Jesus gives us these words to pray: “Deliver us from evil (or the evil one)”. I believe Jesus is trying to reminder us that this spiritual war is all too real, that Evil desires to undo the Good News, and that Satan is the ultimate guerrilla warrior.

Jesus is pushing us back to the Deliverer. He knows our human tendency to either ignore evil or arrogantly overestimate our own defences. He knows our flight/fight response. He brings hope by reminding us that the battle belongs to the Lord.

As I type this, another war is starting. Turkey is going on an offensive against the Kurds. Another conflict in a long line of human hatred. I recently saw a list of the major wars in world history. It took over four pages to complete the list. No wonder Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

Yet we are also in a war. Not a physical war against flesh and blood. Not cultural war. Not ideological war. Ephesians 6 reminds us:

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

This is spiritual war conducted behind the veil, unseen by human eyes, yet all too real. These schemes of the devil are attempts to “steal, kill and destroy” the life that Jesus has brought and continues to bring.

In this war, we tend toward two extremes:

  1. We give very little thought, intention, or preparation to the conflict. Because it’s not physically present, we ignore it. If we do think about it, we cower.
  2. We over-sensationalise our role in it. We believe that we can somehow single-handedly defeat all the powers of evil with the words of our mouth or the actions of our hands.

My descriptions may be overly simplistic; however, both extremes are recipes for disaster.

Jesus gives us these words to pray: “Deliver us from evil (or the evil one)”. I believe Jesus is trying to reminder us that this war is all too real, that Evil desires to undo the Good News, and that Satan is the ultimate guerrilla warrior. Christ defeated Him, yet he is still waging war. We need our eyes opened, like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6. We need to be aware and prepared. However, if that is all this phrase does for us, we are still doomed. On our own, we have no hope; no matter how prepared we think we are.

Jesus is pushing us back to the Deliverer. He knows our human tendency to either ignore evil or arrogantly overestimate our own defences. He knows our flight/fight response. He brings hope by reminding us that the battle belongs to the Lord. “When your enemy presses in hard do not fear; the battle belongs to the Lord”. We stand in His power, with His authority – not ours. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are an acknowledgement of our frailty and a plea to the one true source of strength and deliverance.

Even though our deliverance comes from Christ, we can’t remain idle. We still have a part to play. Prayer is key! The war can never be won when communication breaks down. An army can’t carry out commands if they haven’t been briefed.

May the words of Ephesians 6 guide us into God-powered deliverance:

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His might power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all of the strategies of the devil…Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil…Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.


Temptation!

Have you ever faced it?

Of course!

Temptation is a universal human experience. It is almost as human as breathing or eating. We have all faced it. We have all yielded to it somewhere along the way.

Having said that, the words “Lead us not into temptation” ought to strike us as somewhat odd. Theologically they are strange. Yet even more than that, it just sounds inhuman. How is it possible to go through life without facing temptation? What exactly is Jesus modelling for us in this prayer?

In all the time I have recited the Lord’s Prayer, I have never quite gotten used to the words, “Lead us not into temptation.” I have to admit there are times when I pause and ponder while everyone around me continues reciting the words. Over the years as I have studied, looked at various translations, and read numerous commentaries; and I have never quite come away with an answer that fully satisfies my curiosity.

Here are some of my questions. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I grouped them together by theme:

  • Does the petition mean that sometimes God can lead us into temptation?
  • Wouldn’t that contradict other passages like James 1, where it says God does not tempt us?
  • Is temptation the right word English word? Are “trial” or “testing” better words?
  • Yet does that not also contradict huge swaths of the biblical story?
  • Would that not fly in the face of James 1 again, where we are encouraged to endure trials?
  • Is temptation the real issue, or our yielding to it?
  • Why do my commentaries say the idea of yielding is a bad translation of the original words?

To be candid, I still do not have a great explanation, but I am not sure I need one. I suspect Jesus is pushing us to imagine something deeper.

What if Jesus’ point is simply this: we are human! We are frail. To err is human. We will face temptation. We will fall. On our own.

Is Jesus opening our eyes to where our desire for control, our penchant for doing life on our own, and our reluctance to yield our lives to Him actually leads? Is He helping us face the fact that without Him in control we are doomed to fall, and fall, and fall, and fall, and fall again? I suspect so.

Jesus is graciously guiding us to an incredible source of strength and help. He is inviting us to live life with Him, in His strength, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is inviting us into everyday dependence on the guidance of the Spirit living within us. He is not asking us to throw up temptation SOS prayers when we are desperately at the end of our own ropes. If we wait until we are at the end of our own rope, we will likely hang ourselves.

Let me conclude with the words of Paul that seem to summarize our thoughts here:

“After starting your lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” (Galatians 3:3, 5:16)

Let us pray that the Spirit guides our lives this month.

As a young college student, with a heart to share the Gospel and make a difference in the world, I believed I was “called” to serve the Lord as a missionary. For me, that meant leaving the country and culture I was used to, learning a different language, and going to some unreached corner of the world to share the Good News about Jesus. At the time, I was part of another denomination, one that had all kinds of cultural trappings, including our own language and even a cookbook!

