The Blind Man’s Been Bluffed

Someone led him to his usual spot on the side of the road in Jerusalem. He made himself comfortable on this Sabbath morning and prepared to do the same thing he’d done every day for years. The same thing he expected to do every day for the next thirty years, maybe longer. It was his penance. For what, he did not know. He groped at his side for his bowl and cleared his throat. “Some alms for the blind? Can anyone spare a half-cent or a quadran?”

Sometimes people were generous, especially on holy days, when more people passed and more of them gave alms. Sometimes a wealthy man would put his hand in the bowl and rattle it but the weight of the bowl didn’t change. Strange that the poorer people never did that sort of thing. Rarely, someone would stop to talk to him; those were the best days. Continue reading

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The Model Prayer in Question Format

What if Jesus’ example of prayer was in the form of questions? I’m not talking Jeopardy® here, as in, “Who is ‘our Father in heaven’?” but something more…versatile.

Maybe Jesus didn’t
expect us to recite
the Model Prayer.

There’s nothing wrong with reciting the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) verbatim. I’ve done it many times and found it meaningful sometimes. But I wonder if such recitation was Jesus’ intention when He gave it to the disciples and other followers. Maybe He didn’t expect us to memorize it and repeat it all together. After all, He says, “This, then, is how you should pray” (6:9, italics added) not “This is what you should pray.”

In Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 118), Timothy Keller shares how Calvin insisted that “the Lord’s prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern. … The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.” Furthermore, Martin Luther paraphrased and personalized the Model Prayer every morning and evening as a starting point for his own, more personal prayers.

If we use the Model Prayer as a template, we can create probing questions from it. These questions will help us pray more personally and effectively. Let’s give it a try. Feel free to formulate your own questions based on what you know of Jesus’ teaching and God’s Will then reflect on the questions to supplement your prayer time.

v.9b  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

God is the Father of all who believe in Jesus, and He reigns as King from heaven. “Hallowed” means valuable or precious, and His name represents His reputation, the respect others attribute to Him.

How can I honor You today, Lord? How can I boost God’s reputation in my circles of influence?

v. 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In heaven, everyone does exactly what God wants them to do. The kingdom…well, that’s a hard one to define, but it has to do with God’s reign. Therefore, when we talk about the kingdom coming, we’re looking at God’s reign expanding here on earth.

How do I want earth to be more like heaven? This might be in your personal spiritual growth, in a specific relationship, or in the nation/world at large.

v. 11 Give us today our daily bread.

Maybe you have a gluten allergy, so the last thing you want to pray is that God will give you bread! I get that. If I was praying for bread, I’d pray for a good, crusty whole-grain French baguette. Just saying…

The bread, as you’ve probably heard before, represents our daily needs. When we pray this, we’re asking God to meet our physical needs for today, which is also an expression of trust that He will again meet our physical needs tomorrow. Think manna (Exodus 16).

Most of us, however, don’t lack for tangible things on a daily basis. So while we thank God for food, shelter, etc., we can ask Him to meet daily personal needs for things like reconciliation or self-control or wisdom.

What personal needs do I have today that can I present to Him?

v. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Our debts to God are our sins: all the times we’ve failed Him. Just as we ask Him for forgiveness, we’re reminded to forgive people who have offended or failed us.

What sin(s) do I need to confess today? Who do I need to forgive?

v. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

We know God doesn’t tempt people (James 1:13), and that testing will never exceed what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We do, however, find ourselves in tempting situations, often due to our own negligence. Satan takes advantage of those situations to entice us toward sin.

Where do I need help not to sin and/or not to give in to Satan?

I could have written so much more on each of these verses! There’s so much theology here, and so much for us to learn, but I wanted to get the questions to you. If you’re struggling with organization in your prayer life, try this for a day or two. I pray it helps you connect with God.

