What about Bob? But what about the Lord’s prayer too?

Yesterday we had our community group lunch followed by our “prayer and study time.” Nothing too abnormal about that. But this time we spent some time going through the Lord’s Prayer. In my sermon, “Living on a Prayer,” I pointed out that the early church was committed to “the prayers,” which indicates some sort of recorded prayers that were already in use. One such prayer is the Lord’s prayer, which apparently spread fairly quickly since archaeologists discovered inscriptions as far back as Pompeii (79 AD). So Jesus seemed to like it, the early church used it, I learned how to use it as a prayer guide in seminary with Steve Childers, Harbor’s core group used it as a pattern prayer when we started Harbor. It was time to bring it back.

You can pray in all kinds of ways. The Praying Life by Paul Miller was helpful in me really understanding that. But life, along with reading the bible and seeing prayers of praise, lament, confession, thanksgiving kind of makes me want to pray in all kinds of ways. My normal default mode is what I call “What About Bob” prayers. I’ve taken that from the Bill Murray’s movie What about Bob? where the ever frightful and paranoid Bob begs his psychiatrist who is on vacation to see him: “Gimme, gimme, gimme…I need, I need, I need….” Again, nothing wrong with “What about Bob” prayers. Jesus thinks they are beautiful. Think of the persistent widow parable (Luke 18). But if that’s the only way I pray, then I’m only reacting. And Rich Mullins reminds us that it is good to sing (or pray) one more halleluia, “that you never know much good its gonna do ya.”

Plus I get bored. Easily. I guess I need to stop getting mad at my kids when they complain of being bored, eh? I like to have some variety. Well, praying the Lord’s prayer, as a guide, gives me that variety in my prayer life. And when I don’t want to use it, because I want more variety, I don’t have to. I can use a prayer schedule. Or write down requests from others. Or “What About Bob prayers”-which are important for all of us (I’ve been praying those more since we started this church plant).

So here’s what we did as a community group. We just went through the Lord’s prayer and filled in the blanks. When everyone was finished, we shared. We only had 6 of us, but it took the better part of 45 minutes. And it was worth every minute, particularly because my 6 year old joined us! So cool to hear how he wants to see his neighbors come to faith and to Harbor. I learned so much by listening to the others and how they filled in their blanks. Very edifying. Here’s my “fill in the blanks” Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name…..

Lord we praise you for your justice and wrath

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven

We pray for your will be done in Pine Lakes subdivision, that community would continue to develop, that we would see more neighbhors kids coming over to play, and more eventually come to Christ and to Harbor

Give us this day our daily bread

Grant me energy, patience, and peace. Allow our community group to grow, and our church as well, deeper and wider.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

Forgive me for my jealousy and for jumping to conclusions. I’m jealous of other pastors, and I assume that I know what’s going on in other people without asking them. Help me to forgive those who have not lived up to their word.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Help me to pray for other pastors who may “look” more successful. Protect me and my kids from harm, and thwart the hand of the enemy wherever he may seek to deceive us to believe his lies

For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus, you win. I’m on your team. Let me remember that! Its your world, your kingdom, your church, your family.

Each week you’ll be able to fill in the blanks differently. But sometimes you’ll see a pattern develop. And perhaps the Lord will use that pattern to direct you to meet the need or bring His heavenly will down to Earth in a way you wouldn’t have thought had you not regularly prayed in this way.

“I’ll just show my brother grace….”

Like most parents, I presume, we employ positive reinforcements to encourage our kids to meet goals. For instance, if one of our children stayed in his room through the night for three days straight, I would take him to Chic-FilA. We eventually changed it to two. For another child, I will offer the opportunity to watch a football game with me based upon a good attitude that day. They are 6 and 4. We really want them to understand that trusting Mom and Dad, or not trusting Mom or Dad, comes with consequences and blessings.

But if all we ever do is reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, then we run the risk of teaching simple moralism or karma. You be good and then good things happen. You be good and we’ll love you more. You be good and you’ll be rewarded and if not, you’ll be punished.

Joel Osteen’s tweet of the day:

“If you will make somebody else’s day, God will always make your day.

