Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 9 May 2023. Today’s topic: Our Father

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Matthew 6:9

Let’s spend a few days breaking down the Lord’s Prayer.   If you’ve never chunked it down, it’s important to recognize the simple power, beauty, and perfect usefulness of these brilliant words.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  Jesus begins the prayer by acknowledging that the Father is ours, not just His.   The Father is the Father and father of all of us.   We are all humans made in His image, meaning we have intellect, feelings, beliefs, life:  qualities He has.   Men and women, we all have one common Father, who created us through His Son, Jesus, and who accepts His Son, Jesus’, self-sacrifice on our behalf for the sins we have done.

The Father is in heaven.   In a mystery we don’t understand, the Father is spirit, alive and real, but in a form in a place that’s just as real as the terra firma we know.  Heaven is a spiritual residence, a place He made for His residence and that of His family:  us.  We don’t know where heaven is.   Many of us don’t even believe that it is.   But, if we accept our living God the Father as real, then the place where He resides is just as real.   One day, we’ll find out exactly how real it is.

His name is special.  God the Father has the ultimate respect, the ultimate street cred, the ultimate bona fides.   His very name is in our breath, flowing in and out of our lungs to keep us alive.   His name describes Him, defines Him, embodies Him, and is a way for us to recognize Him.  Call Him Father, Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, Yahweh, Jehovah, or the great I AM.   Call Him whatever you wish as long as you do so in reverence and love because His name is special.

Said together, these 8 words sum up what every one of us, as His children, should think first about Him.   Later in the New Testament, Jesus refers to the Father as “Abba”, meaning “Daddy.”  That’s part of who He is, too.  The 8 words of this article tell us that God the Father is our Father, our spiritual but physical parent, and the first and very real person of the Holy Trinity, formal Father and personal Daddy.  You won’t find “trinity” in your Bible, but you will find, from the very beginning, God in multiple persons being known by the people He created.   You will find His person in the great Shema, where devout believers still proclaim, “The LORD is One.”   You will find Him in your heart when you need Him, and you will find Him at the start of this beautiful prayer that His Son, Jesus, taught us.   The Father is His Father, after all, and yours and mine, too.

For more reading:  Matthew 6:9

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Your wonderful name.   All my praise and thanks to You today.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 8 May 2023. Today’s topic: The Model Prayer

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:9

After telling us to keep it simple and how not to pray, as a good teacher, Jesus then tells us how we should pray.  Some words brilliantly describe truths and the real meaning of humanity.   A few of Shakespeare’s sonnets; some words from the Declaration of Independence; the Gettysburg Address; perhaps even some of the sayings of Confucius:   they all succinctly describe what is best in us and what it means to be a human being.

None of them do it like the Lord’s Prayer.   In these words, Jesus tells us how to simply say the things that sum up our lives and the whole human condition.   He tells us how to communicate these things to the Father in ways that say what we mean most, what is best in humanity, and our desperate need for Him.  The prayer gives praise, acknowledges truth, asks for His blessings, and requests Him in our daily lives.  It is personal, timely, and supernatural.

This is a prayer going up to the Father.   We are praying to God the Father in saying this, not the other two persons of the Trinity.  That matters because we’re praying to our heavenly parent, to the ultimate creator.   In referenced verses (below), Jeremiah and Malachi (from the Old Testament), and Peter (from the New) all remind us that we call on ONE Father, one divine creator, one single parent in heaven, who created us to be reflections of Himself.   To share His glory both with Him and especially with each other. 

Jesus, the Son in the Trinity, always prayed to His Father.   The Father is the parent and co-equal divinity who Jesus knew both personally and reverentially.   In this section of Matthew, He was explaining deep, personal things to the crowd there on the Mount.  And, in this, He explained how we should pray to the Father because it’s how He Himself would pray to His Father. 

Notice, too, that Jesus says “how” we should pray, not “the only things we should pray.”  Here, Jesus models the kinds of words we should say to the Father, and how our prayers should encompass the whole of our being (like this one does).  We aren’t confined to just this prayer, though most churches do commonly pray it (because Jesus taught it to us).  Simply know, as a whole, that this prayer is simply a model for our other ones.

