Proper Focus

Read Philippians 2:3-4

Have you ever taken pictures with a manual 33mm camera? When I was in high school I was taught how to take and develop pictures using a manual 35mm camera. I was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs which each needed all types of pictures taken for the publications. This became a very enjoyable assignment for me. I had to learn how and on what to focus for each shot as I turned the dial on the lense which I chose to attach to the camera. Often the subject in the center of the picture became the element which I would focus upon. The focus had to be  precise or the picture was worthless. I still own my own 35mm manual camera even though I have not used it in years since now my cellular phone’s camera is easier and readily at hand.

As we read from Paul’s letter, the conversation involves who is receiving the focus. These verses are part of a discussion Paul is having in regard to how to live together as Christ followers. He is telling the readers to not be arrogant and self-centered. After these verses, Paul will lift Jesus up as an example of how to be humble and take the interests of others to heart alongside our own interests.

The trap of focusing just on one’s self is an easy one to fall into for us. There are many demands and expectations placed upon our time, energy, and money. Temptations of wanting more and better surround us. Threats of losing what we have seem to be endless as we watch the news and hear the stories of neighbors, friends and family. A person can reach the point of accepting the idea that it is a “dog eat dog world” which demands us to focus solely on our wants, needs and desires.

Paul tells us that this is not the attitude to have as a follower of Christ. We are not to place ourselves ahead of others. Our wants, needs and desires must be placed alongside the interests of others. As Jesus was willing to humble himself to the point of sacrificing all, we must be willing to do the same. A self-centered Christian is not demonstrating the way to live as Christ.

Arriving At Success

Read Deuteronomy 8:10-18

Have you noticed what happens to some celebrities after they have achieved at least a moderate level of success in their skill area? Some of them abandon their past and focus solely on what they can now obtain. Unfortunately, some do not discipline themselves to act only in moderation. It becomes all about them and what they have been able to achieve with their gifts and talents. They forget those who have aided and supported them on their journey toward success. Some become users of people. They lack gratitude and any sense of humbleness.

The reading from Deuteronomy contains a warning to the Israelites. Moses is talking to them about the time when they will arrive in their new land and have become settled. He tells them to be cautious that when they are reaping the benefits of this new land that they do not forget God. Moses says they may be tempted to take all the credit for what they have achieved and obtained. He reminds them of all that God has done for them which made it possible to arrive at this point. Moses tells the people that all which they have is because of God. In response, the people are to praise the Lord and follow the Lord’s teachings.

The words Moses shares with the Israelites are valuable to us as we live today. Each of us have different times in our lives when we obtain some level of success and satisfaction. It can be easy for us to focus solely on what we have done to bring us to this point. We have probably worked hard, suffered, or sacrificed to arrive at our success. These times can cause us to forget the Lord’s involvement in our journey. We may also forget those who God has placed in our lives to assist us on the journey.

Moses tells the Israelites, and us, to remember God. We are to show gratitude. Our gratitude must lead to a response. The response towards God should be to strive to live what the Lord has taught us.

Remember where you came from and who helped you get here.

Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

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.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 6

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer resumes. After having focused first upon God, the Father, Jesus then begins petitions for our human condition. The next phrase in the prayer is a complete sentence, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The petition begins by acknowledging the source of all we have, God. Making the request to be given something is an indication that the one making the request understands that what is received is a gift. We also see the corporate nature of this prayer. The word, “us,” points to the reality that the petition is not for a singular person but for the community as a whole.

The next words place a parameter around the request. Whether it is translated “this day” or “today,” the asking is for a one day’s supply. This reminds us of the story from the time in which the Hebrew people were in the wilderness and hungry. God provided them food, manna, but told them it was only for one day at a time. We are also reminded when Jesus taught his disciples not to worry about tomorrow but instead trust that God will provide each and every day.

The sentence ends with “our daily bread.” Again the corporate nature and the limited scope of the petition are obvious here. The word bread is intended to be broader than just the food substance which comes to mind. Bread was a staple meal item for most people in Jesus’s culture. Sometimes bread was the only item available to provide nutritional sustenance for a family. The use of this word would bring to the minds of the people an image of the basic needs to sustain life, food, shelter, clothing, safety and such.

The first human-focused petition Jesus lifts in this prayer reminds us that God is the source and giver of all our basic needs. We are also reminded to not only be focused on our individual needs but mindful of the needs of all within the community.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 5

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

As we continue our indepth look at the prayer which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, we look at a phrase which is connected to the one from yesterday. Yesterday we examined the phrase, ” thy will be done.” Jesus continues that thought by adding “on earth as it is in heaven.” Here Jesus is providing a comparison of the spiritual realm and the earthly realm. (For a discussion regarding heaven and earth, review the devotion from June 23, 2021.) Specifically in regard to how God’s will is fulfilled is lifted up here.

First we are confronted with the reality that we are dealing with two different sets of actors in these realms. In the heavenly realm, the ones fulfilling God’s will are spiritual beings such as angels and redeemed souls. We get an image of this in John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation. The actors in the earthly realm are humans and creation as a whole. Each set of players have different abilities and limitations.

From Jesus’s inclusion of this phrase, we see his perception that while in the spiritual realm God’s will is consistently followed, the same is not true in the earthly realm. This is a fact highlighted in yesterday’s devotion. This phrase also directs us to Jesus’s desire that there be a more consistent following of God’s will by humans and creation. God desires all of humanity and creation to exist in harmony with one another as was intended when God first created all.

Jesus reminds us in this prayer that we have been given an example to follow and a goal to obtain. Understanding how the spiritual beings as described in Scripture respond to God’s will, we have examples set before us. The redeemed souls of individuals who have gone before us also provide a set of examples as we look at how they fulfilled God’s will in their lives. Having these examples to follow, our goal then is to do God’s will in our own lives.