Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Lord's Prayer. Part-1: Our

Consider for a moment the first word of the Lord's Prayer--Our: what a dear and--excuse the expression--precious little word. Perhaps the combination of its smallness and its comfortable familiarity causes us to not value this grace-filled word as we ought. Our family, our home, our neighborhood, our nation, our world, our solar system, our galaxy (and what a charming little galaxy it is!) our universe, our God. "Our" is both fantastically big and wonderfully small: our living room, our dinner table, our meal. And then there is our cat, our Christmas tree, our song, our memories. All these things can just as easily be preceded by the yet smaller little word,"my", but when we move to speaking and thinking in terms of "our" we step into a much larger and spacious realm.

The blessedness of "our" just keeps embracing us and bringing us into this larger life. This "our" of ours is a balm to our human tendency to fill our minds and souls with only "my." "Our" draws us out from that comforting but smothering cocoon woven from the four sticky threads of "I" "me" "my" and "mine". Human nature being what it is, it tends to the extremes where balance is lost and perversion--yes, perversion--sets in. People at one place and time embrace a perverted individualism and then at another are equally seduced by a perverted communalism. Yet it is the proper balance of both a healthy individual autonomy on the one hand, and a wholesome shared community on the other which is so needed--and which God offers us in his word. The "our" given us by the Lord Jesus is meant to balance our tendency to practice only a strictly individualized spirituality in our praying.

Consider the "our" we find in the book of Nehemiah as the people assembled to confess their sin and covenant to follow Yahweh anew. "We also accept responsibility, as is written in the law, for bringing the firstborn of our sons and our cattle and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks to the temple of our God, to the priests who are ministering in the temple of our God" (10:32).

In our fallenness our default position is often to a proud self-asserting autonomy which results in isolation, or I-solation. Often this proud posture results in a sullen aloneness which both resents its loneliness but at the same time rejects and resists togetherness. It is a sad sort of self-imposed catch-22 condition. In my job I deal closely with homeless men and women and see this loner streak in most of those I work with. The very first word of the Lord's Prayer addresses this sad aspect of our tragic human condition.

Some time back I heard a Bible teacher say that Jesus lived out a perfect balance in his social life. He was often with great crowds, but at other times was with smaller social gatherings, such as weddings and dinner parties. He was with his larger group of disciples and followers--both men and women. At many other occasions he spent time interacting with his twelve chosen ones. Then there were the three, Peter, James and John who he wanted to be with for special purposes. Finally, he would withdraw from everyone in order to be alone with the Father. The point is that Jesus would move from one to the other of these situations in a way which reflects a perfect social and soulful balance. We, apart from him tend to isolate and withdraw--even from our own Christian brothers and sisters. The "our" of the Lord's Prayer invites us to join with all our fellow followers of Christ in acknowledging Our Father...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prayer in Perspective, Introduction--Part 2

Matthew 6:9-13

9) Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10) Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11) Give us this day our daily bread.
12) And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13) And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] (Matthew 6:9-13 NASB)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Prayer in Perspective, Introduction-Part 1

This begins a series centered on what has traditionally been called, "The Lord's Prayer" but which, as many have pointed out, should more accurately be referred to a the disciples' prayer.

This introduction to my first Plumbline series is an appropriate place to let my readers--both of you--know what my "credentials" are and what authority, if any, I bring to this blogging space. I have been seeking to know God and follow the Lord Jesus since 1972. That, in itself, gives me no claim to any special insight, but it does mean that I have been trying for these past 37 years to understand the ways of God more clearly and to apply his Truth to my life as I am able and as I grow in knowledge, love and obedience.

I began my life of Christian discipleship in a very new non-denominational congregation which was an outreach of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. I was greatly influenced by the teachings of Chuck Smith. I began leading a home Bible study in Corona, CA in about 1975 and have been teaching small group studies ever since. I left Calvary Chapel Riverside to start Calvary Chapel of Chino CA and was pastor there from 1977 to 1984. In addition to pastoring a small congregation of about 80 members, I was a police and prison chaplain. Shortly after leaving the ministry at Chino, I worked for about a year-and-a-half for Gene Scott in Glendale CA. From there I moved to San Diego where I worked as a security guard for the next thirteen years (I interpret this as a period "in the wilderness"). In about 1990 I served for a year as a full-time staff chaplain in the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation program. In the summer of 2000, I was hired by First Presbyterian Church of San Diego to be director of their charity program called Ladle Fellowship. This is a soup-kitchen style ministry to the homeless and poor in downtown San Diego. I have worked there in this capacity for the past nine years.