For more reading:  Jeremiah 3:19, Malachi 2:10, 1 Peter 1:17, Matthew 6:10

Jesus, thank You for giving us this prayer, for teaching us how we should pray to the Father in praise and thanks and supplication.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 4 May 2023. Today’s topic: Keep It Simple

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   Matthew 6:7-8

Have you seen the videos of people so caught up in prayer that they start dancing, running in circles, talking in tongues, and such?  Most of the videos are done to mock Christians, yet, if you watch them, they also seem to show ridiculousness.

Now, I’ve never talked in tongues, and I don’t want to disparage those who genuinely do.   If I walked into a room and heard people speaking Mandarin who had never learned it before, I would be stunned; I might genuinely think they were having a revelation from Holy Spirit.   If, on the other hand, I walked into a sanctuary and heard people uttering unintelligible sounds but saying it was Holy Spirit talking through them, well, I’d be inclined to think it wasn’t.   I believe I speak for most people in saying this.

God wants us to pray with Him, to say our inmost thoughts to Him and tell Him what is really on our hearts and minds.   He wants us to speak with Him in ways that we understand because He already understands what we’re saying.   Sometimes, those inmost thoughts can form chants, or mantras, or things we repetitively say over and over.   Maybe even those “tongue” sounds.  If our motivation is to honestly pray, to bring glory to God, then let it happen with gusto, no matter what it sounds like!

Yet if it’s any other motivation, then we should be wary.  This includes talking in tongues, which (according to Paul) is a gift given to evangelize to others.  The gift is language, not babbling incoherently.   Make no mistake:   God understands it all because He understands what we say from the heart.   But others?   Probably not so much.  If the ‘gift’ isn’t to praise God for the edification of others, then perhaps it isn’t a gift from the Lord.

Again, I don’t want to disparage those who find all this as a way of genuinely praising God.  They’re blessed with a gift I haven’t been given, and that’s ok.  But we should watch it.   And, in doing so, we should watch what WE say as well.   Long, flowery talks and prayers can praise and serve God as well, but if they turn into words spoken just for us, then we’ve left the praise behind.   The better way is, as Jesus said, “let our yes mean yes and our no mean no.”  Keep it simple.

For more reading:  1 Kings 18:26-29, Ecclesiastes 5:2, Matthew 5:37, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25, James 5:12, Matthew 6:9

Lord, bless us by having us speak genuinely in tongues in ways that praise You without babbling.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 3 May 2023. Today’s topic: Pray in Private

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.   Matthew 6:5-6

Prayer is a gift.   It’s a gift from God that He created a real, personal way for each of us to directly talk with Him, to bridge the gaps between the temporal and eternal.   And it’s a gift to Him, when we open our hearts to Him in prayer, inviting Him in to lead us, clean us, inspire us, heal and comfort us.

So, what about ‘prayers by the flagpole?’   You know, the move to have high schoolers meet at the school flagpole to pray.   Are those things hypocritical?   Aren’t they vain?  Or prayers in a stadium?  What about when someone leads a long, flowery prayer that just…won’t…end?

It’s the heart of the matter that matters.  Does the prayer come from the praying person’s heart?   Jesus knows us, and He knows that, when things matter to us, we treat them as important.  We think of them as personal, private matters.   That’s what Jesus wants prayer to be for us:   a personal, private, important matter.   Why?   Because prayer is a gift.  It’s why He tells us to usually pray privately.

In Luke 18, Jesus said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   That’s another way of saying what He said here in Matthew 6.   Jesus tells us to humble ourselves in prayer, praying in secluded places where we can focus on God.   He wants us to have those regular conversations with God in ways that crowd out the rest of the world so that we can fully open up to Him.  In this way, we can be honest and candid with Him.

And we can do it in ways that don’t mock Him.   If you think about it, those flowery prayers don’t seem very real.  They might just be for show and not the glory of God.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that some would mock God’s gift because, as sinners, we all do that in various ways.   Yet this is pretty tender.  We shouldn’t judge others harshly, but we also must not let ourselves be played for fools.  If something seems phony, it might be.   Best to steer clear of it.   Maybe even pray for the person doing it, as a gift to them and to God, but in private.

For more reading: 2 Kings 4:33, Mark 11:25, Luke 18:10-14, Matthew 6:7

Lord, I don’t ever want to abuse this gift of prayer You gave us.   Give me opportunities to pray in private for others, with You, and to not do it for my selfish gain.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 2 May 2023. Today’s topic: More Than Wordplay

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.   Matthew 6:3-4

I like the wordplay Jesus uses here…”do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”   You know, the only way to keep a secret so well is to make it part of you.   Not in a malicious way; not in a deceitful way.   Instead, if you want to keep the confidence trusted to you, ingrain it into your memory, even your sub-consciousness, and keep it there.  In that way, your left hand can do one thing while your right does another.

