Friday, July 27, 2012

Listen to Your Children Praying

What should God’s children pray for? Obvious answer, anything and everything!
Recently at Girls Camp, I was sharing a room with my daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter.  I was tired and perhaps a little cranky, and I said to my granddaughter, “Will you pray for me to feel better?” She was quiet for a bit and then said, “Feel better yet?” I said, “Will you pray out loud for me to feel better?” She sighed, and wandered off into the coat closet.  When I followed her, she said, “Go away!”  So I left her alone and from a distance heard her voice saying something.  Then she yelled at me, “Do you feel better YET?” And I did feel better.  It was a great moment. 

There are at least two important prayers that we need to pray, even more important than the prayer to feel better.

We pray for God to forgive us.  We ask God, who has adopted us as children, for forgiveness when we miss the mark, when we stray, when we sin.  And when we do this, we accept God’s forgiveness and forgive ourselves.  No wallowing.

King David with the perfect heart

1 Kings 9:4  God says to Solomon, “if you will walk before me with integrity (perfection) of heart like your father David, and in uprightness do what I have commanded you, keeping my statutes and judgments,  I will establish your throne.” Several other times David is referred to as having a perfect or complete heart for God.  Yet he wasn’t a perfect person.  So how was someone who is undivided in loyalty to God respond when confronted with his sin?

2 Samuel 11 David commits adultery (and murder).  Nathan confronts him and calls him out; prophesies woes, including the death of the baby. David’s sin has terrible consequences.  However, his perfect heart shows in his instant contrition on being confronted, and his acceptance of the consequences of his sin when he sees they are inevitable.

David’s prayer for forgiveness:

Pity me, O Judge, in my loathsomeness
because of your steadfast love, goodness, kindness, faithfulness
According to your deeply felt compassion
destroy my rebellion
submerge me in water and stomp on me repeatedly to wash away my crime, my depravity
purify me from my uncleanness
I intimately understand and admit my rebellion
my sin is continuously present to me

I have lost myself, wandered from the way, missed the mark, offended against you, you alone
I have caused this hurt and misery right in front of you
You are just and right in how you speak to me, and you are pure in how you have evaluated me, how you have condemned my action and how you punish me

I have been twisted up, writhing in perversity from birth
It was a calamity that I was born

You delight in, you bend down towards faithfulness, firmness, under the surface, truth deep within
you cause my walled off places to know intimately what is wise, prudent, skillful

Purify me from uncleanness, and I will be clean, shined up
trample me under water to make me clean, and I shall be shinier, whiter, than snow

Cause me to pay attention to joy, to yield to gladness, that the bones, the self you have crushed and made contrite may dance with joy.

Put my sins out of your presence
Wipe out my crimes, destroy my depravity

Shape in me a pure mind, will, understanding, oh Judge.
Repair, make new a firm, stable mind and spirit in me.
Don’t throw me out of your presence, don’t send me away from your face.
Don’t snatch away the holy spirit you gave me.
Bring back, refresh, repair the joy of victory and deliverance.
Support and brace me with your generous, noble spirit.

I will train rebels to stay on your road
condemned ones will be brought back to you

Rescue me from having shed blood, snatch me out of my guilt for murder, my judge who delivers me, who saves me

I will shout loudly about your right acts, your justice

O Lord, loosen up my words and I will publish your glory, your fame

you take no pleasure in sacrifice, or I would make one
burnt offerings don’t please you

the sacrifices to the Judge are a crushed, shattered spirit, mind, disposition
a shattered and broken understanding, will, mind, inner self, O Judge, you will not consider vile, hold as contemptible, think worthless

make glad, make beautiful, do well by Zion, in your favor, goodwill
defend Jerusalem

Then you will be delighted with the sacrifices of justice, of right living, with all the other offerings
then they will offer praise to you

We learn several truths about repentance from this prayer: 

Tell God you are willing to accept the truth of God’s evaluation of your action
Allow your emotions to fully experience the shame and sorrow of having caused misery, of having done harm; admit that it was your fault; express this to God
Ask God to scrub you up inside, even though it is painful
Invite God into your hidden, secret walled-up places
Embrace joy and gladness and praise God for God’s justice and mercy

Note that David sees his sin as faithlessness to God first; he lost his true center, his real self.  Note also that he admits that he did serious harm to other people also.  Both of these are true pictures of sin.

