Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).

The city auditorium was hosting a large community event. Two of the attendees were a young mother and her little daughter, Mary. However, as the day went on, the two of them got separated by the crowd. The mother sent a note to the platform which was read over the microphone: "If there is a little girl named Mary Moore in the audience, who is lost, will she please raise her hand so her mother can find her." No one raised a hand, so the mother notified the police and they started searching the neighborhood for the little girl. As time went by with no results, the mother came back to the auditorium and stood at the door watching people as they left. Among the last of them was Mary. Her mother snatched her up, crying, "Where were you, Mary?" "On the front row," replied the little girl. "Didn't you hear the man read the notice, 'If there is a little girl named Mary Moore in the audience, who is lost, will she please raise her hand so her mother can find her?' " "Yes," said Mary, "I heard it." "Then why didn't you raise your hand?" "Why, Mother, it couldn't have meant me," Mary said, "for I wasn't lost. I knew where I was."

This story illustrates a regrettable truth: many people don’t realize that they are lost. Like Mary, they know where they are, and they don’t have a care in the world. But how would Mary have felt if she had gone outside, the doors locking behind her, and Mom was no where to be seen? Could she have found her way home? Would she have had the stamina for a long hike through the city? And how safe would she have felt, walking alone in the dark?

Many people live like this. Right now, everything is going fine; they have no worries to speak of. But what will happen when events push them out of their comfort zone? Will they know what to do? Will they have the strength to deal with their problems? Will they have someone to comfort and protect them when danger rears its terrifying head?

Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost. Our lives are crowded with many things that cause us to lose sight of Jesus. When He calls out to get our attention, we are likely to ignore His voice because we don’t think that we are lost. But we need His love, His guidance, and His protection. Without Christ, life can become scary, dangerous, and lonely when you least expect it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Lord's Prayer--First Petition

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Everybody has either a ‘good name’ or a ‘bad name’—a good reputation or a bad reputation. Sometimes a good person can acquire a bad name because someone else has told lies which have ruined his reputation. This happens to God as well. God is good; He is holy, just, merciful, loving and generous. God should have a good reputation among all people because of who He is and what He has done. But the sad fact is that many people speak insultingly of God and blame Him for things not of His doing. Sinners have given Him a ‘bad name.’ So when we ask that God’s name be treated as holy, we are praying for God’s reputation among us; we are asking for help in preserving His ‘good name’ all over the world.

How can we take part in preserving God’s good reputation? Martin Luther tells us that we do this "when the Word of God is taught clearly and purely…But whoever teaches…otherwise than as the Word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us." Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said: let the one who has my word speak it faithfully (Jeremiah 23:28). At the end of his life, Moses was concerned about how the Israelites would treat the words of God set down on paper through Moses’ pen; he told them: Carefully obey all the commands I give you. Do not add to them or subtract from them (Deuteronomy 4:1-2). Take careful note of Jesus’ words, given just before He returned to heaven: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).

God’s Word is truth, the only truth, and He expects us to be careful to preserve it unaltered and complete as we learn it and as we teach it to others. There is no significant difference between adultery, murder, or misrepresenting God’s teachings—all are sins against the Lord. If any of these is a worse sin than the others, it is the misrepresentation of God’s teachings, because false doctrine can obscure the path to heaven. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul warns against listening to people who misrepresent God. If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:9) Strong words? You bet. Yet it was God Himself who moved Paul to pen these words. False teachings about God smear His reputation and discourage people from coming to Jesus, who is the only means by which sin can be removed and the grave overcome. And so God has zero tolerance for anyone teaching falsely in His good name.

But before we start feeling proud of our faithful adherence to God’s word, we’d better take an honest look within our own hearts. Is it not tempting to fudge on God’s truth every once in a while? Scripture says, Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13); do we sometimes act as if God had said, "only forgive others when you have first made them suffer enough for hurting you"? Jesus said, As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4); do we behave as if He had said, "take it easy"? Our Lord said, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33); do we live as if He said, "seek first a good education, a good job, or a good house"? Jesus instructed us to pray, hallowed be Thy name; do we spend our time on protecting our reputations, even when it is at God’s expense?

Yes, we have sinned; we have not respected the Lord’s teachings with our lives. But if we want to honor God’s reputation instead of tearing it down, we must seek to put sinful behavior behind us. This is only possible if we have God’s teachings undistorted and free from error; it is only through God’s word that we can know His heart, hear His promises, and receive the gift of faith in Jesus that frees us from eternal condemnation. We can’t come to Jesus if we don’t know who He is; we won’t come to Him for mercy if we don’t know that we’ve angered God. We cannot receive the gift of Christ’s salvation if we are accepting of false teachings that obscure the truth God has revealed to us.

When we know what God expects of us and cling to Jesus for His forgiveness and His help, He equips us to honor God’s name with our lives. This is important, because Luther said that when "we, as children of God, lead holy lives in accordance with [God’s pure Word]", we treat His name as holy, "but whoever lives otherwise than as the Word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us." Paul wrote a warning to people who took pride in being religious, but disgraced God’s name by their behavior: You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, "The world blasphemes the name of God because of you" (Romans 2:23-24).

