Wednesday, March 21, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Forgive Because...

What comes to mind when you hear the word bitter? For me, I think of vegetables. I don’t like vegetables, but I especially do not like green vegetables. The reason is because they are extremely bitter to me. I have been this way since I was a small child and about 20 years ago I think I determined the reason – I am a supertaster. One Saturday afternoon on my way home from work, I was listening to a call-in radio show and whatever the subject may have been, one caller called to ask why she didn’t like vegetables. When she described what she tasted, I gave full attention because her description could have been my own. The host responded that certain people are more sensitive to certain chemicals or enzymes and are known as supertasters. In my research, about 25% of the population may be supertasters which is caused by a particular gene (TAS2R38). So, my dislike for vegetables is not just preference, but is literally a genetic issue (although my mother and father both like them).

Frankly, it has been so long since I have had a green vegetable, I cannot describe the sensation. But I do remember the taste being extraordinarily bitter. In fact, one of the last times I had green beans was when we still lived in Liberty and I put about 1/4 cup (yes, cup) of sugar on them to try to eat them, and still couldn’t do it. And it isn’t just vegetables, many fruits are very bitter as well. And like the green beans, sugar will not cover the bitterness.

Sugar can cover the top and sides so it may look more appetizing, but the substance within the food (a chemical most simply referred to as PROP) cannot be masked by aesthetics. And while these ideas may be new to you related to food, we all know the same to be true about humans.

Many humans are bitter from the inside out. They may dress nice, have all kinds of amenities, or use other means to attempt to cover over their true nature, but when their essence is bitter, it will be easily identified soon enough.

So, how do we become bitter? Bitterness begins with being hurt in some way. That hurt turns to anger and the anger will eventually turn to bitterness if we do not resolve the issue. The cause of the hurt does not matter. The hurt may be the result of an accident or an intentional act by someone else, but when our hurt turns to resentment, bitterness is sure to follow. Over time, a person may even begin to choose to be bitter about any number of things which turns a person from the “sweet” image of God into something like a sour green vegetable.

The solution to avoid bitterness is to forgive. The need to forgive comes from the fact we have been hurt. But when we forgive, we allow the hurt to be removed. Although forgiving is not always easy, it is always possible – although sometimes it is only possible through God’s love and strength. Not only is forgiveness possible, it is also necessary. So, let’s look at a few reasons we should forgive and then consider how it might be done.

Forgive Because God Forgave You (Colossians 3.13)

That statement is true IF you are a Christian! That is, if you have placed your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven. God offers forgiveness to everyone, but our forgiveness from God hinges upon whether or not we claim the gift of His Son. Thus, if you are a Christian, you are forgiven, so how can you not forgive? The answer? You do not realize how much you have been forgiven!

Far too many Christians pretend their sins are few and/or negligible. But the reality is that according to God’s Word, any sin we commit means we deserve death (that is, eternal separation from God). And that death will find us in a very real place called hell for all of eternity. But, for those who have received God’s forgiveness, we will forever be with Him.

So, if we understand that God has truly forgiven us, then how can we not forgive others? Do we think our sin(s) hurt God less than the pain that others cause us? How arrogant is that thought?  So, yes, God forgave you, but not only that, He paid the price to restore you. Think of what God did this way.

Imagine Person A stole $1000 dollars from you to pay Person B a debt that was due. On the way to pay the debt, the Person A loses the stolen money and cannot make the payment. When Person B realizes s/he will be repaid, Person A is put in prison. Meanwhile, you are able to determine that Person A stole your money and now hear that Person A is in jail. You go to Person B and ask how much is owed to get Person A out of jail, and Person B says $1000. You pay it and Person A is now free to leave, but only if Person A accepts that the debt has been paid by someone else – you.

That is what is amazing about God. Our sin offends Him. Yet, because of His love, He not only forgives us (our true focus for this message), He made restitution for us. We may not have the ability to make restitution for others and the wrongs they have done – particularly against us, but we do have the capacity to forgive – because God has forgiven us.

Take a moment to read Colossians 3.12-13. These verses comprise a list of how believers should relate to one another. We should be filled with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness because of the love that binds us together. And that love allows, and requires us, to forgive.

Forgive Because You Want Forgiveness (Matthew 6.12, 14-15)

Now we turn to the text that led to this message. Last week, we reviewed Jesus teaching on prayer in His sermon and then we discussed the Disciples’ Prayer. In the midst of that prayer is the phrase “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Those words should be clear enough – as we forgive others, we are forgiven. But Jesus wanted to make certain that this principle was understood. And this principle relates to the previous point – we forgive because God forgave us.

The words Jesus spoke come right after our request for daily provisions – including food. And, I think a link exists. In fact, I like the way John Stott said it, “Forgiveness is as indispensable to the life and health of the soul as food is for the body.” (1) As I mentioned above, to not forgive makes a person bitter. Just like food will spoil if not eaten timely, so too will a person spoil if they allow resentment to turn to bitterness and eat away their soul.

Just after the prayer model Jesus provides, we see Jesus expound on the idea of forgiveness. Verse 14 begins with the word, “For,” so this is not a disjointed thought; rather, Jesus is continuing His thoughts on prayer with a specific explanation on what He just said. Take a moment to read Matthew 6.14-15.