Christians and Sin
The apostle John in his first letter says these things:  Those born of God do not sin.  But if we sin, Jesus prays for us to God the Father.  Let’s confess our sins, and God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  There is no point in denying our sin or covering it up. This just shows that Jesus doesn’t live in us.  Let’s walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light and IS the light, so that we can fellowship with one another. Let’s not just say we love others but show its truth by our actions.  This convinces even us that we are in the truth. Sometimes our hearts wrongly condemn us, so our loving actions can reassure us because God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything. And when our hearts are clear, we have boldness before God, and God gives whatever we ask because obey God, and that makes God happy.

Second, we ask God to forgive others through us.
Jesus emphasizes forgiving right from the start.  Matthew 6:12—“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (KJV). It’s one of the key ideas of the Good News that calls me to account all the time.

“Forgive” has in its Greek heart the idea of send it away, disregard it, give it up. “Debts” has in its Greek heart the idea of “should,” obligation, duty, including the duty of making amends for injury.

So a reasonable paraphrase might be “Set aside our ‘shoulds’ as we set aside ‘shoulds’ for other people.” Or “cancel out our unpaid obligations to You, God, as we cancel out others’ unpaid obligations to us.”  Or “let us off the hook as we let others off the hook.”  (See Strong’s Concordance.)

Then Jesus goes on to say, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

“Trespass” has in its Greek heart the idea of missing the mark, or, figuratively, lapsing from truth or uprightness, going astray. How astonishing that we are told without wiggle room that we are to forgive other human beings for not getting it right, and even for getting it wrong. Jesus doesn’t limit forgiveness to “if they are sorry.” 

I need help to do this.  It is so hard for me to forgive my betrayers and my enemies. I have experience with spending nearly a decade asking God for vindication and at the end having God ask me to forgive. The great opera singers Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle help us understand feeling betrayed in their rendition of “Scandalize My Name”:

Jesus understands what it means to be betrayed.  Once again, we remember that our high priest has been through our experience. Jesus is not surprised by betrayal.  He warned Peter that he would be a coward and deny knowing Jesus.  He warned Judas by referencing Psalm 41 when Judas was leaving their last meal together.  Jesus also knows that God will not let his enemies triumph over him and that he will be in God’s presence forever.

In Mark 11, Jesus says, right after one of the great prayer promises, “When you stand praying, let go, send away, give up whatever you are holding tightly against someone else.  Then your Father in heaven lets go, sends away, gives up holding against you your straying from the right way, your lapses from the truth.”

See also Luke 6:36-37: do not judge, do not condemn.  Instead, forgive, and give.

Psalm 41 moves from blessing those who care for the poor, to a prayer for God’s healing, to the statement that “My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish. And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad. All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.

“They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie. Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me. But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.  By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me. But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. “ (Psalm 41:5-12)

The word “repay” here almost everywhere means make things right so one can be at peace. 

This psalm shows us what many of the psalms do, that we can take our pain from being betrayed to God. We can pray for justice.  And then we need to leave it there. “Vengeance is mine,” says God, “I will repay.”

Forgive them for they know not what they do. This is what Jesus prayed for those who denied that he was God in the flesh.

Jesus makes a way back for betrayers and makes peace to his enemies. We know the story at the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him.  And we have this promise as well from the prophet Zechariah: “And I God will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that when they look on the one they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn…On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (Zech. 12:10, 13:1).

St Paul in Romans 12:17-21 gives us good advice with regard to those who have betrayed us or who we think have betrayed Jesus. 

Don’t repay anyone injury for injury. Take care to present to others what is useful, good, genuine, beautiful, honorable among all people. Be strong in yourself to make peace and live in peace with everyone. You are dearly loved.  Don’t insist on being vindicated, don’t punish others for how they’ve hurt you, but get out of God’s way and give God space to judge. For God says, Vindication, vengeance, punishment belong to me. I will take care of setting things right.

