The Lord’s Prayer For Our Country

Last week, we began to pray for our country using the Lord’s Prayer as our framework and prayer prompts. This week, we begin with the line, “Forgive us our Sins.”

Forgive us our sins…As I wrote last month, “The last I checked my own heart, I discovered hatred, rage, revenge, incredible selfishness, superficiality, immorality and disbelief. I am part of the problem and the sooner I can start working on my own heart and continue to transform into a Christlike version of myself, the sooner the world will change around me.” How easy we can be self righteous and judgemental when it comes to our political lives yet the world is calling for us to “walk humbly.” We can start by seeking forgiveness for all the ways we screw things up.

As we forgive those who sin against usDesmond Tutu says, “Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but it is not easy.” In the Matthew version of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says that if we do not forgive the wrongs done to us then God will not forgive us. We cannot take the forgiveness from the nailed-scarred hands of Jesus and then hold unforgiveness back from others. Life doesn’t work the way it should with this approach. It just doesn’t. Is there any place in our public lives that needs more signs of forgiveness than our political lives?

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Lead us not into temptation…This is the call for God to put the reins on our proclivity to take matters into our own hands. As we think about what is best for our country the temptation is for us to use any means necessary to achieve our desired outcome. If those means push us towards evil or abuse of power or harm to others then it is not of God. This is our great political temptation – that everything is on the table. This is a lie and something we should desperately avoid.

And deliver us from evil…In this prayer, we have established who God is, where his place in the order of things resides, and how great his name is. He has the power to deliver us from anything, including radical evil of our own making and the evil made by others. Our memorization and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer makes this final portion of the prayer almost a throw away line but there is nothing unimportant about the deliverance we need and the deliverance our country is crying out for. Let God handle the deliverance business, it will work out better that way.

For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever…Again, this isn’t some throw away line at the end of the prayer because it needs a way to wrap up. No, this is our declaration of where our allegiance lies. God’s kingdom is above all kingdoms. God’s power is above all power. God’s glory will be forever and ever. This is a great reminder that our country has been blessed by God but it is not the same as the Kingdom of God and the power and responsibility that has been granted to our country should be in submission to the power held only by God. Our glory is only found in God’s glory.

Amen”That is just the way we want it.”

The Lord’s Prayer For Our Country

I am not very imaginative and especially not when it comes to my prayers. I use the Lord’s Prayer to give my daily prayers an outline and a framework to know what to pray for and where my heart should be in the matter.

Today, I would like to use the Lord’s Prayer as a way to pray for our country. I often find the call for prayer for our country to be a veiled attempt to push our own agenda and political preferences instead of emulating the heart of Jesus and the way that he taught us to pray. So, here is a way to pray for the United States or any country using the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father…He is our Abba, our Daddy. He is not a heavy handed taskmaster ready to lash out at our country. He loves our country and the people who inhabit it. All of the people.

Who art in heaven…God is intimate like a father but also beyond us in majesty, glory, power, and might. He inhabits a place of such grandeur we cannot comprehend yet we have to consider the Jewish concept of heaven which was multilayered. This Father of ours inhabits the heaven that is simply the sky above us and the air we breath. God is here – in the election booth, in the hospital rooms, in the Governor’s mansion, in the White House, in the unemployment line. God is here.

Hallowed be thy name…His name is above all names, including our candidate of choice or political party affiliation. Our allegiance belongs to him and we pray that his name will be glorified in our country no matter who wins in November.

The Lord’s Prayer (Le Pater Noster), by James TissotBrooklyn Museum

Thy kingdom come…God’s kingdom is where what God wants done is done. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is at hand. That means that we can call down God’s kingdom now and in this place. We can pray for this kingdom to move and spread and take hold in all aspects of our culture even if it counters some of the ways and means of our political party of choice.

Thy will be done...God’s will is perfect and good and it is also our maximum fulfillment. In other words we can trust that God knows what he is doing and that what he is doing will bring us what we long for. To ask for God’s will to be done in our country doesn’t mean that we don’t vote or champion causes or fight for what we feel will bring the most good to our nation but it does mean that our best posture is a yielding to what God wants done and not just our own desires.

On earth as it is in Heaven…The Kingdom of God is a now thing and an eternity thing. Our prayer for our country is a prayer for the best of Heaven to be found among us despite how ludicrous that sounds.