What if no one ever forgave you? Even for innocent mistakes. We have all faced experiences when we did something wrong or didn’t do something right, and the other person did not forgive us – even we may have tried to make amends. That happens. But how much harder is it when you know you have forgiven that person (perhaps multiple times) and they will not forgive you? It hurts...and, again, hurt can lead to bitterness so we need to forgive again.

But what if the person said, “Ok. I will forgive you IF you forgive me.” That doesn’t really sound like true forgiveness, but the condition is well understood. If you do this, then I will do that. We understand the conditions of that premise. And in Matthew 6.14-15, Jesus gives us the conditional premise for being forgiven by God. The condition is not about our forgiving God, but rather forgiving others. If we forgive others, God forgives us. That seems plain and simple. But if it is so simple to understand, then why is it so difficult to do? Because we are selfish people living on earth.

Remember, the sermon Jesus was preaching concerns the principles of life (and living) in the Kingdom. One day in the future, we will have no need to forgive when God’s Kingdom is fully established. But, in the here and now, when the Kingdom is still “at hand” (Matthew. 4.17), we will make mistakes and so will others. Thus, we need to be forgiven and we need to forgive.

Forgive Because the Result Is Peace (Colossians 3.14-17)

At first thought, you might not agree with this point. But forgiveness does bring peace to the one who forgives and can bring peace to all parties involved. Let’s return to Colossians 3. Take a moment to read Colossians 3.14-17.

First, we must remember that most of the pronouns in the New Testament are plural. For instance, in verse 15, when Paul wrote “your” it is plural which is easy to see because of the plural hearts which follows. But in verses 16 and 17, Paul uses the word “you” and in both cases it is plural. The easiest way to remember this idea is that if the letter is to a church (like Colossians then the pronoun is almost certainly plural, and if written to a person such as Timothy, the pronoun will likely be singular).

Paul is telling the people of Colossae to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts. And he stated this command directly after reminding them of the bond that love brings, which is the verse directly after the command to forgive. Let’s make sure we have this. When we forgive it is a reflection of our ability to love as well as a reflection of God’s love which binds us together so that we (collectively) can experience Christ’s peace together. This truth is why most of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting which includes extending the grace and peace of God to the recipients.

Now, the truth is that not everyone will respond positively to being forgiven. But that is secondary. When we truly forgive another person, we will no longer experience the turmoil of the situation in our lives. But we cannot control the response of another. Romans 12.18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on your, live peaceably with all.” Our forgiving others will bring peace to our lives and that’s all we can ask. Many times other people do not even know they have offended us. And guess what, it is likely that several people that offended by you and you are unaware. It happens. This is part of why it is foolish to harbor anger and resentment towards others. Again, it makes us bitter, and the person at fault may realize you are bitter, but they have no idea that they are the cause!

This understanding is why forgiveness is important. As we forgive, we are freed from the bitterness, the resentment, and the anger. Thus, we are at peace within ourselves and that leads to being at peace with others. But if they don’t want peace with us, then that is their issue – their anger, their resentment, and, ultimately, their bitterness.

So, What Does It Mean To Forgive?

We must realize that forgiveness is a decision that should be evident in thought, word, and deed. Forgiveness is not just a feeling, it does not mean we must forget what happened, and it is not excusing the behavior. (2)

Forgiveness is not a feeling.

Our feelings may cause us to act in some way, but a feeling is not the action itself. We may feel like we should forgive or maybe that we cannot forgive, but that is just the feeling. To truly forgive someone requires an intentional decision to be made and that decision is part of the act of forgiveness.

To forgive does not mean we forget.

It is impossible to try to forget something. Forgetting is simply not remembering, but remembering is an action. Many people say that God forgets our sins...that is not true. The Bible does not say that He forgets them, but rather that He remembers them no more (Isaiah 43.25). God intentionally chooses to not remember – to not bring them to mention any longer. When we choose to forgive, we must choose not to remember the offenses that others have made against us.

To forgive is not excusing the behavior.

To excuse is to consider that the offending behavior did not happen. But forgiveness acknowledges both the incident and the pain it caused. Forgiving by stating the offense is actually a good way for both parties to acknowledge the offense in the midst of forgiving. “What you did was wrong, but I forgive you (because God forgave me).”

So, to forgive is to consciously decide to unconditionally release the offending party from their trespass against you.  It does not mean that consequences should not be considered. It does not mean that the person shouldn’t repent (in fact, ideally, repentance would come before forgiveness). But it does mean that we must remember God has offered His unconditional love to us and all He asks to forgive us is our acknowledgement of our wrongdoings.

If We Are To Truly Forgive, We Must Do So In Thought, Word, and Deed

Forgiving in Thought

We may say we forgive someone, but we keep thinking about how we have been wronged. Ken Sande discusses the Replacement Principle which is to replace negative memories with positive ones. If you can’t think of something good about the person, think about the greatness of God (Philippians 4.4-7).

Forgiving in Word

When we have truly forgiven someone, we should not talk poorly about them. In fact, we should talk positively about them – and to them! Being positive will actually make it easier to remember their sin no more. This process may not be easy, but with God all things are possible.

Forgiving in Deed

Love. When you act in love, it is hard to remain angry. Oftentimes we may have an idea to do something nice because we love someone, but we don’t do it because we are angry at the person. Such an attitude helps no one. Put love into action and it will be easier to forgive.

How Will Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?