Why are there so many nasty jokes about lawyers? They’re not all dishonest, are they? Of course not—but the bad behavior of a few has besmirched the reputation of them all. Christians smear God’s reputation when they swear, get drunk, lie, cheat on a spouse, get divorced for non-Biblical reasons, or treat participation in the church as unimportant. Once, when a husband tried to get his wife to become a Christian and join his church, she retorted, "Why should I? I don’t want to become like you." One of the biggest problems that gets in the way of unbelievers joining God’s kingdom, is the behavior of people who claim to be Christian, but are not seriously committed to following Jesus’ teachings. Outsiders may not know what is preached in church, but they can see what you preach by how you live. By your public life and mine, they judge our church and the God we say that we belong to. This is why Jesus said, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). In our homes, unbelievers ought to see kindness; in our business dealings, they should see honesty; in our hearts, they ought to see joy; in the hour of our death, they should see confidence.

Several years ago, a 55-year-old university professor told his pastor the following story: "I would like to make a confession. For many years I called myself an atheist. Whenever students in my classes admitted their Christian faith, I would ridicule them with snide remarks. But we had the good fortune of moving into a house next door to a Christian family. When we observed how they lived, the love the husband and wife had for each other, the respect the children had for their parents, the way they dealt with us as neighbors, and the inner peace and confidence they manifested in the midst of difficulties and problems, there came a day when I said deep down in my heart, ‘I wish I could be like that.’"

"I wish I could be like that." Do people think that, when they observe your way of life? Could that wistful thought be in the mind of your spouse, your children, a relative, a neighbor, a classmate, a co-worker? Every day, each of us is influencing the people around us, influencing them for good or evil. When we are honest among liars, sober amidst drunkards, patient when provoked, prayerful in sorrow, grateful when blessed with plenty, kind to those who hurt us, and optimistic in the face of illness and even death, then we are upholding God’s reputation and Christ’s name is glorified.

Hallowed be Thy name is a request for mercy. Have you always been the kind of Christian our Lord wants you to be? Haven’t we all been rather dim lights in dark places? So when we pray hallowed be Thy name, we are requesting forgiveness and another chance to honor His name as we should. Thank God for His mercy! Even though we’ve disgraced Him, whenever we return in sorrow, our Lord takes us in His arms and gently says, Take heart [my child], your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).

Hallowed be Thy name is a pledge. It is a pledge to teach God’s Word in all its truth and purity; this implies that we will dedicate ourselves to studying God’s Word so that we can see the difference between truth and error, and that we will make use of every opportunity to share God’s saving Word with others. It is also a pledge to try to lead a godly life, the kind of life that will not reflect badly upon our Lord. This implies turning our backs on all our old favorite sins, and looking for new God-pleasing behaviors and habits to replace them with.

Hallowed be Thy name is a plea for help. Over and over again we make promises only to end up breaking them. We want to honor God’s holy name with our lives, but we find ourselves confused trying to figure out what we should do, and exhausted from trying to do the right thing in spite of continual pressure to just give up. We need our Lord to show us what to do and what to avoid; we need Him to support us and give us strength. We need Jesus, who promised: If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

This is why Jesus taught us to pray hallowed be Thy name. And so we join together with King David, as he offered a similar prayer to the Lord in Psalm 138: I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart…I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness (John 8:12).

Along every paved road, there are signs—signs that tell you where you are, signs that warn of hazards coming up, signs that caution you to drive safely. These signs are made reflective so that when you drive at night, they show up easily in your headlights. When you drive in darkness, it’s much harder to see any distance, a dangerous situation that makes signs all the more necessary.

I remember one night many years ago when I was driving along a dark and lonely road. Without any warning, my headlights suddenly went out. It was terrifying! Zipping along a narrow two lane at 55 mph with no idea what was in front of me. I immediately hit the brakes and would go no further until the problem was fixed.

It seems inconceivable that anyone would drive at night without headlights, especially at high speed. Yet in a sense, most of the people living today do just that. They live in spiritual darkness—they cannot see God’s marvelous light. It’s like driving down a highway with the headlights switched off; there are any number of signs bearing important information, but without headlights you cannot see them.

God has filled our world with signs. There are signs that tell you where you are and what direction you are headed. There are signs that warn you of approaching danger, and that caution you to behave responsibly. These signs are found in Bibles and in churches. They are reflected in the lives of Christian friends and relatives. But without God’s light they are impossible to see. To an unbeliever, the Bible is a book of made up stories and ancient philosophy. To an unbeliever, Christians are religious fanatics or misguided fools. The important things that Christ has to say go by unnoticed.

But it is dangerous to drive in the darkness. It is easy to get lost or stranded; it is easy to get hurt and to hurt someone else. It’s dangerous to go through life without knowing where you are or where you’re headed; it’s risky to make decisions when the best path forward cannot be seen. It’s hard to live life without faith in Christ. Thankfully, the signs from God are all around us; all you need is light in order to see them. Ask Jesus to guide you through life, and He will be your headlight.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eyes of faith

When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).

Mining has always been a dangerous profession. One example comes to us from the winter of 1815. A man named Frost was trapped by a cave-in. Rescuers searching for any sign of life were relieved to hear a voice coming up from deep within the earth; Frost was still alive! His head and body were unhurt, but his legs were trapped under a mound of collapsed debris.

Great care was needed to free the miner, and the most experienced men available were put in charge of the rescue. The ceiling above Frost’s head was unstable, yet almost miraculously it had not given way, though it looked ready to collapse at the slightest disturbance. This presented the miners with a dilemma: dig as fast as possible, hoping that their efforts did not trigger a fatal rockfall? Or go slowly and carefully, hoping that Frost would not weaken and die before they got him loose?