Therefore, if your opponents, the ones who do what you hate, the ones who hate you, are hungry, feed them. If they thirst, give them drink. For in so doing, you will call up in them the painful memory of how they have harmed you and give them motivation to repent. Don’t let meanness and wickedness win over you, but instead you win over them with goodness, honor, uprightness, and joy.

So how do children pray?  About everything and anything, of course. We ask our Father to forgive us for our missteps, our strayings, our errors, our harms to others, and we ask our Father to forgive others as well through us.

As we close, if you want God to forgive you for something or to help you forgive someone else, you are free to come down to the front to pray, or to pray where you are.  We’ll sing our thanksgiving for the great love Jesus shows us, and then you are free to go.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

What should leaders pray for?

 How should leaders pray when they look out their windows and all they see are enemies to take them down?

How should leaders pray when they know their people have missed the mark--have refused to follow where God is leading?

How should leaders pray when their people are exiled from their home in God; how should leaders pray who long for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth?

2 Chronicles 20
The descendants of Lot, the Moabites and Ammonites and a few other tribes banded together against the kingdom of Judah while Jehoshaphat was king. Jehoshaphat was a good king, but when he looked out the window and saw the hostile armies he became afraid.  And here’s how he becomes an example for leaders whose people are surrounded by enemies.

He set himself to seek the Lord; he proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah and gathered people together from all the towns into Jerusalem to pray and seek the Lord together. This is what he said to God:

O Lord, God of our ancestors. Are you not the supreme God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you.  Did you not give this land to us, the descendants of Abraham.  We have lived here and built you a sanctuary, and promised that when disaster, the sword, judgment, pestilence, famine come upon us, we will stand before your house and cry to you in our distress and you will hear and save.  See now, people you protected from us as we left Egypt, kinfolk from ancient days, they reward us by attacking us and driving us out of the land you yourself gave us.  O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

King Jehoshaphat took the lead and spoke to God on his people’s behalf.  He began by celebrating the grandness of God, by reminding himself and his people of God’s omnipotence.  Then he rehearsed their history, which included the promise of the land to Abraham but also all kinds of hardships, some of them judgment for sin, and reminded all of them of the shared commitment to stand together before God, cry to God together, and invite God to hear and save them.  Then they asked God to intervene with justice between them and their enemies, ancient relatives, really, to set things straight.  They admitted their own powerlessness against the enormous threat, their ignorance of what to do next.  They affirmed at the end their faith that God would act.

If you know this story, you know that God responded through a prophet: “Do not be afraid or dismayed before this great threat. The battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow, go down to meet them, take your position, and stand still.  You will see that God wins this battle on your behalf.  Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow stand still before them and the Lord will be with you.”

And then Jehoshaphat led the people in a hymn of praise.  The next day, they did what God said, encouraged by Jehoshaphat, who said, “Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established. Believe the word of God through the prophet. “ They marched toward their enemies singing a song, and when they arrived, they found their enemies had destroyed each other. 

Leaders—and Quaker churches are full of leaders—when things arise that alarm your people and cause them to fear, remember Jehoshaphat.  

Gather together, rehearse the Lord’s faithfulness, make your request and listen to what God tells you. Then sing praise and do what you are told.

But what about when the threat is not external but internal? The people God has called you to lead will not go where God says to go. 

Numbers 14
When the Israelites had journeyed across the wilderness to the promised land, they sent in spies to see what they were up against.  The spies brought back word that the land was lovely and productive, but the inhabitants were giants.  Ten of twelve said there was no hope, and only two counseled going on into the land.  The congregation howled and wept and complained against Moses and Aaron.  “We wish we had died in the wilderness? Why has God brought us here to die by the sword, leaving behind our wives and children?  Let us go back to Egypt.  Better to be a live dog than a dead lion.” The few who wanted to follow God into the promised land were horrified and dismayed.  They pled with the congregation, “Do not rebel against the Lord; do not fear the people of the land. The Lord is with us, do not fear them.” But the congregation threatened to stone Moses and the few with him.

