Thy will be done

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will.”

Salvageable adds: Those four words, “Thy will be done,” can be the hardest words for a Christian to pray. We are accustomed to delivering our wish lists to God and advising him how to run the universe. We would like to take God’s promises about prayer and use them to make ourselves the lords and make God our slave. The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer completely ignores our relationship to God. He is our Father; we are his children. Because he loves us, he invites us to ask anything of him. Still, because he loves us, he will grant no prayer that is bad for us or that contradicts his master plan for the redemption of the world.

Jesus prayed this difficult prayer in Gethsemane. He begged his Father for another way to rescue sinners; he did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath, filled with the poison of sin and evil and rebellion. Even as he named the gift—“Let this cup pass from me”—Jesus refused to claim it. Instead, he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This example sets the pattern for every Christian as we live our lives and as we speak with our heavenly Father in prayer.

We are nearly half-way through this prayer, and we have not yet said anything about what we want and need. The first three petitions of the prayer focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and what God wants. Even secular business strategy understands this approach: talk to the customer about the customer first, and the customer will keep listening when you switch to your product or service. Christians are not cynical when we begin our prayers talking to God about God. In both Old and New Testaments, believers began their prayers talking to God about God. They spoke of things God had done in the past and promises he had made. They reminded God of his nature—not because God needs reminders, but because the rest of us need reminders. The more we speak to God about God, the more we are pulled away from our selfish sinfulness and gathered into the saintly habit of loving God more than we love ourselves.

The words “on earth as it is in heaven” apply to all three petitions prayed thus far. “Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s name is always holy, except where sinners profane the name of God. God’s kingdom follows his rules, except where sinners break his rules. God’s will is done everywhere in creation except where sinners rebel against him and follow their will rather than God’s will. Some people wonder why God allows sin and evil to exist in his otherwise perfect creation. That question is not the mystery, though. The true mystery is why God loves sinners and rebels so much that he sends his Son as a ransom to reclaim them. The only answer to that mystery is found in the will of God—a gracious, merciful and loving will that wants no one to perish but wants to redeem and reclaim all people. Because that is God’s will, Christians cheerfully and trustingly pray the words, “Thy will be done.” J.

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Thy Kingdom come

Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…Thy Kingdom come….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

Salvageable adds: Scholars speak sometimes of the three kingdoms of God, although they do not intend to say that these are distinct kingdoms. No, they overlap, and a person can be part of more than one of God’s kingdoms. They are called the kingdom of power, the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory. The kingdom of power is creation, over which Jesus rules right now. The kingdom of grace is the Church, including saints in Paradise with Jesus and believers still living on the earth. The kingdom of glory is the coming new creation, in which all things will be perfected, all evil will be removed, and all the saints will live with Jesus forever. They will be royalty because of their family relationship to the King.

We do not need to pray that the kingdom of power will come. Creation already is here. We pray about that kingdom, though, when we pray for daily bread.

We pray for the kingdom of grace—for the Church. We pray for pastors and other church leaders, that God would keep them faithful and would work through their ministries. We pray for missionaries spreading the good news about Jesus. We pray for people we love, especially those who seem not to believe in Jesus right now. We pray that the kingdom of grace would come to more people so they can be redeemed and can enter the kingdom of grace and await eternal life in the kingdom of glory. The Lord’s Prayer is a missionary prayer.

At the same time, we are praying for ourselves. We pray that we would continue to mature in the faith—as a famous song from Godspell says, to see God more clearly, follow him more nearly, and love him more dearly. On the one hand, there are not different levels of faith. The faith of every Christian is identical, because it is faith in the same Savior, the same Lord, and the same promises. The Christian life is easier, though, for believers who have stopped measuring themselves, who have put their full trust in the Lord, and who are being transformed into the image of Christ, loving God and neighbors according to the example of Christ and by his strength.

Even as we pray for the kingdom of grace, we also pray for the coming of the kingdom of glory: “Maranatha—come, Lord Jesus!” We look forward to the Day when we see Jesus coming in the clouds, bringing with him all the saints of Paradise, raising all the dead, and inaugurating the new creation. We pray for that Day when all sorrows and sufferings will cease, when sin and evil will no longer exist, and when death will no longer be an end to life. That Day is already guaranteed through the redemption of Christ. By his life and death and resurrection, he has conquered sin, death, and evil. By his life, death, and resurrection, he shares his victory with us. Therefore, we do not fear the Day of the Lord. We look forward to it with hope and excitement, and we pray for its coming. Yet it has been delayed for the sake of the work of the kingdom of grace. There are yet more people—at least one more person—who will come to faith and enter the kingdom of grace before it all becomes the kingdom of glory.  J.

