Monday, March 12, 2018

Temptation and Deliverance

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He concluded a model prayer with "...and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil." (Matt 6: 13)

There has probably never been a more misunderstood verse of scripture.

How could a perfect, most holy, supreme God lead anyone into sin?  And, yet, we let that verse trip fervently off our tongues as if our lives depended on it, almost begging God to stop tempting us.

News flash: God isn't in the tempting business.

Succumbing to temptation separates us from God.  That isn't God's will for us.  God created us for communion with Him -- not as equals, but as free-willed sons and daughters of a supreme king.   

God created us with a free will so that our devotion to him would not be forced; so that when we followed His will, it would be out of love and not fear.  

But, because we are not perfect and we have free will, our decision-making is fraught with imperfection.  Our imperfections are not personality quirks at which God shakes his head mirthfully, "Oh, those kids..." or "...boys will be boys."  

Our imperfection -- our sin -- is abhorrent to God. 

The Colonel believes that God created him with all his many imperfections so that he would have no doubt in his military mind that there was a great, impassable gulf between his imperfect sinfulness and God's perfect holiness.  The Colonel believes that's why God, when He created man, put the ability of reasoning right from wrong in man's mind; and why at Sinai, God codified right from wrong with His Commandments.  God gave us the ability to reason right from wrong and the free will to act on that reasoning, so that as we failed to perfectly follow His will, we would realize that there would never be anything we could do in our own strength to merit entering into the physical presence of a perfect God.

Enter Jesus.

A perfect man, sacrificed to atone for our imperfections; whose blood both literally and figuratively covered our sins in God's eyes.  

So, why would Jesus tell us to pray that God would "lead us not into temptation."  That just doesn't make sense.   God doesn't tempt us.

Well, he's said it before and it bears repeating here -- the Colonel ain't smart and you can't make him.  So, the best the Colonel can figure with his pea-sized thought muscle is that Jesus was reminding us that temptation is everywhere in the world and that we can't resist evil without God's deliverance.  

It all comes back to God's supremacy.  And, it's all right there -- tightly summed up in what we call "the Lord's Prayer." 

God created, and orders every atom in, the universe.  That awesome God desires a personal relationship with each and every one of the billions of us who have ever lived or will ever live.  God desires that we seek His righteousness, and His will in our lives, as a condition for His provision of our every material and spiritual need.  Because we all fail to perfectly seek His righteousness and His will in our lives, we all require His forgiveness.  God expects us to extend His forgiveness to others -- not in our own strength, but by His power.  

Finally, God expects us to resist evil -- not in our own strength, but by His power.

Thence comes deliverance.   

Monday, March 05, 2018

Foundation of Forgiveness

The Colonel doesn't do the whole "forgive and forget" thing well.

When you mistreat, mislead, or disrespect him and his, the Colonel's first inclination is to retaliate.  Said retaliation usually isn't in like kind -- the Colonel most often just shuts the offender out of his life.

If the Colonel was a religion -- his detractors would be excommunicated.  

No effort wasted on revenge -- the Colonel ain't got time for that.

Unless you mess, physically, with his family -- then it's game on.  No brag; just fact.

The Colonel ain't the least bit proud of any of the above.  It doesn't jive in any way, shape, or form with his professed followership of the teachings of Jesus.  He recognizes that his unforgiveness is, in fact, an affront to God. 

The Colonel remains in constant state of seeking forgiveness.  Here's what he's learning:

When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and for what to pray, He built his model prayer on the foundation of God's supremacy as the Creator of the Universe and our only salvation.  God's kingdom is supreme.  God's will is supreme.  God's law is inviolable -- disobedience is not without consequence.   God is the exclusive provider of our every material and spiritual need.

The concept of forgiveness is the logical edifice built on the foundation of God's supremacy, sovereignty, and provision.  Jesus taught His disciples, and us by extension, to pray for God's forgiveness.  But, how can a most holy and perfect God -- unable to even accept sin in His presence -- forgive our sin?

The simple answer -- the Colonel is a simple man, after all -- is that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross made Him our substitute.  Jesus -- the universe's ultimate expression of love -- stands between us and the wrath of God.  

"But," you ask, "how can God love us and yet have wrath toward us?"

The simplest answer is: God loves our souls and hates our sin. 

Matthew Henry, the great early 18th Century author of Bible commentary, had this to say regarding our debts to God and His forgiveness of them:

"Our sins are our debts; there is a debt of duty, which, as creatures, we owe to our Creator; we do not pray to be discharged from that, but upon the non-payment of that there arises a debt of punishment; in default of obedience to the will of God, we become obnoxious to the wrath of God; and for not observing the precept of the law, we stand obliged to the penalty."

In other words, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "All have fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and the consequence of falling short (commiting sin) is death (see Romans 6: 23). 

Matthew Henry's use of the word "obnoxious" in his commentary is instructive and useful to our discussion.  In Henry's day -- the early 1700's -- the term "obnoxious" carried the connotation of censure or judgement.  Today, we use the word most often in reference to olfactory unpleasantness or social immaturity -- a far less impactful use than Henry intended.  To be obnoxious to God, in Henry's meaning, was to be in complete contradiction to God's will and deserving complete, unpardonable condemnation.

