Praying With Jesus #11: “Lead us not…” and some Concluding Thoughts

For reasons that are by now probably very evident, the Lord’s Prayer has sometimes been called “The Disciples’ Prayer”… the prayer leads us into the depths of God’s longing for us to become fully alive to Him.  A person who prayer this prayer:

  • Comes to see themselves as belonging to a people (“OUR Father”), which is to say this prayer arises out of and leads us into community
  • Comes to know God not as an all-powerful czar but as a capable and near-to-us Father
  • Begins to have the whole of their lives directed towards the holiness of God’s name, stepping out of the self-ward momentum of fallen man
  • Starts to see the joy and possibility of living in and under the reign of the One who always wills what is good
  • Begins to unlearn the habits of greed and scarcity that characterize fallen man, learning to know God as the one who provides daily bread, even – and perhaps especially – in places of great deprivation and lack… manna on the floor of the desert.  EVERY.  DAY.
  • Steps into a kingdom that is all grace, mercy, and forgiveness… freely received and freely given

Imagine this person for a moment.  What are they like?

I imagine that this person is very happy.  They have a rock-solid trust in the goodness of God.  Their lives are anchored in rich, authentic community.  God – his holy beauty – is their all-consuming joy as they live in and under his benevolent reign.  They never – NEVER – fret or worry about provision, for they know that everything’s already taken care of.  And unforgiveness, bitterness, and hostility have no place in their lives.  They are quite simply full of light.

Imagine being this person.  The door is open for us… no one is barred entry from the Good Life as Jesus describes it.

And so the Prayer concludes with one final request:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Four words that frame a request that simply drips with humility and honesty:

  • eisenengkes (lead us…)
  • peirasmon (temptation, testing, trial)
  • rhusai (deliver us, rescue us from danger)
  • ponerou (evil or “the Evil One”)

This is one of those places where our familiarity with Scripture bedevils us.  We are so used to the pious sounding request, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil/The Evil One” that we fail to feel the impact.

C. S. Lewis once said that no emotion is clearer in a child than the pure, undisguised pleasure at being praised for doing right.  We are called to enter the Kingdom as children, and to seek to hear at the end of our lies, “Well done thou good and faithful servant“, what Lewis called “the Divine Accolade.”

At the core of the redeemed being, then, there is is a pure and undisguised pleasure in and longing to be pleasing to God.  We want to make him proud.  We want to live up to his best for us.  We crave His affirmation.  None of us wants to be a screwup.  None of us.  No one.  None of us wants to fail him.

And so the final request that falls from the disciples’ lips is: “We’re trusting in you for guidance God… for goodness sakes, keep us out of places where we’re bound to fail you… places where the pressure is so great that our confidence in you would be shaken to the core… where the raging waters would sweep us away… deliver us from evil, and from the power of the Evil One over our lives.”

It is true that God sometimes does take his people into times of testing and trial.  No honest reading of the Scriptures (Old or New Testament) can deny this.  And when those times come, we’re called to embrace them as a means of having our faith purified and crystallized.  “Endure hardship like discipline,” says the writer of Hebrews, “God is treating you like sons” (Heb 12).  The fire refines us.

But Jesus doesn’t tell us to SEEK THOSE TIMES OUT.  “Bring it on God!  If testing is such a good thing… throw your worst at me!”

There’s a humility to the final request.  The innocence of a child.  “Don’t take me through hard things God… I’m not sure if I could handle it…”  With the Psalmist we cry, “Keep me safe O God, for in you I find refuge.”  When we go through hard things, we trust that God is with us, and submit to what he’s doing in us to bring us into deeper conformity with his Son.  But our ache is for quiet serenity at the altar of God.  Faithful love and delight.

And with that request, the picture is complete.  We begin with a vision of God… we end with a plea to be faithful to him to the end.  To never leave his side.

This is a place that I want to live.  This is the Good Life.  This is flourishing.  This is the best vision of “being human” that I can think of.  And Jesus invites me into it.

He invites US into it…

As an individual, I have learned to embrace this prayer as a template for what it means for me to live in God’s kingdom.  So I pray it over myself.  I want this for me.

