Promise of Presence

Today we pause from our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer to experience the promise of the Lord’s presence. Mack Brock, a contemporary Christiain artist, sings of this promise in Your Presence Is A Promise.

Brock reminds us that even in the darkest times of our lives, the Lord’s presence shines brighter. When we walk through the valleys on our journeys, God holds us even stronger. The presence of the Lord guides us, goes before us to prepare the future, and teaches us what we need to know. This promise is faithful and never ending.

What did you discover as you listened to this song?

What did this song affirm for you?

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.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 4

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

This is the fourth devotional in a series focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Each day we look at a phrase from the prayer Jesus shared with his disciples. Today’s phrase is the start of the second sentence in the prayer,” Thy will be done…” This is the second petition of the prayer.

Jesus communicates here the importance of placing the will of God at the front of all things. He will go on to live this out when he prays to God on the night of his arrest. While in the olive grove, he requests that he does not have to endure all the events of the next thirty-six hours but states, “may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42). Placing the desire that God’s will be done in the forefront of our minds impacts all of which follows. The fulfillment of this request must begin with us personally.

A couple of challenges present themselves when we pray this petition. The first challenge is in answering the question of what is God’s will. Prior to Jesus, the prophet Micah tried to provide an answer when he stated, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b) Jesus attempted to not only tell us what God’s will is in his teaching but to also demonstrate it through his actions while living among us.

The second challenge our petition creates is when our will is not in sync with God’s will. We act in ways which appear to rebel against, or at least compete with, God’s will. The Apostle Paul speaks of this challenge by saying, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do…” (Romans 7:9a) This on-going struggle within ourselves stands in contrast with what we say in this prayer. The petition becomes a personal request as well as one for all people on earth.

Jesus’s placement of this petition in the prayer shows us where God’s will belongs in our lives and in the midst of our requests to God.  It also challenges us to work toward the fulfillment of the petition in our personal lives as well as in the lives of others. 

Lord’s Prayer – Part 3

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NIV)

As we continue to look for insights from the words Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer, our next phrase is “hallowed be thy name.” The first word in this phrase is no longer commonly used. There is even a Family Circus cartoon which has Billy mistakenly thinking the phrase is “Harold be thy name.” The definition of this word is holy, consecrated, greatly revered, or honored. Clearly Jesus is indicating that the name of God should not be considered as just an ordinary name.

We are then prompted to consider what is so important about a name. A name is the first and chief identifier of a person. In the culture of the Hebrew people, a name represents the core of the person. By letting someone know your name, you were giving them power over you. You were allowing intimacy into your relationship. This is why the Jews were never allowed to speak the name of God aloud because it indicated an intimacy which they felt they were unworthy to have with God. This is similar to the custom once observed when children always referred to teachers and adults outside of their family by Mr., Ms., or Mrs. (last name).

The message Jesus provided in this phrase is the concept that God’s name should not be casually used. Instead, God’s name is to be used in a manner which is neither casual or profane. The use of God’s name should display the intimacy and reverence which we have with and toward God. A hearty amount of respect should be demonstrated in regard to the name of God. 

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 2

Over the next few days, the devotions will be focused on a common and frequently utilized prayer within the Christian community, the Lord’s Prayer. By examining the words found in this prayer, the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding may be possible. This will enrich those times when we share in the prayer either as a community of faith or individually.

The most common source of words used in the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9b-13. A shorter version of these words are located in Luke 11:2-4.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NIV)

The next phrase which occurs in the prayer is “who art in heaven.” This phrase calls to mind the spiritual existence of God. Heaven is a spiritual realm. There are no boundaries or limits to this realm. It cannot be seen by the human eye and the only descriptions of it are found in apocalyptic and visionary writings. Jesus places God in such a setting in the prayer so we understand that God is not confined by the aspects of the physical world of which we are a part.

The concept of heaven has been a bit troublesome over time. In ancient civilizations, the idea of heaven was associated with space and the sky. These areas were unattainable physically by people prior to the onset of the scientific and industrial ages. So the people became accustomed to viewing heaven as above them. Since we have a different understanding of sky and space, our understanding of heaven shifts. As mentioned above, our understanding no longer is a place which we can point to but instead we know heaven as a spiritual realm which is not physically obtainable.

In today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us that God is a spiritual being who exists in a spiritual realm.

To read Part 1 – Click here

Lord’s Prayer – Part 1

Over the next few days, the devotions will be focused on a common and frequently utilized prayer within the Christian community, the Lord’s Prayer. By examining the words found in this prayer, the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding may be possible. This will enrich those times when we share in the prayer either as a community of faith or individually.