Jared Wilson’s response: You misspelled “karma”

That’s simple moralistic obedience. That is not applying the gospel. Without throwing out consequences, here are a few ways in which we’ve tried to bring the gospel to our feeble and fallible parenting.

The other day our youngest son’s behavior was pretty, well, we’ll just say “sub-par,” and the reward for whatever goal we had him working for was Chic-Fil A time with just Daddy. Obviously he didn’t follow through. But we went anyway!  I made sure that he knew that I loved him, and that this was not a special reward trip, but simply because I loved him and wanted to spend time with him. So just to make sure he knew why he was getting this special trip, I said, “Do you know why you are getting this special trip?” His answer blessed my soul: “Just because you love me.” Experiencing grace from me will ideally point him toward understanding how gracious God really is.

Even 4 year old’s can get an age appropriate glimpse of grace. Our normal mode of thinking is that if we are good, then we can get a special trip with our Heavenly Father. Face it, that’s our default mode. And the problem with that, well, is everything. I’ve noticed that through special grace-based time with dad that his behavior seems to improve. And that shouldn’t surprise us, since this is the way God wired us and the only way in which our behavior really changes. And when we receive grace even when our behavior doesn’t change very much, simply recognizing that, makes kids (and adults) love their fathers and Heavenly Father even more.

Another instance happened when my 6 year old had something in his hand that my 4 year old really wanted. And my 4 yr old wasn’t exactly endearing himself to my 6yr old either. So I said, “Can you just give it to him so we can end this?” His response was vintage gospel: “Well, I’ll just show him grace and give it to him.”

My 6 yr old clearly thought this out. He knew his brother didn’t have a right to claim the object and his brother’s behavior wasn’t bolstering his case. There was no way he should or must give it to him. Yet he knew that he could give simply out of grace.

Where did he learn that? From his earthly father/mother and his spiritual father/mothers in church pointing him to His Heavenly Father who lavishly pours out grace to selfish people. Those who experience that grace, eventually extend that grace to others.

So we’ve learned, slowly and by mistakes aplenty, that we can’t simply reward, punish, and deal only in consequences. Parents have the opportunity to grace to their kids which images the grace of a much cherished Heavenly Father. Who knows what will become of such grace, and when?  This kind of approach-showing grace, not just consequences-“works” for kids, and adults of all ages too, by the way.

 

Why not stay and be a part of the light shining in the darkness?

In my part of Bradenton, specifically “West Bradenton,” I often hear, “You know this area isn’t the same place it used to be.” And what is meant by that is, “It is worse than it used to be. I’m looking to move out East.” The schools at one point were better, at least according to their “grades.” The area had more children then and fewer seniors. More upper-middle class too. Less crime perhaps (though that may or may not be so). It is not the same area as it used to be. It just isn’t.

So the obvious knee-jerk response is for folks to migrate where there are more younger folks, more upper-middle class, potentially less crime, better schools, and new houses. But the church is always to be counter-cultural in its thinking. Even when we head in the same direction as those outside the church, it is never for the exact same reasons.

So should flight be the response to any area that is currently not the same place as it used to be?

I just preached a sermon, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times” on Isaiah 9. In it, we see

[c] The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

The passage clearly points to hope coming to a region which was living in utter darkness. The dark ages. Politically they had foreign rulers, and were divided up into three regions. Religiously they were marrying people they weren’t supposed to and worshiping idols far too often. Socially they had oppressed the poor and didn’t care about justice. Yet a light had come to a dark place. Jesus came to a forgotten place that was living in darkness. He did most of his ministry there, NOT in the South known as Judea. And because of Jesus, Paul explains that we are to shine like stars in a crooked generation (Phil 2)

Where? Well that will vary from person to person, to where God calls you. Darkness is on a continuum. Some places are darker than others, politically, socially, religiously.

In an area that is not the same as it used to be, an area that is potentially living in more darkness than before, should the knee-jerk response of the Christian be to head for greener pastures? If light has come into the dark and seemingly forgotten area of the Northern tribes of Israel, might the “it’s not the same as it used to be” actually be an open door and greater opportunity for light to shine? Light seems to shine brightest in the darkest places. If you heard that this good news was coming to your region, wouldn’t you want to consider staying around and being part of it?

