Forming Forgiving Conversations

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True conversation is a give and take. It is an act of hospitality. We suspend our own agenda and invite someone else’s in. Conversation also changes us. It re-forms us as we honestly engage with the ideas and feelings of others. We may not agree with everything we hear, but it helps us think through our own preconceptions and biases. Prayer is conversation. Unlike our human conversations, we don’t have much room to disagree with God. We can choose to, but that is usually a dangerous game. Like other conversation, prayer also forms us. As we spend time with God, wrestling through what is important to him, the Holy Spirit re-forms us into the people he desires us to be.


I spent a few minutes this morning googling “forgiveness”. I wanted to step outside of my viewpoint to see a different understanding of the concept. According to Google (or at least the first several websites listed), forgiveness seems to be about an individual’s well-being. Forgiveness, for the most part, is defined as an intentional and voluntary process where by an individual undergoes a change in attitude and feelings toward someone who has caused offense. Almost immediately after defining it, most websites highlighted the release of tension, bitterness, and the personal peace and well-being this would bring.

All of the above is certainly true. Yet, is this Jesus’ point about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer? The phrase is, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This has always sounded a little strange to me. Is there a conditional element to the forgiveness here? Would that clash with what we read elsewhere in our Bibles? Does it really mean if we don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven? I certainly don’t have all the answers to those questions. I do wonder though, if these kinds of questions stem from an individualistic interpretation of the prayer as opposed to a more communal interpretation. Which leads me to ask, “What was Jesus’ purpose in asking us to pray these words”?

As I think of this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, I wonder if this isn’t a re-forming conversation. Is Jesus giving us another way in which he can mold us into His image? As we pray these words, do they help to form us into healthy community? I think so. Here is how I could see that working:

– we intentionally pray for forgiveness, in doing so we hold up a mirror to our lives,
– we begin to see our sin and failures more clearly thereby humbling ourselves,
– in this humble posture we realize the offenses against us are not greater than our own,
– this makes extending forgiveness to others easier (not easy),
– which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, brings healing into our relationships,
– helping us grasp a greater appreciation, and appropriation of the forgiveness we have in Jesus.

It’s a big circle. Yet, the benefits of forgiveness are not mine alone. An entire culture of forgiving develops and a fellowship of the forgiven forms. James encourages us to “confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” The context of that verse is in the middle of a passage on the power of prayer and healing, and the verse just prior to it speaks of forgiveness. So why do we not see this as a common practice in our churches?

This last week, as I have watched the news, and listened to the events in the Christian world, I am deeply disturbed. More than ever, it feels like our communities and churches are fragmenting. Unity seems next to impossible. I might be crazy, but I’m thinking praying through the implications of, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” as formational conversation would be a huge step in the right direction.


Post by:
Neil B.
National Mission Director

Prayer Calendar: Warrior Kings Need Humble Bread

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Neil is our National Mission Director

Warrior Kings Need Humble Bread

As we continue our journey through the “Lord’s Prayer,” we get to the phrase, “give us this day our daily bread.” It’s a simple request. Straightforward. A petition to God for daily sustenance. There is no greed here, only dependence. No desire for a banquet, only bread enough for the day. No hint of hoarding desperation, only a daily journey of trust.

It’s a humble request. Yet we live in a world inundated with North American pride and self-sufficiency. So we have to ask ourselves, when we pray these words, do we really mean them?

Language is interesting. Sometimes an obscure word or phrase is suddenly everywhere. This is the case in church culture as well. The phrase “Warrior King” popped up on my radar recently. Someone used this term for Jesus. They were talking about what He will do at the end of the age. The phrase, for a variety of reasons, caught my attention.

As I began to listen, I heard this term elsewhere. Quite often! One particular theologian (who will not be named here because I don’t want to drag his name through the mud) in promoting an upcoming speech on Mature Manhood said, “We will only honor God as men when we understand Scripture’s warrior motif. We are not idiots; we are not goofballs; we are not boys. We are men of God. People do not understand the warrior motif that runs through the Bible like a stream underground. The ideal figure of Scripture is not a bureaucrat, a functionary, or a self-esteem expert. The ideal figure of Scripture is a warrior King.”