If we have this knowledge, we will forgive! No questions and no exceptions. In reality, it is impossible to truly comprehend what Jesus did for us on the cross. But if we come to understand the principle of what He did – that He loved us and it was for our forgiveness, then how can we not forgive others? Again, Jesus said plainly that our continued forgiveness is effectually conditional on our continued forgiving. So, if you are not inclined to forgive others, then you might want to check your relationship with God.


When we learn to forgive, we experience the joy that God desires for us. When we harbor resentment, we become bitter and angry. It may take a supertaster to realize the true bitterness that is found in certain foods, but most anyone who crosses paths with a person who is bitter can see and hear the bitterness within moments. As Christians, we have no place for bitterness in our hearts – especially if we are letting Jesus reside there.

Ultimately, Matthew 6.12, 14-15 are a testimony of the presence of God’s grace in our lives. If we are unwilling to forgive, then we must question how much of God’s grace is active in our lives. To focus on our anger towards others is to miss the point of the entire sermon Jesus preached. Our focus is not to be on others, it is to be on God. If our focus is on God, then we will reflect on His grace in our lives and be more willing to extend grace to others. But if we focus on the anger we have for others, then, ultimately, we will lose sight of our shortcomings against God. We will explore this idea further in Matthew 7.1-5 next month.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – OBSERVE

Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness. He further explained what forgiveness is. He taught about forgiveness using stories. And He gave His life as the supreme testimony of what love and forgiveness truly are. If forgiveness was/is important to Jesus, then it should be important to those who follow Him. Therefore, we must OBSERVE His commands. We must live by His example. In other words, we must be a people who will truly forgive.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LOVE Which comes first – love or forgiveness? If we love someone, we should find forgiveness easier. But if we forgive someone, we can often love them better. Thus, we must love to forgive and we must forgive to love.

This week, find ways to love anyone who has wronged you. The action may be small, but it should be tangible. Maybe it’s a word, maybe it’s doing a favor, maybe it is a gift, etc. But find a way to show love in order that you might soon forgive.

(1) Stott, J. R. W., The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 149. 

(2) This section, down to the question about the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, is an adaptive summary from chapter ten of Ken Sande’s book. 
Sande, Ken. The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 204-223.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“Forgiveness”, A Closer Look by Mike Lewis

Forgiveness...the act of forgiving. This is a concept we all know. It is a concept we all know we should practice. Why is it so hard? I’ve struggled with this many times in my life. I struggle with it even today. I’m sure I’ll struggle with it in the future but I’m better at it today than I was ten years ago, five years ago, a year ago, and even better than I was yesterday.

How many times is forgiveness mentioned in the Bible? The word “forgiveness” is mentioned in the NIV bible fourteen times. Once in the Old Testament and thirteen times in the New Testament.

The concept of forgiveness is mentioned more frequently. For example, the word “forgive” appears forty-two times in the Old Testament and thirty-three times in the New Testament. The word “forgiven” appears seventeen times in the Old Testament and twenty-eight times in the New Testament. The word “forgiving” appears six times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament.

The word “forgiveness” appears in the NIV in the following verses:

  • “But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalms 130:4)
  • “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
  • “And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
  • “to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,” (Luke 1:77)
  • “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)
  • “and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)
  • “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)
  • “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:31)
  • “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
  • “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38)
  • “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18)
  • “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
  • “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:14)
  • “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Matthew 6:14-15 reads, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

According to Jesus (these are the “red” words), forgiving someone is essential for our own salvation in God’s eyes. Who are we to question Jesus?  We must release the other person from blame, give it up to God, and move on. This does not mean we have to forget. As a matter of fact, that is probably impossible. Just don’t take it back from God. Make it His to keep.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of forgiving someone. It is a feeling of freedom.  When we refuse to forgive someone, we are chained to the anger and resentment that will eventually consume us. It truly is like a cancer that eats us from the inside out. Lewis Smedes wrote this about forgiveness in his book Forgive and Forget, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”

I’ve hopefully given you some things to think about but I want to ask again, what is forgiveness? The Bible points us to Jesus and His desire, if not need, to save us from our sins. Peter said in Acts 10:39-43, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 18:21-22 records, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not just seven times but seventy-seven times!’ We must continue to forgive to receive God’s blessing. It is His will.

As we get closer to Easter, we need to remember that Jesus died on the Cross to forgive us of our sins. In the last moments of His life, He called out to God. Do you remember what he said? He said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do?”  God forgave them and He still forgives us because of that one moment. Can you do the same?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Righteous Pray-er

When our kids were young we taught them a few different prayers by song. Each night we sat at the dinner table and would let one or the other choose which prayer we would sing. We did this for years and really had a good time with it. One of my favorite memories is when Susan started to harmonize near the end of one of the prayers and over the next couple of weeks, Nicole and Andrew did as well so we ended that particular prayer in four parts. It truly sounded good.

But did it mean anything? I am not saying it did not have meaning, but was it truly heard? A part of the meaning was us teaching our children to pray, but the words were repeated so many times, it is fair to consider whether they had any real impact for us. Were we singing for ourselves or were we singing for God?

Such is one of the scenarios Jesus mentioned in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact that is part of our topic for today. Before reading the rest of this post, tke a moment to read Matthew 6.5-8.

Last week, we looked at Jesus words about giving. His words about prayer are very similar. We are not to be hypocrites when we pray by bringing attention to ourselves. The focus of our prayers, just like our giving, is to honor God, not ourselves. But Jesus also goes further to show that long-winded and/or formulaic prayers are not helpful to gain God’s favor either. Today, we will briefly look at each of these truths and then review the model prayer.