I couldn’t imagine going out to plant that denomination’s churches in some primitive tribal location. And so, like many passionate prospective missionaries of that time, I applied to a non-denominational mission to pursue my missionary career. A career, by the way, that continued in conjunction with my 40 years of pastoral work here in Canada! It is a great organisation, and continues to do great work around the world.

Now I find myself the Director of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission (EFCCM) — the international ministry arm of the EFCC. Not everyone knows that this is part of the EFCC, and it makes sense to explain why this is so.

In a Christianity Today article called “Missions, Denominations and Honest Questions”, author Ed Stetzer points out that denominations are a tool and not the goal. Our primary goal is not to plant Evangelical Free Churches in the places where we serve. Our goal is to see lives transformed by the power of the gospel, and to see new believers enfolded into new or existing churches where they can be lovingly nurtured and discipled to become obedient followers of Christ.

The task of the church is defined by The Great Commission — to go into the world and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Each local church has a responsibility to fulfill that task, but no single local church could accomplish this. One of the core reasons our churches have associated is to partner, to share resources and encourage each other in this. And together we can accomplish far more than the total of what we can accomplish if we continue to work independently.

Not only is the EFCC’s Statement of Faith a compelling, comparatively simple expression of what unites us, our ethos endorses collaboration. Our commitment to inclusivity of all those who share the Hope that is ours in Christ allows us to partner with other like-minded ministries. We can build bridges because of our doctrinal position where others cannot. We can bring people together to impact communities and nations in ways that are unique and creative.

The EFCCM is not a mission committed to any one specialised form of ministry. We are a generalist kind of mission, committed ultimately to seeing the Gospel work dynamically in lives and seeing local churches being born and being strengthened to further the work the Christ began. This gives us freedom to be creative in our approaches to sharing the Gospel as we seek to serve with cultural sensitivity.

We can encourage each local church in Canada to be a Great Commission Church. We can encourage every member and adherent of our churches to be Great Commission Christians. And we can help churches and individuals find way to give practical expression to that commitment.

Ed Stetzer raises an important question that must always be before us: “Is our denomination being a good steward as a tool for the mission?” By God’s grace, we want to come together as one body across our nation, united around our ethos, and empowered to carry out the Great Commandment and Great Commission of our Lord.

The word “ritual” doesn’t play well in a Free Church tradition. I hesitated even using it but couldn’t shake it loose. I use it with this definition, “a customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts.”

Why the negative connotation?

Maybe it’s because we associate ritual with churches of questionable beliefs, or maybe we think that praying something over and over again causes it to lose its freshness or even meaning. Maybe it’s because of the throw away world in which we live. With diminishing attention spans, we’re easily bored. Use something for a while and then on to the next thing. Instead of change being an important part of life, it has become so much the fabric of our lives that repetition won’t be tolerated. Whatever the reason, “ritual” is in need of a new press agent!

In the midst of our complex and ever-changing world, I find myself longing for simplicity. Ritualistic prayer is one of the ways in which I find it.

Let me explain.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what we call the “Lord’s Prayer”, to be repeated or recited regularly. In Jesus time on earth the Jews prayed repeated prayers three times a day, a practice that Jesus himself may have followed.

Before I preached last Sunday, I publically prayed two prayers, one for myself and one for the congregation. This is my “ritual” every time I preach.

  • “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (from Psalm 19)
  • “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.” (from Samuel)

I start off almost every day with three ritualistic prayers with our triune God in heart and mind.

  • “Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I will love you with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I will love my neighbour as myself.”
  • Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I will take up my cross and follow you.”
  • “Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Why do this?

  • It’s meditative; it causes us to think deeply about scripture and where it connects with life. Notice that all of these prayers are directly from scripture.
  • It’s focusing; it causes us to focus on God and what he wants.
  • It’s centering; it causes us to center attention on what is important and best in the midst of life’s complexity.

Our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst, Dave Acree, contributes to our monthly EFCC Prayer Calendar. To subscribe to that, click here.

“Too much” or “too little” often wins out over “just enough.” We humans don’t do “balance” very well. Take sin for example.

In years past we tended to make too much of sin. We saw sin everywhere. Not just biblically identifiable sin but also culturally determined (by the church) sin, like going to movies or drinking alcohol or shooting pool down at the “hall.” We became so burdened down by sin that life became almost unlivable and our non-church friends (if we had any) saw us as holier-than-thou hypocrites, not something they wanted to be part of.

In times present, we tend to make too little of sin. We’ve managed to do away with most of those culturally determined sins but even the biblically identifiable ones are often now seen as too narrow and binding and perhaps in need of some redefinition, or just ignored. We don’t much like to talk about sin anymore.

In years past confession, or cleansing prayer, was a regular part of our prayer menu, both in public gatherings and in private prayer. Not so much in times present.

If you haven’t read Psalm 51 recently, you should. It’s good for the soul. There’s something cleansing and refreshing about confession of sin. Of course, that means we have to recognize and own up to our sin.

Maybe that’s why 1 John 1:9 is one of the first verses from the Bible we have people memorize. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Back in the 15th century, Ignatius, developed what he called the “examen.” Let me recommend a modified form for you today. At the end of each day think back to where you saw God at work and thank him for it. Also, think back to where you walked away from God’s path and sinned. Confess it and be cleansed.

We all need a daily “prayer bath.”