As a father and husband, I can think of no better vision for my family than this one.  That together we would live in an aura of God’s fathering presence, his holy love, his present and coming kingdom, his good designs for us, his unending provision through which we are made generous, his graciousness through which we are made gracious, and his protection from all schemes and designs of the evil one.  Can you imagine what a family that lived under this reality would be like?  It would be heaven on earth

As a member of the church who gets the privilege of also pastoring in the church, I can think of no better vision of congregational life than this one.  A people who together call on a God we know as “Father”, pleading that his sacred beauty, his holiness, his kingdom, his will, would be made manifest in and through us to the world around us.  A people who know that whenever they need anything, in the very moment of their needing it, it will be provided for them… miracle bread on the floor of the desert… which breaks the back of fear-mongering and scarcity among them, making them unhesitatingly generous.  A people who drink deeply from the well of God’s mercy and in so doing become a merciful people.  A community that longs to make the Father proud through their lives lived together.

Can you imagine such a congregation?  It would be heaven on earth…

Which is precisely what Jesus wants for us.  “Repent”, he says.  “For the kingdom of God is at hand…”

May you, your family, and your community learn to live in the kingdom.  The gates are wide open.  You can come on in.  No one bars your way.

Grace and peace.

Andrew

Praying with Jesus #10: A community of forgiveness…

I mentioned at the outset of this series of posts that the Lord’s Prayer can and should serve as a deliverance from more or less “narcissistic”, me-centered, American-dream driven praying.  See here.  The prayer thus is both a prayer and a means of our formation into Kingdom-life.

Hence, while inviting us to pray for “daily bread” (= the stuff of life that we need for the day… see here and here for more on that), Jesus immediately thrusts us back into the deep matters of our formation with this line:

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness.  And, as if to underscore how serious Jesus is about forgiveness, this line is the ONLY line that he elaborates on following his teaching on the Prayer, saying:

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Father, the One in the Heavens, will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)

Fascinating.  Three observations in brief:

1) “Debts” and “trespasses” for Jesus seem to be interchangeable and therefore mutually enriching ways of describing what needs to be forgiven.  “Debts”.  We are in “debt” to God in various ways.  Others are in “debt” to us in various ways.  “Trespasses.”  I love that word.  We have crossed boundaries with God we should not have crossed, broken laws, violated the nature of reality.  Others have crossed boundaries with us they should not have crossed, broken laws with us, and violated our nature.  For all of these things, forgiveness is what is required.

Infractions require restitution.  Trespasses put us in “debt.”

2) The appeal to be forgiven is grounded in the willingness to forgive.  That is perhaps shocking to our ears.  But so it is.  Jesus tells a parable later on in Matthew (chapter 18) to make his point all the clearer.  A man owed a King an unpayable amount of money.  The King ordered that his wife and family – all that he had – be sold to repay the debt.  The man was obviously distraught.  He pleads:

Be patient with me…and I will pay back everything.  (18:26)

He is obviously incapable of doing this.  It is the desperate cry of a man who doesn’t want to lose what is precious to him.  The King’s response is so shocking:

The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. (18:27)

Just like that.  An unpayable debt.  At the drop of a hat… mercy triumphs over judgment, and the man is forgiven.  The Kingdom, Jesus seems to be saying, is like THAT.  It is a place of astounding, surprising forgiveness.

But there is more.  For immediately upon being forgiven, the servant goes out, finds a fellow servant who owes him a PITTANCE compared to what he owed, and throws him in prison till he can repay.  The other servants are obviously distraught at this, so they tell the King.  And now the real shock:

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

And Jesus adds:

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

The same merciful King… now so severe in judgment.  Why?

Some will object of course that this amounts to a new legalism.  My only response is, “What other kind of Kingdom do you want?”  To opt in to the Kingdom means that we become BOTH its beneficiaries AND its agents.  The only kind of forgiveness, the only kind of grace, the only kind of mercy that is offered us is that which we are ALSO willing to extend to others.  To fail to forgive is simply to say “no” to the Kingdom, for a “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” Kingdom is the only kind of Kingdom that Jesus offers us.

Of course, all of this requires that we be a people capable of telling the truth to each other.  It’s easy to hear Jesus say these things and think, “Well that’s a crock!  So the people who’ve wronged me just get off the hook scot-free?”

