Archive for June, 2009

Here in the United States, we hurry to and from just about everything. Our fast-paced lifestyle reminds me of something the Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland said. It seems to me as if she was painting a perfect picture of the lifestyle in our area when she told Alice, “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Well, sometimes running faster doesn’t do any good. We just have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. And when that happens, we deal with our endless to-do lists by practicing what has come to be referred to as multi-tasking. This simply means we learn to do more than one thing at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. We do this by combining errands. We take work with us to do while we ride on the train or the metro or the plane. We use our cell-phones while driving to and from appointments. We take some files to look through during any lull in play in our kids’ soccer games.

We’ve even applied this two birds with one stone philosophy to other aspects of our lives. For example we are more likely to use credit cards that allow us to accumulate airline miles at the same time we make purchases. We sign up for long distance carriers that send a portion of our bill to the charity of our choice. And everyone loves those sales in which you can get two items for the price of one.

Well, today I’m applying this principle to my blog entry because in the space allotted to one topic, I am going to deal with two. So, I’m saving you some time today. You are getting a great deal, because the focus will be on not one but two of the classic spiritual disciplines…specifically: prayer and fasting…both of which are practices that God has given us to provide us a way to deepen our relationship with Him. I want to begin by looking at the discipline of fasting…something that most Christians these days are not familiar with at all.

Fasting is mentioned many times in the Bible but the text I want us to look at is in Matthew 6 …part of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6: 6-18. Here Jesus says…

16 – And when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.17 – But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.

18 – so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Now,what exactly is fasting? Well, it’s not dieting. It’s not skipping meals to lose weight. Whenever fasting is mentioned in the Bible it refers to abstaining from food for the purpose of growing spiritually. I am thinking there are several things that provide one incentive to learn this particular discipline.

1. First of all fasting is good for us PHYSICALLY.

This might come as a shock to some of some. We tend to think that doing without food might be harmful. People buy into this misconception because they have been conditioned to think that they cannot do without three full meals a day and several snacks in between which of course is not true. In fact fasting is good. It gives the digestive systems a rest. It also purifies the body by allowing built up toxins to filter out of the various systems.

2. But fasting’s main benefit is SPIRITUAL.

This is because it teaches self-control and encourages a prolonged un-distracted focus on Christ rather than on the temporary pleasures of this material world. Through this discipline one begins to see how easily nonessentials to take precedence…how quickly desires for things that aren’t really needed ten to enslave us. Richard Foster writes, “Our human cravings and desires are like a river that tends to overflow its banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channel.” More than any other discipline fasting reveals the things that we allow to take control. In fact, just looking at the size and shapes of the average American body shows that food has too much control over many!

Well fasting brings things like this to the light. For example, if pride controls, it will be revealed through fasting. David said,

I humbled my soul with fasting. Psalm 69:10

Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear…if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. Then we can take steps to deal with these shortcomings.

Now,fasting is not a command in the Bible. Jesus does not order us to fast but several passages of scripture show that our Lord did assume we would fast. For example in verse 17 of our text Jesus did not say if you fast but when you fast.

It is also important to know that in the Bible there are several different kinds of fasts.

a. The most common type is to abstain from food…not water for a certain period of time.

This was the kind of fast Jesus did when he wandered in the desert for 40 days and nights. A careful reading of the text infers that Jesus did have water during this time.

b. Another type of fast is to decide not to eat certain types of foods for a time.

In Daniel 10:3 the prophet said that …for three weeks he ate no delicacies, no meat, or wine.

c. And then, ABSOLUTE fasts involve consuming no food or water.

These fasts are done at times of dire emergency…like the time Queen Esther learned that execution awaited herself and her people and instructed Mordecai saying, “Go, gather all the Jews…hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days.”

The main teaching on fasting that Jesus gives us in our text for today is that it is a discipline that should be done secretly. Our fasting is for God to see but not others unlike the Jewish religious leaders of that day who fasted to appear spiritually superior. These people were painfully pious and proud of it. When you fast, the only ones who should know about it are the ones who HAVE to know. If you call attention to your fasting, people will be impressed but as Jesus said, that will be your only reward. This would be foolish because we fast for far greater and deeper rewards than the applause of others. We engage in this discipline to grow spiritually, to please God not our peers.

There are several books that I would recommend you read as you begin learn to practice this discipline, books that have lots of tips that will help you get the most out of fasting. Among those are:

  • Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites by Lynne M. Baab
  • Fasting: A Spiritual Power Tool by Don Hooser
  • Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough By: Elmer L. Towns
  • Fasting: Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice (Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice) by Carole Garib Rogers

One thing all fasters should understand is that fasting is never really all it can be without the discipline of prayer.

In fact, if we are to grow spiritually through fasting it must be done in conjunction with prayer, which is why I thought it would be good to look at these two disciplines together. Now prayer is a practice with which we are much more familiar than fasting of course, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to this particular holy habit.

I think that if we were to play a little word association game about now. I mean if I were to ask you to think about what first came into your mind when you hear this word: PRAYER. Well, I’m no mind reader but I bet the first word that would pop into some of your brains is the word, GUILT. You don’t feel you pray enough. Maybe there was a time when you prayed more often but then you became too busy, and this causes you to feel guilty. I bet when I said prayer others of you had the word FRUSTRATED to come into your mind. I mean you’ve been praying diligently and it seems like nothing happens. You cry out and all you get is silence. You lift your voice to God and you feel as if it falls on deaf ears. And then, maybe the word that popped into some of your minds is the word APATHETIC. You’re willing to sit in church and listen, or read this blog and comprehend, but you don’t have any real strong feelings about prayer. Maybe you’ve tried prayer in the past and it left you cold, so you don’t really care much about it. Or perhaps the word that prayer brings to your mind is FEARFUL. You don’t really know HOW to pray. You’re terrified about the possibility that someone in your Sunday School class might ask you to pray out loud. That very thought causes your throat to get dry and your hands to get sweaty. You feel like your words are clumsy while everyone else prays so naturally.

Well, if we were honest I think ALL OF US understand these responses to the subject of prayer because all of us have a great deal to learn when it comes to this discipline. And I think it might help motivate us to learn about prayer if we could begin to understand WHY prayer is so important.