Jesus’ Model Prayer as questions will help us pray more personally and specifically. (click to tweet)

If there’s a section here that doesn’t make sense or something you want to suggest, please leave a comment below. Also, if there’s one question that’s particularly meaningful/helpful for you today, I’d love to hear about that, too!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat (and so does everyone else): In Defense of Martha

This is one of those posts that reflects years of thought. I’m not kidding. I have been pondering this story since before the birth of my second child, and he just turned nine. I once got accused of being a Martha because I pointed out that, if our plan included a meal, someone would have to organize it. Food does not magically appear on the table (although Papa John’s online ordering with to-your-door delivery is surprisingly close).

I have always thought that Mary’s sister, Martha, gets a bad rap in Christian circles. This is probably because I am so much more like Martha than like Mary. I’m a practical girl. You say, “Let’s take a trip!”  I say, “Do we have enough gas to get there?” The kids say, “Let’s watch a movie!” I say, “Will it finish before bedtime?” In defending Martha, I am defending myself. So let’s really unpack this story (Luke 10:38-42) and get to the bottom of Martha’s situation . . . okay, her sin. Because there is no way she was wrong to fix those guys something to eat!

It seems that Jesus enjoyed being at Martha’s house. In fact, he came to love Martha and her siblings (Mary and Lazarus) intimately and even stopped in to see them one last time on His way to Jerusalem before His crucifixion (John 12:1-3). This is the family He trusted enough to let them endure profound grief for His glory. (See John 11. I wrote about this previously.) But the scene for today occurred earlier. Perhaps this was the first time Jesus ever ‘set foot’ in their home. We don’t know. At any rate, Martha invited Him and his companions to come in and have something to eat. The Scriptures say, Martha opened her home to him (Luke 10:38), demonstrating the natural hospitality of near-Eastern culture. Then she got busy. They had been travelling and were most certainly hungry.  Since they couldn’t order delivery pizza, it was necessary to actually cook.

Now this is where things get dicey. Martha got distracted by the preparations (v. 40a).  Let’s look at some of her options.

  • We can safely assume that Martha was fairly wealthy. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have invited all these people into her home. Therefore, she probably had several servants. She could have trusted them to prepare something nice and left it alone. But she didn’t.
  • Martha could have ordered food from other people (like catering) and paid them for their work. No one needed to know . . . unless they found all the take-away containers. This too was unacceptable.
  • If she wanted to do it herself, Martha could have made something simple—maybe some fruit and grilled meat if they wanted to eat quickly—or thrown some beans and rice in the whatever-functioned-like-a-crockpot-in-those-days and walked away. [Semi-random aside:  Remember when Abram prepared a meal for his three guests (Genesis 18)? They had to slaughter an animal and bake bread. Those things take quite a while. Sure, this is thousands of years later, but not much had changed. In many parts of the world, people still don’t expect to eat quickly.]

It’s clear that Martha had some pride issues because the preparations were taking every ounce of her energy and focus. She wanted to make German Chocolate Cake when no-bake cookies or boxed brownies would have been sufficient. But before you slam her, consider the fact that her motives may have been good. When I have someone special in my home, I want to serve them to the best of my ability. I want to give them the very best I have to offer—not for myself but as a way to honor that person. Perhaps Martha already recognized that Jesus was someone special; perhaps she was already growing to love Him (speaking platonically here); perhaps her heart was not that different from the widow with two small coins, who gave so generously (Luke 21:1-4). All of us have walked that fine line between honoring our guests and wanting to be honored for our exceptional hospitality (or any other gift from Him). My kids ask me why we have to clean the house before company comes over. There are days when it’s hard to answer honestly.

When the focus of that award-winning German Chocolate Cake jumps from the eater to the preparer, we have entered into sin. This is why God said He hated the Israelites’ worship in Amos 5. They went through the motions of worship, but with impure hearts. Just think about it:  (paraphrasing) “I hate your offerings because they are about you, not about Me.” He might say to me, “I hate your freshly mopped floors and your delicious muffins because you did it to make yourself look good, not to honor Me.”

Ouch.