This isn’t to be deceptive.   This isn’t because we’re so trustworthy and keep secrets so well.   And this isn’t because we are so physically coordinated.   It’s so that God sees what we do and others don’t, so that He may share His blessings with us.

Again, it isn’t to be deceitful.   It’s to be genuine.   If we keep our giving quiet, the way Jesus and Bob Dole and Keanu Reeves and Elvis Presley and most people who have ever tithed did, then it demonstrates true generosity.   It isn’t all for show; it isn’t phony or selfish or just for the free publicity.  If we give because we know it pleases God, because we know He will work through our gift to bless other people, because we know it will help someone else, then it will warm God’s heart.  God rewards those who do such things in ways that warm their hearts, too.

And, if we give just to be seen?   We get what we deserve.

A word about ‘the reward system.’  It isn’t inherently sinful to want God to reward us.  Jesus PROMISED that God would reward us for right-minded giving (giving done to glorify God, not self).  The ultimate reward is eternal life in Him, and that’s guaranteed by having faith in Him.   Yet is that the only reward?   Satisfaction, love, peace, honor; all those come with doing what Jesus says here.   Financial gain, prosperity, status, more:  those might happen too, but circumstances differ as do tangible blessings.  That’s up to the Lord; ask Him, not me.

The best reward?   Knowing it makes the Lord happy.   That WILL result in a reward of blessing that can change your life for good as well as those around you.  Jesus promises God will reward us in such ways, so it’s reasonable and proper to expect it will happen.

Try it out for yourself.   Ask God to show you someone to whom you can give, then do it.   Watch what happens when your heart fills with the understanding of what God does through you.  It will be much more than a play on words.

For more reading: Colossians 3:23-24, Matthew 6:5

Tell me today, Lord, who I may serve with Your help.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 1 May 2023. Today’s topic: It Shows

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.   Matthew 6:2

If you’re doing what you’re doing for ‘the show,’ don’t be disappointed when ‘the show’ is all you get.   I hope you prosper, and I hope it’s satisfying for you.   But don’t be disappointed, or angry, or vengeful if that doesn’t happen.  Indeed, though I don’t want to antagonize someone in their hour of despair, if ‘the show’ was the only reason people did things, then they got what they selfishly wanted and shouldn’t expect more.

That’s easy for me to say because I’m not not famous; I’m not wealthy; I’m not glamourous.  But I am proud, and I like the warmth of the spotlight, and those are two qualities possessed by the people who crave ‘the show’.  Boil away all the self-justification and you find idolatry at the core of why such people do what they do.  That and a heavy bag of insecurities.   That’s a ripe combination for the deceiver to mess with our minds.

Our greatest emotional need here on the Third Rock is to be known, to be relevant, to be ‘seen.’  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it isn’t even sinful.  I bet if you asked any celebrity or social influencer why they do what they do, at the end of the discussion, you’d find that they want to be seen and known.   After all, we all want to live lives that mean something so that, a hundred years from now, our lives mean more than gravestones in a field.  We want to be remembered.  Yet, think back one hundred years and we could probably list only several hundred movie stars worldwide whose performances are still recorded in some book, or in old films, or available on Google even though many, many thousands of people worked in the silent film industry.   And what were the names of the workers who built the Jewish Temples, or the pyramids?  Lost in obscurity.   Sobering?

Here’s a way to be seen, to be known, to be remembered:  share your faith in Jesus.   Do it today.   Do it with just one person and mean it.   Share what you believe with someone and invest your time in them.  Cultivate a relationship; nurture a friendship; build a life and help someone build theirs.   Do these things because we were made by God to live in community.   Share faith in Jesus, even without saying His name.  Share it in what you do.  Help someone else on their way through life.   Do it today, then rinse and repeat.   That faith in Jesus is the only thing that can save us from living unremembered, anonymous lives because God sees us and remembers us and always will.   More than anything, it shows.