The Topic – Prayer

Prayer is simply communicating with God. It is as easy as that, but most people get hung up on the idea of talking to God or the words that should be used when doing so. But God makes no distinction in how we talk to Him other than, per Jesus’ model prayer, we need to be reverent. That does not mean our word choices have to be extravagant – this is simply a conversation. But we must remember we are not merely speaking to anyone – we are speaking to the majestic Creator of the universe. He is our King and, as such, we should talk to Him in humility and honesty, while continuing to be ourselves. The problem that Jesus was addressing in this section concerns people who were not following these principles. The hypocrites prayed to gain attention for themselves, while the Gentiles prayed as if they could manipulate God. Let’s look at Jesus’ words to both to make sure we know how to avoid the same problems.

The Hypocrites

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about two men who go to the temple to pray (verses 9-14). One is a Pharisee who proclaims himself as righteous in the prayer. The other is a sinner who seeks mercy. Jesus says it is the sinner who has been made righteous. Personally, I believe many people disregard Jesus’ words in that parable as well as in Matthew 6 because we are not Pharisees. Futhermore, we somewhat naturally link the idea of hypocrites to Pharisees because of Jesus words in Matthew 23.

We know the Pharisees are a group of people we shouldn’t be like so we dismiss ourselves from them. But every time we lift ourselves above another we are acting like a Pharisee. In truth, a Pharisee was like a type of party like our modern Democrats and Republicans, although the Pharisees were a religious group. In Matthew 6, when Jesus speaks of the hypocrites, we immediately assume that Jesus is talking about the Pharisees, but they are only a part of the problem. The hypocrite to which Jesus refers is anyone – ANYONE – who prays without a focus on God.

First, Jesus says that the hypocrites like to be seen when they pray. The synagogue was certainly a place where public prayers were offered. Thus, to pray within the synagogue was normal and standing was the standard way to pray in that day (although kneeling and laying prostrate were common as well). But to bring attention to oneself while praying was the focus of Jesus statement. It is one thing to pray in public and quite another to pray to bring attention to yourself in any place. For instance, Jesus mentions the street corners. Notice He did not say on the street (which in Jerusalem and throughout Israel were usually quite narrow). Instead the hypocrite went to a busy intersection during one of the three prescribed times for daily prayers. The focus was on himself/herself not on praying to God.

Instead Jesus says to pray in an inner room. I don’t like the ESV here which says “your room.” Most of these people did not live in a house large enough to have a separate room. The inner room, like the KJV suggests, was likely a closet – perhaps a small storage closet where any additional food or cooking items were stored. The point is that we should seek to pray in private first and that will prepare us to pray in public. Please note that Jesus does not say we should not pray in public; He only cautions us to watch our attitude when doing so. (Consider, for instance, that Jesus said a blessing before feeding the 5000 – Matthew 14.19.)

The Gentiles

The next two verses provide a different warning about prayer. Jesus has just challenged the mentality of many Jews and now He lumps in the Gentiles. Please understand these Gentile prayers were not to the Almighty God – or, if they were meant to be, those praying had a very distorted view of God.

The practice of the Gentiles was to use long prayers supposing that quantity was more important than quality. Long prayers are fine as Luke records that Jesus prayed all night before selecting the twelve from among His followers. The problem was that the Gentiles would bargain, plead, and negotiate with God and often used incantations (such as a magic spell) to try to manipulate their gods to do something for them. The length of the prayers, and their empty phrases, which is translated as vain repetitions by the KJV, were the problem. As for the vain repetitions, the focus of the problem should be on the word vain more than on the word repetitions. It is ok to repeat prayers. After all, Matthew 26.44 says that Jesus prayed “the same words again” in the Garden of Gethsemane. But to pray words that don’t mean anything as we say them is vanity. And this is the irony of the prayer which follows in Matthew – the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer. We will come back to that prayer in a moment.

The Righteous

In Matthew 6, verses 6 and 8, Jesus gives us the proper idea for a Christian prayer. First, according to verse 6, we should seek to pray privately. Again, it is perfectly acceptable to pray publicly – even aloud, but a public prayer should be a reflection, even an overflow, of our private prayers. By praying privately, we must still focus on God, not ourselves, but without an audience around us it should be easier to do.

Secondly, we are to bring our requests to God with the understanding He already knows what we need. We do not need to elaborate our prayers, nor should they be a rote formula. They should simply be a genuine conversation with God. But if God already knows what we need, then why should we pray? The answer is that we pray to connect with God. We pray to let Him know what is important to us. As Luther was quoted as saying, “By our praying, we are instructing ourselves more than we are him.”

In order to help people focus their prayers, Jesus then gives us a model prayer. But before we go through that prayer, let me tell you the reward for proper prayer. Based upon Jesus words, we can consider a prayer to be proper if the focus is on God and we are intentional in praying. That is, we are not praying to bring focus to ourselves nor are we simply going through the motions and praying words without thinking. When we pray in such a manner, we are in our right place before God which means we are humble.

The Reward

If we are humble before God, then we can be considered poor in spirit, to which Jesus has promised the Kingdom of Heaven – the first of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3). We are also showing ourselves to long for righteousness which Jesus says will bring about satisfaction (Matthew 5.6).