Wait…..what? Is he really suggesting that godly men ought to be warrior kings?

Suffice it to say, Jesus is the ideal figure of Scripture. Yes, he is King. There is even room to talk about Him as a warrior. However, that needs a lot of nuance. As I read my Bible, warrior is not the dominant picture of Jesus that I see. I can think of several descriptions I would use instead of warrior:  Savior, Lord, Suffering Servant, the Lamb that was slain, etc. Here is the bottom line: none of those descriptions applies to me. The closest I ought to come is suffering servant (small “s”), as I live out Jesus’ life with a basin and towel

I understand that men feel under attack in our culture. Yet getting men to believe they should all live out “warrior king” lives seems to be doubling down on a mentality that has enabled all kinds of abuse. Just an interesting side-note here: I’m writing this on the day when the Southern Baptist Convention released a significant report on sexual abuse in SBC churches. Issues like these are a black eye on the witness of Jesus that should concern all of us.

What also ought to concern us are the issues of pride, and self-sufficiency a warrior king mentality could bring, and the fractured society it would yield if all men (and women for that matter) ran around acting like warrior kings.

Is this not the antithesis of “give us this day our daily bread”?

Warrior kings don’t need to ask for daily bread, they just pillage and plunder. Asking is for the humble, the needy, the weak, the dependent; but not for warrior kings.

I might be reading too much into the “warrior king” idea. Yet, I believe it’s a cautionary tale. The warrior king motif directly appeals to the arrogance of our fallen nature. It stands as an example of what Jesus came to undo as He tears down our Babel edifices of human pride. When we mean the words “Give us this day our daily bread,” we step away from that pride towards a spirit of dependence on the one and only true King.


Post by:
Neil B.
National Mission Director

 

Prayer Calendar: Bombs Away

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Neil is our National Mission Director

As I write this, a street in my neighbourhood is closed. The bomb squad is investigating. A university in the area also has all five campuses shut because of a bomb scare. You probably think I should move.

Bombs are destructive. They do incredible damage. What if that was not always the case? Imagine a bomb that could reorder matter for good; that could deconstruct what ought not to be, leaving what should be.

What if God were to take our prayers, which ascend to his throne, and hurl them back with divine power? A prayer bomb of God’s will, done on earth as it is in heaven.

The book of Revelation gives us so many great images. The problem is we don’t spend much time looking at them, because we don’t quite know what to do with this particular piece of literature. One of those images in found in Revelation 5:8, where we see golden bowls of incense in the throne room of God. In Revelation, John usually just relates what he is seeing. Yet here John gives us a brief word of explanation about these bowls. He explains that they are the prayers of God’s people. Is he making sure we don’t miss the point about prayer? That all of those fervent, and sometimes despairing, words offered to God are stored up before the throne. They are known! They are heard! They are precious! That is an awesome truth. Yet if that’s all there was to the story, it would end in disappointment.

It is not the end of this image, however. We see it again in Revelation 8:3-5.

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

God puts prayer into action in a powerful way. Prayer Bombs! The prayers of God’s people ignited by the divine power of God destroying what ought not to be, and bringing about what God desires. Did you notice where those prayer bombs landed? Right back on earth. This is the image that always comes to my mind when I read the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”.

Do we really pray with this picture in mind? I suspect not. Instead, I often find myself in Annie Dillard’s famous quote:

“Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

I would say it’s us who need to wake up. God is at work, powerfully. He desires us to join him. We have the privilege of doing that in a variety of ways. One of them is life-altering, earth-shaking, prayer. Strategic prayer strikes from the throne room of heaven. Bomb blasts that will significantly further God’s plan of lovingly caring for, and redeeming all things. Do you want to join the bomb squad?


Post by:
Neil B.
National Mission Director

 

Prayer Calendar: Long Live the King

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Scar menacingly growls out “Long Live the King!” as he hurls Mufasa to his death. This scene from the old movie, Lion King, uses half of a historic phrase.

