Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Forgetting Everything You Never Had To Remember

We grew up in Gadsden. Kids in Gadsden didn’t think it a small town. We’d all seen places with more farms than car dealerships; where they had only one grocery store. Those were the small towns.

When my tenth-grade English teacher suggested we could relate to John Cougar Mellencamp’s "Small Town," we stared at him blankly. He countered, suggesting Gadsden was small compared to, say, Los Angeles. We shrugged and granted him that.

Nowadays, my parents, my brother and I all live in the Birmingham area. It's different, but I don't usually think of it as different. Again, next to L.A., Birmingham, too, is a small town. I don't think about Gadsden and Birmingham being different, except when I visit Gadsden.

Remembering

One time a while back, my brother and I stopped in Gadsden on our way to Henagar—the kind of place we considered a small town when we lived in Gadsden. Our parents sent us to pick up beef from the processor—near to where the cow was born and raised. They were into eating local before that was a thing.

In Gadsden we drove through a Hardee's for breakfast. The woman at the window called my brother baby doll. Of course, she did. That wasn't surprising. What surprised me was that I had forgotten the women at fast food places in Gadsden call you baby doll.

How does that happen? How does the new thing become so normal that one forgets the old thing, when the old thing was once the only thing? It could be that we had misunderstood the old thing all along.

Rethinking

As a kid, I thought I was growing up in a suburb, but a city has to be urban to have suburbs. Gadsden had neighborhoods. In a collection of suburbs you find homogeneity that just doesn’t exist in neighborhoods.

In Gadsden, some folks were more country than others. We all knew that. Every day, we interacted with people along different bands of the country spectrum. Out in the county, we encountered folks who shaded more or less country, but that never caught us off guard. Because on any given day you might meet a person in Gadsden who was more country than the standard in the small towns.

Not Returning

In the suburbs, however, we’re not so versatile. We expect each other to sound like we’ve always been here. When asked, we’re sure we remember otherwise, but the din of our monotone dialect makes it easy to forget. Maybe Mellencamp understands the two sides of this coin.

No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me

Mellencamp sings "Small Town" from the perspective of someone who’s still in the small town. Why does he need to warn himself against forgetting where he came from if he’s still there? In that line, we might be hearing a sentiment truer to the songwriter than to the song, but there’s another possibility.

Just before the self-admonition against forgetting, Mellencamp—or his narrator—makes a confession.

Married an L.A. Doll and brought her to this small town
Now she's small town just like me

Somewhere in his story, the singer left the small town, and leaving did something to him—so that even after returning he has to remind himself not to forget where he came from. He needs this reminder despite the small-town ethos being so strong that his L.A. doll doesn’t flinch when the lady at Hardee’s calls her sweetheart. That’s the part I don’t know anything about.

I have not gone home again, let alone taken someone back with me. Moreover, I must have looked like a guy who wouldn’t be coming back.

Reflecting

I worked at a tool-and-die shop between high school and college. Near the end of the summer, a welder offered the advice John Cougar Mellencamp wasn’t there to give. Don’t forget where you came from.

Here in the suburbs—where we all sound like we’ve always been here—I know that on some level I have forgotten where I came from.

Otherwise, I’d still know my brother is a baby doll. We could hit 10 drive-throughs in Gadsden today, and he’d hear it—or the same sentiment—seven times. In Attalla, he’d go 10 for 10. That just doesn’t happen in Birmingham, in Vestavia Hills, in Hoover—usually not even Pelham. As for Los Angeles, I cannot say.

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Finding Rest Amid The Raucous

Do you ever freak out a little at bedtime?

At one point last year, I had a couple weeks when every night I feared I would die in my sleep. It really caught me off guard. Why was I thinking this way?

Then I realized, after almost ten years without attending a funeral, I had been to two in as many months. Makes a guy think about things.

I tried combating my distress with the following thoughts: God sustains us every breath, and—from the Apostles’ Creed—'I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.'

After a couple weeks of still waking up alive every morning, things went back to normal. I remember those nights when I read the last verse of Psalm 4.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Earlier in this psalm, David laments living among the mockers. These mockers ridicule those who trust in the Lord. Worse still, they prosper financially, though all they provide the community is strife.

Despite the raucous, however, David finds true rest. He does so for one reason—'you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’

The world tempts us to draw comfort from provisions, rather than from the Provider.

Maybe business is good, or a stressful situation turned out fine. But these things bring only temporary relief. In Psalm 4, David relies on eternal hope.