Now obviously every decision involves prayer and wisdom and community. And God does call people to move into shiny, new, happy places within your area or outside of it. But let us remember that is never for solely the same reasons that non-Christians move there. I just think that we who have seen this great light, and who want to live as lights, need to prayerfully consider why we should move or why we should stay. Perhaps even more light is coming to the area, and through you? Perhaps in twenty years folks will be able to say, “This area isn’t the same area as it used to be. It is way better.” Wouldn’t that be beautiful to hear of West Bradenton, or whatever are you live in?

 

Loving the Father’s stuff but not the Father

Sometimes a preacher has thoughts that just don’t make it into the sermon. Sometimes they just didn’t fit, or sometimes, when you try to stray from your manuscript (which I prefer), you just forget them. It wasn’t so much a thought as it was an incident, or rather two incidents, which I think would have helped people apply the sermon.

Unfortunately my computer froze up and the sermon on The Parable of the Lost Sons, (I’ll never call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son again) “Carry on my wayward son” did not get recorded. Sorry Kansas, I tried my best! Regardless, here’s something I think could have helped, or perhaps could help us all, in considering the ways in which Christians can easily fall into the way of the older brother.

The older brother was just as wayward as the younger brother. He simply wanted his Father’s stuff, but not his father. All these years I’ve slaved for you and you never even threw me a stinking goat! That’s what he says. The younger son was just as blunt and demanded his inheritance up front. These two boys simply wanted their Father’s stuff, but neither wanted his father. They were interested not in a relationship with their Father, but a connection to his stuff, toys, property, blessings, etc…

In the period of three days, I had two sons (ironically both younger sons) tell me “I’d much rather have my Father with me, than his money. One referred to inheritance and how he would much rather have his father alive. The other didn’t want his father to continue working. He’d be happy just to have the relationship and time spent, even if it meant he would potentially inherit far less money at some point in the future. These two boys simply wanted their father, in and of himself. They wanted their father simply because he was their father. That was blessing enough.

What does it look like for us to be like the older brother? To love and want the Father’s stuff more than the Father? Here are a few thoughts, as I try to wrestle through what that might look like.

Can we value blessing over relationship? Yes. It is not bad to want the blessings of our Father, these blessings can be valued over relationship. Think about the blessing of a church family. A church family can provide meals when needed, a couch moved, a text or phone call when struggling, prayers that you can feel throughout the day, words that can challenge and encourage. Just to name a few. But a church can also let you down. A church will let you down. A church comprises bozos like you and I, so what did you expect? But it’s when the church lets you down, that you will know if you loved the Father, or you simply loved his “stuff.” If I become angry with those in the church, or bail on the church because she disappointed me (and sometimes we do need to be disappointed if our expectations are sinful or far-fetched), then I probably just loved the Father for his stuff. I wasn’t loving God, I would have simply been enjoying his benefits, not his person. But if I value my relationship with the Father, that when he withholds a blessing or two for a season, I’m OK. I still have my Father. If I still have my Father, then I can love the church in spite of its warts. How angry we get at others, when they don’t meet our expectations, reveals where our true love lies.

I hate to suffer. I really do. But when the Lord dispossesses us of something, or plan, even if that something or plan is good, He is doing it out of love. He wants us to love Him for who He is and what He has done in Christ. But if I’m livid, and angry, and think “well what’s the point of trying to honor Him when this is how I’m treated,” then I’ve simply wanted the Father’s stuff.

These are just a few ways I can think of how we can love the Father’s stuff, but not the father. Feel free to share any of your own.

Experiencing imperfect but real joy and peace

In my sermon on Sunday, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” we considered the difficulty of living in the “Now but not yet” of Jesus’ Kingdom. In other words, the Kingdom has begun, but has not yet been completed. Jesus said as much to John the Baptist who was in prison at the time. John was expecting Jesus to release the captives, because well, in Jesus’ own words, he said he would (Luke 4). He said he was the man to get the job done, the man promised in Isaiah 61. Yet John still languished in prison. So John, like you and I, and any thinking person would have done, sent messengers to Jesus to ask him “What gives cuz? (Matthew 11)”

Jesus responds by saying, “You go tell cousin John, that I’ve healed people, given sight to the blind, cured lepers, preached good news to the poor…” Notice he left the part out about “releasing the captives” (Isaiah 61). He did enough that John could trust him with the rest.