When emotions are running high, most people demand quick and decisive action—yet in this case, hurrying the operation would have almost certainly ended in tragedy. So the rescuers proceeded with great caution and worked steadily around the clock. Digging started on Monday, the day on which the accident took place, and continued until Thursday evening when they finally pulled Mr. Frost from his tomb and restored him to his family. The miner only suffered a few bruises and a broken leg, even though he had been buried alive a total of seventy-five hours.

How had Frost survived his ordeal? A slow trickle of water dripped from the rocks near his head, water that he was able to catch with a cupped hand and bring to his mouth. That small amount of moisture, dripping in just the right place, almost certainly kept his body from death. But of equal importance was the fact that Frost was a Christian; he trusted in Christ, and that faith gave him the strength to hang on. Through those long hours of pain and darkness, he never gave in to panic; although he was alone in what could have been an early grave, he spent much of his time reciting psalms and singing hymns that he knew by heart. Without faith in Christ to give him hope, Frost might have very well have lost his mind during the days that he was buried deep within the earth. But he saw the hand of God everywhere—keeping his skull from being crushed, allowing rescuers to hear his voice, and giving him water to drink in his time of need. In the darkness, Frost could see God’s love for him clearly with the eyes of faith.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Lord's Prayer--Salutation

Our Father, who art in heaven.

"Every person who prays is praying to the same god." Do you believe this statement? Many people do. They believe that God has revealed Himself in different ways to different cultures throughout the centuries, but that any religion ultimately puts you in touch with the same Creator of the universe. They claim that the Christian who is baptized into the name of the Triune God is actually praying to the same god as the Muslims, the Buddhists, and the Mormons.

The question facing us today is, who are we supposed to pray to? When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, our Lord replied This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9). But who precisely does Jesus mean? In Matthew chapter 11 Jesus said, no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. In St. John chapter 10 Jesus asserted, the Father is in me, and I [am] in the Father. And later on in chapter 14, Jesus added: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

Jesus makes it clear that no one can know God the Father except through His Son; in John chapter 14 He says quite bluntly: No one comes to the Father except through me. God is holy; He permits nothing sinful to come before Him. We, on the other hand, have been steeped in sin since birth; we cannot see how to approach God, and we would not dare to do so even if we could. In order to address this problem, the Father chose His son to do what we could not—repair the broken relationship that separated us from Him. Jesus did this by suffering the Father’s punishment for our sins as our representative. Only the Son of God could endure the suffering demanded by every human sin; only the Son of God could, by Himself, make right every wrong of human history. John writes, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:16-18).

What then can we say about the prayers of Jews or Hindus? They do not believe that Jesus is God’s representative; therefore, their prayers are not heard by Jesus’ Father. What can we say about the prayers of Mormons or Muslims? They do not accept that it is through Jesus that the Father has set us free from sin; their prayers are thus not acceptable to Jesus’ Father. If a person does not entrust his prayers to Jesus, he is not praying to Our Father, who art in heaven.

When Jesus gave the example of beginning prayer with the words our Father in heaven, He intended to teach us three things about praying. The first is this: we should address God as our Father, not as Lord God Almighty. Terms like "Lord", "God" and "Almighty" remind us of power, holiness and majesty, whereas "Father" calls to mind love, kindness and closeness. "Father" is the word that Jesus used to indicate His own close relationship with God; the first words of Jesus recorded in holy Scripture are: Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house? (Luke 2:49) When Jesus taught, He declared: I and the Father are one (John 10:30). In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: My Father…may this cup be taken from me (Matthew 26:39). While suspended on the cross, His first words were, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, and his last words were, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:34 & 46).

Jesus encourages us to use this comforting form of address. We can do this because God is our Father in every sense of the word. He is our Father because He gave us life. St. Paul told the Athenians, in Him we live and move and have continuing existence (Acts 17:28). Without God’s activity we would not be; He is our real Father, the Father standing behind our human fathers.

God is also our Father because He given us new life through Christ. In Romans chapter 8 we are told, all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family--calling him "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. Our sinfulness had separated us from our Father, but through Jesus we have been brought back into His family. And it is because we are secure in the knowledge that God is our Father that we are able to pray with confidence that we will be heard.

A second point to notice is that Jesus taught us to pray "our Father"—not my Father, but our Father. Because the Father has adopted us as His children, we are all brothers and sisters to each other. In Ephesians chapter four Paul reminds us, We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all, and in us all, and living through us all. When we pray our Father, we are praying for and with each other, whether we are Christians in America or Russia, Germany or Mexico, Great Britain or Japan, Scandinavia or the Middle East.

It is a mistake to narrow the focus of our prayers to ourselves alone. Jesus commanded us to see to the welfare of our neighbors, and the best help you can give to others is to lift them up to the Father in prayer. James advises, is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:13-16). When you pray our Father, pray for others—for your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, your neighbors. Our fellow Christians all around the world are also praying our Father; we are praying for them, and they are praying for us. That’s what knits us together, gives us strength to keep fighting against all that opposes God, and gives us comfort in every trial.

Every day, the sun traverses 24 time zones as its light moves around the world; therefore, during every hour of every Sunday there are Christian congregations greeting the new day with the joyous words our Father. An elderly lady, who was confined to her home for years, once said: "I am always glad when Sunday comes, because on that day I know that some Christian congregation is praying for me every hour of the day." A comforting thought indeed.