What about you and me? Why do we lie down and sleep in peace?

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Lord's Prayer: Amen

It’s the final word in most prayers that we pray, but we can say it with the most confidence at the end of this prayer—the one our Lord teaches us to pray.

We aspire to pray in the name of Jesus. When we pray this prayer, we pray in the words of Jesus.

We hope even, by the Holy Spirit, to pray with the same heart of Jesus—the heart of obedience.
When we get to the end of this prayer, we confess that all we have just said is true, and we ask the Father to make it more and more our true desire.

Here are my two main conclusions from all the preceding reflections. Firstly, we say the Lord’s Prayer in order to shape us. As with diet and exercise and other habits and practices, the things we do every day make us who we are.

When we confess these things regularly, we remind ourselves of their truth, and we remind ourselves that we need to be reminded of these truths.

When we say these things over and over, we better understand ourselves, and we help ourselves to live by these truths outside the prayer closet. That brings us to the second conclusion.

There is great freedom in praying just, “your will be done.” Have you ever wondered whether to pray for a certain thing? Sometimes, when I’m unsure, I refrain. 

Instead, I think about the thing as I’m saying, “your will be done.” Leave it in the Father’s court.
Let the prayer guide you to trust that he knows what is best, and that—whatever it is—he’s got his eye on it, and he’s going to take care of it.

When we pray for the Father’s will to be done, we know we can follow that with' amen.' We know that we have confessed truth, and we know we have spoken words we can trust—words both from and to the One we can trust.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Lord's Prayer: Forever

When we add ‘forever’ to the three preceding confessions, we commit ourselves to always ascribing these things only to the Father. It's both a confession and petition because, while the Father is faithful, we—by nature—are not.

So we petition him for grace to always recognize that the kingdom is his alone, and likewise the power and the glory.

We do not bring about the kingdom. The kingdom does not advance by our power. The kingdom does not reign for our glory. We make this confession, and we pray for grace to remember that these things belong wholly to the Father, both now and forever!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Lord's Prayer: The Kingdom, The Power, The Glory

We end the prayer by confessing that these three things—the kingdom, the power, and the glory—belong to the Father.

Everything we’ve said already is true because the kingdom, the power, and the glory all belong wholly to the Father.

The Kingdom

We have already prayed for his kingdom to rule over all the earth. Now, we emphasize that this kingdom we're looking for belongs solely to him.

He makes the rules. He decides all matters. He alone will say when.

We pray for the kingdom to come, but we don’t make it happen. We don’t bring it about by our own means—and certainly not on our own terms!

We get ideas about the way things should look, but we surrender them. We look to the Father and say, ‘Yours is the kingdom.'

The Power

The Father alone has the power both to provide the things he already knows we need, and to bring about the reign and rule of his kingdom.

While various earthly kingdoms stake claims to power, only the Father’s power sustains creation. Only the gospel holds the power for salvation.

When a person confesses the Lordship of Jesus, and believes that God—by his power—raised him from the dead, it doesn’t look like the coming of any earthly kingdom. It isn’t.

It’s the coming of a kingdom advanced by a wholly different sort of power, and that power belongs solely to our Father!

The Glory

As the Father alone has the power to establish his kingdom, so also does he alone deserve the credit. Giving him proper credit doesn’t encompass the meaning of glory. Glory is another thing we don’t yet truly understand. We understand it just about enough to know it belongs only to the Father.

Or, do we?

It’s easier to see that the kingdom and power are his, but surely some fraction of the glory belongs to us, right? We are, after all, bothering to pray—on top of everything we do outside the prayer closet for the church, for others, etc.

So we need his glory joined to the kingdom and the power—things we more easily understand are beyond our possession—in this confession.

And if this final thing we confess as belonging solely to the Father reminds us of Psalm 115:1 (Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory . . .), then we begin and end the Lord’s Prayer by hallowing the Father’s name.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Lord's Prayer: Are We Done Yet?

Before we discuss the final few words of the prayer, let’s consider whether we already have.

Many Bible translations include, “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever,” only as a footnote.

The ESV Study Bible note says this closing was likely a later scribal addition. They also point out how the traditional closing echoes a line from one of David’s prayers.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chron. 29:11)

Should we include this closing, if we know we’re doing so more from tradition than from Scripture? Personally, I do. Tradition is part of how we do things. That’s even a biblical idea.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1

As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, Christianity is something handed down to us; we don’t get to make it up as we go along.

It’s good to be mindful that this closing may not have been original to Matthew’s Gospel. It’s also good, in my opinion, to conclude the prayer with this traditional confession.

