Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God's wisdom, God's strength... healing words

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
- 1 Corinthians 1:25-27

Once again I was struck by God's grace as I opened up my Sojourners verse and voice email devotion this morning.  I have what you might call a bipolar ego... it swings from the pits of feeling totally worthless and useless and moments of the height of pride and arrogance.  The verse for the day was 1 Corinthians 1:25-27 and it spoke healing words into my life.

New Zealand humour has a tendency to be self deprecating and one of my stock standard jokes on myself is that 'One of the sure signs that the Presbyterian Church is in trouble, is that they accepted me for the ministry... that's desperation'. Its not really putting myself down it's rather the lamenting that we don't have the (sorry to my colleagues here) top flight pick of the bunch people lining up to take on ministry and leadership, like we tell ourselves we used to in our idealised past.

However it is good to be reminded as I was today with 1 Corinthians 1:25-27 of the reality that it is God's calling and God's choosing (hmm you'd think with my reformed background that it would be hard not to focus on such things). While it is all about our calling to be God's people it spoke to me about calling to ministry... It is all about God's wisdom and God's strength, not mine. That's not a cop out that does not mean we don't work hard at upskilling and growing, but in the end there is a reliance on God's wisdom and God's strength...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Don't often just flick up music vid's up on my blog... but really found myself enjoying and appreciating Micheal Gungor's music recently.

Love his rendition of 'Doxology' it take a well known tune and sacred song and makes it something new. Great guitar work as well.

'Praise God from whom all blessings flow'

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trusting God With Our Failings and our Future... A Journey to the Heart of Prayer: exploring the Lord's Prayer (part 5)

Louie Zamperini  came seventh in the 5000 meters final  at the 1936 Olympic games …. Before the heats in the Olympics he had only run the distance four times, the fourth to qualify for the US Olympic team at 19 years of age. But the mile was his specialist event and while we will never know sports commentators suggest if it were not for the Second World War Zamperini would have been the first to break the four minute mile.

Zamperini’s life was changed by the war. He was a bombardier flying B-24 liberators in the pacific. In April 1942 his plane crashed in to the ocean and Zamperini and two others were the only survivors.  They were adrift for 48 days in shark infested waters, surviving off rain water and catching the occasional fish and seabird. After one of the three died they eventually washed up on a Japanese occupied Island and were taken prisoner.

 The island they were held on was called ‘annihilation island’ as no POW’s held on the Island survived except for Zamperini and his companion. Zamperini was famous and was considered of propaganda value. He was beaten, mistreated and starved and eventually shipped off to POW camps in Japan. Again he was mistreated and abused, beaten, starved, forced into slave labour. One Guard nick named the ‘Bird’ known for his sadistic cruelty took an instant dislike to Zamperini and made his life hell trying to break his will. Zamperini again survived.

He returned to the US after the war as a hero and began his life again, he met Cynthia Applewhite and they were married. He took up running, but an injury caused by a beating by the bird bought it to an end just as he was beginning to get back to some form. While to the outside world Zamperini looked like his life was together. His dreams were haunted by  the savage beatings he had received from the Bird. He was an alcoholic and his marriage was falling apart. Zamperini ‘s thoughts turned to  going back to Japan to kill the guards who had mistreated him so much. In desperation Cynthia convinced him to go to a Billy Graham tent crusade. Over two nights of struggle Zamperini finally encountered God. He went home and poured all his alcohol down the drain and from that time on never had another nightmare.


However he knew that he had to go back to Japan, not to kill his tormentors but to forgive them. In 1952 he did just that and was graciously allowed to address war criminals held in prison. He told them he forgave them. AS he looked out over the people there he was saddened to see that the Bird was not amongst them. The Bird had escaped capture and remained a fugitive till the Japanese pardoned all outstanding war criminals. Zamperini was invited to take part in the torch relay for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano one of five Olympic torch relays he has been part of,  and hoped to meet the bird… Who at the last minute refused.  Zamperini wrote him a letter…

Which said… Well its best if we let Louie himself read this letter…


… Zamperini dedicated most of his life to his family and the Victory Boys Camp helping at risk boys and young men get sorted. today he is a vibrant 96 year old with an infectious faith.