One reason prayer is so important and so valuable is that it is literally life-changing. And the first thing prayer changes is US.

Prayer changes our attitudes. It changes is the way we feel about a situation. I mean, how many of you have faced a hopeless situation and after you prayed felt a little less hopeless? How often have you faced something that caused you great fear and after you prayed felt a little less afraid? How many of you have faced a dilemma where you did not know where to turn but after you prayed you felt a little less uncertain? Prayer changes things. It changes the way we look at the trials and tribulations of life.

It also changes us as individuals because as we spend time with God we become more and more like Him. In his book on the spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster writes,

“In real prayer we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves. Progressively we are taught to see things from His point of view.”

You see, in the regular practice of prayer God meets us where we are and gradually moves us along into deeper things. In his classic book on prayer Foster also says,

“To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by His love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and faithfulness, and self-control.”

You know I heard somewhere that one way U.S. treasury agents spot counterfeit bills is by rubbing them against a sheet of white paper. If the paper turns green they know the dollar is genuine because the REAL thing rubs off. Well, God is the REAL THING and when we spend time with Him through prayer, His nature rubs off on us. It impacts us. It changes us like nothing else will. The great missionary William Carey once said, “Prayer, secret, fervent, believing prayer lies at the root of all personal godliness.”

But you know, prayer not only changes us. It also changes the SITUATION.

In I Corinthians 3:9 Paul says that you and I are God’s fellow workers.

9For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. ~I Cor 3:9

This and several other texts teach that we are working with God to determine the outcome of future events. This means that certain things will happen in the future IF we pray rightly. We can change the world through prayer. We see this repeatedly in Scripture: The miracles of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land were all answers to prayer. So were Jesus’ miracles of stilling storms, providing food, healing the sick and raising the dead. As the early church formed and grew and spread throughout the world, God answered the believers’ continual prayers for healing and deliverance. God’s power can change circumstances and relationships. It can heal psychological and physical problems, remove marriage obstructions, meet financial needs. In fact, it can handle any kind of difficulty, dilemma, or discouragement. And that power is accessed through prayer.

As James 5:16 says, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Someone has wisely said that when we work WE work; but when we pray, GOD works. His supernatural strength is available to praying people who are convinced to the core of their being that He can make a difference. Skeptics may argue that answered prayers are only coincidences, but as an English archbishop once observed, “It’s amazing how many coincidences occur when one begins to pray.”

You know like several other of you middle-agers out there, when I was a little boy I used to spend Saturday mornings watching old videotapes that my father thought were “great television”, including The Adventures of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Well, this week I was reminded of an episode in which the Lone Ranger and Tonto were riding through the desert looking for bad guys which is pretty much what they did every episode. They came upon a monastery and they called out to the monk who lived there and he came out. The Lone Ranger and Tonto asked him which way the bad guys went. And he pointed and said, “They went that way.” Then he said, “I want to go with you.” Well, then The Lone Ranger looked down from his horse and said, “You’re a very brave man Padre, but things could get a little dangerous out there where we’re going. I think you ought to stay right here where it will be safe.” And the padre said, “But I want to do something.” And the Lone Ranger said to him, with a bit of condescension in his voice, “Well, you can pray.” And then, in a cloud of dust with a hearty “Hi ho, Silver!” the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode off into the horizon heading for the gun battle, to the showdown that was going to take place. Well, where do you think the camera went at that point? Who did the camera follow? Did it go with the monk back inside the monastery? Of course not! No, the camera followed the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Why? Because that is where the action was. That is where the thrills were, where the adventure was.

And yet, when you think about it, that monk was going to actually talk to the Creator of the entire universe, to the all-powerful God for whom a six-shooter is as puny as a cap pistol, the mighty Lord Who by merely speaking the Word can cause worlds to spring into existence, the God Who can and has changed the course of human history. This padre was going to speak to God, and God was actually going to listen to him and respond to him. So, let me ask you now. Where was the real adventure? In the monastery! In fact that gunfight wasn’t really going to be won or lost wherever the Lone Ranger found the bad guys, it was going to be won or lost in that monastery with that monk with his prayers because God has the power like nobody else to affect the outcome of human affairs. Prayer is an adventure you don’t want to miss. Prayer changes things.

Alright, now that I have motivated you a little – let’s talk then about HOW to Pray…

And, let me point out first of all that, like fasting, prayer IS something you learn. The disciples discovered that. Remember when they asked Jesus to TEACH them to pray? They had seen in our Lord a pattern for prayer that they yearned to master. And you know there is great freedom in that truth because this means we don’t have to come to God as prayer experts. We don’t have to study and learn all the right words and phrases before we start praying. We don’t even have to have the best of motives to pray. I mean, we don’t have to be perfect for God to want to hear from us. No, we simply come to Him as teachable children. Remember Jesus’ first prayer lesson was that we should address God as our Abba which literally means Daddy. If you are a parent then you know that children come to you with the craziest requests at times. Sometimes parents are saddened by the meanness or selfishness in their requests, but you would even sadder if they never came to you at all. You are simply glad that they DO come, mixed motives and all. And this is precisely how it is with prayer. We never will have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray perfectly. So the thing we must do is to simply set all these things aside and begin praying knowing that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. Foster writes, “In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture, so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.”

Well, one way we learn more about prayer is by asking an Expert and the number one Expert on prayer is of course, Jesus Christ. No one in history has ever understood prayer better than our Lord. No one has ever believed more strongly in the power of prayer, and no one has ever prayed as He did. So, we look back to our Bibles  open to Matthew 6 verses 5-13, where Jesus says,

5 – And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

6 – But when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, Who is unseen. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

7 – And when you pray do not keep on babbling, like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

8 – Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

9 – This then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.

10 – Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 – Give us today our daily bread.

12 – Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Notice that the first thing Jesus teaches us here about prayer is that we should do so REGULARLY.