The third point to notice is that Jesus tells us to include the words, who art in heaven. This reminds us that the Father we are praying to is Lord over everything and has the power to give us more than we can even think of requesting. Our earthly fathers are limited in what they can do for us—sometimes they are too poor to fully care for the needs of their children; other times, what their children need is beyond any man’s ability to give. Our Father in heaven, however, can address the needs of any prayer. The angel Gabriel asserted, nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). And Paul assures us, the…Lord is Lord of all, and richly blesses all who call on him (Romans 10:12). Our Father in heaven is the God who saved Noah from the flood and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt; He produced bread from the morning dew of the desert floor and issued water from a rock; He sent a raven to bring Elijah food and fed over 5,000 people with a few loaves a bread and a couple of fish. Our Father in heaven is able to give us anything for which we pray.

Who art in heaven also reminds us that God loves us and is attentive to our needs. When we think of heaven, we tend to think of a place far above the problems of this world. We picture our Father seated up above with an unhindered view of everything going on in our lives. Heaven is not a place where God hides from us in our time of need; the ancient Greeks used to complain that their gods were on Mt. Olympus feasting and getting drunk while their earthly worshippers were crying out for food and a few simple pleasures. They felt that their gods did not love them. But our Father in heaven is not like that; Psalm 103 says, as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. In Romans chapter eight Paul makes this point: since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?

In addition, we don’t need to worry that our Father will make a mistake and give us something that turns out to be bad for us. A Christian father once complained bitterly, "Where I made my mistake was when I gave my boy that new car." Earthly fathers make mistakes. Our Father in heaven, however, never makes mistakes. He knows what requests to fulfill and what requests to refuse. This means that we can pray with confidence, knowing that even if our requests are flawed, God’s answers won’t be.

To sum up: the word our should remind us to pray for each other; the term Father should move us to pray with confidence; the phrase who art in heaven ought to remind us that we are speaking with the most powerful Person in the universe, who can and will give us everything we ask for which will benefit us in the long run. To pray to our father who art in heaven is to pray with faith and confidence.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An overwhelming experience

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory (Psalm 63:2).

In the 1930s and 40s, going to a movie was a big deal. Theaters were large and elegant. Since there was no TV, movies and stage plays were the only way that you could see a story acted out—but only a movie could give you Hollywood stars or take you to a foreign locale. There was something powerful about seeing a story unfold on a huge screen—a dramatic shot could overwhelm your senses. And going to the movies was a group experience—a great movie could unite everyone seated in the audience. But advancements in technology have really diminished the movie experience. Theaters are no longer large and opulent; instead, they have been subdivided into smaller screening rooms so that several different movies can be shown at the same time. These days, more people watch movies outside the theater—they rent DVDs, download movies into a computer, and stream them to a cell phone.

But not all of these changes are good. Many people, used to having commercial breaks or being able to click a pause button, don’t have the attention span to sit through a movie, a classroom lecture, or a sermon. Because folks are used to watching movies in the privacy of their own homes, many don’t think twice about chatting with others during the show, even if their conversation is distracting to the others seated around them. Small screens and little speakers can’t deliver much in the way of dramatic impact; as a result, many people have learned to watch and listen with some degree of emotional detachment.

All this diminishes how much we enjoy seeing movies. But it also affects how we respond to what happens in church. During the early 1700s, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon about hell so terrifying that some people in the room actually fainted out of fear. I doubt that any preacher, no matter how gifted, could achieve a similar result today—modern audiences just don’t get emotionally invested like that anymore. It’s a shame, really, because when a preacher talks about God’s wonderful love that is brought to us by Jesus Christ, most people don’t get all that excited about it; they don’t experience the incredible joy and relief that their ancestors did, nor do they feel like they have been united by sharing a very important hour together. I pray that the next time you go to church, the message of Jesus Christ will overwhelm you and everyone around you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).

In turbulent times like these, you often hear the term ‘bellwether.’ Hundreds of years ago, a male sheep was known as a wether. If the sheepherder wanted it to lead the flock, he would tie a bell around the wether’s neck. In this way, the leader of a group came to be known as a bellwether.

In politics, a bellwether is a group of people whose voting patterns seem reflect the general populace. For example, Missouri is called a bellwether state, because in 100 years the candidate who won Missouri has almost always won the presidency. In the financial markets, a bellwether company is one whose stock performance tends to reflect the overall health of its industry. General Motors has been a bellwether company in the automotive industry. In society, bellwethers are those who set new trends; for example, Paris designers are a bellwether of the fashion industry.

As a predictor of trends, bellwethers can be useful. But as a setter of trends, bellwethers can be dangerous. Consider teens in high school. It only takes one popular guy to get a bunch of his friends hooked on taking drugs. It only takes one popular girl to sway a bunch of her friends into picking on someone who is shy. All of us are tempted to say and do nasty things, but we hold back for fear of being reprimanded. But when a bellwether leads the way we are quick to follow, because we can hide behind the excuse that it was someone else’s idea.

Jesus Christ is a bellwether in the best sense of the word. When we sin, we lose our focus on God and wander away from the path to heaven. Jesus is our bellwether; He gets our attention and leads us back in the right direction again. We hear the bell around His neck, a bell called the Bible; the words God has written there are pleasant to our ears and draw us to Jesus. He leads us through trouble and away from temptation; if we follow Him to the end of life, we will arrive safely at the gate of heaven.

Jesus wants you to be a bellwether too. He wants you to be an example that catches the attention of others and leads them in the right direction. Jesus said, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:13-16).

Good communication is essential to every relationship. Imagine trying to run a successful business if you and your fellow workers only spoke with the boss and each other once a week for an hour. How long would your marriage survive, if the only times you spoke to your spouse were to ask them to fix a leaky pipe or bring you some medicine?