In one of my first seminary classed called Introduction to Theological Studies, Richard Pratt Jr, explained this verse with such clarity that I remember it like it was yesterday. Jesus has given us a framework to help make a little more sense of the Christian life. We experience joy and at the same time we still experience frustration. We see in part, not in full now (I Corinthians 12). We have joy, but its not perfect joy this side of heaven. We can experience peace, but its not perfect peace (which is good news for someone with anxiety issues-I’m not as weird as I think). There have been times when I’ve experienced anxiety so great I was incapable of doing anything for a week. And there have been times when I lost my job, didn’t know where I would be heading, or what to do with my house, how I would support wife and child, and yet was at rest. Imperfect peace is still real peace; peace when my personality shouldn’t have allowed it.

We want more than we have now, and we should. Like a child pining for her mother to hold her, not just be in the same room with her, the presence of Jesus can make us cry. Not because he doesn’t love us, but because He does. We want more than this world has to offer, and I think that is why the Apostle Paul is not afraid to say “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Dying is gain, not because it is absence of suffering (a la Brittany Maynard), but the presence of blessing. The very presence of Jesus.

Someone asked me after the sermon,”If we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven, then how do we keep some sort of fire going?” Here are some ways to enjoy God this side of Heaven.

1.) Preached Word: I know some folks have hard times paying attention to sermons, but its worth it to try. I asked someone about her tears during one of my sermons, and she said, “I could sense God telling me how much He loved me.” That’s not Godspeak, that God speaking through His Word. Don’t neglect putting yourself under His preached Word.

2.) Daily Devotions: God speaks to us through His Word as we read it too. Don’t wait to hear God speak to you once a week.

3.) Prayer: I’m looking forward to Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. So I could have more here later, but there is great delight to be found in reading and reflecting through a Psalm. I lived on Psalm 91 for a season of my life. My prayer time was more enjoyable than fishing.

4.) Fellowship: Sometimes we can feel God’s presence with us when we are present with God’s people: His Church. I don’t know how many times my faith gets weak, doubting, faltering, and then all of a sudden I’m picked by the words of another in a community group. I know I’m not alone. But even one-on-one times with a friend, mentor, disciple, are an absolute necessity. Those who crafted the Westminster Confession of Faith (which is good) missed big on not including fellowship as an “official” means of growing in grace. It is.

5.) Baptism/Communion: I know its not the same as having a meal in Jesus physical presence, but its the next best thing we have while on Earth. Baptism points us to Jesus’ promise to save those who put their faith in Him. We forget, so it is always good to “see.”

6.) Music. Sometimes a truth communicated through song. Maybe a hymn, contemporary song on radio, or even a U2 song. Some of them really make me think about God’s nearness, when I’m scared, disillusioned, or just plain dry. Even Pink Floyd songs, some of which have such depth, leave me with an excited longing for Jesus to return.

Here are just some ways to keep the fire going this side of heaven so that we can experience imperfect but nevertheless life-changing  joy and peace.

 

Dream to leave your city better than when you first found it

I like metaphors. I even have a book titled, “I never metaphor I didn’t like.” Ironically I’ve only opened it a few times. Regardless, metaphors can be very helpful when dealing with the sublime. Jesus employed them often, as did OT prophets, and new testament writers. When it comes to something as vast as understanding and responding to God’s call to allign oneself with His Kingdom, one metaphor has recently stuck out to me.

And, since a church member recently showed appreciation for it (meaning at least two people like it!), I’ll pass it on.  Consider  your Kingdom responsibility/opportunity as though you are being allowed to rent, borrow, play on someone else’s property. Have you ever been told, “Make sure to leave the place better than how you found it!” I know I have. I can remember thinking, “Well, that garbage was already here, or such and such was like this when we got here.” But if we consider that we are ultimately bound for completion of God’s Kingdom here on Earth (leasing to own, if  you will), it makes more sense to think of our neighborhoods, jobs, families, etc…, not in terms of how we found them, but how we have left them.