For more reading: Matthew 6:3

Lord Jesus, help me to share You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 27 April 2023. Today’s topic: Bob Dole Humility

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Matthew 6:1

One of the best examples of public service I can think of, from my lifetime, was Bob Dole.   The former senator, presidential and vice-presidential candidate, and political icon was a Purple Heart-decorated World War II veteran.  His right arm was severely injured during his time as an Army officer in Italy, in 1945.   For the rest of his life, he lived with a largely useless and painful limb, and he lived almost another eighty years.   Yet, during all his time in Washington DC, he volunteered, weekly, at US Army hospitals in the area and other military-related service organizations.   I recall a rare interview he gave about this in which he downplayed it and said he preferred to keep quiet this kind of service to his fellow veterans.

That’s doing what Jesus said.  Bob Dole believed in Jesus, and he’s with Him now.

When Jesus said today’s verse, He was talking to a large group of strangers, on a hill (probably in Galilee).  It’s reasonable to assume that, among that group, there were Pharisees.   The Pharisees where a social, religious, even political group of Jews who believed in strict interpretation of the Old Testament scrolls.  They were (largely) wealthy, at the top of the social ladder, and self-conscious of that fact.   Repeatedly in His ministry (at least 77 times), Jesus either referred to or chastised the Pharisees for how they worshipped God.   He denounced their self-serving and judgmental ways, disciplining them for their hypocrisy.

In today’s verse, it’s understandable to think of the Pharisees as the foil for Jesus’ command.   In public, many of the Pharisees would make a show of their worship, or donating to others, or doing good works so that they would be noticed.  Jesus’ response to them is, as you can see, to tell them that the Father ignores them.   The Pharisees didn’t seem to have much of Bob Dole’s attitude.

But we need to be careful that we don’t judge them harshly because they’re us.  It’s GOOD to judge what others do and how it applies to our own thoughts and deeds.   “I shouldn’t do what X is doing.”   “That’s wrong.”   “That’s the kind of thing I want to do.”   Those are healthy judgments of the world around us and how we should live our God-led lives in conducting ourselves.

The flip side of that, however, is not boasting.  We are not to be “judgy” of others; we are not to think of ourselves as superior to anyone.   Instead, we are to be humble, as Jesus is humble, and do good works because they glorify God, not us.  Let God take care of the rest.  Bob Dole might have agreed.

For more reading: Luke 18:10-14, Matthew 6:2

Heavenly Father today, keep me humble.   Let me live in ways that are humble to glorify only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 26 April 2023. Today’s topic: Do It Now

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:48

In perfect Jesus-style, Yoda said, “do or do not.   There is no try.”   In perfect Godly-style, Jesus said, “be perfect.”  Take that, Yoda.  In concluding Matthew 5, this most consequential of all the chapters in the Bible, Jesus tells us to be perfect:   something we are blatantly incapable of being; I mean, duh!  But that’s where you’d be wrong.

Jesus isn’t telling us to be God:  He’s telling us to fully set our minds on God in everything we do.  To radically shift our focus from ourselves and this world to the one who made both and to be as He is:  focused only on love, holiness, righteousness, and serving.   In other words, to be like Him (while not actually being Him).   In other words, Jesus is telling us to be perfect because our Father is perfect.

This isn’t anything new.  It goes back to the time of Moses, when God dictated (what became) Leviticus to him.   Leviticus, as a whole, is a basic guide to living a holy life.   It told the Israelites how  to live in ways that were holy so as to reflect God’s holiness.   In Leviticus 19, God said, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”  That same God spoke through His Son, part of the holy Trinity, in giving that same command thousands of years later.

And thousands of years after that, He’s still speaking it to us.  Be holy.   Be perfect.   Be perfect because our Father in heaven is perfect and holy.  Not tomorrow; don’t try.   Be.   Be perfect and holy now.

But but but that’s a tall order!   “We’re sinners and we can’t be holy!”   That’s true.   On our own, without Christ, we can’t be righteous, holy, or perfect.  Without Christ, we have zero chance because we are sinful, we do sin, we have sinned.   With Christ, however, we can live in His perfection.   Our sins aren’t held against us; our life inclination can change.   Again, remember that Jesus isn’t telling us to be Him (as if we could).   Instead, He’s telling us to be perfect LIKE Him.   Stop giving in to the temptations; refocus our thoughts; repent and live humbly; share forgiveness and love.   Jesus was perfect and lived in these ways.  Our being perfect requires us the same.

Why not do it today?   We don’t have to try to be perfect:   we get to be perfect because our Father is perfect and gave us His perfect Son.   Jesus opened the way to be with Him; why not take the first steps today?   To paraphrase the little green guy (who sort of echoed Jesus), in this, there is no try.   Do.  Do it now.