No.  Earlier in Matthew 18 we read that we’re called to show people their sins against us – to name them as debts, trespasses, infractions against our humanity.  This is no mere interior act Jesus is calling us to.  Rather, he’s calling us to a totally authentic and therefore at times deeply conflictual way of “being” in community with others.  “You hurt my feelings!”  “I didn’t appreciate that comment!”  “I think the way you’re treating me is totally out of line!”  The back of passive-aggression is broken by the act of truth-telling.

Of course, the corollary to all of this truth-telling is that we be ready to see the ways in which WE are complicit in the relational messes we create.  How many times have you called someone out for the way they’ve treated you only to find that their behavior towards YOU was a reaction to something you did to THEM?  And so now we’re ALL doing a WHOLE BUNCH of forgiving AND repenting, being formed ever-further towards the capacity to both extend and receive forgiveness, from God and others.  And here, in ways perhaps too small even to apprehend, the vicious cycles of violence that threaten to engulf our world are being brought to an end.  We really are the eschatological people of God, living under the reign of his Shalom (Isaiah 2).  An alternative vision of humanity, “enfleshed.”  Swords into plowshares… spears into pruning hooks… forgiveness makes this possible.

3) Finally, all of this is possible through Christ.  He, as always, is the ultimate “ground” of the the Prayer he teaches us to pray.

From the cross, Jesus cried… Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.  And it is He, living his resurrected life through us, who teaches us to pray, like Stephen, in the very moment we are being treated unjustly, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

The King and his Kingdom.  This is precisely what they are like.

The Elephant Room and The Gospel Coalition :: A Perspective from an Interested semi-Outsider

Too much ink has already been spilled, and much more promises to be spilled, on the Elephant Room and it’s ramifications for the wider world of North American evangelicalism, particularly by those who represent and/or are affiliated with The Gospel Coalition.  Nevertheless, I’ll add my perspective, as one who stands somewhat outside both of those worlds but is still interested, for reasons which will become clear in a second.

I was raised in an independent, non-denominational charismatic church in central Wisconsin which my parents helped plant with some friends of theirs in the late 70s.  Growing up, I don’t recall being very aware of the non-charismatic evangelical scene, outside of perhaps Billy Graham.  The “titans” in my world were guys like Oral Roberts, a couple fellas named Kenneth, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and to a lesser extent folks like T. D. Jakes.  You get the idea.

Whatever your opinion of those folks, I was confident in the theological heritage that I had been given.  We believed deeply in the authority and truth of Scripture (and read it voraciously!), celebrated the Trinity, embraced the “now” power of the Holy Spirit to help and deliver, and loved Jesus with all our hearts.  By late high school, I was certainly aware that there were holes and flaws in our theology, but I never doubted our basic orthodoxy.  In fact, when I became old enough to realize it, I remember saying to my parents, “You guys were good charismatics because you were good Lutherans first.”  There was a substructure of basic Christian teaching that undergirded our way of life.

My sense, however, of some of those flaws and holes was magnified when I went off to college at Oral Roberts University.  As much as I self-identified as a charismatic, I started to become outrageously frustrated with much of the teaching I saw and heard – in particular, what I saw as the diminishment of the person and work of Christ and the overweening (and often misguided emphasis) on particular “sign gifts”, miraculous healings, and prosperity.  I started to get pretty disillusioned.

It was my frustration with that whole scene that led to my enrolling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, in the Fall of 2003 for the Master of Divinity program.  It was not at all clear to me at that time what, if anything, of my charismatic heritage could be salvaged, and so I was really eager to get away to a more or less “non-charismatic”, straightforwardly evangelical environment where I could simply read and study the Bible, and figure out where I fell with all of that stuff.  In fact, I knew I was in the right place when one day in the cafeteria, I used the name of a prominent Charismatic leader as the punch line of a joke.  No one at the table knew who I was talking about.  It was a strangely gratifying feeling.

Our first year at Trinity was wonderful.  We settled into the church pastored by James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel, and instantly fell in love.  I had never heard someone preach verse-by-verse through the Bible before with such compelling clarity.  Listening to Pastor James’ messages was SO refreshing.  And my classes at Trinity – my goodness, how thoroughly I enjoyed them.  The exegesis and canon classes, studying the Bible in the original languages, church history and theology… I loved it all.  I first encountered “Reformed Theology” there, and though it seemed strange to my ears, I grew to really love and appreciate the faith of my Reformed brothers and sisters as I wrestled with my own sense of theological identity.