Give us today our daily bread…Since we have already praised God for who he is and asked for him to take action and spread his kingdom we can now get down to our basic needs. Americans are in the midst of division, are combating racism, fighting a pandemic, facing economic uncertainty, and are navigating the mental and emotional strain of personal and national crisis. We can pray that people will have food to live on, medical care to fight the virus, financial means to provide for their family, vaccines that will eliminate and protect, and a sense of community and relationships that are life giving and sustaining. God can provide these things and desires to provide these things but we need to ask, not just for ourselves but for Americans collectively.

Next week, as we continue to pray for our country, we will look at the remainder of the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus the Carpenter

One of my most embarrassing weaknesses is my complete lack of mechanical ability. Changing light bulbs sometimes prove a challenge and anything beyond replacing a tire air cap on a car is a monumental feat. 

I consider some of my greatest accomplishments being replacing car batteries and a toilet seat. The day I changed a tire, with the help of YouTube and hours to waste, was akin to climbing a great peak. I am a librarian that is often outnumbered by women but still have had to refer to certain coworkers with heightened mechanical ability to solve problems with a disabled stapler or a cantankerous hole punch. Ask me who won the 1982 World Series or the difference between an Atom Bomb and a Hydrogen Bomb and I can be your Google substitute but ask me to build a bird house and I would be completely inept and laughable. If a Nailed It exists for handyman tasks then sign me up. 

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As someone who operates much more in their head rather than with their hands, I am sympathetic to those who would have the opposite problem. I recognize that I would have an advantage in understanding, for example, the connection the ancient Hebrews had with the early Christian church. I have a better grasp than some on the history, culture, political makeup, and spiritual heritage that leads to the early church and its ultimate spiritual significance. But, what does that teach me about living or blessing others or what works in society?

So, if Spiritual Formation, or what I like to call Growing Up, doesn’t come easy to you because you feel as if you are not wired like a Pastor or a monk or even a librarian, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember that Jesus was a carpenter and probably plied his trade as a carpenter longer than he spent teaching, healing, and spreading the Gospel. How did being a carpenter help Jesus form his ministry? What spiritual and leadership problems did he work out in his carpentry shop? What did his calloused hands have to show him about building a life that mattered and would withstand the storms of life?

One thing he learned was his teaching about the Kingdom of God was going to be the foundation for a good life. He once said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” He knew the value of a strong foundation, the reality of strong winds and shifting sand, and the wisdom it takes to make life work the way it should. He knew that he had the building blocks and the power to help people build a life that matters, that blesses others, and is strong enough for the worst that life can bring. Some have called Jesus the most intelligent person who ever lived and a great teacher but we can imagine that he was a pretty good carpenter too. And that helped him grow in wisdom and stature and find favor with God and man.

So if you are the opposite of me and can do great things with your hands and build and fix things then you possess a great gift. Not only are you incredibly useful but you share in Jesus’ experience of tangibly and physically turning nothing into something or repairing that which is broken into something that works and works well. Thank you for your valuable gift and embrace your strength as it teaches you more and more about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Out of the Depths: A Meditation on Psalm 130

Read the psalm below or here and then join me in reflecting on the message.

“Out of the depths”…The Lord loves to answer our emergency prayers. It doesn’t matter if we are to blame for being in the depths we can still cry out to God and he will listen.

“Hear my voice”…God knows my voice. He knows my heart when it aches or bleeds or is broken. He recognizes my soul as one in a universe. My cries of mercy will be listened to by the Lord of all creation.

If you Lord, kept a record of sins”...My ledger would be full. Volumes would be written on me. The record would show ample evidence of my propensity to fail you and those around me.

“But with you there is forgiveness”…My sin doesn’t secure my future, God’s forgiveness is my security and destiny. Not so I can gloat and feel proud of myself but so I can serve with reverence.

“I wait for the Lord”...Every part of myself waits for the Lord. Just a word for him is enough to fill me with hope. My mind waits to be covered in thoughts from above. My soul waits to be restored. My body waits to be empowered to do good things. My heart waits to be mended and stitched to resemble Christ’s heart.

“More than watchmen”…I long for the light and for the darkness to be finished. At that moment, my striving and straining will be over and my hope will be fulfilled.

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord”…To hope is to anticipate the good that is coming. God is full of goodness and steadfast (unceasing) love. Nothing can separate us from this goodness. This good is coming.

“And with him is full redemption”…What I have trashed and torn apart through my sin and unfaithfulness, God will completely restore to what it should be.