The full line is “The King is Dead, Long Live the King.” This contradictory sounding statement marked the death of one monarch and the ascension of the next. The claim was that it helped sooth uncertainty by assuring the public of continuity.

We could spin the phrase into a metaphor for the work of Christ. Jesus also taught His disciples to pray: May your Kingdom come. May King Jesus truly be given His rightful place in our prayer this month.

So, let’s break this down.

The King is Dead

It’s always good to go back and remind ourselves of the basics. I don’t ever want us to be lax theologically. However, sometimes in our desire to get our theology right and explain it well, we lose our wonder. From time to time, it’s important to simply let the weight of what Jesus did drive us to marvel.

Use your imagination to be there, at the foot of the cross. Look up into the face of the Creator of the universe, the Lord of everything, as He hangs dying for you. Imagine the love that is evident on His face as He looks at you, His child. This cross is a manifestation of that love. He stepped out of heaven for you. He went to this cross for you. Although He rightfully is king, because of this love the kingship becomes personal. He has won our hearts. He has the scars to prove it. As the songwriter Brian Doerksen says, “My King has got scars on His hands.”

Spend some time absorbing that. Then let it shape how you respond to Him in word and deed.

Long Live the King

Thankfully, the cross is not the end of the story. Last month we celebrated Easter. For me, that is always one of the greatest days of the year. We celebrate life! Long Live the King is exactly the right phrase to express the fact that we have hope because Jesus is alive. Our good and great king is furthering His work, growing all that acknowledges His rule and reign. I was reminded of this the other day as I read the words of Psalm 93:

The Lord is King! He is robed in majesty. Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken. Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You Yourself are from the everlasting past…Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever.

The king who is mightier than all, sits on the throne forever. If that doesn’t influence our prayer, I don’t know what else will.

May Your Kingdom Come

That brings us to praying for the kingdom to come. We could spend a lot of time talking about what the kingdom is. But again, I wonder if that might actually lead us away from the focal point of the prayer. Isn’t the main point to be servants and followers of the King? Do we pray for the reign and rule of Christ to grow in our lives and in our world? Are we grateful for the opportunity to be ambassadors for the King? Do we represent the kingdom well? Do our lives and our prayers align?

These are all great questions. I’m hoping that as we ask them, it drives us deeper into listening and communicating with our ever present King.

Prayer Calendar: The Name Game

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Recently in Alabama, President Trump scrawled giant autographs across the covers of Bibles.

Shocking? Hardly! Sad? Yes!

However, whatever sadness I feel does not come from the actions of the President, as much as it comes from the possibility of God’s people putting their adoration and maybe even their trust in a name other than the hallowed name of God.

We might be tempted to stand on our soapboxes and point fingers at the people in Alabama who clamoured for Trump’s name to adorn their Bibles; but we shouldn’t! We might be guilty of the very same attitude, even if our actions are different.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, “Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be your name…”: One translation says – may your name be kept holy. My concern as I read this phrase is twofold: we don’t keep God’s name holy, set apart, and secondly we raise up other names to take his place.

We live in a world that thrives on name recognition. Making a name for one’s self is a big deal (we looked at this last month). Companies understand how important it is for consumer confidence that you maintain a good name. As we play the name game, it is relatively easy to replace the one name that is above all others.

Psalm 9:7-10 says, “But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.”

What an awesome description of God’s greatness. Did you catch that last part? “Those who know your name trust in you.” When we truly recognize God for who he is, our trust in him grows. Inversely, our need to find other names to laud diminishes. There is more. Out of knowing the name of God (putting him back in his rightful place), and building our trust in him, grows the bedrock truth that he will not abandon all who continue to seek after him.

This has huge implications for our prayers. It reminds us that God is always with us in the midst of our everyday turmoil. No one else walks with us in the same way. No one loves and cares for us as deeply as he does. No one else can do what he can. No one else has the answers that we long for. No one! I’m truly grateful for an abundance of wonderful loving people that surround me and care for me, but they are still human. They are not God and I need God. As our need for God – the one and only “set apart” ruler of the universe – grows; our prayer deepens.