Hallowed be thy name

Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…Hallowed be thy name….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

Salvageable adds: God’s name includes everything that tells us about God. His name starts with the labels we use for him: God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, Savior, Redeemer, and so on. But God’s name can also refer to the Bible, the Church, the cross, and anything else that calls God to mind. God’s name is represented by anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.

God’s name is so important that God protects it in the Ten Commandments, telling his people not to misuse his name. His name is misused when it is spoken carelessly, as punctuation, rather than as a prayer addressed to him or as a statement about him. It is misused whenever people try to use it magically, treating the cross as a good-luck charm or treating prayer as an incantation that gives the one praying control over God. God’s name is misused whenever it is invoked in an effort to deceive other people, whether perjury (promising by God’s name to speak the truth, and then lying) or false promises (God wants you to send me one hundred dollars, and he promises you greater prosperity in return when you do so).

Of course God’s name is always holy. Anything that belongs to God is holy. God does not require our prayers to preserve the holiness of his name. But our prayers remind us that God’s name is holy. As Luther indicates, when we pray to God about the holiness of his name, we pray that his name would be holy among us. Instead of bringing shame to the name of God by our deceit, by our selfishness, and by our cold lack of love for our neighbors, we want the name of God to be honored by our neighbors when they see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Children sometimes misunderstand the words of the prayer and tell God that his name is hollow. When people pray this prayer and then go and do what they want rather than doing what God wants, they make his name hollow. As Luther prays, “Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” As Christians, may we bring glory rather than shame to the name of Christ our Lord. J.

Our Father…

Jesus said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.”

Salvageable adds: We are not God’s children because he created us. We are God’s children because Jesus redeemed us. The Son of God exchanged places with us after we ran away from home and joined with God’s enemies—the devil, the sinful world around us, and the sin inside of us. Jesus, who never sinned, took on the full cost of our sin and paid that price, so God no longer sees sin in us. Instead, he looks at us and sees his Son, and God therefore treats us accordingly.

As our Father, God would do anything for us. He has already given his Son for us; why would he resent smaller blessings on our behalf? But the Almighty God does not make himself our slave. He makes grand and generous promises to hear and answer our prayers, but he reserves the right to answer “no.” God will not give us anything that hurts us, no matter how often and how eloquently we ask. He will not abandon his plan to perfect the entire world through Christ due to our prayers. Indeed, Jesus teaches us what to pray precisely so we learn what things God will give us when we ask for them. In many cases, he will give us those blessings when we fail to ask. But God wants the lines of communication to remain open. He wants us to pray, and so he invites us to speak to him as young children speak trustingly to their earthly fathers.

We may be children of God, but we are very young children, the equivalent of two- or three-year-olds in the family. Our words of praise are feeble compared to what the angels offer God, but God knows our limitations and delights to hear our prayers; they are like crayon drawings that the Lord posts on his refrigerator. We often ask God for things that are inappropriate for us to have, but God never tires of our requests. We can ask him any number of questions without exhausting his patience. Having redeemed us and adopted us, God loves to hear our voices. Even when he says “no,” he will never turn us away lacking some blessing that he knows will be good for us.

I ache for people who say that they cannot approach God as a Father because of the faults and misbehavior of their earthly fathers. Parents bear a great responsibility to be pictures and representations of a God who teaches people to do right instead of wrong, but who also never stops forgiving and never stops loving his children. Where our parents fail us, God our Father remains reliable. We can always approach him through Christ, and nothing we say to him will lessen his love for us. J.

On prayer

Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day 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 evil” (Matthew 6:5-13).

Prayer should be the simplest and easiest part of Christian living, but our imperfect minds complicate praying as we complicate so many things. Some Christians use prayer books and use only prayers created by others, while other Christians regard only spontaneous prayer as genuine. Some repeat the same brief prayers with great frequency, while others pray only on certain occasions, such as mealtime and bedtime. Some only pray aloud, others only in their minds, while most Christians pray in both ways at different times. A few take Jesus literally and never pray what other people can hear. Since Jesus prayed several times in the presence of others, we can take his warning to “go into your room and shut the door” as an exaggeration, parallel to “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).