“He himself”…There is nothing I can do to make this redemption happen, only God. I cry out and he listens. I seek forgiveness and he absolves me of my mistakes. I wait and he brings hope. I am in his hands and he is making me a child of His.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;

Lord, hear my voice.

Let your ears be attentive

    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

    Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,

    and in his word I put my hope.

I wait for the Lord

    more than watchmen wait for the morning,

    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,

    for with the Lord is unfailing love

    and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel

    from all their sins.

Our Future Depends On The Spiritual

There is a theory that our civilization is at its most historically precarious existence at this very moment. 

This Hinge of History theory considers human’s current capacity to destroy ourselves, the all encompassing future of AI, the still present ability to reverse some of our wrongs such as climate change, and the mounting global crisis and posits that if we don’t prioritize the right things in our society over the next 50 to 100 years then we could be on the current road to obliteration. 

Hinge of History theorists state that if we wait to solve some of our problems then it could be too late. That we, as a species, must act now at this hinge in history.

In what I have read about the Hinge of History idea there is very little said about the spiritual side of our existence. This dumbfounds me. Despite the tendency of scientists and even philosophers to favor the physical over the spiritual it doesn’t change the fact that every person who ever existed and will ever exist has a spiritual life. From the child in the slums of India to the billionaire in Malibu, everyone of us has a spiritual life – this non-physical side that governs our decision making, gives us hope, establishes meaning, and directs our character. 

What are we doing with this spiritual life and what is the future of our existence if the spiritual is not made a priority?

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God is an active agent in our existence. He creates, sustains, moves, changes, and transforms his creation and his people. Reading the Psalms has shown me the priority of God as shield and protector. Still, he lets human beings make their own choices and shape their own existence and develop their own solutions to problems. 

God has supreme power over the universe yet he wants to partner with his creation to manage it. Our best way to manage this world and our lives is through the power of Christ in our lives. This side of Christ’s return, a way for God to be a factor in society is through individuals who claim Christ as Lord bringing him with them into their board meetings, city councils, laboratories, hospitals and places of government. And where does God operate with the individual? At the point of their spirit, their heart, their mind and will. A non-Christian or a Christian that has not Grown Up, doesn’t  bring Christ into their complicated existence because their spiritual side has not been transformed and renovated. Their lack of Growing Up prevents Christ from showing up in the fullest way possible and that is catastrophic for our existence.

As we face this Hinge of History, however significant it may or may not be, we must Grow Up and become more like Christ. We must prioritize the spiritual over the pragmatic, discipleship to Christ over discipleship to power, and wisdom over intelligence. Our very existence could be at stake.

I Am To Blame For The World’s Problems

Faced with bad news in our world we have two choices – 1. Take responsibility for it or 2. Point fingers at others and place blame.

Which one of these do you think most people choose?

I am tired of finger pointing and blaming all of the world’s problems on others. As a Texan follower of Christ, I mainly see this kind of behavior among Christians who want to place the blame for moral decay and chaos at the feet of the common suspects – liberals, homosexuals, and Hollywood.

Maybe these groups deserve some of the blame but if they do so does their opposites. How you ask? Last I checked, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, even the conservative, straight, and pro-family Christians. The last I checked, the Christian church deals with scandals of the Money, Sex, and Power variety just like anywhere else. The last I checked my own heart, I discovered hatred, rage, revenge, incredible selfishness, superficiality, immorality and disbelief. I am part of the problem and the sooner I can start working on my own heart and continue to transform into a Christlike version of myself, the sooner the world will change around me.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The alternative is to not have to worry about my own faults and mistakes because I can blame it on someone else. That is not a recipe for Growing Up. Most likely, it is a recipe for staying still and after too long we start to regress because our way of seeing the world is predicated on ignoring our own heart and we are unable to see the log in our own eye as we try to flick out the speck in everyone else’s.

So, what can we do?

First, fall on your knees and cry out for mercy. You are a sinner, I am a sinner, and even though we have the divine power in our lives to change and put on the new self, we are still at the mercy of Christ and his salvation for our redemption. Know your need and humble yourself. We have not reached moral, social, or political blamelessness.

Second, admit that you are a part of an unbelieving generation who has very little faith that God can solve the world’s problems. We are like the disciples who couldn’t heal because of their lack of faith and deserve Jesus’ criticism and frustration. And we are like the Pharisees whose only answer to the world’s problems are self righteousness, judgement, condescension, and ridicule. We can do better than that.