Then the Lord showed up in front of all Israel and said to Moses, “I have had it with this people.  They despise me, they refuse to believe in me, despite all the signs I have done to preserve them.  I will strike them with pestilence and start over with you. You will father a great nation.”

Interesting spot for Moses.  What would you do?  As a leader, what would you do if your followers all wanted to stone you and God said, “I’ll level them and make a fresh start with you.”

Well, here’s what Moses did.  He prayed: Oh Lord, if you destroy this people, the Egyptians will hear of it, and the Canaanites will hear of it.  You have been in the midst of this people, and the surrounding nations know this.  This people has seen you in person, and you led them by day and by night with a miraculous pillar of cloud or fire.  Now if you kill them all, the nations will say it is a failure for you, that you were unable to bring them into the land you promised them.  You will look bad.  So show your power instead by being slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression even though the sin of these people will have effects upon their children for generations. Forgive this people for their faithlessness according to your faithful love, just as you have done all along, from Egypt until now.”

And the Lord replied to Moses, “I do forgive, just as you have asked, but their faithlessness has this consequence.  They themselves will in fact die in the wilderness as they preferred.  They have tested me again and again, they have disobeyed me repeatedly, and they will not enter this land.  Only the few faithful will endure and enter the land I promised these people.

So leaders, when your people cannot believe in God’s ability to bring them through difficulty into the promised rest, what should you do?  Even when you know that God’s will is to move one direction and the people want to go another direction?  Even when they are prepared to get rid of you so that you won’t make them do what they fear to do?

Pray for them.  Intercede with God for them.  Remind God that whether or not people are faithful, God is faithful.  Remind God that underachievers are still his people, that if God abandons them, it will hurt God’s reputation with the onlookers.  Even though you know that their sin may cripple their children for several generations, pray for God to have mercy on them.  

Hard words, aren’t they.  Counter-intuitive.  As Jesus said, Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, How often I have longed to gather you under my wings, but you would not.  And now, you will die in the ruts you preferred to me.

Finally, what if there is not so much a threat, as a sense of being trapped in an alien culture, a sense of exile and homelessness?

Daniel 9
The royal prince, Daniel, was taken into captivity in Babylon.  As was the custom with captured royalty, it is likely he was made a eunuch with no hope for children, and certainly we have no record of him having any family.  Daniel served the Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and then the Persian king Darius as advisor and seer.  He was a loyal and faithful minister who rose to the top in both Nebuchadnezzar’s and Darius’s administrations, despite the attempts of others to trap him because of his faithfulness to God. 

The Jews were taken into captivity, and Jeremiah wrote them there and told them to pray for the welfare of Babylon because they would be there 70 years, long enough to have children and grandchildren.  As Daniel got closer to 90 years old, he recognized that the 70 years was winding to an end, and he began to pray and ask God for an answer.  He fasted and wore burlap, and he began his prayer like this.

Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you keep your covenant and love steadfastly those who love you and keep your commandments.  But we have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your prophets to our ancestors, our princes, our kings, and all our people.

The most interesting thing about this, besides the comprehensive list of synonyms for sin, is the use of “we”—we have done this.  Daniel has, in fact, led a faithful and authentic life of dedication to God.  Yet, as a leader, he includes himself in the list of those who have done wrong. 

Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame falls on us, the people of Judah, Jerusalem, Israel, near and far away, dispersed to all the lands where you have driven us because of our treachery against you.  Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you.  We have rebelled against you, we have not obeyed your voice by following the laws you sent us through your prophets.  To you, to the Lord God belong mercy and forgiveness.

All of us have refused to obey you, and the consequences spelled out in the law of Moses, God’s servant, have fallen on us because of our sin against you.  The calamity of removal from our homeland, the city of Jerusalem has come upon us.  The Lord God is right in all he has done, for we disobeyed his voice.  We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity.

