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
- Mat_18:3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
- Mat_19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
- Luk_9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.
If we get out our bibles each week – and look for one parable or teaching on the Kingdom – perhaps we may begin to grasp the depth and width of what it’s all about.
We will surely see the difference. So will others.
For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?
READINGS: Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 6:5-9;
We spoke last week about intimacy – that close relationship Jesus had with his Father so that he could call him “Abba” – and how the Holy Spirit works in us so that we too can say “Abba, Father”. We talked about prayer – how important it is – because relationships require communication.
You know my favourite story about communication. A couple before a divorce court – and the judge wanted to know what the problem was. She complained that he seldom told her that he loved her. “Why not” said the judge. “It seems to me you do love your wife”. “Oh I can explain that” said the old codger. “When we were married I told her that I loved her – and I said to her that if I ever changed my mind, I would let her know”.
Women need to hear these things – and men need to say them. That’s free marriage advice today.
Our relationship with God requires communication. But as we made it clear last week, it’s not all about our wants – our shopping list prayers. It is a relationship that involves communication about Him. We need to tell God how much we love Him. How we feel about Him – and praise Him.
- We are children of a Father.
- But he is also the Heavenly Holy God.
Matthew emphasizes that – probably because of his Jewish audience. That positioning of God high above us together with the next line of the prayer create the other side of the swinging pendulum – the contrast.
This is a loving intimate Father – yes – but he is a heavenly – distant – and holy God.
Remember that the first petition of the prayer is “hallowed be thy name”.
You may remember last week that passage from Isaiah where the prophet prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down. In next verse he prays that God would come down and make his name known to his enemies and the nations.
The name of God for people of the Old Testament was revered – as someone pointed out during our discussions on the Lord’s Prayer – it’s held in great esteem as holy.
In itself it was unpronounceable. Too Holy to come out of the human mouth.
That’s why to this day orthodox Judaism uses the term HASHEM for God – meaning “the name” instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, the “I am” name revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Or “Adonai” meaning Lord. (“Jehovah” of course is the result of putting the vowels for Adonai over the word YHWH – the I am name.)
So the Lord’s prayer is in line with Jewish thought. God is above all others and all else – in heaven – and his name is to be hallowed.
Like a human father, there is the contrast.
One the one side there is this love for a child – wanting the very best for them – and on the other there is this disciplinarian who holds up super high standards for the children, and draws lines in the sand – forbids things and warns of consequences. And punishes in the hope that behaviour will change.
- On the one hand our human father is the dad who says Yes and spoils us. That’s grace and love. He wants us to do well.
- On the other hand, he is the dad who says No and punishes us. That’s about consequences. Standards. Rules. Values. The family name.
The child who knows how much her dad loves her, knows how angry he will become if she makes bad decisions that damage her.
God the Father is also the Holy God of judgement who loves us but hates evil – it’s a similar contrast.
And so we are to “hallow” God’s name – to honour and revere it.
- It’s really about adoration and praise.
- To honour his name is to give him the credit for who he is and what he has done.
- To focus on God rather than all other things.
Here’s the test question: What preoccupies you when you are in thought – wrestling with the things of life?
Tim Keller suggests this: what is always on your mind – that’s usually what you adore – what you love the most.
I was listening to a Brazilian Olympic athlete last night talking about her passion for running. How she thinks about it all the time. How it’s on her mind at night when she lies awake. She came from a very poor part of Rio. This is her passion.
The big question to answer today is about your passion – Is it God?
To hallow God’s name is to treat it as sacred and ultimate. There is no other word in English. We still use a very old English word.
This is about the most important, crucial, central thing in your life.
Keller talks about the “supreme beauty” in your life. For me it would be your greatest love.
- If God is all that to you, then you will be thinking about Him and his glory in your prayer time in your inner chamber.
- And during your spare time during the day.
- And when you lie on your bed at night. Reminds me of Psalm 63.
You see it in the life of David – a man after God’s own heart. In Psalm 63 for example:
Psa 63:1 A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psa 63:2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psa 63:3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. Psa 63:4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psa 63:5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psa 63:6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Psa 63:7 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
- What you do in secret tells you who your God is. It was William Temple who wrote – your religion is what you do in solitude.
- The primacy of praising and honouring God frames everything we do.
- What we day-dream about also speaks about who our God is.
And this loving Father who is also Holy and just is everything to us.
- Our Father – so merciful – look how low he comes, look at his compassion and love, how he wants my best, and yearns for my happiness.