Third, Grow Up. Practice some of the things that have been discussed in this blog. Ask Christ to change you. Repent of your sins and judgmental nature. Listen to God. Read scripture. Be a part of a community that wants to grow in trust and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As I start to put on more of Christ and you start to put on more of Christ then we start to become an unstoppable force known as the Kingdom of God. Beware of poor and dangerous substitutes for the Kingdom of God and ruthlessly compare them to what you see in Christ and the early church.

If finger pointing is our solution to the world’s problems then we are only going to make matters worse. But, if we can humbly accept our own penchant for evil, are vast ability to screw things up, and our urgent and pressing need for Christ then we have a starting point for our own growth. This is difficult work but where has finger pointing taken us?

Do the hard work and start to see Christ change the world around you.

Love Isn’t Supposed To Be Rare

I have been reading the book Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins. He tells the story of the pastor of the Baptist church in his Mississippi town in the early 1960s. Perkins, who is black, had befriended the white pastor and they had reached common ground on their love for the Lord and the Bible and Perkins had developed a white ally for his work with the marginalized and poor in his community. Sadly, Perkins’ pastor friend committed suicide shortly after the start of their friendship. After the funeral, Perkins talked with a member of the Baptist church. She said, “The last few Sundays he had been acting strange. He was talking about love and concern but in a strange way.” Perkins then writes about this encounter, “So it was strange to hear all that talk about love and concern. So sad, I thought. Are love and concern really as rare as all that?”

As Christians, our default mode should be love. Jesus himself says that we will be known as his followers when we love. Sadly, the human default is often anger, fear, selfishness, and greed. When I examine my own heart, I often would much rather turn to anger than understanding, to fear rather than trust, and selfishness rather than love. 

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My base state is a million miles from love and concern and it takes daily practice and much help from the Holy Spirit to deny myself, take up my cross, follow Jesus, and love in the way of Jesus. One of my prayers lately has been, “Let me love others in the same way that you love me. Blessing everyone that I meet, even those that mistreat me.”* 

This might be the most radical thing I can pray for in a given day because for it to be answered would mean it would change the way I drive, the way I talk to my kids, the way I choose a line at the grocery store, the way I view politics, and the way I treat my enemies.

Brian Zahnd says that “the future belongs to love.” My eternal destiny will be in the presence of God, who is love. I will not be able to escape him. Love will inhabit all of eternal life and I will be soaking in it. I might as well start my exposure and practice in it now. It will serve me and all those around me so dramatically better than the non-love that we see around us and are so capable of.

If the future belongs to love, let’s start our future now.

*Taken from a book by Bill Gaultiere called Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke.

Quit Worrying About Your Level of Faith

The definition of a simple faith is not a small sentence with the most minimum of doctrine. A simple faith is wanting to believe. But this isn’t good enough for our 21st Century mindset that has to have not just happiness but fulfillment, not just wellness but fitness, not just devotion but radical commitment. 

When it comes to our Growing Up, what if we were satisfied with the faith that we have because we know that we are not ultimately responsible for our spiritual lives. If faith is a gift then whatever miniscule amount that we possess didn’t come from our own doing but was given to us by God. Our job is to take our faith, as diminished as it may be, and offer it to God and ask him to build on it and then start practicing proven methods to provide a context to Grow our faith – namely prayer, worship, scripture reading, and service.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Lately, I have wrestled with some serious doubts but that didn’t stop me from worshipping, fasting, praying, reading the Psalms, writing this blog, and listening for God last week. My faith is still strong even though my understanding about how God works and what he is trying to accomplish in my life may be in doubt. 

When a former student told James Bryan Smith that she hadn’t experienced God in a while and was worried about her spiritual life and her future in ministry, Smith responded with, “I have never seen your faith stronger.” His point was that despite the dryness of her life with Christ at the moment she hadn’t wavered from her commitment and her discipline in matters of faith. The lack of present experiences with God was not a sign of her lack of faith. The fact that in despite of all she was missing her practices were still frequent, dedicated, and intense showed that she was open and available for something greater, richer, and deeper. According to Smith, she found it and her ministry has flourished and been fruitful.

Dallas Willard says:

I never worry about someone who wants to believe, because I know that they already believe enough to want to believe more. If they did not already believe a great deal they would not even want to believe. That is why God says to us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart” (Jer. 29:13). Why? Because only faith would lead you to seek God with all of your heart.