For more reading: Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16, Matthew 6:1

Lord Jesus, on my own I can’t be perfect.   With You living through me, I can be perfect.   Teach me and live in me today.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 25 April 2023. Today’s topic: Duh!

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Matthew 5:46-47

“DUH!”   When my grandkids get old enough to be aware & communicative of obvious things, I’ll sometimes say “duh” to them when we are kidding around and they say something with an obvious conclusion.   More often than not, they’ll already have said that to me about the same subject or something else.   That usually elicits “duh” being the response to everything I say.

Get this:   in a way, that’s what Jesus was saying to those listening to this part of the Sermon on the Mount.  “Duh!   I mean, really? Even the people you look down on do the things you want to pat yourself on the back for.   Don’t you get it?”  

There’s so much packed into Jesus’ line of reasoning here.   First, He is reasoning.   He isn’t overtly convicting people of their sins; He’s content to let His words do that (so that said people might repent).   Jesus is presenting common-sense arguments to support a radical idea.   Nobody had ever proposed “love your enemies” and Jesus’ words here say, “I’m not talking about loving the folks you know.   I’m talking about loving “them.””   That same argument is still persuasive, even to us several thousand years later.

And, He asks the question, “what is the reward for love?”   The crowd knew what it felt like to have someone love them, but, here, Jesus was asking them if that was reward enough.   Just before this, He had said that we should love our enemies so that God the Father might better persuade us of His forgiving love.   What is the real reward for love?   God.   God is the reward because God is the ultimate love, the source of all love, the only real love in the universe.

What’s more, Jesus is employing a little bit of shaming here.   He specifically mentions tax collectors and pagans:   people who were at the lowest social and political strata in Judean Jewish culture.   The Jews looked down on tax collectors and unbelievers.   Where possible, they would have nothing to do with them.  Tell me:   was Jesus talking to the people on the hillside around Him, or was He talking to you and me?  Duh!

After all, His words appeal to us through reason.   The love of God is still ultimately the thing for which we all yearn.  And we still look down on others not like us.   Jesus’ timeless questions were designed to be that way, and thank (Him) that He did this.   Otherwise, we might miss the most obvious things.   Duh!

For more reading: Luke 6:32, Matthew 5:48

Lord, thank You for pointing out these things in teaching us of how the Father loves.   And how we should love others.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 24 April 2023. Today’s topic: Father

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

God provides for us, and one person in His Trinity is the Father.   He is the maker of heaven and Earth, and each of us.   Our Father:   that’s Him.  Provider, creator, eternal parent, mentor, friend:   that is the Father.

Back here on Earth, I loved my Dad.   I really did.   I know he loved me, and that he did the best he could in nearly all things.  Yet, as a child, I struggled with his affections.   I was a boisterous, skinny, uncoordinated and overactive kid, and my Dad didn’t know how to deal with it.   He had a great many problems on his mind at the time, in those late 1960s, and dealing with a son to whom he had difficulty relating only made his burden seem heavier.  I wanted him as a Dad, but he didn’t seem to want me as his son.  Years later, we had a great peer relationship.   I respected him more when I understood him more, and I think you could say that he reciprocated that.   When he died, it left a giant hole in my heart because it was only then, in my early thirties, that I started to deal with my perceptions of why I thought my dad didn’t really want me for most of my first ten years.

Those misplaced perceptions have clouded my ability to get close to the Father.   Sometimes, I think of God the Father as a lot like my earthly father.   I wasn’t good enough for the dad I had here, so why would He think I was good enough for Him?  He’s perfect and I’m so blatantly not; He’s totally out of my league, and my constant sins must be a huge disappointment to Him.  To be fully honest, on my own, I don’t understand much at all about God the Father.  Why would the Father want me?

Why?   Because He made me to be me, and I’m always more than enough for Him because of His perfect Son.  That’s the message Jesus was teaching us.  God the Father provides everything to every one of us out of His unending love, even to our so-called enemies, even to us in our insecurities.   We are special because He made us and loves us more than we could ever understand here.   If we want to know just a little of what that love looks like, we can learn it from His Son, Jesus, who loves us in the same way.  It’s a lesson I know Dad learned before he went to be with Jesus in person.

For more reading: 1 John 4:8, Matthew 5:46

Father, I love You.