We can’t really know Martha’s motives. I have read between the lines far more than is acceptable just because I see myself in Martha so often. Here’s what we know for sure:  Martha went to Jesus and complained (v. 40b). I can imagine her walking around behind the other men, stooping to whisper in Jesus’ ear. You see, Mary was behaving counter-culturally. She wasn’t supposed to be sitting in that room with all the men. There were clear lines of gender separation in that culture. So on top of being jealous because Mary got to listen to Jesus while she didn’t, and frustrated because she couldn’t get all the work done, we can assume that Martha was slightly embarrassed by Mary’s behavior. Her tone could have been a little whiney, or it could have been indignant. I lean toward the latter because I don’t think Martha was afraid of hard work or long hours. She wanted everything to be handled properly and in a socially-acceptable manner. Things just weren’t going the way they were supposed to go, and surely, Jesus—of all people—could see that! So she offered a solution that would help them both: tell Mary to go help in the kitchen.

Before we look at what Jesus said, let’s look at what He did not say. This is significant.

  • He didn’t deny that there was a lot of work to be done.
  • He didn’t tell Martha to quit making the preparations;
  • He didn’t tell her to sit down;
  • He didn’t suggest a simpler meal.
  • He also didn’t say that He was hungry, though,
  • or tell her about His favorite food.

Instead, His words make me think He reached out and laid his hand on her arm. He connected with her, looking beyond the dirty apron, the burn on one hand and the worn-out potholder on the other, the sweat dripping down her temple, the frizz of hair that had escaped her headscarf. He stopped whatever deep and important conversation was developing (or whatever joke was being told, because we know Jesus liked to laugh!), waiting until her eyes met his, and spoke into her heart: “We don’t need a lot, Martha. The social conventions aren’t important; I’m not going to ask Mary to leave here when she is learning so much about Me.” Perhaps I’m going too far, but I like to think that there was gratitude in His tone . . . something which told Martha He appreciated her service and understood her situation.

I spent years trying to comprehend the “one thing” of which Jesus spoke. Remember? He said, Few things are needed—or indeed only one (v. 42). This just puzzled my Martha mind . . . until recently. Mary chose to focus on Jesus. Martha chose to get distracted, and she complained. In those actions, we see her sin. She invited these people into her home then didn’t pay attention to them. The one thing needed was to prioritize Jesus.

I don’t think Jesus expected Martha to drop the potholder, wipe the sweat from her brow, ignore the burning rice, and sit down there with the others. We don’t know for sure because –frustratingly—the Word stops there. We don’t even know how Martha responded. It seems more likely, however, that she simply needed to adjust her mindset.  While Mary sat and worshiped, Martha would serve and worship. Both functioning within the will of God.

Later, Paul would say, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Your mindset has nothing to do with sitting-haha!

So, my fellow Christ-following Martha-types out there, there is NOTHING WRONG with cooking dinner. There is certainly nothing wrong with hospitality, and there is nothing wrong with giving God our absolute best. We can go ahead and bake the German Chocolate Cake if we can do it without losing focus and without detracting from our one-on-one time with Him . . . because the sin is in the why. Are we distracted from knowing Him by serving Him? Are we more interested in what people will think than how God will be glorified? Get these things sorted out, and our service becomes an act of worship, which is what God intended when He created you and me.

We serve God for His pleasure, not our pride.

Guilt in Freedom

or Freedom in Guilt . . . I’m not sure which fits better . . .

I recently watched a TV show called Elementary (S2e2) in which the lead character said, “There is nothing on this planet quite so toxic as guilt.”  It’s true, isn’t it?  Sometimes we let guilt over something in our pasts infest our hearts until we are powerless to live as God directs us.  This is not what God wants for any of us.  He also doesn’t want us to live in fear of present-day guilt, which is what I’ve been thinking about recently.

This guilt thing is not just a 20th/21st-century problem.  In Luke 11, Jesus criticized the Pharisees and so-called law experts for how they made faith . . . actually all of life . . . more difficult rather than easier.  They obscured Truth.  They blocked the “regular folk” from understanding, and they focused on the minutia of the law without seeing the spirit of it, which is justice and love.  He said, You give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42).  In other words, they laid the guilt on like hot tar:  thick and sticky.