When we pray, we speak to God. Prayer is not a time to lecture others while directing our words to God—prayer is communication with the God who made us and who is in charge of the universe. We cannot impress God by the beauty of or prayers, so we might as well keep them simple and personal. We cannot fool God about ourselves, so we should not try, not even in our prayers. We pray often, because God is always with us and always wants to hear from us. We tell God what we want and what we need. We do not think that we can persuade him or bribe him to give us something that he does not want to give. We do not bargain with God. God has attached powerful promises to prayer, but he retains control of the universe.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, known both as the Lord’s Prayer and the Our Father, is an outline to guide our prayers. Martin Luther wrote that an hour is too little time to pray the Lord’s Prayer properly. When we honor the name of God, we stop and consider the many names of God and what they tell us about him. When we ask for daily bread, we add other needs; and when we pray for forgiveness, we confess our sins, as many as we remember.

Among some Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is also used as a group prayer. At those times, everyone in the group speaks the prayer together, often using vocabulary and grammar from England of the 1600s. This unites Christian prayer, not only with everyone in the building, but with previous generations of Christians who now are in Paradise awaiting the Resurrection. After all, the Lord’s Prayer is a group prayer—it has no I or me or mine, but is addressed to our Father and mentions our daily bread and our trespasses. Therefore, when we pray this prayer, we are praying for Christians around the world and not only for ourselves.

But when we use this prayer and teach it to our children, we need to explain the words of the prayer. Otherwise, they will grow up praying, “Our Father who aren’t in heaven, hollow be thy name,” or even, “how do you know my name?” Children should know this prayer so they can pray it with others and use it as an outline for their personal prayers. When we do not know what to pray, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful help. We know how Jesus wants us to speak with him and with his Father. We also know what Jesus and his Father want to give us. Paul wrote, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Along with those groanings, the Holy Spirit has given us this prayer from the mouth of Jesus himself, so we never need to feel that we are at a loss for words when we approach the throne of God. J.

Update and season’s greetings

I cannot predict my WordPress status for the next several days.

My home computer and WordPress are not interfacing well. When I go to my Reader page and try to scroll, the screen alternates between freezing and rolling uncontrollably, making it hard for me to click on a visit button before it escapes my pointer. Since I will not be able to use my work computer for the next few days, I may have problems visiting all the blogs I love and enjoy.

I have a project in mind, though, that I will try to post over the twelve days of Christmas. It involves picking up where I left off with Martin Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. The next topic will be prayer.

If I don’t have the opportunity to visit your site and wish you a Merry Christmas, please accept my best wishes all that same. May the Lord bless your celebration of His holy days. To Jesus be the glory. J.

Prophecy, fulfillment, and time

During this Advent season, many Christians contemplate the prophecies of Jesus in Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, comparing those promises to the ways they were kept in the birth, life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. This meditation is good, but it can sometimes be approached in a misleading fashion. Some Christians speak of God first making the promises and then finding ways to keep them, like a planner checking items off a list.

“Let’s see – I said he would be born of a virgin – Mary of Nazareth will do nicely. (check)

“I said he would be born in Bethlehem. I can prompt Caesar to call for a census so that Joseph will be compelled to take Mary there before the birth.” (check)

“I said that he would be honored by Gentiles bringing gold and incense and myrrh. Here’s a group of wise men who will fit the bill.” (check)

“I said they would be led by a star. How on earth am I going to lead them to Bethlehem by a star?”

Peter wrote, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Peter 3:8). God does not move through time as we created beings move through time; he can step into and out of the time stream at will. When the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets, he was not setting up conditions that would have to be met. No, he was telling what he had already seen of future events, for he had already been there. Judas was not fated to betray Christ because of some promise God made centuries earlier; Judas chose to betray Christ, and then the Holy Spirit told prophets about the betrayal centuries earlier.

Some say that, hanging on the cross, Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22. A more theologically sound position is that Jesus prayed sincerely from the depths of his anguish, and then the Holy Spirit inspired David to write the Psalm which vividly describes the crucifixion and quotes Christ’s prayer one thousand years earlier.