After all, in verse 5 of our text Jesus said, “WHEN you pray…” not IF you pray. Jesus not only assumed that His disciples would fast, He also assumed that they would have a regular time of prayer and this makes sense because anything you want to learn, anything you want to excel in, you must practice. The first week of practice during the summer season, my team practices regularly three times a day. We put in an average of 20,000 meters per day for the first week. Given that 1500 meters is a mile (roughly) this equates to 93 miles. It’s a steep learning curve, but the swimmers know that by practicing in this volume, they will learn to swim quickly, efficiently, and will adapt to the best practices of swimming. This reminds me of the prophet Daniel who prayed three times each day. Well, it is important to pray regularly because with out regularity prayer will never become a habit. I mean, if we want to live with a constant awareness of God’s presence we need to LEARN to shut the world out and tune God in at least ONCE a day, every day, without fail. Otherwise the things of the world will crowd God out. We have to pray regularly so that we learn to instantly turn a switch in our mind and be in conversation with Him, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

Jesus also teaches here that like fasting we must also pray SECRETLY.

Our Lord warned us in this text to avoid the then common practice of lifting up prayers on the street corner in a show of spirituality. Instead he has taught us to find a private place for prayer, a closet, an inner room. Why? Because the purpose of prayer is not to impress others but to be in conversation with God. We do not pray to communicate to others how holy we are, we pray to communicate with God how holy He is. Prayer is not a spectator sport. It’s not something we engage in to give off signals of spiritual superiority.

Another reason Jesus says it is important to get ALONE in prayer is that being in an inner room shuts out distractions, music, phones, kids, dogs – anything that can break our concentration and interfere. We need to find a quiet place to talk uninterrupted with God. So, in your own prayer life, find such a place and make it your own. As you use it regularly I think you will find that it takes on a special kind of aura. When I was in college, the main chapel building had a closet that was set apart for students to pray. They had carpeted it and put a kneeling bench in there. It was a quiet place to go to be alone with God, and like other students I went there often. I don’t think it was my imagination but this closet seemed to be special, hallowed ground. It glowed with a unique quietness I believe because so many pilgrims went there to talk to our God.

Thirdly, Jesus teaches us here that we must pray SINCERELY.

He says that when we pray we must not use meaningless repetition and empty phrases. And this is important guidance for us to understand because it is very easy to get caught up in using certain jargon or terminology in prayer. Some phrases may sound appropriate, spiritual, even pious, but after a while if we are not careful, we can find ourselves stringing together a bunch of popular phrases to form what I refer to as autopilot prayer. The same phrases uttered over and over again by rote with no sincerity behind them. Heaping up fancy phrases or babbling on and on can’t replace heartfelt and sincere communication with God.

Have you ever played the game TABOO? It’s like PASSWORD but they give you a list of words you can’t say and if you do your opponents buzz you with an annoying buzzer, and you lose points. Well, I think if we applied this principle to prayer and had a list of words like Bless or praise or generalized phrases like forgive me of my sins many of us would have a hard time knowing what to say to God. We use words and phrases like that too much, so much that they have become meaningless to us. We must learn that Jesus invites us to talk with the Father authentically, personally, reverently, earnestly.

Lately I have gotten pretty fed up with prime time TV and have found myself frequently watching the TV shows of the past on the TV Land Channel. In this way I have become acquainted with the characters of Leave It To Beaver. Watching those old shows has taught me something about myself. I despise Eddie Haskel. One thing that bugs me about him is that in addressing his elders, he sounds so respectful. He knows and uses all the right parent-pleasing phrases, but they are all empty of sincerity. Ward and June hate to hear him talk like that. And God hates it when we talk to Him in that way using all the current religious words and phrases without any honesty behind them. God wants us to talk to Him. But he wants sincerity in our words and phrases. He wants honesty. Vague and general religious platitudes are not what touch the heart of God.

Prayers filled with lots of words or the same phrases repeated over and over again will not get you anywhere with God. They sound just as monotonous to Him as they do to others.

Fourthly, Jesus says we are to pray SPECIFICALLY.

In the prayer lesson from Matthew 6 Jesus gave us a specific pattern to follow in what has come to be referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. It is an excellent model for us to follow as we learn to pray rightly, but I don’t believe that it was ever intended to be a magical incantation to get God’s attention.

Jesus didn’t give us this prayer as a paragraph to be recited. In fact, He had just warned against using repetitions phrases. Instead, I believe He gave it as a pattern to suggest the variety of elements that should be a part of our prayers.

Many Christians use the word ACTS as an acrostic to remind them of these and other specific components we should include in our prayers.

* A stands for Adoration. This reminds us that we must begin our prayers by praising God in such a way that we remember Who we are addressing. We see this in the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus tells us to pray, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, HALLOWED be Thy name.” This reverent praise sets the pattern for all that is to follow. I love the stained glass windows because when I come into church; they set a tone of reverence; their beauty reminds me of God’s beauty and holiness. This helps me to worship correctly, with the right attitude. Begin your prayer time by ADORING God, praising Him for all He is to you – let that set the tone for all that you are about to say!

* C stands for Confession. In this part of our prayer time we specifically list our known faults and failures and short comings and ask God to forgive us. We see this in the model prayer in verse 12 where Jesus says we must ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In confession we not only experience God’s forgiveness and the peace that comes with it, but also the lines of communication are cleared so we can hear God and feel His presence more easily.

* T stands for Thanksgiving. In this part of our prayers we specifically thank God for all His blessings. If you are a parent then you know how wonderful it feels when your kids come to you and spontaneously thank you for something you did. Our Heavenly Father feels the same way when we show Him that we NOTICE all He does for us by expressing our gratitude.

* S stands for Supplication and it involves obeying Philippians 4:6 where it says, “In everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.” These requests should involve not only asking God for our daily bread (our own needs) but also to intercede and meet the needs of others.

And then, I for one add another S to the ACTS acronym. For me this last consonant stands for Submission. In this part of my prayer I submit my will to God’s. Jesus taught to make this a part of our prayers when He said we must learn to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done. This part of prayer teaches us the importance of putting God’s will first in our life, in marriage, family, career, ministry, money, body, relationships, church. It involves admitting that He knows more than we do about my petitions and intercessions than we do and also asking Him to be our Lord in the coming day, using us as He sees fit.