Religion—any religion—makes life difficult, complicated, even onerous.  The Law declares us guilty, and justifiably so.  Religion places the burden of that guilt directly on our shoulders.  But Jesus makes men free (Jn 8:36, Gal 5:1).*  Eric Metaxas (in Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 424-5) observes, “God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake.  . . .  To act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt.  . . .  But if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so.”**  When we fully trust the Holy Spirit, we find incredible freedom as we come out from under the toxic burden of religion, but we risk two types of guilt being applied to us.

First, we may misinterpret His direction and thus fall outside His will.  This is what Metaxas was talking about.  It’s ‘guilt’ in the legal sense, as opposed to innocence.  When we, as believers, think of emotion or our relationship to the Holy Spirit, the better term is probably conviction, rather than guilt because these days, ‘guilt’ carries the connotation of condemnation.  Nevertheless, a right motive doesn’t actually excuse a wrong action.  Everything outside His will is sin, for which we would be judged if we hadn’t already been forgiven.***  But wouldn’t you rather over-respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?  I would.  This is a ‘guilt’ I’m willing to risk, expecting it to come less and less frequently as I mature in Christ.

Second, we may be misunderstood (that’s a nice way to say “judged”) by those who cling to religious rules.****  We all know that we shouldn’t let other’s opinions deter us, but we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  Sometimes we still worry about what our mothers or our pastors or our Believing friends will think of our behavior when it falls outside the church culture norms.  Stop for a second and consider a part of the story that’s missing from that favorite Sunday School song:  Zacchaeus.  When Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house, all the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  Did you catch that?  They judged Jesus—JESUS!—for breaking social mores . . . for doing something that the other religious leaders would never dream of doing . . . for heeding God rather than man.  Kyle Idleman, author of not a fan, said, “If you follow Jesus, expect to find yourself being criticized by some of the religious people in your life.”  Yep.  There are worse things than being labeled a rebel.

I feel like this lifestyle leaves me plowing through ten-foot-high snow drifts with a Tonka truck.  Perhaps this is because I’m only beginning to understand it.  I’m so bound by culture and social opinion that freedom from guilt doesn’t feel so freeing just yet.  But I know this:  the reward resulting from this life of freedom is eternal life in the fullest sense of the term.  It’s eternal life now.  It’s the Kingdom lived out on earth.  And it’s worth it.

So let’s throw our arms open wide and embrace obedience, heedless of what others may think!

I had rather be among them who, in the actings of their love and affection unto Christ, do fall into some irregularities and excesses in the manner of expressing it…than among those who, professing themselves to be Christians, do almost disavow their having any thoughts of or affection unto the person of Christ.  -John Owen, quoted in Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Digressions I left out for clarity’s sake:

*This is not a contradiction with the Slavery post I wrote earlier.  Our enslavement releases us to fully become what He has designed us to be . . . and you can’t get that any other way.

** This principle affects our parenting.  A child who thinks and really tries to do the right thing but misses it should not be punished like the child who acts carelessly. Metaxas’ book is GREAT, by the way!

***THIS is the answer to those who say they have the “freedom to sin”.  Ready-forgiveness releases us from inadvertent sins that may arise because we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  So for this reason, motive is important.

****Part of the beauty of this freedom is that we don’t have to remember a bunch of laws . . . and details of the laws . . . and exceptions to the laws . . . and interpretations of the laws . . . Need I go on?  Instead, the Holy Spirit leads us in a way that is always in sync with the Law—the spirit of the law, that is—and never outside the Law.  The Beatitudes are a good example of how this began.  Bonhoeffer (quoted in Metaxas’ book, pg. 83) said, “The Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, paradoxical as that may sound.”  If Bonhoeffer’s statement intrigues you, I recommend Sacrilege, by Hugh Halter.