- Who art in heaven – look how high he is – look at his glory – his majesty and holiness – his power – and his wrath against evil.
Like a pendulum – it swings as much both ways – the more you see his love – the more you see his greatness!
Tim Keller also says this – listen carefully to this:
- His fatherliness makes his heavenliness non-intimidating.
- His heavenliness makes his fatherliness not just comforting but absolutely liberating – he is all powerful to keep his promises.
It puts it all into perspective: Exo 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
And then the idols – those substitutes: Exo 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Exo 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, Exo 20:6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
And then the honour of His name: Exo 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
You can understand Isaiah then facing this vision of angels declaring, worshiping, honouring this holy, holy, holy God, declaring this in his prophecy:
Isa 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
His life is polluted by the rebellion of God’s people – compared to this holy God he is vile and polluted. But when you read on – he is cleansed and commissioned.
So are we. Not through a live coal but by the cross – the blood of Christ – his taking on himself as the lamb of God – our sins – and giving us the gift of righteousness and the right to be called his beloved children.
- Let’s really honour His name in our lives.
- Let’s give him the praise and glory and worship and honour that His due his wonderful name.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name!”
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:5-9;
How are you when it comes to intimacy? I’ve been reflecting on the word, and how different people see things differently when it comes to matchmaking. You get these programs on TV where people who don’t know each other are married off – and you wait to see whether the marriage will survive. There’s another program where they try to find the farmer a wife. Reminds me of the kids’ song we used to sing?
“The farmer in the dell.” It has a second verse: “The farmer takes a wife (x2) – Hey-ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife.” You may remember the verses. Farmer – wife- child – nurse – cow- dog – cat – mouse – cheese – the cheese stands alone at the end. It originated in Germany for what it’s worth.
It reminds me of the classic story about a farmer who was single and wanted a wife. The farmer put an ad in a newspaper that read: “Man, 35, wants woman about 25 with tractor. Send picture of tractor.”
Problem with intimacy it seems? Rather business like. Cerebral perhaps – all about thinking and planning and rationalising things. If I could just get a new tractor… Let me think…
Presbyterians are historically a rather cerebral lot. Intellect is really important. That’s why ministers are often trained to a level that defies common sense. University faculties sometimes get people thinking right out of their faith. But you can understand the commitment to training and knowledge. And nobody wants to base their faith on feelings.
You can’t base your marriage on feelings either. Yes I’m married, no I’m not… Best get the marriage certificate out as it states a fact!
Feelings and emotions change too much.
Intimacy is a little different though. It’s not necessarily driven by emotion – there is emotion involved but at its heart – I think – there is certainty and trust. A sense of safety and warm connection.
It’s right there in Jesus’ prayer life – in the calling of God “Father” or “Abba” which is almost like daddy. Most of the time its “Father”. Especially in John’s gospel where he uses the phrase repetitively.
And “Abba” – which twice is referred to in relationship to the Holy Spirit by Paul (in Galatians 4:6 which we read and the well-known Romans 8:15) – is used specifically by Jesus in Mark 14:36 when he prays in Gethsemane. At the toughest time of trial – he calls on Abba.
That has to be one of the most intimate prayer moments – facing the cup of suffering.You need to be close to God in a crisis!
When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – it begins with “Father” or “Our Father”. You saw the differences between Luke and Matthew’s record of this two weeks ago when we looked at the Lord’s prayer.
The idea of God as Father is not entirely new in the New Testament.
It does crop up in the Old Testament occasionally.
Isaiah 64 is a great example which we heard today.
It’s a famous passage used in prayers for revival and sermons about revival. That desire for God to really move in power to stir people up to repentance, faith and spiritual fervour and commitment.
Listen again: Isa 64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isa 64:2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!
What is the prophet seeking? The presence and power of God. He prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down and shake things up on earth.
In verse two he prays that God would come down and make his name known to enemies and nations.
And while Isaiah wrestles with this desire for God to tear open the heavens and make his presence and his name known, he recognises that it had happened before. Look at verse 3:
Isa 64:3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
And then there’s this wonderful expression of faith and hope: Isa 64:4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
Ring any bells? Paul quotes and expands this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where he writes in verses 9 and 10: 1Co 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—1Co 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Again it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who makes these things known to us.
There is a beauty and an intimacy in this expression of God’s love and promise for those who love him. What he has in store for us is beyond expectation entirely.
