Making Decisions

Read Luke 6:12-16

Life is filled with opportunities to make decisions. Some of the decisions which we make are not as life altering as others. Deciding what to eat for dinner, or what to wear for the day, or which television show to watch are generally not decisions which will impact the future direction of our lives. There are decisions which do shape and direct the future course of our lives. Choosing what institution of higher learning to attend, or who we might marry, or where we may live can impact the trajectory of our existence in profound ways. The process and steps which we use to make our decisions can influence the outcome.

The passage from Luke’s gospel account presents to us a time when Jesus is faced with an important decision. He is choosing which ones of all his disciples he will closely mentor and teach. The individuals chosen would represent Jesus and minister on his behalf when he is not physically present. They would later be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the good news with people throughout the known areas of civilization. Some of their words and actions would be shared with generations to come, even to our present one.

The passage starts by giving us insight into an important part of Jesus’s decision making process. We hear that Jesus went away to be alone. While he was absent from the cities, crowds and disciples, he prayed for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he shared his decision in regard to which of the disciples would personally be mentored by the Lord and be given special authority on his behalf.

How do you go about making major decisions in your life? Are you a lone ranger who relies solely on yourself to make these types of decisions? Does praying to God enter into your process at all? Clearly the writer of Luke’s gospel included this brief passage to emphasize to us the great importance of prayer in the decision process. As followers of Christ, our daily pursuit is to follow the example which Jesus placed before us. One such example is this one. Jesus came to the Father to consult prior to making a vital ministry decision. Should we not do the same with all of our vital decisions?

Being Christian

Read Acts 11:25-26

In our verses for today, we hear of a gathering of disciples in a place called Antioch. This is where Barnabas brings Saul to help teach people about Jesus Christ. We read here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians in Antioch. This recording of the name given to disciples of Jesus led me to think about what it means to be called Christian.

Growing up in the church and attending Sunday School almost every week, I learned a lot of songs about Jesus, God, and aspects of following Jesus. One such song which was learned was “Lord, I Want To Be A Christian.” The author of the song is unknown and it is listed as an African-American melody. Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Refrain 1:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Refrain 2:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Refrain 3:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

Refrain 4:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

As I recalled these lyrics, a few items stood out to me. First is the repetition of the phrase, ” in my heart.” The general understanding of the use of heart in relation to a person is that we are speaking about the core of a person’s life.Since the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, and blood is necessary to sust ain life, humans have viewed the heart at the center of our life. The desire to be a Christian in this song is a desire that our very core of life be identified as Christian.

Second, the progression of the verses is purposeful. The first verse communicates the overall desire to live as a follower of Jesus. The remaining verses detail how this will be demonstrated and acted upon. The song says that a Christian will be more loving, more holy, and more like Jesus. The song is actually a prayer that with the help of the Lord, the person may truly live from the core as a disciple of Jesus, given the name of Christian at Antioch.

May this be a daily prayer and good for each of us.

Needing the Lord

There are times when a person may not wish to admit the need to seek out help. It may be due to a sense of self pride. The barrier may be a feeling of shame or inadequacy. A person may not want to be considered a burden on someone else. Whatever the cause, the person does not reach out and admit to anyone their need for help. For anyone facing such a time, this song by Matt Maher reminds us that there is freedom found when we reach out to the Lord.

Our Lord stands always at the ready to assist each one of us. There is no judgment or shaming coming from the Lord. We find rest, support, love and hope in the Lord.

Needing Equipped

Read Hebrews 13:20-21

When you are preparing to tackle a project, it is important to make sure you gather all necessary items before you begin the work. If you are making a food dish, you need to make sure you have all of the ingredients. In addition to having the ingredients, you also need to have the utensils and cookware which will allow you to prepare and cook whatwer dish you are making. If your project is a household repair or addition, having the necessary materials and tools is required. Completing a project demands a person to be properly equipped.

As the letter to the Hebrews is coming to a conclusion, the author lifts a brief prayer. The petition, or hope, is that God would equip the believers. The task set forth is doing God’s will, not an easy task for any human. The letter writer knows that the only way the believers might be successful in doing God’s will is if God gives them the necessary items to accomplish the task. Humanity has proven time and again a lack of being properly equipped.

A favorite quote of mine is by Rick Yancey who wrote in The Fifth Wave, “God doesn’t call the equipped, son. God equips the called. And you have been called.” This quote applies to all who strive to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Anyone who has accepted the mantle of ordained ministry quickly becomes aware of all their inadequacies and being ill-equipped for such a calling. But all who strive to follow Christ’s example and teachings have the same experience of feeling ill-equipped. Throughout all of Scripture we witness great leaders, teachers, prophets and apostles voice their apprehensions in regard to adequately fulfilling God’s will. This reality should drive us to God in prayer; seeking the equipping only God can provide.

For Our Good

Read Romans 8:26-28

Socrates was considered to be one of the wisest philosophers and teachers of Ancient Greece. He created a method of teaching and discovering which was based on a series of dialogues between himself and his pupils. A subject is chosen and the dialogue commences. As wise as Socrates has been purported to be, he is quoted as saying, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” This humility seems to indicate that Socrates understood his limits.

Humans have limits. This truth is evident in Paul’s words found in the letter to the believers in Rome. Paul indicates the human weakness and inability to even pray correctly. But Paul states this is not a point of despair for us because the Spirit intercedes for us. The One who intimately knows the will and thoughts of God also knows us intimately. Where we are unable to utter, the Spirit communicates in ways beyond us. This is done because God desires all aspects of life to work toward the good of us who love God and are called by God.