It was sometime towards the end of my first year of seminary when, as I was wrestling with the charismatic question, it suddenly occurred to me that the Biblical argument AGAINST the charismatic experience (and for the cessation of the gifts) was an outrageous example of drummed-up, reactionary, defensive eisegesis.  In a single moment, like slipping on an old comfortable coat, I felt myself reclaiming the basic intuition of my charismatic heritage; that is, that the Holy Spirit is “now”, and with that, anything is bound to happen.  I was still frustrated with many of the abuses, excesses, and flaws of the charismatic movement, but at the very least I felt I could say “That’s my family.”

Which put me in a really weird position, since I was also coming to feel that my “non-charismatic” evangelical brothers and sisters were my family too.  So I often found myself feeling like a fish out of water.  To my charismatic kinfolk I constantly had to say, “No, you don’t see it… these people are simply FULL of the Holy Spirit and love Jesus just like you do!”, and to my non-charismatic family, “Stop treating the charismatics like sub-Christians… they worship the same Jesus you do!”  I felt that both had a lot to teach each other, and to learn from each other, and that unless they stopped acting out of the presupposition that each fell outside of the bounds of historical Christian orthodoxy, those lessons, that sharpening, would never occur.

I say all of that to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for the tradition in which I was raised, for TEDS, and for Harvest Bible Chapel.  So when James MacDonald announced last September that he was inviting T. D. Jakes to this year’s Elephant Room, you can understand why my heart simply lept with joy.  What a neat opportunity to build bridges between worlds that have typically not interacted… to learn… to clarify… to demystify… and hopefully to sharpen and strengthen each other… for the glory of God and the good of the world.

And I was grieved, though I suppose not surprised, to learn of the hullabaloo that decision created within The Gospel Coalition (which has strong ties to TEDS).  Apparently the move caused enough of a stir that MacDonald felt it wise to resign from the council of TGC immediately prior to the Elephant Room.  And now that the Elephant Room is over, reaction from TGC is well underway, with recent posts by Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor expressing disappointment and sadness over the decision to include Bishop Jakes in the Elephant Room conversation.  Says DeYoung (a little melodramatically in my opinion), “Let’s pray [God] brings good out of these hard times.”

Seriously?  Hard times?  I can hardly think of a worse description of what has transpired.  These may be “hard times” in TGC-ville, and probably the next few weeks are not going to be altogether fun at Harvest Bible Chapel, but seriously… brothers previously divided come together, T.D. affirms the basic, essential contours of Christian orthodoxy, and this is supposed to be a SAD DAY?  I think that this is a good day.

What is sad, to me, is that the TGC folks and many of their ilk seem a priori convinced NOT JUST that T.D.’s theology could use some clarification, but that he is a heretic and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Says one writer, as quoted by Justin Taylor:

Jakes is no dummy.  He will be careful not to say anything that would indict him as a false teacher.  He is a smart man.  You don’t get to his position being stupid.  Therefore, I fear that by the end of the discussion, when all the rounds have been fired, and the dust has settled, the elephant in the room will be Mr. Jakes himself.  He will be standing tall shaking everyone’s hand and thanking them for giving him another platform on which to promote himself.  No matter what is said, unless Jakes denounces his previous teachings or is exposed as a false teacher, it’s a win for team Jakes and a loss for those of us left to clean up after the elephant has done his business.

Wow.  Talk about assuming the absolute worse.

I think that this attitude is profoundly destructive to the Body of Christ.  Paul tells us to “Make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).  That is, ASSUME THE UNITY and then FIGHT FOR IT.  The attitude currently being expressed by TGC, to my ears, is exactly the opposite.

And in truth, it is the attitude of the fundamentalist.  The fundamentalist wants to divide, and then further divides with those who don’t divide.  I distinctly remember the day in Church History class in which we talked about Billy Graham losing his “credentials” with the fundamentalists in the mid 20-th century because he worked with Catholics (God forbid) and mainliners in the attempt to put on his crusades in places like Boston and New York City, going so far as to have some of their leaders sit on the stage with him while he preached. Is this not what we’re seeing at TGC?  Someone show me where I’m wrong.