As far as "official" ministry credentials, mine are sketchy, skimpy and of little merit. I was first ordained as a pastor by Maranatha Evangelical Association (MEA) in 1977. At that time MEA had no formal academic criteria for ordination. Their ministry philosophy mirrored that of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa which, at that time was that, if one were pastoring and a community of believers was following that person's teaching, then MEA would recognize that person as being gifted as a pastor/teacher and so would issue a certificate and little wallet card which identified on as a Maranatha ordained minister. Thirty-two years later, although I still have the little wallet card, I cannot find that this organization is still in existence and so do not know where my MEA Ordination really stands as of today. With my Ladle Fellowship ministry responsibilities, which occasionally require me to make hospital visits to homeless people and others, I saw the need for ordination with some group currently in existence. From a ministry friend I heard about American Evangelical Christian Churches. They ordain independent chaplains and others who don't fit in any of the usual formal categories of ministry in mainline churches and para-church ministries. I applied online, explaining my background and current ministry and, after some back-and-forth correspondence, they granted me an ordination as chaplain. The most use I get from this designation is that, when I go to visit someone at UCSD Medical Center, I can park in one of the spaces marked, "reserved for clergy" and so don't have to pay to park. It is a nice and convenient perk which I am grateful to be able to use. I also conduct weddings and funerals from time to time.

Well, in this post I had hoped to jump right into the depth of the first word, "Our" which launches and colors all that follows in the prayer the Lord Jesus gave his disciples as the pattern for all true and effective praying. But I see I have used all my available time for this blogging session. It is 9:50p.m. and so I must go get the rest I need as I prepare for my work week. At my very next opportunity I will begin to share some thoughts on the meaning of "our" as Jesus used it in his famous prayer.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Chosen Step

Faith is not an unreasonable leap into the irrational, but a willful step into a path, a purpose, and a person. --AR

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Truth, Your Truth, The Truth

I don't suppose anyone would have a problem with parts one and two of the title above. Part three however--the capital-T "The"--is another matter. It seems to give a whole generation existential heebie-geebies.

It may have been somewhere in the late nineteenth century that our culture wearied of the traditional capital-T Truth arguments and came to a gentleman's/gentlewoman's (Aren't I nice?) agreement to only deal with things on the basis of my truth/your truth: "I know that's true for you, but for me..."

Larry's truth might be that his liver and brussels sprout smoothie is the most d-lish drink around. Larry's friend, Bob has no problem accepting Larry's smoothie truth, but Bob's truth perhaps lies more in the neighborhood of banana-apricot-honey-pineapple. Fine. Larry has his smoothie truth, Bob has his, and they're both "good" with that.

One day though, as Larry and Bob are discussing the relative wonderfulness of their different smoothie choices, Larry mentions to Bob, in passing, that Bob's banana-apricot-honey-pineapple elixir may elevate his blood sugar level and so present a health risk. Bob thanks Larry for his concern, but states with certainty that the blending process removes all the sugar content while yet retaining the sweet flavor. "My cousin, an amateur herbalist, told me so himself--and he should know, he makes and sells them and drinks several every day" says Bob, a bit miffed at the skeptical look on Larry's face and offended that his friend would question his truth. Before you can say, "chop, dice, blend, puree," Larry and Bob are spitting, "Does so," Does not," "Does so" at one another.

Just then in walks their mutual friend, Debbie, a diabetic. Wanting to settle the dispute so her friends will be at peace, Debbie pulls a glucometer from her purse and proposes an experiment. Debbie administers the test. Then, Based on the outcome of this simple experiment, Bob, with his index finger still stinging, finally must concede that his beloved smoothies do indeed elevate his blood sugar. The nifty little glucometer settled the issue. What's more, it settled it without regard to Larry's truth, Bob's truth, or even Debbie's truth. The little device acted the part of a plumb line with regard to the question at hand.

Obviously, life's questions and moral challenges are not so easily settled. But still, we need to know if it is even possible for us to find answers to life's most important issues. Or, is even the possibility of real answers somehow not even allowed for by the contemporary "rules" of the discussion? Are we stuck with only your and my truth with no recourse to any truth outside ourselves? This, I believe, is a crucial question and one worth asking and pursuing an answer to.