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Why NOT Me?

When something bad happens to us, one of the first thoughts we have, naturally, is usually “Why me, Lord?” As Tevya, the old man in Fiddler on the Roof moans, “I know we’re the Chosen People, God, but can’t you choose someone else part of the time?”

Yet a key ingredient of leadership and maturity is to be able to say “Why NOT me?” I have a friend, Samantha, who rolls her eyes when she hears testimonies on television about how God spared someone from a burning building, or a horrible plane crash, a pile up on the freeway, or when their town is literally destroyed by a tornado. “Does that mean that God didn’t love the people that were in the crash?” The incredulity in her voice betrays her attempt at masking the very shock of this notion.

The very idea that God blesses only the good and punishes only the evil leads immediately to the question “Then what did Jesus do to cause Him to die so young and so painfully?” God is much bigger than our understanding of good and bad, and has an eternal plan that none of us grasps totally. In fact, the willingness to enter into whatever God wants is one of the hallmarks of strong spiritual leadership.

Jesus told the story about a wealthy landowner who entrusted his vineyards to a certain group of people. The landowner sent emissary after emissary to the far country to see how his land was faring, only to have them return with reports of being ignored, mistreated, and even beaten and stoned. At this point I can just see Jesus, as the landowner’s eldest son, stepping up and saying “Father, why not send me?” [Parable of the Tenants – Matt 21, Mark 12, Luke 20]

David also uttered these words when all the other Israelites were trembling in their tents as the giant Goliath boomed out his insults and challenges. “No one else is willing to go out there. Why not me?” [1 Samuel 17]

The why-not-me question applies equally to the blessing side of the equation. If you study some of the most successful athletes or entrepreneurs, you will undoubtedly find that at some point they looked at other people who were experiencing success and said “Why not me?”

A year ago Samantha’s mother went to visit an art gallery in Sedona, Arizona. After she marveled at how lucky the woman working there was to live in such a beautiful part of the country, the woman said, “Why don’t you move here?” Grace immediately replied that she didn’t think she could afford to move and live there. The woman laughed, and said “Do you think I’m made of money? Not hardly, but one day I decided that this is where I wanted to live, so I just did it, I moved here. You can, too.” Then she gave Grace a list of real estate offices to visit in Sedona. On the way home Grace kept saying to herself, “That woman lives in Sedona, why not us?”

She went home to Midland, praying the whole way, told her retired husband what she wanted to do, and they just sold their house of thirty-eight years and closed on a house in Sedona.

I have been doing many mental exercises lately to keep my mind limber and open to possibilities and to stream my conscious thoughts and see what emerges. One of them is to look at people that are doing more of what I really want to be doing and realizing, “They are doing this. Why not me?” This is not done with the wrong heart. There is no jealousy, envy, or ill feelings toward them because they are doing these things. Mostly it is about recognizing that we are not born in a caste system, and that we are able to enjoy the benefits of life to the fullest.

Jesus was in effect a walking invitation to a Great Banquet. He is the only requirement for attendance. The person wanting to go only has to accept the invitation. “Moses is going. David is going. Queen Esther is going. Jeremiah is going. The Twelve are going. Of course, Mary will be going.

Why not me?”

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47 And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.
48 Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.” 49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. Matthew 26:47-49

In Oberammergau, Germany, there is a famous Passion Play, and it wonderfully portrays the life and death of Jesus. One day I was relating to a  ministry team member what the play is like, having been lucky enough to be able to attend on two seperate occasions. That conversation brought back some memories of a similar play he’d been in some years ago. I asked him what part he played, and he answered a little sheepishly, “I think maybe I was typecast. I played Judas.” Then he went on to explain what an eerie feeling it was to play the one who betrayed our Lord. But, then, haven’t we all?

It’s an unsettling thought to consider that you or I might ever play Judas in our relationship with Christ; unsettling, but sometimes all too true. Our word for today from the Word of God focuses again on what it can look like to sell out the Son of God.

Matthew 26:14 records it this way,

“Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over.”

The first thing that bothers me about this is that the one who betrays Jesus is one who is really close to Him. And most of us Christians would like to think that we’re close to Jesus. We sing the psalms, and the hymns, we say the prayers, and profess that we believe. But that closeness, the piousness, the actions, are no guarantee that you won’t sell out your Savior when the price seems right. I’m sure if you had told Judas a few months before his betrayal that he was going to do this, he would have reacted the same way you and I do, “No way I’d ever betray Jesus.” But he did.

And it’s convicting to see the value judgment that led to Judas’ betrayal. There was something that seemed worth more to him than Jesus did; something he couldn’t have and also remain true to the Lord. In his case, some silver coins. Some of us have sold out Jesus for a lot less.

I wonder what your sellout price might be; the thing that you would allow to displace Jesus – the thing you would leave Jesus’ way to get? Would you push Jesus aside to have a relationship you know He doesn’t want? Or to get ahead? To get some friends or to keep your friends? Would you betray Jesus to have more money? To get married? To keep your image? Would you sell out Jesus for a little pleasure? A little relief from your pain? Would you shove Jesus aside to have your own way? More importantly, are you betraying Jesus for anything you cannot have and still remain true to Him?

Judas betrayed Jesus and he never came back. While there’s a Judas, there’s also a Peter; one close to Jesus who turned his back on Jesus. But Peter is living proof that a denier, a betrayer, can come back! In fact, when Peter repented with all his heart, all Jesus wanted to know (He asked him three times) was this, “Do you love Me?” Peter did, and Jesus entrusted major spiritual leadership to this one who had once turned his back on Him. You know, he’ll do the same for you. With Jesus, failure doesn’t ever have to be final.

The ugliest role in any story about Jesus is playing Judas. Are you?

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Then Jesus told his disciples,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Jesus loved his disciples as much as God loved him. Jesus loves US just like Jesus loved those first 12 who heard these words. Do you hear what he was saying to them and IS saying to us?

Life is not going to be easy. Sure, there will be plenty of times of joy and happiness and fulfillment and plenty. But none of that – other than the rain last night or the sunshine this morning – comes without cost.