What say you?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Lord's Prayer: But Deliver Us From Evil

'. . . but deliver us from evil.'

Because Jesus pairs this petition with ‘lead us not into temptation,’ the evil may be connected to our own sin and its consequences. At the same time, some translations render the Greek term here as ‘the evil one.’ And, as we considered yesterday, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the evil one. Either way, we know one thing for sure.

There is evil in the world from which we need deliverance. Without guidance otherwise, we will walk straight into temptation. Without divine deliverance, that temptation will keep us bound to evil.

We confess our weakness. We admit our inability to rightly lead ourselves. We acknowledge our dependence on the Father for deliverance, and we give thanks to the Son for teaching us to pray like children!

The Lord's Prayer: And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

'And lead us not into temptation . . .'

Jesus knows what it means to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. He did not call his disciples to follow him out there.

Jesus alone was the target of so high a temptation, and Jesus alone shows the faithfulness to rebuke Satan with such resolution. We are called to follow Jesus. We are not Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus give us this petition in a positive form? He could’ve had us say, 'lead us along paths of righteousness.' I don’t know, but when we pray not to be led into temptation, we make a confession.

We remind ourselves that we are susceptible. Jesus alone was faithful to withstand the high temptation of the wilderness, whereas we are vulnerable to lesser temptations—even in friendlier settings!

So, we pray not to be led into temptation. We confess our weakness, and we give thanks for the One who withstood the wilderness.

The Lord's Prayer: And Forgive Us Our Debts

'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.'

I’m thankful for the simplicity here. Forgive us our debts. Things are slightly more complex in Leviticus, and yet I might prefer that to a detailed report on my sins. Not that Scripture doesn’t tell us to confess our sins. In this prayer, however, Jesus says only ‘forgive us our debts.’

After giving his disciples the prayer, he connects forgiveness of our sins, not to how we manage them after the fact, but to how we forgive others.

When I say, ‘as we also have forgiven our debtors,’ certain people often come to mind. I used to wonder how I was supposed to forgive them.

They don’t owe me money. I almost never see them; how can I show them some grace or mercy? After focusing on this prayer for months, it hit me that I did consider them to be in my debt.

They owe me a debt of unpaid respect.

I’ve been foolish to keep that debt on the books, because they are never going to pay it. That, of course, isn’t the point.

Any debt I think I’m owed is nothing next to my indebtedness. When it comes to loving God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength, and loving my neighbor as myself, I’m all for throwing out the book. If I want the ledger of my debt thrown out, Jesus says I’m to stop keeping the ledger on what I’m owed. I’m still not sure exactly how to do that.

I’ve got places in my heart that have been hard for a long time. The only thing I know to do is to keep hitting at those hard places with the prayer—to keep saying, day in and day out, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’

The Lord's Prayer: Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

'Give us today our daily bread . . .'

Just before giving them this prayer, Jesus tells the disciples their Father knows what they need before they ask. We pray ‘Give us today’ as a confession, reminding ourselves that everything we have comes from above. Even when we harvest it from the ground, we don’t make it grow.

We always have ideas about what we need. What we really need is for the kingdom to come and the Father’s will to be done. Jesus teaches us to pray for those things right at the top. That’s our real need, and—when we’re most yielded to the Spirit—our deepest longing. As for everything else, the Father has it covered—each day.

Our storehouses of past production and our plans for future provision mean nothing on their own. They provide us nothing apart from the Father’s providence. We know that, but we live in a world that makes it easy to forget.

So, we confess our dependence on the Father for even life’s basic sustenance—one day at a time.

The Lord's Prayer: Your Will Be Done

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

How does this petition differ from 'Your kingdom come?'

It could be a stepping-up of the same idea. Or, maybe these two petitions work together to reflect the idea of already-but-not-yet.

The kingdom is expanding in the here and now. Ever since Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, the kingdom of heaven has been working its way through the earth like yeast in the flour (Matt. 13:33).

So, we pray for that ongoing advancement of the kingdom. That’s the already.

At the same time, when we pray for the Father’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, we’re praying for his will to be done perfectly. 

While nothing thwarts the Father’s will, when we look at the earth today, it’s hard to see his will being done in the visible realm as perfectly as in heaven. That’s the not yet.

We long for the day when Jesus’ work of making all things new (Rev 21:5) reaches completion. We long—and pray—to see the Father’s will done perfectly, on earth as in heaven!