When the prophecies and fulfillments are seen from this perspective, deeper and richer meaning appears in those prophecies. Mary was a genuine person, a historic figure, who conceived and gave birth to a son while still a virgin. At the same time, Mary stands in the place of the Bride of the Lord—Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, one Bride distinguished only by the before-and-after of Christ’s Incarnation in our time stream. This Bride is betrothed, still awaiting the coming of her Husband on the wedding day. Although a virgin, she has already given birth to the Son of God, now Incarnate, who has fulfilled the promises that would claim his people and bring about the royal marriage of Christ and his Church.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem so he could claim the throne of his father David. David had been promised a son who would rule an eternal kingdom (II Samuel 7). Solomon does not match the son described to David—Solomon became king while David was still alive (v. 12), although Solomon sinned he was never disciplined with stripes and rods (v. 14), and after ruling for forty years, Solomon died, and his kingdom was divided—it was not eternal (v. 16). Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the Son of David and remains a true Son to God the Father (v. 14). Though he did not sin, he took upon himself the sins of the world and was treated accordingly, including the stripes and rods borne by Roman soldiers.

But Bethlehem was more than the hometown of David and therefore of his descendants. The name of the town means “house of bread,” and it became the birthplace of the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that (like manna) comes down out of heaven (John 6). After he was born, Jesus was placed in a manger, a trough from which sheep eat, signaling that the Good Shepherd would feed his sheep with his own body (I Corinthians 10 & 11).

The wise men bearing gifts who were guided by a star probably knew the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam, who said in the days of Moses, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). The wise men knew that the King of the Jews, whose birth was signaled by that star, would also be a priest and a sacrifice, so they honored him with royal and priestly gifts.

All the Old Testament descriptions of the Messiah add up to more than a checklist of things God had to do, or ways to identify the Messiah when he came. They were given as instruction to the saints of Israel, so they could believe in the coming Savior and have a place in his eternal kingdom. They remain for our instruction today, expanding upon what was written by the apostles to describe Jesus as Savior. God’s Bible is full of rich interconnections which never stop teaching us about the glory and grace of God, who came among us to be one of us, to rescue us, and to claim us for his kingdom. J.

Christmas tree past

With apologies to the late Tom Petty… and to my son:

 

He’s a good boy, but sometimes curious,

Can’t help touching what he sees.

It’s a blue spruce, but make of plastic

With ornaments of ceramic and glass.

It’s got colored lights and shiny tinsel.

It’s wobbly, won’t stand up straight.

He’s a good boy, but sometimes curious,

Can’t help touching what he sees:

Now the tree—

Tree falling!

The tree–

Tree falling!

J.

O Christmas tree (Oh, nuts)

The story so far:

Last May we had a fire on our property—a good-sized storage shed/workshop went up in flames. The cause was a fault in an electrical outlet. As I was driving home after I got the news, I prayed two things: that the fire would not spread to the house, and that no one would be injured. Both prayers were answered. Less important, but also in my hopes, were the Christmas decorations in the back of the shed. Arriving home and seeing that most of the damage had been in the front of the shed, I continued to have hope for a while longer.

But the fire traveled up from the outlet into the rafters and then was carried to the back of the shed, where the decorations were stored. Most of those boxes were scorched, and many of their contents were singed. These contents included many ceramic ornaments and decorations that were hand-made by my mother, who is no longer around to restore or replace such items. Others were special gifts from other years, or special purchases from past Christmases.

The insurance company was very helpful, paying one company to tear down and replace the shed, paying another company to clean items that could be cleaned, and paying us replacement costs for ruined items we did replace and partial value for items we chose not to replace. Most of the cleaned items were returned to us at the beginning of November. I found the autumn decorations and was pleased with their condition. Now, as Christmas approaches, I am gradually unpacking those decorations and placing them around the house.

Our seven-foot artificial Christmas tree had been on the floor of the shed, underneath the other decorations. The cleaners firmly said—before we even had a chance to ask—that they do not clean Christmas trees. I set the tree up in the driveway to air, then left it in the garage until the new shed was completed. This week I finally brought it into the house. My family and I have looked at new trees in the stores, but nothing available now appeals to us. Many of the new trees come with lights already permanently installed, and the Salvageable family does not work that way.

When I was a boy, my father trained me to decorate Christmas trees with a very high standard of perfection. Every light must be attached to a branch; none of the lights can float in midair between branches or merely lay on top of a branch. They must be installed several inches down the branch so there is room to hang ornaments. They must go deep into the tree to give it full dimensions instead of being a cone of lights. In all my years of decorating Christmas trees, I have always insisted on following my father’s method.