Life will bring surprises our way and not all of them good.

Life will give us moments of the “incredible lightness of being” – but there will also be those times when life feels like a weight upon our shoulders, a noose around our neck, a tight band around our chest, like walking with concrete shoes.

It just is! Life is like that. And as much as a parent loves their kids, and as much as God loves us, there is nothing we can do to prevent the suffering that seasons life.

Now here is a deeper truth – Sometimes, love means we ought not stop that suffering from coming.

To deny ourselves is to be open to seeing life through Jesus’ eyes. It is to live the question, “what is God up to here?” It is to let go of the reins and accept the cross. It is to relinquish control and accept our place as followers.

It is to surrender.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, when the road narrows and the journey gets hard, when the weight of life presses upon us and we want to just quit, come to us with the reminder that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Come to us with the reminder that you will never give us more than we can bear. Come to us and carry us, that we might follow you in faith and courage. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’4″For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ “6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” ~Luke 18:1-8

I doubt if there’s a parent among the readers who, at one time or another, has not given into the whiny demands of your child, especially if those demands are made in public. And, if you’ve never given in to your child’s whiny demands, I know you have, or someday will, give in to your grandchild’s whiny demands! An entire book has been written about children who whine in public places. It’s called The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmees. Very often, Christians see prayer as a “gimmee.” Dear God, please gimmee this. Dear God, I want that. Even if we are praying for someone else — seemingly a more noble deed than praying for ourselves — we still often ask for “gimmees.” “Please heal Andy’s broken leg.” (What we often mean is heal it instantly, don’t make Andy go through the pain of an operation, or the discomfort of a cast.) “Please give Paul and Donna that new house they want.”

On first reading, this parable seems to be about “gimmees.” The widow in the parable keeps pestering the judge until she gets what she wants. If this story were told from the judge’s perspective, however, we might not be as sympathetic toward the widow. There is another word for this woman, one I won’t use here, but one we frequently hear around my school. It is not complimentary. From the judge’s perspective, she never left the ‘poor’ man alone! She essentially stalked him until he gave her what she wanted. The reality of life is that she would have landed in jail because of her actions. The scripture doesn’t even say what her petitions were about, or whether or not they were ‘legitimate.’ And, who decides legitimacy? Isn’t that why there are appeals courts? One judge may decide one way, and another completely opposite. So what is it about this widow that gives her the right to keep pestering the judge? First, the very fact that she was a widow appearing before a judge gives her specific rights. Kenneth Bailey, in Through Peasant Eyes, points out: In traditional society in the Middle East women are generally powerless in our man’s world. But at the same time they are respected and honored. Men can be mistreated in public, but not women. Women can scream at a public figure and nothing will happen to them… men could not say the same things and stay alive. Ordinarily women in the Middle East do not go to court. The Middle East was and is a man’s world and women are not expected to participate with men in the pushing, shouting world [of Middle Eastern courts]… her presence [at the court means] that she is entirely alone with no men in an extended family to speak for her… It is her status as a widow with no husband or father, sons, brothers, uncles, to support her that gives this woman the right to appear before the judge. In the world of the Middle East, this woman was truly “the least of these.” And so it is, she goes, alone, before the judge and demands justice. The judge, according to Bailey, was not only corrupt, but also out of step with his own culture. The problem with this judge is not a failure to “respect” other people in the sense of respecting someone of learning or high position. Rather it is a case of his inability to sense the evil of his actions in the presence of one who should make him ashamed. In this case he is hurting a destitute widow. He should feel shame. But the whole world can cry “Shame!” and it will make no impression on him. He does not feel shame … Eventually, this representative of moral degradation decides to give the widow what she has been asking for. She has called him on the phone. She has been at his doorstep, sat in his court room daily. She has followed him to restaurants and to the grocery store. She has continually asked him for justice. Finally, he decides to grant her request — but not because it is the right thing to do. Rather, the judge gives the woman what she wants so she will stop pestering him.

Jesus uses this strange parable to teach his disciples that they should never stop praying, and that when they pray, they should never give up hope. Jesus says that, if this rotten, no-good, hairball excuse for a judge will give a poor, destitute widow justice — just to get her off his back — how much more will God, who loves us, and cares about us, grant us justice? Note that the scripture does not say that God will give us what we want. The scripture says God will grant us justice. There is a big difference. The biblical concept of justice is built on the conviction that God treats people fairly. God’s judgements about our life are never wrong. For now, it may be that the wicked — drug lords, con men, CEO’s of large software manufacturers — have all the advantages, while the poor suffer. In the end, this will not be the case, there will be justice.

I remind you that parents know their children are different. A harsh response to a stubborn child might be necessary while the same response to a sensitive child would be cruel and unjust. Or consider being given a speeding ticket when others pass by going just as fast. You would be right to cry, “Hey, it’s not FAIR!” But the cop would also be right to respond, “It may not be fair, but it is JUST!” (I might respond that ‘the fair comes around once a year for three days, and today ain’t one of them!’ or ‘Life is hard, get a helmet!’) If you break the law it is just to pay the penalty — even if others get off. It’s JUST, not fair.

It is justice, not our wants and our needs, not our list of “gimmees,” that Jesus is talking about in this parable. And, it is not individual justice, or individual prayer, about which Jesus is talking. This parable is a message to the future church about its life of prayer. It is not advice to individuals about spiritually keeping on keeping on. What would it mean for us to rediscover prayer as the Church’s expression of faith in the ultimate goodness of God, rather than a wish list for people who feel entitled to have their ‘needs’ met? Ultimately, how we pray, whether we pray, is a matter of faith. Very often, we pray in hope — hoping God will hear, hoping God will care, hoping God will answer our prayer the way we want God to answer.