My fear – and sadness – is that TGC represents the new fundamentalism.  David Fitch, in this post back in 2009, astutely asked the question of TGC whether it would be a “coalition” (describing the “coalescing of a group of people or nations to agree on some understandings in order to defend some boundary or prepare for war”) or an “expedition” (“the organizing of a group to adequately prepare for an exploration/adventure into unknown territory”).  He writes:

Will TGC be a coalition for the hardening of some doctrinal lines in order to defend boundaries and/or launch an attack of some kind (say against others who don’t agree with its take on Reformed theology)? Or will TGC be a force for the preparation of missionaries (in doctrine and practice) to engage the unknown territories of the new cultures of post Christendom? Will TGC be a coalition or an expedition?

I think that is right on the money.  Say what you will about the Elephant Room, I’m proud of Pastor James and glad for the trajectory the conference represents.  TGC’s response is sad to me.

It’s as sad and silly as it is tragically unnecessary.  The reactive, defensive posture of TGC suggests to me they feel as though they are LOSING something.  But what do they feel they are losing?  Their grip on Christianity?  Dear Lord (and thank goodness) they never had it!  Still less do they have it now!  The shift of global Christianity away from the Western hemisphere and to the South and East has been well-documented, along with the predominance of Pentecostalism among those places where Christianity is growing most rapidly.  Old (mostly white) Reformed guys (along with Young, Restless Reformed guys) HAVE NEVER BEEN THE GATEKEEPERS OF CHRISTIANITY.  Why don’t they seem to see this?  Why, instead of seeing themselves as SIMPLY ONE MORE VOICE AT THE TABLE OF THE “ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH” which is looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, do they behave as though they held the gavel on who belongs at that table?

Whence comes the myopic perspective?  Do they not realize that in the kingdom, MOST of the people there will be non-white, non-Reformed types?  Do they not realize that the kingdom will PACKED FULL of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants of every stripe?  Why do they not simply feel PRIVILEGED THAT THEY HAVE ANY VOICE AT ALL AT THE TABLE?

That’s what baffles me.  The limited, myopic perspective.

I remember last year when the Rob Bell brew ha ha was in full force.  This was right after John Piper had famously bid Rob “Farewell” on Twitter without specifying from what Rob had been bid farewell from.  A lady from our old church in Tulsa emailed me to ask me my “opinion” on the situation.  My response went like this:

…I can guarantee you this: right now, there are probably not any Christians in China wringing their hands over this matter.  Nor is the Vatican commissioning a task force to investigate this incredibly serious squabble between a bunch of North American evangelicals.  When the Church History books are rewritten 150 years from now, there is a good chance that neither John Piper nor Rob Bell is going to get much more than a line, if that.  So my advice to you would be to read the book, make your judgment, and get back to your post, serving Jesus.  There are far more important matters at hand than evangelicals excommunicating each other…

I’m not saying that these matters aren’t important.  They are.  At Bloom every week, we declare the Nicene Creed before we preach, because we think that it matters, and because we want our preaching to submit itself to the faith of the Church.  I want a clearer Trinitarianism from Jakes.  I also want him to give us a more robust theology of suffering, and to back off of the prosperity teaching because it simply does not work.  But I also want my Reformed brothers to see, for instance, that those of us who hold different views of sovereignty are equally as faithful to the Bible as them.

And at the very least, we worship the same Jesus – died, risen, and coming again.  So I choose to embrace a posture that acknowledges that both I and they, and Jakes, and everyone else, simply represents one more voice at the table.  I think we’re better together.  We have a common enemy – Sin and Death.  Why on earth are we shooting at each other?

In conclusion, I’ll just say that if these are “hard times” for anyone, they are hard times for TGC.  They are not hard times for the global church.  They are hard times for a group of folks who seem to believe they own Christianity and are feeling their grip slipping and are now having to face tough questions about their future and self-identity as a group.

It would be better for them if they simply acknowledged that what they feel is slipping, they never really “owned” at all.  The Church is so much bigger than them.

Peace…

Andrew