His story is profound and such a great illustration of the last two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ and lead us not into to temptation, but deliver us from tell you the truth it’s such a great illustration that I have spent most of the week wrestling with how to move on from Zamperini’s story, how to explore these petition as they apply to our lives.  Mark Woodley is helpful when he confesses with totally honesty ‘It’s tough to make it through the day without at least one battle with failure, resentment or temptation.’  He goes on to say ‘By telling us to pray about these utterly human struggles Jesus walks with us in our daily lives.’


The Lord’s prayer starts with focusing us on God Our heavenly father. We say Hallowed be your name,Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ and as we turn to the second half the focus is on the process of making that a reality in how we live. Give us today our daily bread is a prayer of trust, it means that we are asking God to provide for our needs so that we can focus on the God stuff, as we’ll see as we move on in the Sermon on the Mount, when it comes to economics Jesus will say why worry about what you will eat and what you will wear, rather put first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and these things will be added unto you. We can trust God with those things because Our Heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask him.


Moving on we see that God is giving us a way to deal with the places and times  in our lives, community and world where God’s name is not hallowed, or where his will is not done. That firstly we can have those things forgiven, the slate whipped clean and secondly that God will protect us and guide us in times when we are tempted and attacked by evil.


 ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ uses the metaphor of owing money to talk about sin and forgiveness, it’s one that Jesus often uses, it’s at the core of the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18 that we had read out to us this morning. It’s one I think we understand. We understand that there is a moral obligation to make amends for what we owe. There is also a consequence for not doing so. In the ancient near east it was imprisonment till you could pay or being sold into slavery to make amends. There were only two possible avenues for hope. The first was that the debt would be forgiven, Jesus tells us that we should ask God to forgive our debt, and the second was that you would be redeemed. A kind kinsman would come and pay your debt for you, would buy back your freedom. This also is a a metaphor of God’s grace, that in his death on the cross Christ paid the price, Christ is the kind kinsman who buys us free. To pray forgive us our debts is to be free from our failings and wrong in the past, free to live now in a manner that honours God’s name and expresses God’s reign and does God’s will.

But in this line from the Lord’s Prayer it seems like there is a catch, it seems like there is a clause, something in the small print, that our forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving others. In fact after the Lord’s Prayer Jesus seems to reinforce this in verse 16 and 17. It can look like we have to earn our forgiveness. Yes we are to forgive others but as a way of obtaining our forgiveness rather as an outworking of it.

 In the parable of the ungrateful servant, we are supposed to amazed by two things, firstly the generosity of the king for forgiving a personal debt of astronomical proportions, and secondly in light of being shown such an amazing amount of grace that the ungrateful servant should not even forgive his fellow servant the lazy twenty he borrowed the other week. John Stott puts it like this ‘ God’s forgiveness is not earned rather God only forgives the penitent and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is the forgiving spirit’ NT Wright is even more succinct ‘the heart that forgives will be open to the forgiveness of God’.  Zamperini was so filled with grace at his life being restored that his heart was open to forgive the people who had subjected him to the worst of inhumanity.


 ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’…

While I would like to think that this is a prayer that we would not face difficulties or suffering in life, that does not ring true. Scholars wrestle with the translation of this last petition, as it seems incongruous to think that God would lead us into temptation, as it says in the book of James, that when we are tempted we should not say God is tempting me. It has been translated lead us not to the time of trial but even that is problematic as again in James we are told that we should count it all joy when we face trials of all kinds, as it leads to perseverance which leads to a perfecting and maturing of our faith. And evil can be translated either just evil or the evil one. Rather this final petition is an placing of our future into Gods hands and grace. It is asking God to protect us and help us to not continue to live in ways that dishonour God’s name that run counter to his kingdom. In the good times abut also in the difficult and trying times. In both we look for Gods leading, guiding and protection.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that the church needs to rediscover the Psalms as Jesus prayer book and in his commentary on the Psalms Martin Luther says that the Lord’s Prayer is saturated in the psalms. In this petition we see the wonderful assurance of David in Psalm 23 ‘even thou I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me’. We see the reorientation of the laments as the psalmists wrestle with times when  it seem that God has abandoned them and yet they come to a place of trust that God will lead and guide that God will preserve them even in the midst of their enemies. I took the service at Ed Hillary retirement village the other week and preached on Psalm 139 and this petition could easily be summed up with the positive ‘search me O God and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting’.