Without quality of communication, relationships wither and die. This is just as true of our relationship with God as any other relationship. God has spoken through signs and visions, angels and prophets; God has spoken through His Son Jesus Christ, and through men guided by the Holy Spirit who have written the Lord’s words in the Bible. But we, being limited by our earthly existence, have only one way to reply, only one way to carry on our side of the conversation—that one way is prayer.

Prayer is essential to having a healthy relationship with God. When you were little, remember how frustrating it was when you wanted to talk with your parents, but they were too busy? When you were dating, remember how worried you felt when days went by and the object of your affection didn’t return your calls? Perhaps even today, you go to ask your spouse something, and only get a grunt for a reply—how does that make you feel?

When we ignore praying, we are ignoring our relationship with God. When we ignore God, we are breaking the First Commandment, in which the Lord tells us that He is to be the most important part of our lives. It is just bad behavior on our part to ignore the Lord, when you consider everything that He has done for us. The Father has given each of us life and blessed our lives with love. Jesus willingly underwent something so terrible that even the Son of God Himself sweated blood just thinking about it—He suffered God’s anger at our sins and died, so that we can be spared God’s punishment for being so self-absorbed. The Holy Spirit has worked tirelessly to bring us into a saving relationship with Jesus through Baptism, God’s Word, and Holy Communion. Our Triune God has gone above and beyond in every way to show us how special we are to Him—how can we be so ungrateful as to ignore Him by failing to pray?

To help you with your prayer life, I am going to take several weeks this summer to look at prayer. We will consider the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of praying: Who do we pray to, What do we pray about, Where do we pray, When do we pray, Why do we pray, and How do we pray. The Lord’s Prayer will guide this series; the model prayer given by Jesus answers two of our questions about praying: Who do we pray to, and What do we pray about?

But before we start digging into the Lord’s Prayer, the Bible has other things to say to us about praying. Let's start with the question: Why do we pray? As I have already pointed out, prayer is our way of communicating with God; it keeps our relationship with Him from weakening and dying. Our Lord values His relationship with each and every one of us, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that He tells us to pray. In Psalm 50 God says, call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. God encourages us to pray, promising that He will listen and respond.

How are we to pray? This question, I think, is what gives many Christians pause. How formal must prayer be, to be acceptable to God? On Sunday mornings, the prayers given in church sound quite formal; must all prayers be like that? Not at all. The Bible does show us many examples of formal prayer; this is because our God is the Lord of the Universe, King of the hosts of heaven. Because of this, He is due even more respect than we would show when meeting the President of the United States or the king of a foreign nation. We consider each Christian church to be a throne room for the Almighty, so it is natural that when we approach the King of Glory in one of His earthly throne rooms, we would speak very formally.

But the Bible illustrates another way to speak to God. Jesus is the Son of God dressed in a human body. Our Lord told Philip, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). Anyone who spoke to Jesus was speaking to God. How did Jesus’ followers speak to Him? Here are a few examples. Luke chapter 8: As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" Mark chapter 13: As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" Matthew chapter 8: A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"

When we look at the people who believed in Jesus, we see that they spoke to Him with respect, but not with the kind of formality that you hear in a Sunday morning prayer. These conversations took place in a boat, on a city street, and along a country lane, not in a throne room. In the same way, when you are praying to the Lord outside of church, you needn’t worry about speaking in a formal way; what matters is that you speak to God with respect. Remember that Jesus told His followers, I have called you friends (John 15:15). Speak to the Lord in prayer as you would with the friend whom you love and respect above all others.

God has a few other things to say to us about how we should pray. For one thing, we are to pray with confidence, not doubt; In James chapter one we are told: when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can't make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do. We are to be confident when we pray because God has promised, I will hear, for I am compassionate (Exodus 22:27).

We are also to pray persistently, not giving up just because we don’t get an immediate answer. In Luke chapter 11, Jesus gave the following illustration to make this point: Suppose you went to a friend's house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You would say to him, `A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.' He would call out from his bedroom, `Don't bother me. The door is locked for the night, and we are all in bed. I can't help you this time.' But I tell you this--though he won't do it as a friend, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you what you want because of your persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for.

Our next question is, When should we pray? In 1st Thessalonians chapter 5 Paul says simply, pray continually. But how do you "pray continually"? When you hear these words, do you think of a monk living in monastery, head bowed and hands clasped in prayer as he kneels for hours in a small, austere room? Do you say to yourself, "I could never be in prayer all day"?

I’d like you to think of continual prayer in a different way. Imagine living with a loved one—a parent or sibling or spouse. After living together for a long time, the two of you probably don’t talk constantly. In fact, you might only have a lengthy conversation once a day over dinner. But you do communicate during the rest of the day, even though these exchanges are often brief. You might request an opinion on which shirt to wear with your slacks. You might ask for help with a stubborn jar lid. You might share a few words of disgust over a disturbing story you hear on the news. Throughout the day, you are always aware that your loved one is near, and you take comfort from being able to exchange a quick word without having to dial a number or put a stamp on an envelope.