The Lord's Prayer: Your Kingdom Come

We can debate what it means for the Father’s kingdom to come, but here’s a couple things we know. 

Firstly, we don’t pray for any other kingdom in this way. If the following lines—'your will be done on earth as in heaven'—inform this one, the kingdom coming involves the Father’s sovereignty. Imagine if any earthly kingdom got everything it wanted. Yikes! 

Because we don’t pray for any other kingdom in this way, we have an allegiance to the Father’s kingdom that forsakes all others. That brings us to the second thing—really, just the other side of the same coin.
All other kingdoms ultimately forsake the Father’s kingdom.

We pray for the Father’s kingdom to come because no other kingdom will hallow his name. Earthly kingdoms have more a track record of taking his name in vain. So, again we find ourselves celebrating our Creator’s singularity.

We pray for one kingdom to come, the one that will hallow the singularly significant name of our one Father.

The Lord's Prayer: Hallowed Be Your Name

What does Jesus mean when he says hallowed be your name?

It could be an exclamation of praise, or maybe a confession. Some read it as a petition—asking the Father to bring about reverence for his name in our midst. I think hallowed be your name has multiple meanings wrapped up in it. It contains layers of truth beyond what we can currently unwrap.

We do know that the disciples whom Jesus was teaching to pray were raised not to say aloud the divine name. That was part of their culture’s attempt to keep the commandment against using the Lord’s name in vain. In coordination with the prayer’s opening, Our Father in heaven, ‘hallowed be your name’ further emphasizes the Father’s singularity.

We like to hear our own names. To call someone by name often shows either endearment or respect. And, because we are all children, sometimes we feel the need to make a name for ourselves. We hope to achieve something that will make people say our name, because the speaking of my name makes me somebody.

The Father doesn’t have that need. His name is hallowed.

When we say hallowed be your name, we explain why we call him Father instead of calling him by name. Moreover, that we’re allowed to address him as Father, when his very name is hallowed, conveys the remarkable intimacy to which Jesus invites us in saying this prayer!

The Lord's Prayer: In Heaven

Why does Jesus teach us to specify that we’re praying to our Father in heaven?

In yesterday’s post, we considered how we are all brothers and sisters in that we have one Father. And yet, we tend to make distinctions. You have your father and I have mine. Or, we have our father and they have theirs. We push back against these distinctions when we specify that we’re praying to our Father in heaven.

All the divisions we make among ourselves stem from earthly fatherhood, whether in a literal sense, or regarding our commitments to different ideas—different politics, theology, etc. Our Father in heaven is undivided. Jesus emphasizes the singular status of the Father later in Matthew’s Gospel.

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Matt. 23:9)

That’s the Father to whom Jesus teaches us to pray—our one Father in heaven. His being in heaven, however, doesn’t mean he’s too far off to hear us. He’s close enough to know every sparrow that falls and every hair on our heads (Matt. 10:29–30).

So, even when we pray alone, we pray together, to our one Father—in heaven, yet close enough to hear your prayer and mine.

The Lord's Prayer: Our Father

Why does Jesus teach us to pray to Our Father, rather than just to my Father?

In Matthew 6, Jesus makes two main points about prayer before he gives his disciples The Lord’s Prayer. First, he tells them not to pray for the sake of public performance. Next, he tells them not to heap up empty phrases. Regarding the first point, Jesus says,

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. (Matt 6:6)

Sounds like a private matter, doesn’t it? I go into my room, shut my door, and pray to my Father. And yet, Jesus doesn’t begin the model prayer with My Father, but Our Father. Why is that?

If I’m praying in my room, and you’re praying in yours, why do we pray to our Father? I don’t know, but I know that saying 'our' makes me think of how we all have the same basic relation to the Father. We’re all children. We’re all brothers and sisters, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

When I think about the inclusiveness of 'our,' I sometimes think about three groups of people: believers whose faith and practice look basically like mine; believers whose faith and practice show clear distinctions from mine; and, nonbelievers. Those relationships involve all manner of details that we’ll never sort out before Christ’s return.

Still, we can take solace in knowing that Jesus taught us all to approach our Maker from the same place. Even when we pray alone, we pray together, to our Father.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Checking In Again

Just in case someone finds their way here apart from the facebook pagethat's where most of the action is happening these days. Right now, I'm doing a series of short reflections on the Lord's Prayer.

When I have some devotions or other thoughts to share, those will be posted here as well.

By the way, if you just don't do facebook, I'm also sharing the Lord's Prayer posts as a podcast.

Thanks for stopping by!