Recently, God’s surprised me in two ways… the first was by a library book jumping off the shelf at me. No it wasn’t an earthquake, it was through the prompting of a still small voice. The book was ‘Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, I recommend it to everyone... and I’m sorry I’ve probably done a bit of a spoiler for you, because it is the story of Louie Zamperini. I wasn’t aware that he was a Christian; it just gripped me as a ripping yard of survival. But as I read it I became aware that at key moments in Louie’s story there were God moments, the pilot shot down with him was the son of a Methodist minister and would sing hymns on the life raft and lead Louie in prayers, a Christian guard on annihilation Island saved his life by protecting him and giving him an extra bit of food when he could. And I found myself crying at the way God reached into Louie’s life with grace through Billy Grahame and just the well spring of grace as he forgave his tormentors. ' I found it inspirational... Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.


The second time was in my inbox through a regular devotion I get sent from sojourners; just a bible verse, a relevant quote and a prayer.  I’ve been preoccupied with my mortality. I know it seems a bit dramatic, but this blocked arteries thing has got me thinking about life and death. It’s been great how people have let me know that they are praying for me, and I’ve had people ring me up and even drop in and see me to reassure me that having stents in is a rather usual procedure these days. Even by passes are. And I’ve appreciated that encouragement.  But you know you still go through asking the big questions about life and worrying, I’ve even wondered if God was on the case. On Wednesday as I opened up my email devotion and realised that God was indeed at work… the bible passage was Romans 12:12… Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. The quote was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together. ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’

Friday, September 21, 2012


This book "unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand found me. It jumped off the library shelves and said read me. I finished it with tears in my eyes at the amazing story Louie Zamperini is one of human resilience and the power of God's grace.  It's well worth a read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Heartening Bible Verse and Voice.

I must say there are times when I am surprised by the presence and the goodness of God. I'm on the waiting list for an operation to unblock arteries round my heart (In New Zealand we have a wonderful but full Public Health System) and to be honest it is rather unsettling.

To use a roading metaphor they have decided to repave my arteries rather than by pass, and it is thee days a very common and easy operation, done under a local anesthetic rather even! But I have found myself worried and anxious about stuff and asking myself questions about life... as you do.What  have I actually achieved in life and is what I devote time and energy to really worth it?

Back to the being surprised by God. Today I opened up my daily verse and voice email from Sojourners and encountered encouragement from two trusted sources. From  St Paul in his letter to the Romans... for me scripture is a very trusted source, and from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
- Romans 12:12

It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
While I'm not sure I'll be going as far as inking the verse on my skin (I'm a hairy old beast, and old, so it wouldn't look that good) but it is etched on my heart as a sign of God's love and care.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Waiting on the Lord in My Heart,Waiting Lists With My Heart

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I have found myself  thinking of this passage more and more over recent weeks. At the beginning of the year I went to my doctor complaining about shortness of breath when I'm out exercising. It was starting to get embarrassing to have to ask a younger companion 'to stop for a few minutes so I could sort myself out'... at the same time I also changed job and moved from trying to plant a church amongst university students to a suburban church that was struggling to stay afloat... from the frying pan into the fire.

Well I started the new position with great enthusiasm, as in the midst of grieving the end of the church plant endeavour I felt that God had called us to St Peter's... Being a diabetic my doctor decided not to take any risks and put me on the waiting list for an appointment at the heart specialists... Being New Zealand we have a very good public health system. So last month I get an appointment and after being told that nothing looked wrong but they would put me on the treadmill test, I thought OK I've just let my fitness levels fall to much.