Prayer can be like that. In fact, prayer should be like that! God is with us constantly; He is present every moment of our day. What would your prayer life be like if you were always aware that He is in the room with you? I’d imagine that you would have at least one lengthy conversation with Him each day, as you reflect on the joys and sorrows that fill your heart; this conversation might take place as you are digesting a meal, or when you are waking up to face a new day, or as you are settling into bed and are trying to put into perspective the events of the day just passed. But you would also find yourself chatting with the Lord as the events of the day unfold. In the morning you might say "Heavenly Father, the sky is so beautiful this morning—thank you for letting me see it!" When an emergency vehicle speeds by with its lights flashing, you might pray "Lord, please give them success." When you make a mistake that causes hurt to someone, you could say "Jesus, please give me the courage to say I’m sorry, and please, please help them to forgive me too." When the news tells of a missing child, you could ask "God, bring her home safely". When someone who seems upset wants to talk to you, you can silently pray "Spirit, give me wisdom!" And when you are feeling lonely, you can ask "Master, just hold me, please." When you say things like this throughout the day, you are "praying continually."

Which leads us to today’s final question, Where should we pray? The answer should be obvious—everywhere! If we are praying constantly, then we are praying at home and in the car, at the office and in the field, at the lake and in the classroom—because everyplace we go, we need God’s love and help. Every place we go, we commit sins and need forgiveness; no matter where we are, God is there blessing us with His goodness, a goodness that should result in our thanks of appreciation.

Jesus tells us to pray both publicly and privately. He taught us to pray "Our Father", words obviously intended for us to pray together as a group. But Jesus also gave these instructions: When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you (Matthew 6:5-6). The purpose of prayer is not to impress others with how holy we think we are; the purpose of prayer is to focus on our relationship with the Lord. Nor are we to pray the same things mindlessly over and over again; Jesus tells us that when we pray, we should be direct and to the point: When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:7-8) If we are focused on the Lord and are sharing the deepest concerns of our hearts, there will be many times when praying with others is not comfortable or appropriate; this is why your prayer life at home is so very important.

How important is prayer? Luke chapter 5 tells us, Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. If the Son of God Himself frequently devoted time to prayer, how can we feel a lesser need? May the Holy Spirit move you to pray continually, and may your prayers be pleasing to His ears.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Inspired by the darkness

Look upon my suffering and deliver me (Psalm 119:153).

Vincent Van Gogh was a brilliant painter, yet in a fit of depression he cut off part of his left ear. Robert E. Howard helped invent modern fantasy literature with his creation of Conan the Barbarian, yet in spite of his literary success he chose to end his life at the age of 30. Judy Garland enjoyed great popularity as a singer and actress, yet her life was marred with addiction, financial problems, and several failed marriages. The list could go on and on—many people with great talent have led dark and miserable lives.

Why? What is it about tragedy that brings flashes of greatness to the surface? Many people try to escape emotional pain by single-mindedly throwing themselves into their professions. When emotions are raw, creative types can fill their work with intensity and beauty. When we witness what they have created, we are deeply moved because powerful feelings have been revealed.

But ignoring emotional pain does not make it go away; it only festers like an untreated wound. Bodily infection can make a person sick and sometimes even result in death; in the same way, ignoring emotional wounds can lead to a wasting away of the soul and sometimes even suicide.

Suffering is a powerful experience that affects everyone deeply. Suffering changes you, makes you look at things differently. During a time of misery, frivolous distractions lose their appeal; when everything is spinning out of control, you focus on what is really important and cling to it desperately. Some look for stability in their work; others try to find security within their families. But how do you cope if your work fails to impress? How do you hang on if you have no one special in your life?

Some of the best church music was written by Christians when they were going through terrible hardship. But they did not throw themselves into hymn writing to sidestep emotional pain; they faced suffering head on with confidence that God would carry them through. Their hymns are powerful because they express peace and hope in the face of tragedy and despair. By facing pain with Jesus’ help, they found healing and beauty when life was at its darkest. If you lean on Jesus, this can be true for you as well.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

It’s sad to say, but scandals are almost commonplace. They become the lead story in the evening news. They get first page treatment in newspapers. They are what everyone talks about at work. Scandals are quick to grab hold of the public’s attention.

On any given day, you hear plenty of bad news. But a scandal is something special—it is something so shocking that it makes people sit up and take notice. A school bus crash that kills several children is tragic, but if it comes out that the bus driver was drunk at the wheel, the crash becomes a scandal. We can grudgingly accept that accidents happen, but we cannot accept that a school hired someone so irresponsible to transport our children.

Scandals always involve human beings. A forest fire is not a scandal—not unless it was the result of arson. It is not a scandal if a building collapses during an earthquake—unless it turns out that the structure was not built up to code. Scandals provoke strong feelings in people. How dare that politician make a racial slur? What was that judge thinking, letting a murderer go free on a technicality? Scandals challenge our sense of right and wrong.

In all of history, no one has provoked more scandal than Jesus Christ. He angered the Jews by saying that He was the Son of God, a claim they could not accept. His death on a cross freed us from sin, a teaching that many educated people find ridiculous—they cannot embrace the idea that weakness and suffering give rise to strength and happiness. The apostle Paul says that we are so tainted with evil that it is impossible to please God—only faith in Jesus can save us. This angers folks who believe that they are basically good people who deserve God’s blessings. And Jesus claimed that salvation is found exclusively through Him; many people resent these words, claiming that Christians are narrow-minded and judgmental of other faiths.

Jesus and the cross—they have always provoked strong reactions among the public. Some have even been scandalized. But if you are fascinated by scandal, then I invite you to come to church—where you can get the whole story!

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

This time each year, we celebrate that which makes our God unique. Of all the gods that have ever been worshipped, no other God has been known as both three and one. No other God has sent His Son into the mortal world to suffer and die for humanity’s sins. No other god is like our God.

Of course, there are many who scoff at our religion. They say that the Triune nature of God makes no sense. How can anyone believe in a God that is made up of three persons, and yet claims to be one God alone?