I bought eight new strings of lights, each with 150 bulbs. That’s 1,200 bulbs to be placed firmly on branches. As I put them on the tree, I noticed a faint odor of smoke still lingering in the tree. I also noticed dirt gathering under my fingernails. The tree is fifteen years old, so some of that dirt could be from other years rather than ash from the fire. We bought this tree one January after the previous tree had toppled as my son added trucks and dinosaurs to its decorations. It remains full and lifelike, although five of the branches are held to the trunk by twist-ties. When all the lights were attached, I continued with other duties, such as picking up a daughter from dance class and getting the garbage out to the curb. While finishing the latter task, I saw that all the lights on the tree had gone dark. Not wanting to spend more time on it that night, I unplugged it and left it alone.

The next day it was found that only the bottom string on the tree was malfunctioning. I removed it from the tree and checked carefully for breaks in the cord, thinking that a cat may have chewed on the tree and cut the cord. Second I checked for loose bulbs. When both inspections failed to reveal a problem, I decided to change the fuses in the plug of the cord. Suffice it to say that, in an effort to remove and replace those fuses, further damage occurred to the plug, making the string’s replacement inevitable.

Before going to the store, I looked again at the instructions for the cords and learned that the old method of stringing all the cords as one line no longer works with modern lights. No more than three strings can be plugged in together. This appeared to mean that I would have to strip all the lights from the tree and reattach them. At the store, however, an extension cord was found to solve just that problem—the cord has three sets of outlets along its length, so it can be wound through the tree and bring power to all the lights.

I brought home that cord and the new string of lights, only to discover that I had grabbed the wrong package of lights—the cord was white instead of green. So that meant another trip to the store to make the exchange.

Today the tree has lights, but not yet any ornaments. Six boxes in the shed contain Christmas tree ornaments. (I hope one of them also contains the missing pieces to the manger scene—it is short an angel and two sheep and one other figure, probably a shepherd). Maybe tonight and tomorrow, and possibly stretching through the week, those boxes will be brought into the house, each individual ornament unwrapped, inspected, and lovingly placed on the tree. Many memories will be renewed. And we will have our Christmas tree throughout the coming twelve days of Christmas. J.

Christmas letter

Dear family and friends,

It has been great receiving your Christmas cards this year and reading your letters. Congratulations on the spectacular accomplishments of your children and on the wonderful vacations you have taken in the past year.

Our older son graduated from college eighteen months ago and is still looking for a job in his field. If you know of a laboratory or corporation that is hiring chemists, please drop him a line. Meanwhile, he continues to develop his skills mixing paint at Home Depot, which at least supplies him money for rent and groceries.

Our daughter left college last winter and spent three months in the hospital. They have changed her medication a couple of times, and she seems to have stabilized. Of course some days are harder than others for her. She was employee of the month at the McDonalds on the highway in October. Meanwhile, she remains very popular, as she receives letters and phone calls nearly every day from collection agencies that want to discuss her student loans and medical bills.

Our younger son is adjusting to life at the military academy, and his parole officer believes that he has turned the corner in making good decisions. Best of all, the owners of the car have dropped their lawsuit.

The Mrs. and I were not able to get away for a vacation this summer, although we did spend some pleasant Sunday afternoons at the free museums downtown. We also had some pleasant hikes at the two nearby state parks. We did have the opportunity to travel out of state in September for the funeral of my mother-in-law, and we agree with everyone there who said that the family ought to get together once in a while for happier occasions.

My back is steadily improving from last year’s fall down the stairs when the dog attacked me. What a relief it was to learn that the dog did not have rabies! I carry a can of pepper spray on my route now, but I haven’t had to use it yet. Of course the bag of mail has gotten a lot heavier the last two months with all the advertisements and holiday greetings. It’s such a pleasure to be back on the job, though, that I really don’t mind the extra weight.

The Mrs. sends her greetings. She has decided to stay with the housecleaning business for the foreseeable future, although most of her coworkers are younger than she is. She says that she could write a fascinating gossip column for the paper about the things she has learned about people by cleaning their houses.

I guess that’s about all the news from our household this Christmas. We wish you blessings for the new year, and we hope that 2018 is even better for all of you than 2017 has been.

Reprinted from last December with two small edits. J.