Six minutes into the treadmill test and the technician asks me if I'm having chest pains!!! No I say. The tread mill test is terminated I'm advised to lie down and there is a hurried call for the specialist. I'm put on the waiting list for an angiogram... He also put me on beta blockers!!!  in two weeks I get a call and I'm squeezed in because of  a cancellation. Seems I've got a blocked artery round my heart and two arteries with significant thinning... "I'm in the grey area," says the surgeon, "between needing a bypass and being able to be fixed by using stents". 

So at the moment I'm in a holding pattern they've told me they are going to put stents in... great... less intrusive, less down time... But I'm on the waiting list once again. I'm finding that between the plumbing blockages and the beta blockers that slows the heart down I'm exhausted at the end of the day... and I can't really go ask my doctor to take me off the meds so I can work longer hours. So I'm waiting (my in, non PC, joke at the moment to people who ask how I am is that they have decided to treat me using Chinese medicine... wai  ting list).

I love my family and I know they are concerned for me, it has been hard since they found out having to put up with them telling me that I should let them do more for me. I was told not to run a marathon and not to lift heavy weights.. and while I immediately cancelled my involvement in an Iron man and the Oceania power lifting championships (joke) I am having debates with my wife and kids over what constitutes too much exercise and too heavy a weight to lift. The scary thing is sometimes they are right... bother.

So Isaiah 40 is on my mind a lot these days, the realisation that in actual fact God is sovereign (my reformed tradition kicks in here) and it is God that I have to rely on day after day for my daily energy quota and also long term to work in my life through prayer and the wonderful yet full public health system here in NZ and the wonders of scientific break through .

I even accept the mild rebuke of being asked " do you think I'm not on the job, Carter?" (sorry NZ boys school system authority figures always use your last name). Long term its more lifestyle changes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread ... between a disinterested diety and Jesus in my Back pocket...A Jounrey to the Heart of Prayer: Exploring the Lord's Prayer (part 4) Matthew 6:7-15, Psalm 31)

Is God really concerned about our lives… about the mundane day to day struggles we face? Putting food on the table; keeping a roof over our heads. Our ups and downs be they bumps and dips or tsunami like waves. Or Is God distant and disinterested? Sometimes it feels like that, even the psalmists wondered if God was on the job or at home with his feet up in front of the telle.


 Is God more concerned with the big issues, the global things, consumed with ‘land rights for gay whales in a nuclear free pacific’ than what is happening to me and you here and now, please I’m not trying to trivialise any of those causes, but you know what I mean. God are you here do you care?


Or maybe we think we’ve got God just where we want him! Rock band Depeche Mode wrote a song called ‘Your own Personal Jesus’ which talks of having someone who is there to meet all our needs, who is always there at the other end of the phone when we are alone, at our beck and call. It picks up the idea of God as being there primarily to meet our individual needs. It’s a song that’s been interpreted in different ways It’s been covered by Marilyn Manson, with a mocking tone, as a critique of religion as a crutch, a critique we have to hear by the way. It’s also been covered by Johnny Cash, and in the shaky voice of man who has been through so much and found faith in Jesus it is a song of trust and dependence.


But is God just some sort of cosmic help line and get out of Jail free card? The plastic buddy Jesus of the film Dogma, Sometimes I find myself wrestling with that, sometimes I wonder if we don’t treat prayer like that…like on line shopping…at the push of a button… at the bend of a knee.. And get disappointed when we don’t get the quick fix, the instant answer, the package in the post.


In the midst of that the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus pattern for prayer. It addresses both extremes.. It tells us God cares and hears, Christian prayer is not about saying the right words to try and get the attention of a preoccupied God, A Heavenly father with his head stuck in the paper. It is not like the bureaucracies and institutions in our world where it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. In Luke 18 to encourage us to pray in all circumstances Jesus tells the unlikely story of an unjust judge who only answers a widow’s plea because he is worn out by her constant demand to be heard. Jesus says God doesn’t need the constant phone messages, the email after email, txt bombing, the incessant knocking on the door, he is totally the opposite from the unjust judge, we can trust God because ‘Our  Father knows our needs even before we ask him.” Therefore pray. We have that relationship with God as a caring tender-hearted parent.