Too often, we fail to pray in faith. Too often we fail to pray with our attention on God, not on ourselves and our wants or needs. Too often we go to God expecting God to be our heavenly errand boy, instead of seeking God’s will for creation. That is why Jesus told the disciples to “pray always,” for through prayer that focuses on God, and only through prayer that focuses on God, are we able to understand God’s will. I know the question in your mind is: “Uh, do you think I’m crazy? How on earth do you expect me to pray always? I have a job, a house, children, a spouse. There’s laundry to be done, the lawn to be mowed, homework to be done. There is no way I can pray while I’m doing all those things, especially if you want me to understand God’s will. It can’t be done.” Well, I’m here to tell you, it can be done. It’s a matter of priorities. It’s a matter of who and what you put first in your life. It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of being constantly, continually, consistently aware of God’s presence in your life. For when you are aware of God’s constant, continual, consistent presence in your life, you won’t be able to do anything other than pray.

Just think about it. We have a God who not only came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, but who is still present with us today in the person of the Holy Spirit. We have a God who not only loves us enough to listen to our prayers, but who cares enough to correct us when our prayers are inappropriate. Prayer is seeking to know God, and to know God’s will. Prayer is not about bringing God’s will in line with ours, it is about bringing our will in line with God’s. That is the whole premise behind the phrase in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Or as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “IF it be possible let this cup pass me by. But not MYwill, but THYwill be done.” We need to pray always, consistently, with discipline, to enable our will to be conformed to God’s. As people of God, we should constantly be aware of God’s presence in our lives. We should be in constant communication with the God of continuing creation. For it is only through prayer that we are able to understand God’s justice.

A friend shared this poem:

“If what you pray for is not right and you’re not right and the time is not right,

God answers your prayer by saying, NO.

If what you pray for is right and the time is right, but you’re not right,

God answers your prayer by saying GROW.

If what you pray for is right and you’re right, but the time is not right,

God answers your prayer by saying SLOW.

If what you pray for is right and the time is right and you’re right,

God answers your prayer by saying GO.”

Does God answer prayer? In God’s perfect timing, in God’s perfect way, and when God sees you are ready!” How do you pray to God, with a grateful heart, or with a greedy heart? Has it occurred to you lately to thank God for the sunrise? For paved roads, for the autumn leaves, for church pot lucks, for teenagers, for dirty diapers, for music? When do you talk with God? If you limit your conversations to bedtime prayers, then you are missing out on a whole wonderful world of sharing your life with God, of letting God come into your life, of having God fill your life. For, when you allow God into your life, when you put God first in your life, you will never, ever, be the same again.

Let us remind ourselves of why we pray and how we pray. It is imperative that we, a group based on prayers and prayer requests, do so in a correct manner – otherwise we need to ask ourselves, what GOOD are we doing?

Almighty God, giver of all things, with gladness we give thanks for all your goodness. We thank you for the blessings of love which has created and which sustains us from day to day. We praise you for the gift of your Son our Savior, through whom you have made known your will and grace. We thank you for the Holy Spirit, the comforter; for your holy Church; for the means of grace; for the lives of all faithful and good people; and for the hope of the life to come. Help us to treasure in our hearts all that our Lord has done for us, and enable us to show our thankfulness by lives that are wholly given to your service. In Jesus’ name and according to your will, we pray. Amen.


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American Pieta…

Fr Mychal Judge WTC

I have taken to my prayers this morning a meditation on what has become for me an icon of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. It has become known as The American Pieta.

It seems hard to believe that it was more than seven years ago that photographer Shannon Stapleton snapped one of the most famous images of the attack on the Twin Towers, of a police officer, two firefighters and an OEM responder carrying out their fallen spiritual leader, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.

It seems most appropriate, in these strange-salad-days of hope and anxiety, that we remember his prayer.

Lord, take me where You want me to go,
let me meet who You want me to meet,
tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of Your way

Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
Chaplain, NYFD
First official recorded victim 9/11 attack

I had also recently watched a documentary on Fr. Judge.  Fr. Judge was killed by falling debris on 9/11 while after administering Last Rights to a fallen fireman (Daniel Suhr) at “Ground Zero”. The documentary is entitled Saint of 9/11 – The True Story of Father Mychal Judge. (Corrections provided by first commenter: John M. Kelley)

The documentary essentially covered his whole life, but its main focus is the battle between his calling as a priest and the hidden darkness residing deep within his spirit – and most importantly, how he overcame that dark side to become a true messenger of Christ. Fr. Judge was a untiring herald of the neglected and forgotten. He donated a large part, if not all, of his income to the poor. Every year he would take money from his own pocket and purchase coats for the homeless people he encountered during his ministry. In contrast (and opposition) to the conservative core of the Church, Fr. Judge was a champion of those shunned by the Church.

In the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, most people, including doctors, nurses and clergymen shunned infected people. Fr. Judge did not. He comforted them, embraced them, and brought God into their lives before they died. This was the epitome of living out the verses:

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  ~ Matthew 25:35-40

What makes his story all the more fascinating is the human element that underlies it. Like all of us, Fr. Judge had his share of demons that were wrestling for control of his soul. Throughout his life, he struggled with his humanity and all the issues attendant to that state. But he did not let those demons interfere with his mission. Fr. Judge was sober for the last 23 years of his life, and he was celibate. The sexuality issue was the one thing in the documentary I found unsettling. It seemed that the producers were emphasizing that aspect as a means to tear down the image of a man doing his Christian duty without regard to his personal demons, or danger that he found himself in. That portion of the documentary was uncessessary and gratuitious to the hope and love that Fr. Judge provided by being a conduit for the Hope and Love that Jesus Christ provides all of mankind.

I was reminded of this man’s sacrifice on that infamous day because I read a passage in Joshua that instructed us to not be terrorized.

“Have I not commanded  you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terriffied; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you will go.” Joshua 1:9

Fr. Judge provided us with an example to follow – Do what is right in God’s eyes, do not be afraid, even to the point of death.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton

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I have recently read on Twitter, and heard on the radio of some people’s refusal to refer to President Obama as “President” and from hence forth they would refer to him as “Mister” – in a desire to protest the alleged issue of his possibly not being a “natural born citizen” of the United States, and thus Constitutionally ineligible to hold the office of the Presidency.

I do not know if the case itself has merit and this is not the topic of this particular post. However, I do have an issue with the denegrating of the Office of the President of the United States by those refusing to maintain respect for the man that does hold the office.