The truth is, we don’t understand how God can be three and yet only one. For thousands of years, men of faith have been trying figure this out without success. Yet the Bible is clear—there is only one God who we must answer to as Lord and Master. In Isaiah 45:5 God said, I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. Moses told the Israelites, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. But the Bible also reveals God as three different persons. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me (John 15:26). Jesus also mentioned the three persons of God just before He returned to heaven; He said, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

God has always been three in one. Listen to Him speaking in Genesis chapter one about the creation of mankind. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness"…So God created man in his own image. We hear the same kind of language at the tower of Babel. The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other" (Genesis 11:5-7). The Lord Almighty is one God who is also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Three persons, one God. We don’t understand it, but we accept the facts as God reveals them to us through the Bible. Why should we think that God can be understood by mortal man? Does an ant understand the human child looking down on it? How can we expect to understand God?

Think the religions created by man. The human imagination creates gods that are just humans beefed up with incredible power. The Greeks invented gods like Zeus, Hera, and Hercules. But Zeus constantly cheated on his wife. Hera was consumed with jealousy and acted out of spite. Hercules was full of pride. The Scandinavians invented Odin and Loki. When Odin killed a giant, he adopted fatherless Loki as his own, yet Loki hated his new family and plotted their downfall. The gods invented by human religion have all the faults of corrupt mankind—they are fickle, power mad, capricious, demented. Humans worship them more out of fear than anything else.

The God of Abraham, Moses and David is not like false human gods. The God of Elijah and Isaiah is holy and loving. You can count on His promises; He never goes back on His word. You be confident that when He speaks, His words are true. God never acts impulsively; He is wise and patient. He is committed to justice. He is filled with loving-kindness.

Do we need to fear God? Yes! He hates sin; righteousness cannot abide evil behavior. The holiness of God is a fire that destroys sin. But fear need not keep us away from God. If we are forgiven by His Son, our sin is taken away. Through Jesus, God’s love brings us close to Him in perfect safety.

We need a God who is three in one, because we have three terrible enemies—sin, Satan, and death. On our own, these enemies are too powerful to withstand; they confront us no matter which way we turn.

Sin is a problem from the moment of birth. Sin is with us constantly. It’s a hunger that gnaws at us all the time; it’s a compulsion to get our way and make ourselves feel good right now. Sin doesn’t give a thought to what others want; sin doesn’t pause to consider the future ramifications of an impulsive decision. Sin doesn’t care about your health; you want that bag of chocolate, and you don’t want to stop eating until it’s empty. Sin doesn’t care about your children; go ahead and do what it takes to shut them up so you can have the peace and quiet you deserve. Sin doesn’t care about your spouse; if the person you married is not giving you the kind of sex you want, go and find someone who will. Sin doesn’t care about God; why go to church when the lake or golf course are waiting? Sin destroys your health and your relationships, especially your relationship with God.

By itself, sin would be a big enough problem for anyone to deal with. To make matters worse, sin has an ally. The devil wants sin to control you; he wants you on the outs with God so he can play with you as he will. The devil is a master manipulator; lies and half-truths are his weapons of choice. He wants you to believe that might makes right, that the ends justify the means, that you are the only one who knows what’s best for you. He interferes in our lives, causing stress and frustration; anger and fear are emotions he can use. He stokes the fires of resentment when someone tries to tell you what to do. He urges you to worry so much that you’ll forget about praying for help. He wants you to get depressed; then you’ll be ready for the big lie: that you are worthless. No one cares about you, not even God—why don’t you just end the misery right now? Satan wants us to forget about God, give up on each other, and hate ourselves. Satan does all he can to snuff love and hope from our lives.

The third enemy is death. Death is no friend—that’s just one of Satan’s many lies. Death is the enemy of life. We feel the touch of death right from the beginning with the terrible pain of childbirth, a bloody event that sometimes kills the mother or cripples the baby. Death touches infants through disorders like Downs’ Syndrome or Muscular Dystrophy. Death continues to plague our lives through disease and disability, through near-sightedness and diabetes, cancer and HIV. Death makes our joints ache with pain, steals our strength, and dulls our reflexes. Eventually, death steals our very life, tearing loved ones from each others’ arms. Death puts a time limit on our lives; it keeps us from finishing projects or reaching long-term goals. Worst of all, death closes the door on Jesus’ offer of salvation; if a person dies before faith has taken hold of his heart, access to heaven will be lost.

Sin, Satan, and death—three enemies overwhelming in their power. How wonderful it is, then, that we have the three-in-one God standing up for us, guaranteeing victory for all believers!

It all starts with the Father. He is the head of the Trinity; although the Son and the Spirit are equal to Him in every way, they defer to His authority and show Him respect—as we should. The Father is the source of justice and love. By His will, the universe was made. He created the angels, a vast army of powerful spirits who carry out His will in heaven and on earth. It is His justice that forms the backbone for human law, although sinful man has muddied things up considerably. God’s justice demands that sin be punished; He created hell as a place to confine those tainted by sin, so the righteous can rest comfortably forever.

Because we are sinners, hell is the eternal fate that we deserve. But God the Father has another quality besides a desire for justice; He is also the source of perfect love. That love caused Him to do something truly remarkable—He sent His Son to suffer the punishment of hell as our stand in.

Jesus is the living example of love. Love is more than a warm, mushy feeling. Love is more than poetic words that set the heart aglow. Love is action. Love is serving others in their need, even at the expense of yourself. Love is showing respect. Love is about building relationships that can stand the test of time.