Jesus prayer also stops it being all about our needs… it stops prayer being self-centred. It sets priorities for our prayers and our lives, by putting the ‘your’ in front of the ‘Our’. ‘Hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then and only then it moves to our daily bread, forgive our sins, hold our lives in your hands… lead us not to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil. As I said last week we can spend the hours on the ours, but when we pause and focus on the yours it is put into perspective. The concerns we have don’t lessen but we can bring them to God in the sure knowledge of who God is and his plans and purposes for our world, which are for good not for harm.


We looked at the “your” last week and this week we are going to start looking at the “Our” petitions mainly Give us today our daily bread.


 “Give us today our daily bread’ is such an amazing shift in the Lord’s Prayer from Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven that early biblical scholars thought that Jesus must have been speaking in some sort of code, that when he said bread it was a metaphor for the ‘word of God’ for our spiritual needs.  It seemed an unbelievable leap from global mission to tummy rumbling. But the radical thing is that here we are invited to bring our basic needs for daily existence before God, God really cares about those things we can pray trusting that God will meet those needs. Yes in his temptation in Luke’s gospel Jesus had said man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ but the reality is we can trust God with both, we can trust God with what we need for life. We need the daily bread for our bodies and like the well-known devotional book “Daily bread” reminds us for our soul.


Give us today… I don’t know about you but I often want to jump straight to the bread part, it’s like walking past a bakery and you have this instantaneous response to the smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven… in fact I was disappointed to discover recently that some fast food restaurants use chemical agents to reproduce that smell to entice people into their stores and make them hungry… when it comes to bread it’s not a conscious coherent thought it’s a mouth-watering, sensory overload gut reaction kind of thing. We can miss he give us today…But the word used for today in the Lord’s Prayer in Greek is such a rare word that it makes biblical scholars and should make us stop to ponder what Jesus is meaning here. It could mean ‘this day’ or ‘the next day’.  Big deal I hear you say. I think it’s quite profound…Jewish men were encouraged to pray three times a day, at dawn mid-day and the end of the day. Jesus prayer here would fit in any of these.


As a Morning Prayer and noon day prayer it has the day we are in in mind in the evening which for the Jews was the start of their day, it is going to bed trusting God for tomorrow. To pray give us today, does two things, it’s an acknowledgement that our times are in God’s hands that each day is a gift from God. It also invites us to trust God for the day the Lord has given us…and as we end the day to hand over to God all the concerns and worries we have for the future and be able to rest in that.


Now that’s easy to say and I don’t know about you but I often lie awake concerned about things… or wake up concerned about them in the middle of the night… in praying Give us today this daily bread Jesus invites us to give those things over to him. Invite us to trust him even with the big things that might loom over us and be like a blanket shrouding the future as far as we can see. But you know we are going to have to deal with them one day at a time, one step at a time. We can trust God to provide what we need on that journey every step of the way, every day on the way.


Bread… In our supermarket shopping well stocked shelves, full freezers and cupboards, suburban lifestyle we might not connect as readily with what Jesus is saying. In Jesus day in first century Palestine poverty was rife, people lived hand to mouth, much of their time was spent working to simply get bread to eat that day. You couldn’t simply put a couple of loaves in the freezer for latter in the week. Also for Jesus original listeners there was the common history of remembering back to their ancestors in the wilderness when God had provided for his people a daily portion of manna, bread that except for the Sabbath would not last from one day to the next that could not be horded. They remembered as a people they were actually dependant on God each day for their existence.

And to pray for our daily bread is to acknowledge our dependence on God today for the basics of life, to bring those things to him and know he cares about them and to live in an attitude of thanksgiving that God provides. We can forget that bread does not just come pre-cut and readily wrapped. God provides the sun and the rain, the soil and those who toil, to grow food, the seed and the stead for ploughing and planting, the skill of the baker or the recipe for the bread maker, he give us the gifts, abilities and opportunities to earn a crust, it seems like we do all the work, but it is dependent on the goodness and grace of God.