This controversy is not isolated to the United States, President Obama, or even the last 1000 years (yes, that’s right, this issue has been debated more than one thousand years ago) – In the book of Numbers we are told of a similar uprising against the appointed ruler of the nation of Israel.

16:1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:

16:2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:

16:3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

Moses was confronted with citizens that refused to respect his appointment, claiming that they were as good as him, and therefore just as entitled to hold the office of leadership. The problem is, that even back then, people assumed that God had no hand in selecting the leader of the nation. This is a grave error in judgement.

In the time of year when the calendar reminded us to celebrate Mother’s Day and to celebrate Father’s Day in a matter of weeks, millions of people take the time to honor Mom and Dad with greeting cards, a special dinner out and perhaps even a gift. A big hug and an “I love you, Mom (or Dad) later, and it is pretty much over.

Not bad gestures to the ones God used to bring us into the world. Of course, we already understand that honoring our parents should not be limited to “their” one day each year, but should be an ongoing activity. While we are honoring parents, have we thought about “honoring” people generally—not just parents?

Other societies have special words of honor reserved for the elderly. Even an older brother or sister is called by a special term of honor in some cultures. Some peoples have a tradition of bowing to others out of respect and deference, yet we seldom see the like in our “enlightened” countries.

We live in a culture and age of dishonor. This is a time when political cartoons and editorials routinely lampoon our leaders. Turn on the radio—or maybe we should not!—and we find the AM band awash with talk shows from all political stripes. Their theme seems to be discussing whose reputation they wish to destroy today. Their vitriol soon infects even your upbeat attitude. Yes, this is on BOTH sides of the political aisle, even conservative talk-show hosts are not God’s messengers, but reflect the thinking of a segment of this world.

So we try the TV. As we surf the channels, we cannot help catching television’s equivalent of the talk show—but this version comes with fights, flying chairs, accusations and bleeped-out epithets hurled by and at participants. The next channel calls itself “wrestling,” but it’s largely big-mouthed thugs dragging a potential opponent through a verbal cesspool. Soap operas fare no better. Even children’s cartoons often reflect Satan’s anger, his fighting, his insulting of any and all around.

If we are not careful, we can begin to think and talk the same dishonoring way. Nobody is safe from attack or being dishonored. Not the presidency, not members of congress, not school teachers or law enforcement officers. This is an irreverent and disrespectful age. It is time to see what God says about honoring others—something very different from what the world teaches us.

What Is Honor?

According to the thesaurus, honor has these synonyms: “esteem, respect, pay homage to, assigning value to.” The Greek word translated “honor” in our English Bibles, timao, means “to prize, i.e. fix a valuation upon; by implication, to revere” (Strong’s Concordance). Showing honor, then, means treating another respectfully because we value them highly.

So is honor due anyone? Should we put value on any man or woman, or should we honor God alone? What does the Bible say? A study with a concordance reveals just how much God has to say about honoring others. He does not limit it to honoring our parents.

Romans 13:7 tells us clearly honor is due certain ones: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” That begs the questions: To whom is honor due besides God? And how do we honor others?

The truth is that we will never sincerely respect, prize, value or honor anyone until and unless we start with an attitude of meekness. Honoring and respecting others will not happen when a superior or holier-than-thou attitude is present. Paul tells us to “esteem others better than” ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

When we truly repent of what we are, and how we regularly fall short of God’s holiness, we cannot remain in a pompous mood. Perhaps we can learn from some of those who have lived God’s way before us. John the Baptist says of himself: “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Paul considers himself “the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle” (I Corinthians 15:9). He also writes that he is “less than the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). History will conclude otherwise, but it opens a window into Paul’s thinking. When we dishonor others, it is a sure sign we are thinking of ourselves or others wrongly. We are to love others as ourselves, honoring them.

Honoring from a pure motive is possible only when we have a proper perspective of who God is, what we are, and who others are in relation to us and God. It begins with deep honor and respect for God—and thus for all He says. The first four commandments lay the foundation for doing this.

Honoring Parents—and Children

So what does God say about honoring others? What qualifiers does He give before honor is given?

The last six commandments deal with our relationships to other people. A society built on a solid family unit where Dad and Mom are honored, will be a society that will likely also obey the last five commandments. So honoring others comes easier when children are raised to honor their parents. Likewise, a society that honors its parents will conduct itself honorably.

The fifth commandment reads: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). God states no qualifier. He does not tell us to honor them only if they are honorable. Simply because they are our parents, we must treat them with respect. In the New Testament, Paul repeats the command, again without reservation, in Ephesians 6:2-3. Jesus makes it clear several times that He honors His Father (John 8:29, 49; 17:4).

Granted, honoring parents can be very difficult if Father is a drunk or Mother is a lying thief. Their actions may sometimes be dishonorable, but because they are Dad and Mom, they are to be respected. The commandment has no loopholes.

Thus, we need to take stock of ourselves on this point. Are we at odds with Dad? Are we angry with Mom for any of her actions? Is it time to lay that aside and listen to the fifth commandment? Is it time to heal, to restore and to honor? When was the last time we really honored our father and mother?

In turn, parents are not to provoke their children “but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Our heavenly Father sets the example by publicly honoring His Son more than once (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). Jesus preaches a heartwarming passage of the closeness He has with His Father (John 5:18-30) and the mutual respect and honor that is present in their relationship. Our heavenly Father honors His Son and expects us to honor Him also (John 5:23).

Those of us with children, especially, should take time to study this section carefully. Do we treat our children with dignity and respect due someone made in the image of God? How we treat our children can indicate how we might lead a city. Are we prepared to receive a city from God (Luke 19:15-24), or do we need to learn more about encouraging and even correcting in a way that maintains a person’s dignity, self-respect and honor?

Honoring Our Spouse

Those who are parents should understand how much easier it is to honor someone who lives an honorable life. It certainly is easier to honor a father who openly respects his wife. Dads set the example for the whole family by showing honor to the woman God gave him to be the mother of his children!

Peter admonishes, “Likewise you husbands, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (I Peter 3:7). A husband should give his wife the impression she is the finest in the land. The apostle links this with our salvation and relationship with God. It is that important!

