Focus On You

Read John 21:20-23

People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.

Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said, 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, β€˜let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.

Into the Water

Today as I was looking at some Christian artwork, I came across a picture created by Yongsung Kim (click here to learn about the artist.) As I viewed the picture, the story of Peter attempting to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) came into my mind. Then I began to consider the many times I have needed Jesus to reach into the water and pull me up in life. View this picture and share your thoughts.

1. What do you notice about Jesus?

2. When you see Jesus’s hand, what thoughts come to mind?

3. When have you needed Jesus to reach into the water for you?

4. What led you to need Jesus’s saving act?

5. How did you respond to Jesus?

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.

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.