Our Father . . .

A word of introduction: Earlier this year I challenged the congregation that I partner with in ministry, First Baptist – Columbus, IN – in a sermon on the Lord’s prayer to use this prayer as a guide in their own prayer practice from that day until Easter. I know some have taken my challenge as they have reported to me what their experience has been thus far. It is my intent to blog through this familiar prayer of Jesus during the Season of Lent, in hopes my reflections further encourage participation in the challenge. We will further engage as a congregation in the study of Jesus’ prayer through a post-Easter engagement with the book The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer by Alice Greene.
Now – on to this week’s blog . . . . .

They are among the first words spoken by a child – “da da”, “papa”. Easy perhaps in their short syllable and repetitive sound, but important for the intimacy and relationship they signal. When Jesus responded to his disciple’s request “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), this is the first word he gave them. In the common Aramaic language of his day it’s the word “Abba.” Most often it is translated “father” but to our ears this is perhaps a bit too formal. No, this is “da da” or “papa” God. It conveys an approach of complete trust and affection that we too soon grow distant from, embarrassed that others might think we’ve a childish faith or devotion.

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Loaves and Fishes Moments

If you have ever been responsible for a meal, and worried that you have enough food to meet the needs of your guests, you’ve found yourself in a “loaves and fishes” moment. This phrase is sometimes used when discussing how best to “stretch” resources, or accommodate the several guests who show up but failed to sign up!

It comes, of course, from Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000, a narrative found in Matthew 14:13-21. This will be our Scripture focus this coming Sunday at First Baptist – Columbus, as we continue our journey in Matthew.

So, what is the story about? Is it simply another “sign” of Jesus’ authority and divinity? Is is a story about compassion? About abundance in the face of scarcity? Is it a challenge Jesus presents his disciples (including us) to test their faith? Is it some of the above? All of the above?

How might the story anticipate the Last Supper? What are we to make of the 12 baskets that are left over? So many questions . . . . . so much to think about. You are invited to join me in preparation for our time with this text on Sunday as we consider what goes into a “loaves and fishes moment”.

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A Rule of Life

Several years back I participated in a continuing education effort that introduced me to the idea of a rule of life. I did some reading around the origin of rules among the Early Church Fathers. I also joined a clergy group in visiting a Benedictine monastery where we learned more, first hand, about the Rule of St. Benedict. As a dyed in the wool Protestant – Baptist at that – these were new discoveries for me. But I found I was drawn to learn more.

St. Augustine is reported to have been among the first to develop and write out his rule for those whom he mentored and guided in the faith. St. Benedict developed what has become the most known of the monastic order rules. My copy of The Rule of St. Benedict in English is 96 pages long. It covers such things as praying the hours, guidelines for brothers living in communal quarters, and very practical things such as “restraint of speech”, “humility” and “hospitality”.

The idea of following a rule of life, that is a prescribed routine or set of guidelines by which you live; while it sounds restrictive, may actually bring freedom to one’s faith experience. By definition a “rule” is simply a voluntary means be which we, under God, take responsibility for our (spiritual) lives. I put spiritual in parenthesis because I’m not sure we should delineate that part of our life from the rest. Bottom line, a rule can bring order to your life and help you stay centered in Christ. It’s very structure can free you from the chaos and wanderings of an undisciplined life.

After the visit to the monastery and some further reading, I set out to write my own daily rule. In it I prescribed for myself a daily routine of spiritual practice, work, exercise and play, as well as family time and reading. It was an interesting experiment that helped me think about how a focused approach to daily life could organize one’s faith development. I’m not sure how long I stuck with that rule, but it was for a season.

Today, my rule of life is much more free flowing, though some of those very practices mentioned above are still part of the flow. Having anchors or routines in your life that call you to prayer, remind you to read, or bring you into faith community is healthy and helpful.

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the rule of life that Jesus gives us Matthew 7:12:  In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. (NRSV) His rule is much easier to remember than the one I wrote, or the one the Benedictines live by. If only we all took it to heart, what a more organized, thoughtful and free world we would live in.

What is your rule of life?

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What do you treasure?

In Matthew 6:21 Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, what do you treasure? We all treasure something. Most of us more than just one thing. From the youngest to the oldest among us, our treasures are revealed in the spaces we occupy and the way we utilize our resources – that is, how we spend our time and money.

It’s been said that “life organizes itself around the heart”. This is to say we give priority in both our emotions and will (the heart was long believed to be the center of one’s will) to those things that concern our hearts. Treasure and heart often occupy the same real estate. So, I’ll ask again, “what do you treasure?”

This verse of scripture is part of a passage that contains Jesus’ teaching on prayer ( see Matthew 6:9-13). In my study of the text this week I’ve made a connection between Jesus’ statement on treasure and the prayer he taught his disciples. We might think of this prayer as a coaching guide toward learning to treasure the things of God’s kingdom. In other words, prayer in the example of this model prayer, will help us organize our hearts around the priorities of the kingdom of the heaven.

This will be part of what I hope we discover together this coming Sunday as we continue our journey in Matthew. This week’s gospel focus is Matthew 6:7-21. Join us!

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Kingdom Light

We’ve had a tradition in our home over the past several years when we pack up the Christmas decorations to leave a few twinkle lights up with the greenery on top of the cabinets in our kitchen. We leave them up through the month of January and this seems to help dispense some of the darkness of winter and brighten the mood.

This past December when I put up those lights I decided to upgrade to LED technology, believing these “light emitting diodes” would use less energy, thereby cost less to burn and last longer. However, when my wife came home from work and saw the upgrade she said she didn’t like the LED lights. They were “too bright” and not “warm” enough.

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