So, to help us pray correctly, Jesus gives us a model prayer.

The Disciples’ Prayer

We often call this prayer the Lord’s Prayer, but we have no record of Jesus praying it. In both Matthew and Luke the prayer is given as a model or form of prayer to those listening. In Luke, what Jesus shares is in specific response to a question from the disciples. Thus, the Disciples’ Prayer is likely a better name. The prayer in John 17 is likely a better choice for the title of the Lord’s Prayer.

Another reason to call it the Disciples’ Prayer is because it is for believers – that is, for the children of God. The first two words, “Our Father” make this abundantly clear yet people who want nothing to do with God will stand and say this prayer at a funeral or other such service because the words were ingrained at a young age. This prayer is meant for those who are God’s children – those who follow Him.

Finally, before we get into the specifics of the prayer, we must realize that it is a corporate prayer. The pronouns are “our” and “us” not “my” or “me.” That does not mean that the prayer cannot be prayed by an individual, but we should keep in mind that we are praying for all of us collectively.

The prayer has two main sections. It begins with a focus on God and then turns to focus on our needs (not wants). In the first four words, we have an interesting juxtaposition. By calling God, “Our Father,” we are declaring the intimacy we can have with God; however, by stating “in heaven” we declare the mighty nature of His being. Immediately afterwards follows our  proclaiming that His name is holy while also declaring an intention to make His name holy. God’s name is holy, but not everyone knows that. Thus, for His name to be known as holy we need to share the Gospel with others as well as live our lives in a way that shows that our words (hallowed by Your name) and our actions are as in sync as possible.

The next phrasing is the source of our series title. God’s will is done perfectly in heaven. We are declaring that we long for that to be true on earth as well. Certainly, only God has the power to make it happen on earth, but if we claim we want His will to be done here, we need to be the first ones to do it. The idea of making His name holy and doing His will should be in complete harmony in our lives. Jesus desires that those who have a kingdom mindset will adopt this approach so that earth does become more like heaven. Again, He has already declared the Kingdom of heaven to be at hand (Matthew 4.17), and the sermon He is preaching is to help people live according to that truth. Thus, the Kingdom is here already, but not yet in it fullness.

Then in verse 11, the focus switches to us and our practical needs, but remember this is a corporate prayer. Thus, when we pray for our daily bread, we are praying that all of us have enough bread. Bread by the way is not only food, but all of life’s basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter – all of which Jesus will address later in this sermon. Thus, if you have enough bread and a fellow believer does not, we are to share in order that all have enough.

Then, Jesus moves to the idea of forgiveness. Next week’s sermon will be about forgiveness as we look at this verse and then verses 14 and 15. But the words of Jesus leave little doubt – if we seek true forgiveness, then we need to truly forgive. Again, more on this idea next week.

The next verse has been discussed a number of times on Sunday evenings. I have shared that the Greek word (peirasmos) can mean either temptation or test. This has always been a natural explanation to me because the Bible says that God will not (cannot) tempt us (James 1.13). But in my study this week, I gained further clarity. The testing aspect is a possibility, but even if testing is the right word, the idea here is to let us stand firm during the trial or the test. In other words, we are asking that God not allow us to be put into a situation where we might fail to remain faithful to Him. But the second part of this verse covers the other side of the coin. If we do stray and find ourselves in trouble, we are asking God to deliver us from the evil to which we have yielded. In essence, this verse is saying – God keep us from getting ourselves into trouble, but if we find ourselves in peril, please rescue us.

The prayer is simple and straightforward, but it is very profound. But what is most interesting about the prayer is its placement in the text. Many millions of people can say the Lord’s Prayer without thinking, but most have no clue of the two verses before it or after. The two verses before the prayer warn of vain repetitions and the two after it expound on the idea of forgiveness. So consider this:
  • People repeat this prayer in the very manner Jesus says not to do.
  • People say forgive us as we forgive others but are not willing to forgive and, thus, are not forgiven.

However, the early church dealt with the same issues. For instance, one of the earliest Christian writings we have apart from the words that make up the New Testament are in a book called the Didache which was written in the late 1st Century. (didache means teaching). In the Didache, the people are instructed not to pray like the hypocrites, but instead to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day. Again, nothing is wrong with repeating the prayer, but if done in vain, it is pointless.

So, to keep from vain repetitions and self-promoting prayers, what should we do? Well, let us return to our guiding question for this series.

How Will Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?

I return to Jesus idea of a proper prayer. We are to pray with a focus on God (whether alone or in public) and be intentional in your prayer. You may use the same words, but think about what you are saying, and mean what you pray. If you become more consistent in doing both of these aspects, your prayers will be authentic and that is what God demands for a people that want to be known as righteous.


Again, the overriding theme of Jesus’ sermon is the idea of righteousness. He has taught us how to live and now shares the proper attitude behind that living. All of our actions should be focused on serving God whether that is giving or praying. As we focus on God we will begin to better reflect His love in all that we do.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere

We only have hope in our living because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because of His sacrifice He deserves to be worshipped, but He also deserves to be followed. He has given us directions for living and shown us how to do it Himself. If we want to be a follower of Christ, then we must also seek to be righteous in our living as well and that includes how we pray.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LEARN While the point of today’s lesson is to pray righteously, it will be beneficial for many to take inventory on where you are tempted to focus on yourself during times of prayer. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 do not preclude us from praying for ourselves, but it should prevent us from thinking about ourselves as we pray.