Much like Socrates, when we take an honest inventory of our knowledge and abilities, we are deeply aware that as gifted as we are in these areas, we have so much farther to go. Paul’s words to the Romans bring comfort to us in the midst of such a revelation. Having the assurance that we have God constantly working on behalf of us even to the point of interceding in our weaknesses and prayers, provides us a boost in life. Our God, who is powerful enough to create all we see and cannot see, is tirelessly working to bring good to us. What amazing love is this?

Lord’s Prayer – Final Part

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today we conclude our examination of the Lord’s Prayer. If you have read the passage from Matthew, you have noted that in Scripture the prayer concludes with “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Roman Catholic version of the prayer uses this ending when the prayer is used in its liturgy. The Protestant church adds the line, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.”

There are a smattering of examples of including this line at various times in history. Some ancient translations of the Luke version include this ending referred to as a doxology. These ancient texts are not perceived as being reliable so modern translations of both Matthew and Luke omit this line.

The origin of this doxology is found associated with a prayer which David said in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13. It was a frequent custom of the Jewish people to use similar doxologies to conclude their prayers. Christians in the Eastern half of the\Roman Empire added the doxology when using the prayer at Mass. The Didache, a manual on how to live as a Christian, included the doxology. Even some Greek translations of the Bible included it. Queen Elizabeth I of England required it be used with the prayer to separate the Church of England from the Roman Catholics. As part of the Communion Rite in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today, the doxology is included but not directly at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, the prayer is followed by the priest continuing in prayer. When the priest finishes the additional petitions, the people say the doxology.

What does all of this mean for us today? By including this line, we are acknowledging that God is the one capable of answering our petitions. We are saying that God has established God’s reign in the world and our lives. We declare our belief that God has the power to accomplish all which we request. We add our praise to the glory of our God which has no end.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 10

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today we look at the last half of the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We saw this petition begin with a request to God for assistance in avoiding the temptation of sin. This petition ends with the phrase, “but deliver us from evil.”

This phrase is focused upon the evil in our world. Luke’s version of the prayer does not include this phrase. Both the NIV and NRSV versions of the Matthew passage end the phrase with “evil one” and not just “evil.” The Greek word which is translated here can be translated either way. Since choosing “evil” as the word is broader and more encompassing, our spoken version includes one word and not both.

The task with which we must grapple is a definition for evil. The dictionary provides this, “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” Many interpret evil as humans doing wrong toward others. Either definition leaves itself open to interpretation. The way to define evil is greatly dependent upon perspective and context. Over time, the application of the label can, and does, change in certain situations. Therefore, the best way to define evil is when there is a void of love. Whether it be action, words, behaviors, or situations, if love is not demonstrated in them then evil is an appropriate label.

This portion of Jesus’s petition is requesting that God deliver us from the environments and impact of evil; a request to be delivered from experiences which are absent of love.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 9

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

We come to the final petition in the short prayer which Jesus provided as a model. In the Roman Catholic worship liturgy, this is where the prayer ends. That is also true when we read the passage from Matthew and Luke. As we have done with other petitions, we will examine this one in two parts. The first phrase in this petition is, “Lead us not into temptation.”

The wording of this phrase is odd. What is troublesome about this wording is that it gives the impression that God would tempt us. This stands against what we find inJames where we read, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” (James 1:13-14) Instead, our own desires entice and tempt us.

If God is not the one tempting us, then what does this phrase mean? The usual interpretation of this phrase has come to be that it is a request to help us resist temptation. Being tempted is inherent to being human. We know that Jesus was tempted at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Being tempted gives us a since that he was fully a part of the human experience. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus includes this phrase in the prayer since he understands the human struggle with the temptation to sin. Making the request to God for help with this struggle is a natural result from experience.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 8

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.

The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”

Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)

If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).

In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 7

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Continuing our look at the Lord’s Prayer we come to the phrase, “And forgive our debts,” The last word in this phrase is different depending on if you are reading it in Matthew or  Luke and how it is translated. The most common English translations for this word are debts, trespasses and sins. Later in this devotion we will discuss the impact of which word is chosen on how we understand the petition. 

The first significant word in this phrase is “forgive.” We are asking God to no longer hold our offenses against us. We seek to have the consequences of our sins cancelled. The psalmist expressed this desire when he wrote, “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” (Psalm 25:7) We know that if God forgives our sin, God also forgets our sin. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

As mentioned above, the final word in this phrase is translated a few different ways. If we translate it as “debts” then we are given the image of a transactional aspect to this forgiveness. We owe God something because we have sinned. Instead of making the required payment, we ask God to wipe away the amount due. If we choose the translation which results in the word “trespasses” then we understand our sins to be an offensive action against God. Our third option of using the word “sin” in this phrase seems to be the most straightforward option. This word clearly describes what we wish to be forgiven.

Choosing to use sins at the end of the phrase requires us to have a definition of sin. Sin is generally understood to be a violation of God’s law. Jesus gave us a concise statement concerning the law of God when he answered what is the greatest commandment. Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 27:37,39) God’s law is summed up in the word love. Sin is any action which does not represent love.

Jesus’s second petition in the prayer related to humanity is a request that God forgives (and forgets) the times when we have failed to love.