The most common source of words used in the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9b-13. A shorter version of these words are located in Luke 11:2-4.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NIV)

Today’s focus phrase is: “Our Father.” In two short words, Jesus communicates much about the prayer he is teaching the disciples. Jesus’s use of the ward “our” communicates that this is intended to be a prayer of the community. This can mean that Jesus was sharing these words to be utilized as part of the community worship settings. Another possibility may be Jesus is communicating an aspect of God’s nature, God is God not of individuals but of a community of believers.

The second word, “Father,” places before us an insight into God’s nature. Referring to God as Father can be troublesome for individuals who have experienced pain associated with earthly father figures. The word here is used to encapsulate the characteristics of protection, providing, strength, guidance, teaching and support. Imagining these characteristics should evoke feelings of safety and security.

Starting the prayer with these words clearly places God in the center of the prayer and the community of faith’s life. It demonstrates a belief that God is the one who can, and does, provide for all our needs and security. The words remind us that we are part of a much larger entity than ourselves. As the two words are said, we declare that God is god of a multitude, not our own personal god.

Receiving the Signal

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever becau1 se of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[a] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (NIV)

In the day when transistor radios were common, the familiar sound of trying to precisely locate a station on the radio dial included a lot of static and distorted sounds. Car radios of today can still provide a similar experience if you do not use the automatic search feature on them. Anyone who has manually adjusted the dial of a radio knows that often you  have to fine tune the radio in order to receive a clear signal which produces the best sound quality. If the signal is not on the exact frequency, the message or music will be garbled or mixed with annoying static. Getting and understanding a clear signal is important to the listener.

The Bible passage presented today involves a signal and understanding that signal. God had told Eli that because his sons were corrupt and Eli did not put an end to their corruption, Eli’s family would be stripped of their priestly duties. God also said that both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day. Time passed and the boy, Samuel, was living with and ministering alongside Eli. Samuel had been given by his parents to serve the Lord when he was an infant. One night Samuel heard a voice call to him while he was sleeping. Samuel assumed that it was Eli so he went to Eli. Eli told Samuel that he had not called and the boy should go back to sleep. This occurred three times. On the third time Eli figured out that the Lord was calling Samuel. So he gave Samuel a response for the next time the voice was heard. When God called again and Samuel responded as Eli instructed, God told Samuel of the fall of Eli’s family. The next morning when Eli asked Samuel what he had been told, Samuel did not want to give the message but Eli pushed the boy until he shared God’s words. This began the path which would lead to Samuel being seen as one of God’s great prophets.

Have you received a message which you would rather not share? Maybe you have been prompted by God to take a stance or an action which you wish to avoid. God’s calling of people did not end with Samuel. The Lord continues to call out to people each and every day. Some are called to speak at specific times about difficult topics. Others are called to respond or take actions which may place them in an unfavorable light. Like Samuel we may struggle to understand the source of the signal or what it means. We may need a mentor such as Eli to help us understand and know how to respond. We may also feel the fear which Samuel felt so we need to be prodded to follow through. Some fine tuning may be needed for clarity to exist. Whatever our situation, we must always be ready to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Spirit Fruits

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

This is the time of the year when many fruits and vegetables are ripening and bring enjoyment to our tables. The melons, tomatoes and other garden vegetables enhance our meals. On a hot, summer day, a watermelon can seem to be a refreshing treat. The fruits add a nice, sweet taste as a snack or part of an after-meal dessert.

In the letter sent to Galatia, there is a conversation about fruits. The fruits here are not apples, grapes, or plums. The fruits discussed here are what the Spirit produces in human lives. These fruits benefit society and all people so there are no prohibitions restricting us from exhibiting these behaviors. Living within the Spirit, we are to practice these behaviors regularly instead of the selfish behaviors and desires we exhibited prior to our knowledge of Christ. We experience the fruits of the Spirit in our lives just as we practice them towards others.

Just As I Am

Today I ran across the lyrics of one of my favorite childhood hymns, Just as I Am. This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835. One night before a fundraising event hosted by her brother who was a pastor, she lay awake, troubled by her doubts and fears regarding her usefulness and her salvation. The next day, still troubled, she sat down to write her understanding of the Gospel message. The verses which she wrote became the hymn we have today. (This history was found on Wikipedia.)

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliot, 1835

The words of this hymn resonated with me as a young boy and at various times throughout my life. Elliot’s words remind me that I can, and should, approach the Lord exactly as I am. I do not need to hide any part of myself. I do not need to have it all together in some proper way. All I need to do is come. When I do, I am certain to find love, acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing. There is no reason to doubt, fear or struggle in the Lord’s presence.

Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.