Thinking Out Loud

January 1, 2017

Opening Prayer

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

lords-prayerLet’s kick off a new year by opening in prayer…

…For many of us the school day began with the playing or singing of the national anthem followed by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, also referred to by Roman Catholics as the Our Father. In the longer, commonly used version we recited, I found it interesting to observe that there are three words repeated twice, two are nouns and one is a verb.

The first word is heaven. It’s interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in Matthew 6:9 all the English translations kept the same word. You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required. Jesus is shaking up the prayer paradigm with Abba or Father, a form of address with unprecedented familiarity, but then we’re reminded that God dwells in eternity, that he is wholly other. He exists beyond what we can see, beyond what we can know, even beyond what we can process. One theological dictionary states, “the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness.” Solomon wrote, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” (I Kings 8:27)

The prayer forces us to look upward.

The second word is kingdom which somewhat bookends the prayer in the commonly-recited version. Standing before Pilate, a crown of thorns on his head, beaten, mocked and ridiculed, it probably didn’t look like Jesus was establishing a kingdom. But this was the heart of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17); we’re reminded that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35) and the word is reminiscent of this Old Testament text, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:11).

He is establishing an invisible kingdom. But we, the gathered assembly of believers and followers are the visible representation of that kingdom here on earth.

The prayer forces us to look outward.

The final repeated word, the verb, is forgive. Elsewhere, also speaking on prayer, Jesus taught, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) It’s interesting that in a prayer describing the infinitude of God’s dwelling place and the vastness of his kingdom we see a petition for forgiveness, tied to the way we forgive others. It reminds me of Isaiah who is confronted by the majesty of God only to realize the contrast to his own sinfulness. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The prayer forces us to look inward.

What better way to begin a new year than to forgive those who have hurt us, offended us, or trespassed against us.


For a longer, 3-part version of these thoughts, click this link.

 

January 2, 2013

Wednesday Link List

II Cor 10_13--15  Online Translation

And you thought I would take the day off, didn’t you? Well, the link list crew worked all New Year’s Day to bring this to you.

  • Russell D. Moore has a unique observation post from which to consider the decision by the Russian government to suspend adoptions of Russian children by Americans. I think his two Russian born children would agree with his summary.
  • Hi readers. Meet Matt Rawlings. Matt read 134 books last year. How did you do? 
  • And here’s another Matt. Matt Appling has put together an amazing essay on why the concept of shame is ripe for a comeback.
  • David Murrow has an interesting idea in which popular TV pastors are a brand that is a type of new denomination. He also has other ideas about what the church will look like in 50 years. (Or read the Todd Rhoades summary.)
  • Some readers here also blog, and if that’s you, perhaps you do the “top posts” thing. (I don’t.) But if you had a post-of-the-year, I can almost guarantee it weren’t nothin’ like this must-read one.
  • “This is the most egregious violation of religious liberty that I have ever seen.” Denny Burk on what is largely a U.S.-based story, but with justice issues anyone can appreciate: The case of Hobby Lobby.
  • Can some of you see yourself in this story? “It’s really hard for me to read God’s word without dissecting it. I like to have commentaries and cross references. I like to take notes. I like to circle, underline, rewrite. And then my time with God turns into another homework assignment.” I can. More at Reflect blog.
  • This one may be sobering for a few of you. David Fitch offers three signs that you are not a leader, at least where the Kingdom of God is concerned.
  • “We put people into leadership roles too early, on purpose. We operate under the assumption that adults learn on a need-to-know basis. The sooner they discover what they don’t know, the sooner they will be interested in learning what they need to know…At times, it creates problems. We like those kinds of problems…” Read a sample of Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep and Wide, at Catalyst blog.
  • So for some of you, 2013 represents getting back on the horse again, even though you feel you failed so many times last year. Jon Acuff seems to understand what you’re going through.
  • Dan Gilgoff leaves the editor’s desk at CNN Belief Blog after three years and notes five things he learned in the process.
  • More detail on the Westboro petition(s) at the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars; along with our get well wishes to blog proprietor Ed Brayton, recovering from open heart surgery.
  • Rachel Held Evans mentioned this one yesterday: The How To Talk Evangelical Project.  Sample: “If Christianese was a language, evangelical was our own special dialect. A cadence. A rhythm…” Click the banner at the top for recent posts.
  • Not sure how long this has been available, but for all you Bible study types,  here’s the ultimate list for academically-inclined people who want to own the best Bible commentary for each Bible book. (And support your local bookstore if you still have one!)
  • Bob Kauflin salutes the average worship leader, working with the average team at the average church. Which despite what you see online is mostly people like us.
  • Flashback all the way to September for this one: Gary Molander notes that the primary work of a pastor is somewhat in direct conflict with the calling they feel they are to pursue. He calls it, Why is it So Stinkin’ Hard to Work for a Church?
  • Nearly three years ago, we linked to this one and it’s still running: CreationSwap.com where media shared for videos, photos, logos, church bulletins, is sold or given away by thousands of Christian artists.