Our sin is in direct opposition to the will of God.  The Colonel once asked a respected Christian mentor for some scripture references on finding God's will.  He answered with "Read Exodus 20."  

The Colonel has since used prayerful consideration of God's Ten Commandments as the basis for seeking His will.  If one is truly seeking God's will -- asking for divine guidance in decision-making -- His original commandments regarding the life-conduct of His people is the first place to start.  Examining your choices through the lens of His commandments almost always makes the right choice -- the one that will please God -- clear.

Now, don't start getting the idea that the Colonel always consults God in his decision-making, or even that when he does, he makes the right choice.  Too often the Colonel makes the mistake of presenting God with his Choice A and Choice B and asking God to approve one or the other.  That ain't how seeking God's will works.

There, then, is the divine reason for Jesus telling His disciples that when they pray they should begin by recognizing God's supremacy and sovereignty.  Seeking His will in our lives, and His forgiveness for not following His will as we live, flows as naturally from God's supremacy and sovereignty as water from a greater height.

Forgiveness from God comes only when we recognize His supremacy and sovereignty, recognize that everything we need both materially and spiritually comes from Him, and seek only His will.  God is, indeed, love.  He showed His great love for us when, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."   

That's the bottom line of forgiveness.  God sent His son, who had been with Him from before the beginning of time (See John 1: 1 - 3), as the sacrificial substitute to atone for our sins -- to pay the price of death our sins demand from a perfect God.  You can't express forgiveness any better than that.

Jesus didn't end the forgiveness section of His model prayer there, however.  He took one more, final, step -- the step that sums up His ministry.  Jesus told His disciples to pray for the supernatural strength to forgive others.

For the longest time the Colonel misread the forgiveness section of Jesus' model prayer as asking God to forgive us in the same manner we forgive others.  Frankly, if that were the case, there would be no forgiveness.  Unfortunately, the imprecision of the English translations of Greek, Latin, and Aramaic, can cause us to focus on the word "as" in the line "...forgive us, as we forgive others."   It doesn't take any more than an Ole Miss grad to see that the original language we translate "as" wasn't meant as a qualifier, or a condition of God's forgiveness.  It's more of a conjunction -- a phrase connector.  Praying "as we forgive others" is not asking for equal measure.  It is in, if nothing else, remembrance of Jesus' focus on others.


Can't get to forgiveness without that focus.           

Monday, February 26, 2018

Every Word a Lesson

When Jesus showed his disciples how to pray, he began His "model prayer" with the amazing recognition that the same God with whom we can have a personal relationship -- "Our Father" -- is also praiseworthy as the Creator of the Universe -- "hallowed be Thy name" -- and then recognized God's sovereignty over every aspect of our lives -- "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done...". (Emphasis here, and throughout, the Colonel's)

Jesus then followed those most weighty and profound words with what at first glance seems the most simple and mundane request:

    "Give us today our daily bread."  Matthew 6:11

If you are like the Colonel, you have probably taken those six words all too lightly.  Their simplicity has caused him to give them scant attention.  The Colonel will admit he ain't smart and you can't make him -- it often takes someone drawing a picture for him to get the point.  

In his exhaustive verse by verse Bible commentary first published early in the 18th Century, Matthew Henry expounded on the meaning of Jesus' simple verse on Divine Providence in His model prayer:

"...after the things of God's glory, kingdom, and will, we pray for the needful supports and comforts of this present life.  Every word here has a lesson in it."

"We ask for bread; that teaches us sobriety and temperance; and we ask only for bread; not for what we do not need."

"We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry.  We do not ask for the bread of others, nor the bread of deceit; nor the bread of idleness; but the bread honestly gotten."

"We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us constantly to depend upon Divine Providence."

"We beg of God to give it to us; not sell it us; nor lend it us; but give it.  The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread."

"We pray, give it to us.  This teaches us a compassion for the poor.  Also that we ought to pray with our families."

We pray that God would give us this day; which teaches us t renew the desires of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed."

That God inspired Mr. Henry to pen these words more than three centuries ago to expound on a lesson given two millennia ago proves the Colonel's belief that there is truly nothing new under the sun and that the truth in God's Word remains rock solid and unassailable age to age.

The Colonel is convinced, without a shadow of doubt in his military mind, that as Jesus spoke the Aramaic words, "Hawvlan lachma d'sunqanan yaomana," (translated to Greek and then into modern English as "Give us today our daily bread") He did so fully cognizant of His God-given place as the "Bread of Life" -- a term by which He referred to Himself.  Jesus knew He was God's ultimate provision. 

Now, he ain't no Aramaic scholar, but the Colonel is capable enough on a computer to do a bit of research -- and looky here what he found:  The rich, chock-full - of - meaning, Aramaic words Jesus spoke, that were written down in the commercial language of the time (Greek) and later translated into very one-dimensional English...,  well, they also carry a connotation of spiritual wisdom.  

Jesus' taught his disciples; and by extension, us; that our Creator Father not only was (is) the source of every material need, but every spiritual need as well.  The Father's spiritual wisdom is ours for the asking.     

The Colonel's prayer this week is that he will be daily reminded of the greatness of God and His provision of all he needs both physically and spiritually on a daily basis.