In Jesus, we see perfect love at work. Jesus obeyed His Father in every way, treating Him with utmost respect. Jesus was a teacher of righteousness; He explained how we can improve our relationships with each other. Jesus served us in our need; our sins had earned the Father’s righteous judgment. But Jesus took the stinging blows in our place; because He suffered hell for us on the cross, we can be forgiven. Through Jesus, we can have a wonderful relationship with God, a relationship that will never end.

God the Father gives us everything necessary to live and show love for others. He sends angels to guard us from evil’s power. The Son of God has defeated Satan and stripped the grave of its mighty grip. He listens to our prayers and forgives our sins. But we have one more ally helping us as well—that ally is the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit plants faith in our hearts. When we hear or read God’s holy word, the Spirit chisels away at our stubborn unbelief. Some resent His efforts and push Him away; others find their hearts softening at the gentleness of His touch. When we accept the Spirit’s help, life changes for the better. The Spirit gives us strength to resist temptation. He comforts us when life is painful or disappointing. When we’re worried or afraid, He encourages us. He offers His wisdom and guidance when we’re faced with tough decisions. Through God’s Spirit, we have access to gifts that make life wonderful—gifts like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All of this is ours for the asking, if we trust in the Lord’s generosity.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—these three persons are on our side, and they are united as one. They are one in purpose: to see wickedness brought to an end. They are united in their concern for you; they work constantly to push back evil and draw you close. The persons of God are united in their commitment to a bright future, a day when the world is reborn in perfection and the children of God will live again, free from the oppression of sin, Satan, and death.

This, O people, is your God. He is beyond our understanding, but you can be sure of this—He loves you with an everlasting love. He came to offer us His hand through the body of Christ. He touches your life through Word and Sacrament. His angels surround you and His Spirit rests on you. He is the one true God—there is no other. He deserves your thanks and praise, your respect and trust, your love and devotion.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Make time for love

You are my God. My times are in your hands (Psalm 31:14-15).

Love is the most important thing in life. When He created Adam, God told the man an important truth—it is not good to be alone. We need relationships, and every healthy relationship is based on some degree of love. Relationships cannot survive without respect; love honors other people as valuable. Relationships cannot survive without forgiveness; love helps us put aside our hurt and pride so that damaged relationships can be restored. Relationships cannot thrive in the face of selfishness; love gives us the desire to put other people’s needs before our own. Love brings us all together.

So how do you nurture love? What does it need to survive and grow? The most important thing love needs is also the most precious commodity you have, because it is limited—love needs the commitment of time.

Time is a limited resource—whether you are rich or poor, no one gets more than 24 hours each day to show love to someone else. Because time is limited, we must budget its use carefully. Those 24 hours must include eating, sleeping, and earning a living. We have errands to run and chores to do around the house. We also hope for time to relax and enjoy ourselves, even if it’s only for a few minutes. A lot of days, 24 hours just isn’t enough time to get everything done—so when someone wants a piece of our time, we are often stingy with offering it.

But love cannot blossom without an investment of time. A child might enjoy the gifts you bring him, but given a choice he’d rather have your time instead. Relationships are based on communication—sharing your ideas and opinions, finding out what hopes and dreams are important to others. Relationships grow when people struggle through conflicts, investing time into finding a solution that everyone involved can be satisfied with. Love cannot grow strong unless it is given time to do so.

The most important relationship in life is the one that you have with Jesus. Like any other relationship, it requires a commitment of your time—time to worship, time to pray, time to read His words in the Bible. Jesus loves you, but your connection with Him can be lost if you ignore it. Through Christ, you have God’s love and support; don’t let such a wonderful relationship die because you won’t make time for it!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reality shows

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Reality shows; no matter how you feel about them, they have transformed television programming forever. Networks like them because they are much cheaper to produce than shows requiring actors and scriptwriters. Audiences like reality programming as well. Many of the shows are based on competition, giving the people at home someone to root for. Some programs feature normal folks, making it easy to sympathize with their heartaches and successes. Other shows are populated with celebrities or by individuals who are unusual in some way; such programs can be interesting to watch, just to see what these folks are going to say or do next.

Whatever their merits, reality shows do serve a worthwhile purpose—they remind us what human beings are really like, deep down inside. Some people go on these shows because they are greedy and want to win lots of money or an expensive prize; others want to show off how smart or tough they are. Every cast member wants to be recognized by millions of television viewers. Greed and pride give these shows their contestants.

Once on the show, other behaviors emerge. Lies are told and promises are broken, all in the name of strategy. Shouting matches erupt when someone doesn’t get their way. Competition is taken to such extremes that bodies are injured and feelings are hurt. Contestants make snide remarks about each other’s age, looks, morals, or intelligence. Of course, the producers of these shows encourage such behavior—it makes the show interesting to watch.

Unfortunately, you and I are no better than the folks we see on television. Like them, we are willing to do some off-the-wall things in order to get attention. We let greed drive us into making bad decisions. We are willing to tell lies when the truth is inconvenient. We try to bully people into letting us have our own way. We get so wrapped up in trying to reach a goal that we stop thinking about how other people might feel. And when we experience hurt, we spread the pain around by tearing other people down.

Reality programming shows us the darkness that is part of every human being; watching these shows reminds us just how much we need God’s forgiveness and help. Thankfully, God sent His Son to give us what we need. Jesus is the only way to overcome the harsh reality of our sin and come out of life a winner.

Blog Top Sites
Blog Directory & Search engine
Blog Directory