Christian books I hope you never see

December 23, 2009

Regrets? I Have a Few

I never thought Frank Sinatra lyrics were cool until a youth ministry friend of ours decided to open each session of a retreat weekend with “Regrets?  I have a few.”     I can’t remember how he related this to the topic, but as 2009 draws to a close, I know that I have regrets, and it would be nice to live regret-free in 2010.   How about you?   Anything from this year you’d like to be able to do over?   Rewind the tape and play out a particular scene differently?

I don’t spend a lot of time in the self-help section of bookstores.   (I can just hear my acquaintances saying, “Ah! That explains it…”)    I haven’t read Boundaries and my bookmark is still firmly set somewhere in the middle of Purpose Driven Life.   But I was drawn to the title of Stephen Arterburn’s Regret Free Living.

My only previous experience with Arterburn’s writing was a very cursory reading of Every Man’s Battle, which was — typical of books in the broader psychology genre — very much based on anecdotal accounts.  Regret Free uses stories as well, but I felt that these were used as a springboard for a larger discussion, and I can’t think of a better word than ‘discussion’ to describe the nature and tone of this book.

While we all struggle in different areas of relational dynamics — some of us more than others — the book’s forté has to do with the interpersonal dynamics of marriage and family life.   I’m not sure however that a single person would find as much benefit, or someone thinking the book might deal with the relational dynamics in the workplace, or even regrets caused by poor decision making.

The more I read, the more I realized how foreign this type of Christian prose is to my reading experience.    Still there were some things that really stood out.    Here’s a snapshot:

When you’re thinking about regrets, just remember:  You’re guilty and not guilty.  Guilty for making whatever bad decision you did, not guilty for the factors that influenced you to make that bad decision.

And never forget that, in the final analysis, you don’t have to feel guilty at all.   None of us ever does, once we’ve been completely forgiven — and Jesus Christ offers full forgiveness to any and all who come to him with a truly repentant heart.   (p. 175)

As this passage suggests, the book is solidly aimed at the Christian market or those who are investigating the Christian faith.    Each chapter contains relevant scripture citations that could make this easily the basis for a 13-week small group study.   Small group questions are not provided however, nor are there any footnotes or bibliographic notes; copyright info on any quotations are embedded right in the text.  I think that’s an attempt to make the book less intimidating.

Some of the ideas that stuck with me from the later chapters included the idea of having a “Life Check” which would work like “Spell Check” on your computer.    (Sounds good.  Where do I sign up for that?)   Or introducing  the different aspects to what we call “time;”  chronos and kairos.  (You know the first one every time you check the time in the corner of the computer you’re reading this on.   You want to get to know the second better; the experience of being in the moment.)

However, I’ve got to say that at times I felt like the book was a little slow in moving on to the next point.   Like maybe someone handed in a 40,000 word essay but the professor demanded 10,000 words more, so they filled it out.      I think part of that may be my fault, because I wasn’t reading the book out of direct need, but merely as a book to review.   For someone going through the pain of regret, some of the counsel of this book may be just what the doctor ordered.

Regrets?  I have a few.   I read books like this one and always remember that there will always be someone for whom this will be the first Christian book they have ever read. I then try to assess the book on that basis, and in this case, the joining of recognizable  stories,  logical analysis, solid advice and related scriptures passes that first book test with flying colors.

The full title is Regret Free Living:  Hope for Past Mistakes and Freedom from Unhealthy Patterns by Stephen Arterburn with John Shore.  (Bethany House Publishers, 2009; 231 pages, hardcover $17.99 US) Also available on Oasis Audio CDs read by the author ($25.99 US).

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