Paul captures some of this expectation in his doxology in Ephesians 3:
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Eph 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
The stumbling block in Isaiah’s time is the sin that separates people from God. He continues to wrestle with this in the next three verses:
Isa 64:5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? Isa 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isa 64:7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
A brother of mine walked into my office the other day – concerned that we might become over-confident in our own righteousness – rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ – and dumped a gift on my desk. Guess what it was? A really filthy rag. I think he had Isaiah 64:6 in mind.
HERE’S A QUESTION:
Are you not troubled today by the excess of sin and shameful behaviour in the world, the flagrant disregard for truth and justice?
Of course the difference is that Isaiah is praying about the people of God – who should have known better. There was a remnant seeking Him of course.
So – there is always hope. The passage ends with this beautiful line:
Isa 64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
So God as Father is not a new idea that Jesus invents.
But he does own it. And particularly in John’s gospel where there are more than a hundred occurrences.
SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS?
Following Jesus, knowing God as Father is really fundamental to our faith.
Some helpful suggestions.
- Don’t get your idea or picture of God muddied by any bad experience you may have had of a human father.
It’s a different thing. This is the Holy Father who is just, and has our best interests at heart.
When we let our image of a failed earthly father cloud our view of our Heavenly Father’s love and faithfulness, it can be a deception of the devil to blind us to the reality of this heavenly Father’s love and care for us. The devil is the father of lies remember. (John 8:44)
- Focus on your communication with this Father. Prayer is everything.
The context of Jesus’ teaching on this prayer pattern – which is not really the Lord’s prayer but the believers’ prayer – people praying out loud in the synagogue, and later pagans and their long-winded prayers.
Listen again: Mat 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.Mat 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
This room – or closet – is really an inner room. The point is that intimacy is not meant for the public eye. And there is a huge difference between public prayer and private prayer. When you lead people in prayer – you take them into the presence of God and help them with key points to focus on.It’s not about you – but it’s all about all of us.
When you pray on your own – while you can’t avoid praying for everyone else – you can spill your guts – open your heart – and really tell your Father how you feel.
- You can ask God all the hard questions.
- You can say it like it is.
- And you can balance the hard questions with counting your blessings and thanksgiving and gratitude.
But don’t stay there – focusing only on the hard questions. Because your loving heavenly Father really wants to embrace you. Wait on God. Be still in His presence.
Let God speak to you. Through intuitive thoughts – through ideas he pops in your mind – and especially through the bible.
And look at the second part of verse 6 again: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
What an interesting line. We kind of avoid the notion of reward. We are allergic to any idea that suggests we earn salvation or God’s love.
That truth remains. We don’t earn salvation. You can’t buy it through years of service.
But it is God’s nature to want to bless us as His children. He rewards us with a greater sense of faith and certainty, confidence and courage – and an overwhelming sense of being loved and safe in His hands.
Those private times of prayer are important. It has been suggested that you find a place – and have a notebook with your bible. The notebook is to write down thoughts and ideas you get – but also you need a separate column for when you have distractions – like things to do – jot them down separately and put them aside.
Focus on God’s presence. And a prayer book is helpful too. The NZ Anglican prayer book has daily prayers for each morning and evening.
These help us focus. There are other prayer aids. And listening to hymns and worship songs helps us focus on the Lord too.
In Matthew 6 Jesus continues: Mat 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Mat 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
You don’t need to go on and on. Don’t babble like pagans! That’s pretty direct isn’t it?
Don’t be like them.
This is your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him.
Watch out for the long shopping list. He knows.
In a close relationship you can also sit in silence.
Sometimes all you have to do is groan. Do you remember that passage from Romans 8 – a few verses after the Abba Father verse (v15)? Listen to it again:
Rom 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
We groan in despair at fallen world and long for the new creation – we experience the firstfruits and long for the completion of the new creation. We have this taste of the perfection to come.
We have our new status now – but the full inheritance as sons is yet to come.
I want to end with an old story – forgive me if you’ve heard it before – but it really is helpful to explain what is yet to come. It’s called “The Fork”.
There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.
“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of Heaven than most Christians did.
She KNEW that something better was coming.
At her funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favourite Bible, and the fork placed in her right hand.
Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?”
And over and over he smiled.
During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT NOW
Remember John 14 J Jesus speaking to them before his death: Joh 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Joh 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
We can be really intimate with the Father now – and the place where we will end up is the Father’s house.
When you pray – start with “Father” or “our Father”. And stay with Him. Remain with Him.As a child is safe in His father’s presence.
Hold onto that truth every moment of the day. It defines who we are and what we will become.
Thank you Father.