This week, as you pray, consider your prayer habits. Do the habits lead you closer to God or are they more focused on you? Make notes about this and determine to correct any issues so that your prayers will be considered righteous.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

“Prayer”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

{Content taken from “12 Types of Prayer from the Bible”, by Janelle,}

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Psalms 100 says we are to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving.
  • Moses and the Israelites expressed thanksgiving for God delivering them from Pharaoh (Exodus 15:1-21).
  • Paul prayed with thanksgiving for churches.

Prayer of Confession, Forgiveness, and Repentance
We are to confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, turn away, and repent.
  • Moses prayed for forgiveness for the Israelites’ sin of making a god out of gold (Exodus 32:31-32).
  • Nehemiah confessed and repented for the sins of Israel (Nehemiah 1). Later he described Israel’s assembly of humble repentance (Nehemiah 9).
  • David’s prayer of repentance for his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51).
  • Throughout the book of Daniel, we see Daniel’s prayers of confession. He acknowledged his great God and confessed the wickedness of Israel, their departing from God’s laws, and their lack of obedience to God’s ways and laws.

Prayer of Blessing
  • Jacob’s prayed blessings over Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Exodus 48:12-22).
  • Aaron and his sons prayed blessings on the people of Israel. “The Lord bless you, keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-27
  • In Deuteronomy 33, Moses blessed the 12 tribes.
  • Jabez’s prayer of blessing (1 Chronicles 4:9).
  • King Solomon prayed blessing over the whole congregation of Israel before dedicating the temple (1 Kings 8).

Prayer of Dedication
King Solomon dedicated the temple to the Lord (1 Kings 8).

Prayer of Intercession
Intercessory prayer is earnestly praying for a particular person or situation.
  • Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18).
  • Moses interceded for the people of Israel with their grumblings and murmurings, when they sinned before the Lord (Numbers 14). He also interceded for Miriam’s healing of leprosy.
  • Anna prayed and fasted, night and day, interceding for people (Luke 2:33-39).

The Lord’s Prayer
A model of how we should pray (Matthew 6).

Prayer of Agreement
Two or more believers agree on a specific thing to be prayed for.
  • Matthew 18:19
  • Acts 1:14
  • Acts 2:42

Prayer to Move Mountains
If you have obstacles, problems, or circumstances that seem like mountains which stand in the way, say to them, “be removed,” and cast them into the sea in the name of Jesus.

Praying in the Spirit
This is praying according to how the Holy Spirit leads you. It is not your list of needs.
  • “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” – Ephesians 6:18
  • “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” – 1 Corinthians 14:15
  • “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” – Jude 20-21

Prayer of Faith
This kind of prayer is based on James 5:15 which gives instruction in taking care of the sick and praying the prayer of faith for those who are ill.
  • “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” – James 5:15

Prayer of Request
These prayers are when we take our requests to God.
  • “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” – Philippians 4:6
  • “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” – Ephesians 6:18

Prayer of Worship
This is similar to a prayer of thanksgiving. The prayer of worship focuses on God while the prayer of thanksgiving focuses on what God has done.
  • “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” – Acts 13:2-3

Prayer of Consecration
A prayer of setting ourselves apart to follow God’s will. Jesus made such a prayer on the night of His crucifixion.
  • “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” – Matthew 6:39

Prayer is conversation with God and should be made without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As we grow in our love for Jesus, we will naturally desire to talk to Him.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: The Righteous Giver

Which do you enjoy more – receiving gifts or giving gifts? While some will say it doesn’t matter because they enjoy both, I am convinced most people have a slight preference. However, I think that preference is dependent upon the other person or persons involved. For instance, if the gift is given to help someone then it will likely mean far more than one given out of an expectation. Likewise, to receive an extravagant gift from a stranger might be nice, but to receive a small heart-felt gift from a child may mean far more to most people.

Really, the gift is immaterial in both of those scenarios. It is the attitude behind the gift that makes the difference. If that is true when we give and receive gifts to other people, how much more true is it when giving our gifts to God? Matthew 6 is ultimately about our attitude and where we place our trust. The first part of the chapter deals with our attitude towards giving, praying, forgiving, and fasting. As we will see over the next few weeks, Jesus is very concerned with the attitude of those who desire to follow Him. Specifically, His comments get to the issue of whether or not we do what we do for our own glory or for God’s?

Before reading the rest of the post, I encourage you to read Matthew 6.1-4.

Over the past two months, we have looked at four questions to guide us as we have worked our way through Jesus’ sermon each week. The questions have been:
  • What did the people think (when they heard Jesus)?
  • What did Jesus (actually) say?
  • What does our world say (today)?
  • How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

While these four questions will continue to guide us in theory, my approach in covering the first three will change as we begin to focus on the next portion of Jesus’ sermon. My shift is intentional because Jesus also makes a shift in His sermon. The theme of righteousness continues, but now instead of expounding on what righteous people do, He shares how they must do it – that is, the attitude they are to have. Thus, the chapter break in the Bible is likely appropriate, but if we let the chapter breaks guide us, we miss a great deal.

For instance, in last week’s message, I commented on Jesus’ words about giving to those who would beg or borrow (Matt. 5.42). Well, the first of the topics Jesus addresses in this next section is on “giving to the needy” (Matt. 6.2). And, in between, He has focused on the necessity of love (Matt. 5.43-48). Thus, these ideas tie together very well. But before we get to the topic of giving, we need to ensure we remain focused on the idea of righteousness.