The challenge of bread is also that we often get our needs and wants confused. We are used to a world where we are constantly bombarded with luxury items being must haves, can’t live withouts, and praying for our daily bread brings us down to focusing on what is essential for us. It stops prayer being the spiritualised wish list in our consumer society. It’s a call to be satisfied with a simpler lifestyle. The answer to commercials on the TV is quite simply ‘Give us today our daily bread’.


 “Our” daily bread also stops even this prayer trusting God for the basics of life from becoming self-centred. We are part of a collective humanity that looks to God, it’s creator, for its daily food… It deflects the dig of the ‘own personal Jesus’ because it connects us with people round the world and challenges us to pray alongside the poor. In coming straight after ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ it calls us to be part of God’s answer to our own prayer. Sharing what we have, standing against the injustices and evils in the world that would deprive people of these basics. We know its God’s will that people should be feed and cared for, for justice in the world. In Matthew 9 Jesus sees the crowds coming to him and has compassion on them and calls his disciples to pray for them. “the harvest is plentiful’ says Jesus and the workers are few, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers’. In our bibles there is a chapter break just then and we miss the flow of the story: that in response to this call to pray Jesus sends out his followers on a short term mission trip, to proclaim ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ and heal the sick and set those oppressed by demons free. It’s the same with praying for our daily food, as we bring that request to God we are to realise that we are part of the answer.

Praying this prayer has wider ethical considerations. It invites us to consider fair trade; am I getting my daily bread at the expense of someone else’s? Is it sustainable? Is it just for multinational corporations to have a monopoly on food production… Does the focus on today and my daily food mean we don’t think about the long term effects of food production and land use for the future?. After the Lord’s Pray in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus moves on to economics, in that he echoes what is in the Lord’s prayer… he says put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these will be added to you’… trusting God with our daily bread, liberates us to be about the God stuff, Kingdom of God stuff… Salvation and transformation.  

Give us today our daily bread… can I sum it up by saying God cares for us…

People God cares for you… he can be trusted with the big things, the global things, and with the small things… the everyday things of life… God cares for you… this prayer is for you… give us today our daily bread is an assurance that God is willing and able to provide our daily needs… In fact as we pray that it helps us to see God’s hand not always in the miraculous but even in the mundane. At this time of year I grumble about rain and sunshine because the grass grows too fast, but it’s part of God’s provision… the big theological word is it’s God’s prevenient grace.. it’s providence…God cares

People God cares for you… He can be trusted with all the things of life. It’s liberating to know that… in his first letter to the churches spread throughout Asia minor Peter will say Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you’… Psalm 31 is one of my favourite psalms. It picks up the wrestle we have with trouble in our lives. It swings from great heights of praise and thanks to God down to feelings of complete despair… the psalmist says ‘Your my refuge but I feel like refuse’, all the stuff that’s on my plate makes me feel like broken pottery… I can identify with that…can you… but it ends as a prayer of simple trust of simple trust in God… The trust that under pins the prayer for daily bread… God cares for us.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Journey to change and Transformation on a Journey to The Heart Of Prayer: Exploring the Lord's Prayer Part 3 (Matthew 6:7-15)

One of the places we went to when we moved up to Auckland was the zoo, we’d seen that the tigers had had cubs and well Beth aka ‘The crazy cat lady’ wanted to go and see them. It was great watching the cubs frolic and play. The cubs played rough and tumble with each other,they even had a large teddy bear in the cage which by its batted appearance was a favourite toy… I hadn’t been to the zoo for a while and the enclousures for the animals were so much better than I remembered as a kid, more room, more stuff to keep the animals occupied. But I couldn’t help feeling sad when I saw mum and dad tiger pace up and down those magnificent beasts were caged up. It’s not that they had been domesticated, I’m sure if you’d tried to reach in and scratch them under the chin, they would of let you know they were still wild at heart, but they were caged, yes sadly for the protection of their species, but still caged. I couldn’t help but think that we often treat the Lord’s Prayer like that as well. We’ve kind of domesticated it, it’s become something that we’ve locked into our liturgy and we can say it without thinking but in actual fact it’s a dangerous and wild prayer. A Journey to the heart of Prayer, is a journey of unchaining this prayer Jesus taught us to allow it to bring change and transformation in us and our world, as we bring those things to Our Heavenly Father.