Not feeling it during worship? You still have faith. Relationships not working out? You still have faith. Doubts present when they were not there before? You still have faith. 

Remember what we have faith in? The God of the universe who is pleased with you and loves you and never turned his back on his creation. The God who provided us his son to learn from, to demonstrate divine love, and to sacrifice his perfect life for the sole benefit of an often ungrateful but always sinful people.

A simple faith is wanting to believe and a realization that God has exactly what I need. That is enough for God and should be enough for us. God can use this simple faith to build on. Will we let him?

Your Only Option Is To Embrace Inconveniences

Today, I may face a hundred interruptions and multiple inconveniences. What I do with these moments may be the most important aspect of my day. What if I let these moments be holy moments?

I know what you are saying. An inconvenience could be straight from Satan and something that I could denounce and not think twice about. Or, most likely, an inconvenience could simply be a reflection of my selfish and inconsiderate heart that is ready to be irritated at the slightest drain on my time, energy, or space. 

I am always struck by how Jesus dealt with inconveniences. While he is going to heal an important person’s daughter he stops the healing parade to address some forgotten woman, much to the irritation of his disciples. When little kids are around and the disciples are wanting to get rid of them, Jesus rebukes them and says, if anything, these kids should be the model for the rest of them. When a storm is surging around him, Jesus finally is able to take a nap. When soldiers come to arrest Jesus and a servant loses an ear in the scuffle, Jesus takes a moment to heal the wound of the earless man. When his own family comes desperately knocking on the building door for his attention, Jesus doesn’t lose the moment to make a point and welcome all of the faithful to his family.

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So, what if I was to take the Jesus approach to these inconveniences and interruptions? Instead of growing irritated and bemoaning the derailment of my day or hour, what if I embraced these moments as a chance to trust, a chance to serve someone, a chance to heal. Instead of dreading that next interruption, what if I welcomed it and looked forward to it because God may be in it and who am I to judge God’s timing, God’s way, and God’s will. 

C.S. Lewis calls these interruptions our “real life”:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

I am going to embrace my real inconvenient life today and see what God does with it and how he helps me Grow Up in the process.

Communion In the Time of Corona

I miss sharing Communion. 

Up until mid-March, the church that we attend offered Communion each Sunday. The way they did it was select members are stationed at the front of the sanctuary holding baskets of bread and a cup of juice. The congregants would come forward to take a piece of bread and dip it in the juice and then return to their seats. As the bread is taken, the church member holding the bread says, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.” Then as you dip the bread the church member holding the cup says, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.” Some people would eat their bread right there and some would wait until they returned to their seat. The whole thing was participatory, intentional, Christ-centered, and spiritual. And I looked forward to it everytime.

Now, we still take Communion but instead of walking in reverence to the front of the church, we stay put and clumsily and loudly open small baggies of bread and peel off carefully, so as not to spill all over ourselves, the tiny cup of juice. We forget the order we are supposed to go in and no one is telling us as we partake what the bread means and whose blood this is. It is disorienting and awkward and not much like the process that I love. It feels like we are eating one of those packaged and sealed ration meals that serve as food but in such a clinical and unsatisfying way. Damn you Coronavirus for taking this grand gesture and holy ordinance away from us and for reducing it to a “Lunchable” version. 

I am grateful for the chance to attend church, to sing with other believers, to hear the gospel proclaimed, and to take Communion, even this watered down version. Still, I long for a chance to join my fellow believers in the procession to the altar to receive the bread and the cup. I long for the chance to respond to the invitation to join the meal, not from my seat, but looking into the eyes of a fellow pilgrim and telling them thank you as I take and eat. I long for the chance to trail after our daughters as they join the meal and have that gratefulness that they are welcome at this table and are ready participants.

Despite my longings, this Lord’s Supper, even in its watered down version, is not about me and my preferences and good feelings. This Communion is about God’s Grace that will not be hindered by death, by disease, by upheaval, by broken leadership, or by my high capacity to screw things up. This Grace that keeps sneaking through no matter what is blocking its way. This Grace that comes to me even though I haven’t earned it and do not deserve it. It is a gift that requires only one thing from me – to receive it and enjoy it. I may not have much control over the circumstances of the times that we live in but I can still accept this Grace with open hands. 

My hands are open, Lord, for your Grace. I may not like the packaging and the presentation but I will take it. Give it to me, I need it.