How Will Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?

The Righteous Person Must Live Righteously Before God and Men (Matthew 6.1)

Jesus has just said that we should be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5.48). Then Jesus issues a stern warning about how we live our lives. The warning is not about what we do, but why we do them. Do we do things to be seen by people or by God?

Now, some may spot a potential conflict with Jesus statement. If not, let me read Matthew 5.16 and see if you notice it then. Matthew 5.16 says to let our good works shine before men, but now Jesus says we should not do things in order to be seen by men. Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Well, it’s a good question. But it can be easily explained if we compare the essence of our being and the essence of our doing.

In Matthew 5.14. Jesus says we are the light of the world. We are. Even if we do nothing, we are that light. In Matthew 6.1, Jesus warns against practicing righteousness before others “to be seen by them.” In other words, we do something to be noticed by someone. In Matthew 5, because we are light, we must shine in order for others to see Jesus in us (the true light of the world, John 8.12) and give Him glory. But in Matthew 6, we are attempting to gain recognition for ourselves by bringing attention to our deeds. John Stott explains this idea perfectly through the help of AB Bruce. Stott writes,

It is our human cowardice which made him say ‘Let your light shine before men’, and our  human vanity which made him tell us to beware of practising our piety before men. A. B. Bruce sums it up well when he writes that we are to ‘show when tempted to hide’ and ‘hide when tempted to show’. Our good works must be public so that our light shines; our religious devotions must be secret lest we boast about them. (1)

Thus, as I mentioned a few moment ago, we must live righteously before mankind, that they may know God, and before God, so that He will be glorified.

The Topic – Giving to the Needy

When you think of the attributes of God, what comes to mind? For some, they may think about His power or His holiness. Others may think of His love, His grace, or His mercy. Jesus begins this portion of His teaching by drawing the thoughts of the people to the mercies of God. The ancient Israelites focused a great deal on God’s mercy and the Jews of Jesus’ time sought mercy due to the oppression of the Romans.

The phrase, “give to the needy,” is the idea of almsgiving which reflects the idea of mercy. Nearly all religions have some aspect of assisting the poor built into the fabric of their beliefs. This was certainly the case for Judaism, as it is today for Christianity. Notice Jesus says, “when” alms are given, not if. Again, it was an expectation. But notice the first word in verse 2, “thus.”

Jesus has just mentioned the need not to practice righteousness to gain the attention and favor of others. Now, He fleshes that out with three prioritized aspects of the Jewish faith – giving (verses 2-4), prayer (verses 5-8), and fasting (verses 16-18), with the Lord’s model for prayer placed in between. As we will see over the next few weeks, Jesus contrasts how the hypocrites perform these duties versus how those who are truly righteous – with the righteous being the ones who receive a reward.

The Hypocrites

Jesus mention of the sound of trumpets is likely hyperbole and no evidence has been found to substantiate actual trumpets being blown as people gave their monies. However, the idea of “making noise” or as we might say “blowing your horn” is true.

Jesus specifically mentions two places – the synagogues and the streets.  Synagogues were primarily a place for religious activities. The streets are obviously inhabited by all people, religious or not. So, by mentioning both places Jesus says that our giving is not to be flaunted among the religious or among the crowds.

Many churchgoers will give in an effort to influence the church. This can be done many different ways, but the end goal is the same – I am giving my money so you will do things my way. Although many people may feel this way, they still feel they are honoring the Lord; however, one day they will realize that their gifts have no eternal significance (their reward has already been received). Of course, the same is true in the streets where many philanthropists make sure their name is known.

And here is the catch, churches and ministries support this errant view. For instance, if you listen to Christian radio, you have no doubt heard a fund-raising drive. On many stations the hosts will read the first names (and sometimes last initial) and amounts given. To do so is not necessarily wrong, but I am certain some have given just to hear their name called. Such a reward is pretty minimal compared to what God can give.

The Righteous

As for the righteous, Jesus says it would be best if we didn’t know what we were doing ourselves. Of course, we cannot write a check without looking, but the point is we shouldn’t be proud of ourselves for doing what God has already asked us to do. Now, some might balk and say, “Yes, but I gave more than a tithe.” Ok, but you didn’t give anything that God didn’t allow you to have. And per Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9, we are not to give because we have to give; rather we should give because we want to give.

I have always personally interpreted this verse with a thought toward clapping. When our right and left hand know what each other are doing, they are within range of one another. As they grow closer together, they “know” more about the other hand and what it is doing. If we overplay this idea, they come together, then move apart, then want to see what the other hand is doing again. If we repeat this process, then we find ourselves clapping. To carry the metaphor into Matthew 6.3, we begin to applaud ourselves for our generous giving which goes against the principles of what Jesus is trying to teach and thus instructs us to keep our hands from coming together. Again, if it is applause we seek – ours or for someone else, then we have missed the true reward which God has for us.

The Reward

Verse 4 is difficult for some to reconcile. But Jesus has already mentioned the idea of a reward in Matthew 5.46. In addition, the entire set of the Beatitudes incorporates the idea of receiving a reward. In Matthew 6.1, Jesus mentions the receipt of a reward again. And finally, the receipt of a reward is contrasted in each of the three topics Jesus chooses to mention – giving, prayer, and fasting. In each case, Jesus sets the hypocrites’ reward (already received) against the reward for those who are righteous which will be given one day by the Father.