Leon Morris says “this is a prayer for the desperate,” Those who know their spiritual poverty who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” who recognise that this world is not as it should be at all and only God can set things right”…a Prayer that says

” God By Your name and in your character,
by your holiness, in your perfects way,
repair the world.
Take all the broken things and fix them.
Take every out of joint thing and set it in its proper place.
Take all the ugly things and make them Beautiful,
Take every tragic tale and weave it into a redemption story,
As you manifest your ultimate kingdom glory now.”

A prayer that a Chinese Christian has summed up Thy Kingdom come…start the work in me’… renew your world and start the work in me.” The journey to the heart of prayer is a journey to change and transformation.


The first transformation in praying the Lord’s Prayer is a simple one on the face of it but a powerful one at its heart. It’s a change of one letter.  That it changes our focus to ‘your’ not ‘our’. After we start the prayer with affirming relationship with God is based on God’s Fatherly love, the focus is on God first and foremost, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done. Then we have the “ours”, ‘our daily bread’, ‘forgive our sins’, ‘our future’… ‘lead us not into the time of trial deliver us from evil’. These ours are the things that can consume our hours but they come into perspective when we  pause and focus on the “yours”. In light of who God is, what we know of God’s kingdom and his will we are able to be at rest and trust God for the rest… as Jesus will say later in the Sermon on the Mount when he gets down the brass tacks and dollar bills of economics.. why worry about what you will eat and what you will wear… rather put first the Kingdom of heaven and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”… your Father knows what you need even before you ask him… Therefore pray.


 Now there is an old clique, an old joke that I wasn’t going to share about the rather archaic use of language “hallowed be your name” … which threw me a curve ball this week. We don’t use the word ‘hallowed’ in our regular language anymore. In fact as a passive tense of the word to make holy it is a rarity. It means to take the ordinary and turn it into something holy or consecrate or give reverence to. We can’t make God holy, we are praying that God would be treated and revered for who he is. The old joke of course is that many people go through life thinking that God’s real name, God’s first name at least is Harold. ‘Harold be your name’ it gets a giggle from preachers who resort to it from time to time. But it came home to me in a new way this week when I read a book where because of the English accent used they said ‘Howard be your name”. wow… now that’s not me being egotistical but it made me think… Do I live in a way in all my life that revers God, that seek God’s kingdom, that desires to do God’s will. John Stott puts it like this “ we are under pressure to conform to our self-centered society, with its emphasis on our own names, our own little empires our own silly little will.”


To Pray Hallowed be thy name’ is to focus on reverencing God.  We often ask the question, what’s in a name? and in the ancient near east, in biblical times when you spoke of someone’s name you were summing up their whole character. To honour God’s name is to honour the whole of who God is. EM Blaiklock says it calls us first and foremost for gratitude and worship. The Lord’s Prayer starts with praise, it starts with us acknowledging the goodness and greatness of God.


 William Barkley says we so that in two ways. The first is in having a totally Christian doctrine. That we grasp something of the whole character of God…We can believe in God and many people do, James 2:19 tells us that even the demons believe that there is one God, but it is that we comprehend the whole revelation of God. Of course we have that only in Christ, through the cross. It’s why doctrine, our theology is important.


The second is that we honour God in how we live. Not only in our words but in our hearts and in how we live that out in our lives. In his catechism Martin Luther puts it like this ‘How is God’s name Hallowed amongst us?-when our lives and doctrine and truly Christian.”


We are very used to thinking of kingdoms as like nation states, that it has to do with territory, while the map may change with great rapidity in our fluid world, in the ancient near east kingdoms were seen not necessarily as a fixed territory but where a certain king held sway, where that King ruled. To Pray thy kingdom come is to pray that the rule of God might break more and more into the Kingdom of humanity. In Hebrew poetry it is not always about rhyming lines but rather rhyming ideas, parallels that help us understand meaning… So here Jesus helps us understand what “thy Kingdom comes” mean by saying “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven scripture tells us is the realm where God rules, and Jesus had talked about in a new and different way establishing the kingdom of heaven as Matthew says or the kingdom of God as the other gospels record it here in the realms of humanity. The prayer is that God might rule in this place.