Proverbs 31:29 illustrates how a husband praises his wonderful wife: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” Husbands need to ask themselves, “When was the last time I told my wife she’s the best?” If we desire an excellent wife, we must treat her as if she already is one. Then watch the miracle happen!

Men are often experts at finding fault, at discovering what was not done just right. We think we are helping our mate to be a better wife by constantly pointing out these things. Yet just the opposite happens! Instead, we must try to find ways to praise, honor, encourage, and promote growth and joy in the hearts of our wives. We need to pray for God to help us love our wives as Jesus loves the church, giving Himself for her, and presenting her to Himself as being without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:25-30). Are we without spot or wrinkle? The lesson here is obvious!

Wives are not off the hook either. The same Peter who tells husbands to honor their spouses also instructs wives to submit to and obey their husbands, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror” (I Peter 3:5-6). Paul reminds wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). How would we treat our husbands if he were Christ? That is the standard.

When children see Mom honoring Dad, and Dad praising and honoring Mom, they in turn find it so much easier to honor Father and Mother. Beyond that, this powerful example teaches them how they should conduct themselves when they eventually marry and have children.

Honor Others

Honor must not stop with the nuclear family. All older people should be honored as well. Leviticus 19:32 commands, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.” Again, God includes no reservations or qualifiers.

When was the last time we saw children and younger adults automatically stand when a senior citizen entered the room? God says this should happen. It still does in parts of the world, especially in Asia, but not so in our own country. Some people rise for women. Why do we not do this for the elderly?

Even more important than this honorific action is the attitude of respect for the older generation. Imagine what our society would be like if everyone followed this principle of honor! Our culture will be sorely tested in the next 30 years, when the numbers of gray-headed citizens will skyrocket. We already see the beginnings of the aging boom, as life expectancies climb and millions of Baby Boomers get older.

Whom else should we honor?

Widows should be honored. In I Timothy 5:3, Paul instructs, “Honor widows who are really widows.” Society so often abuses widows, who, because they are vulnerable and often alone, are often victims of scams. We need to note the widows amongst us and give them special respect and attention.

Our spiritual elders, ministers, are to be honored. Paul teaches in I Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Respect for the ministry has eroded over the last decade or so. Again, whether we think they have earned it or not, their position requires respect. Jesus teaches us the principle of respecting those who sit in Moses’ seat (Matthew 23:2-3), even hypocritical Pharisees! Certainly when we see ministers who are truly faithful and hardworking, who correctly teach God’s Word, we should honor them twice as much, as Paul suggests. Not all shepherds are the Ezekiel 34 kind!

Honor All

Is it beginning to become clear that honoring goes way beyond just respecting God and parents? God wants a world where respect and honor of others is the way of life of its citizens. Romans 12:10 says just that: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

We are to honor one another, but do we? Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to think of ways to show honor to someone—anyone—each day. When was the last time we actively and consciously honored someone? When did we last thank, write a letter of appreciation, or call someone to show respect? If we are not, maybe it is a sign that we think too highly of ourselves and not highly enough of others.

Honoring one another touches all of our relationships. As we saw earlier, we should honor our ministers. They in turn must treat older members as they would their own fathers or mothers, in other words, with honor. Ministers also have to treat younger men and women like valued brothers and sisters (I Timothy 5:1-2).

Bosses and employers are often the butt of ridicule, sarcasm, cartoons and jokes. Some may seem well deserved, but notice I Timothy 6:1: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.” Slavery is not prevalent today, but the principle is obvious: Respect the boss. Ephesians 6:5-8 says we should sincerely obey, respect and serve a boss as if he were Christ Himself. Nowhere does Paul say our boss must first act like Christ before being given that respect.

This is not the end of the matter. The Bible is just warming up on this subject!

The standard is the same for all of us. Honor God, honor family, honor Christ, honor one another. Jesus appears to us today through the members of His church (I Corinthians 12:12-27). He lives in us, so the way we interact with one another is the way we are interacting with Christ Himself. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (verse 27, NIV).

So who is left to honor? God wants us to learn to honor everyone. Imagine a world where everyone honors everyone else!

Here is the Bible’s simple statement: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (I Peter 2:17). Every time we speak or interact with someone, anyone, everyone, we should conduct ourselves with humble, meek respect.

Even the King?

Peter, in three words, teaches a very difficult concept. He commands us to “Honor the king.” The historical background of his words should give us a better perspective and teach us a powerful lesson.

Peter, having already written that we should honor all people, knew some brethren would resist honoring Nero, the heathen Roman emperor. Nero was a perverted madman, eventually hated by the Romans themselves. He had mercilessly tortured and killed hundreds of Christians in various cruel and demeaning ways. It is very difficult to expect Nero to be honored by someone whose mother had been crucified and used as a human candle for one of Nero’s garden parties!

The pattern that we have seen all along surfaces again here. Nero was king. A king is to be honored, for he represents the office given him by God (Romans 13:1). Whether the king is honorable or not, he is king, and God says we should honor him as such. If we are resisting the power they have, we are resisting God’s ordinance (verse 2). Paul even calls the civil authorities “ministers” or servants of God (verse 4).

In our time, we see a dishonored presidency. We do not need details, as we have heard them over and over. If Peter were writing today, he would say, “Honor the president.” As badly as America’s president has conducted his personal life, it still pales besides Nero’s life, many of whose actions are unprintable. Regardless, Christians are still to honor him.

That is a tough order! Many of the early Christians no doubt despised Nero’s reckless, godless behavior. Some had personal reasons to hate him. The commands from our King, however, remain the same: Forgive those who trespass against you (Matthew 6:14). “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Honor the king.

When we obey God’s command to honor all people, we are following our heavenly King and honoring Him. Then what happens? Jesus answers in John 12:26: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”

So first we humble ourselves, then give honor and respect even those who might appear to be unworthy of honor and respect. The result? God the Highest, the Supreme Being in the entire universe, will personally bestow honor and glory on those who have obeyed this and other commands. This is God’s way: The more we give, the more we receive. The more honor we give, the more honor we will also receive.

Tough as it may be, we should make it our aim to honor everyone—all the time.

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