Verse 4 has a truly fascinating. “Your Father” in the singular is only used three times in the gospels. All three are in this section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.4, 6, 18). All other instances refer to “your” in the plural. The obvious conclusion is that the Father is truly the Father to many, and our faith is to be lived out in community. However, we are to have a personal piety which will receive a personal reward from an intimately personal Father (the one who sees in secret).

The point of Jesus’ statement here is that those who want to be acknowledged publicly for their good deeds will get the appropriate attention and thus their reward is complete. However, those who remain humble will not be forgotten by the God who sees everything. Even the most minor of deeds is noticed by God and will be rewarded if the action was done in faith.

As for what the reward is. Let me tell you. I don’t know. And you don’t want me to. If I knew, it wouldn’t be as good as it likely is. But just knowing that God has a reward waiting should be plenty to motivate us.

However, we should not do righteous deeds for the sake of a reward. If you are saved, you have already been given reward enough – eternal life through the blood of Christ. So, we do not try to honor God so He will honor us. But, if He wants to reward us for bringing glory and honor to Him, then so be it.


The righteousness that Jesus desires is a theme that continues throughout this sermon. The same word used in Matthew 6.1 (Gk, dikaiosune) was also used in Matthew 5.6 and 20. It is the same word we will see again in Matthew 6.33. We will further elaborate on the word over the next couple of weeks because as I mentioned at the beginning of this message, it is not enough to do the right things, it is the attitude behind them that matters. Our actions should be focused on serving God which ultimately is a reflection of our love for God and others.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere

We must keep our focus on God, not ourselves. We must lift Him up in both our actions and our attitude. As I have said many times, God doesn’t care about your money. He cares about you. If He gets you, you will give money. But you can give all of the money in the world, and it will mean nothing, if you don’t know God. And we must remember that we have the opportunity to know God because of what He gave – His Son.

It is the blood of Jesus that brings us before God, and it is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LEARN. While the point of today’s lesson is to live righteously, it will be beneficial for many to take inventory on where your are tempted to act for yourself. This week, as you give (and don’t give) to others, consider whether you do so for your own benefit or do so to bring glory to God.

(1) Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 127). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“Giving”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Typically, this expression means: If you have a great body, don’t hide it under modest attire. Show yourself off for the world to see. If you have a brilliant mind, don’t be humble and unassuming. Expose the genius within. If you have money, spend it so that people know you’re loaded. My favorite is, “If you are going to make a scene, be seen.”

It seems that many Christians assume that this expression is valid in the spiritual realm. It’s common for Christians to brag about how much they give, how much they pray, how much they serve, and how spiritual they are.

So what does it mean to give to the church? We hear complaints from Christians and church members who say, “Churches today only care about money.” “There is too much abuse and misuse of church funds. Why should I give?” “How do I know the money will go to a good cause?”

First and foremost giving means we are giving to God alone.  Not to the church and not to the pastor. In fact, the Bible teaches us to give for our own good and for our own blessing, from a cheerful heart. The Bible also says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Everything we own and everything we have comes from God. So, when we give, we simply offer him a small portion of all the abundance he has already given to us. Giving is an expression of our thankfulness and praise to God. It comes from a heart of worship that recognizes that everything we give already belongs to the Lord. God instructed Old Testament believers to give a tithe, or a tenth, because this ten percent represented the first or most important portion of all they had. The New Testament does not suggest a certain percentage for giving, but simply says for each to give “in keeping with his income.”

We are blessed when we give. Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God wants us to give because he knows how blessed we will be as we give generously to him and to others. Giving is an act commanded by God; it brings more blessing to the giver than to the recipient.

In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks of ways that enable us to give in the right way.

Give without fanfare (6:1–4). Jesus urges you and I to give with pure motives that please God. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” The word, “beware,” always warns of danger ahead. Jesus warns you to beware of seeking to impress people. He doesn’t say that you can’t be impressive. Jesus focuses on the topic of financial giving. He says in 6:2, “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” Jesus also says “when” you give. The word, “when,” is a key word throughout this entire passage. Jesus does not say, “if,” but, “when.” Jesus says in verses 3 and 4, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Don’t give with your right hand while you wave your left hand in the air. Instead, just drop your check in the offering or send it in the mail, without drawing attention to yourself. Fold the check. Keep the envelope sealed. Give in a spirit of humility and simplicity, as an act of worship. Try giving anonymously sometimes, even if it means that you do not receive a tax deduction. “So that our giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

There is a story of Billy Graham, when he was first in the ministry and he and his wife Ruth were struggling to keep afloat. Billy and Ruth went to church and Billy had a 5-dollar bill and a 10-dollar bill in his pocket. The 5 was for the offering and the 10 was for them to live on for the week.  During the service, Billy grabbed the wrong bill by mistake and placed the 10 in the plate. The story goes on to say that when he got home and told Ruth of his mistake, she said to him, “God only gave you credit for the 5 anyway.” God sees our intent not our actions. The Bible teaches that Christian giving ought to be cheerful giving. As Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” This is a truly amazing assertion. Paul assures us here that the Lord takes a special delight in those who are joyful, energetic, and merry givers.

Is there joy in your heart as you give? Can you truly be characterized as a “cheerful giver”?