I like this metaphor for a few reasons.

1.) It promotes faithfulness in all the areas God has given you. We can dream big, as well as realistically, trusting that “small” acts of kindness, faithfulness, love, sharing gospel, will end up leaving your area better than when you came to it. “Ordinary” faithfulness can make a difference.

2.) It doesn’t promote some sort of triumphalistic storm-hell-with-water guns type of immediate expectation.

3.) It also promotes not leaving your area just because this is the way it was when you found it. We are so quick to run to a nicer area and leave behind many opportunities. Sometimes you are called to leave-and you obviously should. For work. For safety. For other reasons too. But perhaps our first reaction shouldn’t be to leave for greener pastures.

4.) It promotes something bigger than ourselves. If we think of our areas of influence more in terms of “when we leave” instead of “this is how I found them,” I think our hearts will then be much more aligned with His Kingdom purposes NOW. Our small lives, and small churches will live bigger when recognize we really are part of a bigger story, a bigger Kingdom. It is not about me, or you. It is about His glory filling the Earth, prayerfully more tomorrow than today, and more even after we’ve gone. Consider your city a 100 years from now and love it even though you may never get to experience those dreams now. But remember your Manatee County (or whatever your county) of your dreams is still in heaven (Rev 21), waiting to come down from heaven at the just the right time.

The Heads and Tails of the Kingdom

At Harbor Community Church we’ve been working our way through some of Jesus’ Parables. We shan’t get to all of them, but have been focusing on those parables where Jesus describes what the Kingdom of God/Heaven will be like. The Kingdom of God is a huge theme in the scriptures, and one could argue its main unifying theme from start to finish.

Here’s a helpful definition of how to think about the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

Dr. Russell Moore, writes

The Kingdom of God is an explosively veiled inbreaking into the present world order of the reign of Jesus himself as emperor of the cosmos. This being the case, it ought to change the way we see ourselves, and our place in this age and in the one to come.

Everything starts in the garden where God used to dwell with Adam and Eve before sin. It ends with city, a people, God coming down from heaven to dwell with us once again, without tears or suffering, a place where business is conducted and the “kings” of the earth bring the best of their culture into this new Kingdom (Rev 21).

That’s a little more of what Jewish folks expected to see right off the bat with Jesus, but he gives us some parables to help us understand what to make of our experience now and how we should be involved in this Kingdom expanding.

Some folks see Kingdom and think evangelism and some folks see Kingdom and think solely in deeds of mercy and social justice. Often people pick one or the other.

Parable of Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast, it seems like both are very much in play. Both parables explain that what you first saw in the ministry of Jesus was not all that impressive in comparison to what was prophesied in the OT and Revelation. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Kingdom starts small and gets big, so big that the “birds of the air” (which I call “strange birds”), aka Gentiles from all over, will find refuge. This corresponds to the vision in Revelation. Kings of the earth, aka, representatives of all tribes of peoples. Kingdom growth means sharing the gospel here and abroad.

But Kingdom growth isn’t only numerical. It’s about depth. That’s what the Parable of the Yeast refers to. Simon Kistemacker claims this parable refers to in the “intensive” growth of the Kingdom. Yeast works slowly, inside out, until all the dough is affected. But yeast works behind the scenes, where as you sometimes don’t even know its there. Again, inside-out, as people live out their faith by what they do (not just what they say). This includes deeds of mercy and social justice, serving your community through your work, loving and blessing your neighbors, and yes for some being involved in politics. This corresponds to the kings in Rev 21 bringing their “treasures.” The best of their culture and work. Over time.

These parables are like the heads and tails of Kingdom growth. I can’t imagine a coin without heads and tails.

Both are components of the Kingdom. Both aspects need to be part of a church which declares itself to be Kingdom focused as Harbor does. Gospel proclamation from churches and from individuals as they come and go, as well as gospel application in work, family, neighborhood, hobbies, and politics as they come and go.