Seeing Past the Familiarity of the Lord's Prayer. (Sermon on the Mount, Part 7)

Sometimes a thing can become so familiar that it's impact becomes negligible. For many of us, we have heard "The Lord's Prayer" so many times in so many contexts that we can recite it in the same way we might ride a bike- so automated that our mind's energy can be used to think about something else. But this prayer is familiar because it is great. It is not some magic formula recited to appease the gods, but an invitation for God to work in our lives in powerful ways. 

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10)

It can be easy to read "on earth" as a global (non-specific) target and not a personal one. While we certainly should pray for "the world", that's also a prayer that's not very dangerous. We have to learn to distinguish between what's within our control and what is not. "For the things that aren't in our control, we can of course still pray, "God, do your work." But for the things that are within our control and influence, the prayer becomes "God, do your work through us." I think the Lord's Prayer is more about the latter. It's an invitation to God to use us for His Kingdom even if it comes at our expense.

The phrase "on earth" could also be translated "in this land." As in "my community." In other words, "God, I want to see Your name be made great, Your will be done, and Your kingdom come here in my community. But I can only really control myself, so here is how I am willing to be a part of your movement. Here is how I want to live my life and how I want you to work in my life so I can bring your Kingdom, will, and beauty into my community."

There are three commands attached to the phrase "on earth as it is in heaven."  So the prayer is really- "May your name be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven."  "May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Hallowed Be Your Name. The word hallowed means "greatly revered or respected."  I like to think of this almost like a family name that carries weight and you want to honor it with the way you conduct your life. God, may your people here on earth represent the greatness of your name in the same way that the beings up there do. While it's easy to throw stones at the Church and say that historically we have blown it and made of a mess of God's reputation, the more helpful question might be- "Am I honoring the family name? What do people think about God when they experience me?"

Your Kingdom Come. When you think of the kingdom of God up there, what images come to mind? The Bible gives us a few ideas.  Beauty. Joy. Peace. Restoration. Unity. Openness. Rest. Honesty. Purity. So the prayer becomes,  "God, the way things look up there, use us to make that a reality down here." In our inner being, in our homes, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, in our cities. Wherever we have the ability to be of influence, God use us.

The first part of the Lord's Prayer is a plea for God to be active in our communities through us. The next part are the specific ways we are committed to seeing that happen. (Give us this day our daily bread... forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors... lead us not into temptation...) I'll unpack those more next week.



Stop Using "Love" As a Smokescreen (Sermon on the Mount, Part 6)

About a decade ago, there was a storm of anti-tobacco commercials put on by The Truth campaign. The one I remember the most went something like this:  "A tobacco company donated $60 million to charity, then spent $100 million telling people about it." The two stats shown side by side make it clear, they were more concerned with looking good than being good.

Jesus has a problem with religious people that do the same thing. In Matthew 6:1, he said: 

"Don't practice your righteousness in front of other people in order to be seen by them."

Like earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is just as concerned with our internal character and motivations as our external behavior. He gives three examples here- serving those in need, praying, and fasting.  Note that his issue isn't so much about these acts being done in public, it is more about the motivation of why you do them.

If you want to love someone and help them, it should be because you love them. It should spring out of the core of who you are. It should not be so that you can impress others. It also shouldn't be so that you can be impressed with yourself. Jesus addressed that in verse 3 when he said, "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

In almost parallel form, Marcus Aurelius said it like this:

"A man, when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but he goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season."

There is a real challenge for all of us to not 'act loving' as a cover for us trying to look important/impressive/loving to others or to feel important/impressive/good to ourselves. When we make it about ourselves we ruin the whole thing.

Whenever we help someone because of what we get out if it,  we are using them as a commodity and not treating them as a companion. It prevents love and connection as it creates an 'us and them' mentality. Jesus calls such people 'hypocrites' because they are acting like they are generous but they are actually being very selfish.

I see this temptation in my career in ministry. People are often vulnerable and willing to share important parts of their life with me. The temptation is to seek out people in need of pastoral care because of what I get from them (feeling important, powerful, wise, etc.) rather than what I hope for them. (healing, redemption, wholeness.) I have to constantly check my motives. Regardless of your career or type, this temptation is out there for all of us in a variety of contexts.

Dallas Willard says it like this:

"The kind of people who have been so transformed by their daily walk with God that good deeds naturally flow from their character are precisely the kind of people whose left hand would not notice what their right hand is doing—as, for example, when driving one’s own car or speaking one’s native language. What they do they do naturally, often automatically, simply because of what they are pervasively and internally. These are people who do not have to invest a lot of reflection in doing good for others. Their deeds are “in secret” no matter who is watching, for they are absorbed in love of God and of those around them. They hardly notice their own deed, and rarely remember it."

If you seek to truly be a person of compassion, devotion, and humility, these actions of charity towards others will be a natural outpouring of who you are. Your character determines your behavior. Or as Jesus says it elsewhere, "You will be known by your fruit."

That Guy Mowing the Yard With a Tornado Coming.

This past week, the internet has blown up with this image a guy mowing his yard with a tornado on the horizon:


I love this for so many reasons, one of which is that he is the real life version of one of my favorite memes:

This Is Fine.jpg

I've got so many questions for this guy.  Are you the world's biggest procrastinator? (I can relate.) Did you tell your wife you were going to get the yard mowed before the storm and you're now proving her wrong no matter what? (I can relate) Are you about to run that mower right into a tree because you're trying to look cool for the picture? (I can relate) Is that a desert behind your house and if so how is your yard so green? (I can't relate)

He said he was 'keeping an eye on it.'  He said 'it was a lot further away than it looked.' He said his yard 'looks nice.'  Someone get this guy a medal.

The memes and reactions are pouring out. This picture makes for a great life metaphor. "I certainly can't control if that tornado makes my yard look like a hot mess, but I can control if I do." There are things outside of our control and outside of our responsibility that threaten to distract us from the things we can control and our responsible for. We have a choice in whether or not we allow for the distraction. Epictetus wrote:

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, and internals I can control. I can can control how I relate to the things I cannot control. I do control where I find good and bad. In me, in my choices.”

Epictetus also wrote:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are our opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

Take care of whatever is in your yard and don't let someone else's yard be your excuse for not maintaining yours.