It has a personal element, as we accept Jesus as our Lord and saviour our king our prayer is that God’s rule and God’s will may be done in our lives. To pray this prayer is also a call to confession and repentance to pray that in our lives, our work place, our thought life our use of money, our relationships everything would be committed to Christ. It’s an on-going process, the big word is sanctification, we often think of conversation as a one off event but it is the continued process of opening ourselves up to knowing who God is and what God’s will is and allowing that to shine its light in every corner of our lives.


I have heard it put like this imagine your life is a house, the process of praying thy kingdom come in our own lifes is the process of inviting Jesus into the various rooms of our house. Maybe we just let him into the living area, where we have the public space. What about the bedroom, the place where you keep the dirty laundry. You may think that the kitchen is a safe place to invite Jesus to be the boss, can I tell you one of the most challenging verses in life over recent years has been Isaiah 55:1-2 why spend money on food that will not satisfy” handing my whole eating regime over to God. When you think that this prayer also transcends the personal to the societal and the global, how can we consume so much of the world’s food resources when we know that God’s will is that the poor are fed.


If you are more in to cars than houses…To pray this prayer on a personal level is to drop a ‘u’-ie. To repent, which means like a handbreak turn to stop going our way to go your way O God. I find great comfort in the honesty of heros of the faith like Paul who in romans speaks of the great wrestling match that goes on not on his pay for view sports channel on his 50inch plasma but in the recesses of his own heart, between his old nature and the new nature, that seeks to follow Christ.


It not only calls us to worship and to confession but also to action… It’s also a prayer as we mentioned before about changing the world we live in, at a societal level. I am encouraged and challenged by the words of William Wilberforce. He summed up God’s call on his life as “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” The second part may seem a bit archaic to us but the scope of which Wilberforce’s reforms carried, he and his cohorts not only stopped the slave trade, they founded the RSPCA, for the humane treatment of animals, school reforms, prison reforms work reforms, they were instrumental in establishing the bible society… I could go on. There Christian faith caused them to see the world’s ills and to act to bring transformation. It not only calls us to see people become followers of Jesus, spreading his kingdom to others, and we know that that is God’s will in 1 Timothy Paul encourages God’s people to pray because God wants all people to come to a saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. But also to bring change in the world we see around us. Prayer is action Mother Teresa called her order of nuns a contemplative order which surprised many people, an order dedicated to pray, she said that they gathered to meditate on the face of Jesus and then would go out to see the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor and the dying in the streets of the Mumbai.


We  often pray ‘thy will be done’ as a sort of cope out, usually when we are praying for a situation we use it as an out clause for God. We understand if the answer is no God, we accept that this is your will. We think that the will of God is a hidden thing, a mystery, can I just say that God has revealed his will to us through scripture and through Jesus and calls us out into the world to do that.


In the end thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ are a catch cry for action in this world but also a cry for the future, knowing that God kingdom has been established in Jesus, knowing that God’s will has been revelled to us and also knowing that they will only be consummated, made perfect when Christ returns again. Until then we are called to wait. Not a passive thing but rather a call to pray. To worship, confess, bring the world before its God and to see where God is at work in the world and go and be part of that.


You know I often find myself wondering what to do with my hands when I pray. I don’t know if you noticed the motif in most of the slides we used in our service today was hands, hands held out in prayer, in worship, holding the scriptures to seek to know God and his revealed will more and reaching out in action… The Lord’s prayer calls us to all these postures in our lives. The Lord’s Prayer as I said before is dangerous and wild it cannot be tamed, or domesticated. It is a call to change and transformation. NT Wright says to pray


 ‘Thy kingdom come is seeing the world in binocular vision. To see it with the love of the creator for its spectacular beauty, and see it for the battered and battle scared state in which the world now finds itself. Put those two together and bring the binocular picture into focus, the love and the grief join into the Jesus shape, the Kingdom shape, the shape of the Cross’.