And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and great fame even to this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly.  O Lord, remember your righteous acts and let your anger and wrath, we pray turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain.  Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have disgraced us and our city Jerusalem among all our neighbors.

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleading and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary.  Incline your year, O my God, and hear.  Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. 

We do not plead before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name. 

And God answered Daniel and sent Gabriel to explain things to him.  And later, under King Cyrus, another messenger came from God.  Do not fear, Daniel greatly beloved.  For from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 

The message they brought Daniel said that God has a plan in history, that God is sovereign, and that Daniel himself will rise for his reward at the end of the days. 

The lesson for leaders is this:
Do we see that our people have been taken captive by a culture that is hostile to the Kingdom of God?  Do we hope for a return to our spiritual homeland?  For Quakers, has our American middle-class culture captured us and taken us into captivity?  Have we moved from praying for the welfare of our nation to participating in its sins and the structures of evil?  Quakers were called Friends because they obeyed Jesus, who said “You are my Friends if you do whatever I tell you to do.” Jesus gave us a unique vision of Christianity that reaches Seekers otherwise unreached.  How have we systematically ignored or violated what Jesus taught and is teaching us?

Let the leaders of the Quakers pray with Daniel.  O, our God, we have missed the mark and strayed from Truth.  We have turned our back on what it means to be Friends of Jesus while we have kept the title.  We have not lived up to the light that is in us.  We have put limits on the Spirit of God. We have become prosperous at the expense of the good news that Christ is present among us.

We share the prejudices of our nation and we let politics divide us and distract us from what is true and right, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save the world, that the will of God is that none should perish but that all should live eternally, that we are to share this good news with our neighbors and introduce them to the Son of God who can explain everything to them. 

We do not plead before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your people bear your name. 

Please pray for how NWYM Quakers and Quakers as a movement have missed the mark.

There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

Human souls! why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep? Foolish hearts! why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?
It is God: His love looks mighty, but is mightier than it seems;
'Tis our Father: and His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word;
And our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We're Marching to Zion

Preached at Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends 
July 23, 2012

After the assassination of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers in 1963 , Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” In that song, Dylan admits that a single white man pulled the trigger that killed Medgar Evers, but he blames the action on power structures of the time—education, law, politics—that exploited the poor white man’s need to be better than someone.  Racism was taught and used to support and advance the powers and principalities.  My anxiety about American Christians is that we may be pawns in someone else’s wicked game.

What I want to talk about is the Biblical teaching that at a deep level Christians don’t actually fit in, not in America, not in any system, because we belong to a different city, a different kingdom or nation, and our first loyalty is to the leader there—our Lord Jesus Christ.  This theme of faithful homelessness runs through the whole Bible and through our best moments as Quakers, and as we take a look at it, we can see how we are to pray for the nations of our world, and particularly our own nation, for the cities and states we live in, and for our government and how we are to live peacefully with our neighbors.

First, we pray for God’s mercy on those eligible for judgment.

Our first faithful exile is Abraham, who left his home city to follow God’s leading into a land God promised to his children.  Abraham never owned any of this land except for the tomb in which he buried his wife Sarah.  Instead, he was a nomad on it, and his sojourn there is a visual parable for our existence in this world that groans for the unveiling of the children of God, for redemption.  We also are nomads.

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents…

For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

So, like Abraham, we are in two realities at the same time:  this world and the Kingdom of God. We are nomads in this world because we are looking for the City of God, because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We are in this world, but it doesn’t own us.  How do we then relate to this world?

Genesis 18 tells us one of the ways Abraham related to his world.  God shared with Abraham that judgment was going to fall on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham was struck with grief.  He had gone to war on behalf of the king of Sodom, and they had a sort of mutual respect.  Abraham’s nephew Lot had moved into Sodom and done well there. 

So Abraham talked with God.  He interceded for Sodom.  What if there are 50 righteous people there, will you still destroy it?  What if there are 45, 40, 30, 20?  What if there are 10?  Each time, God relented, agreeing with Abraham that if there were finally only 10 righteous persons in Sodom, he would spare the city.  You know the story, and how there were not even 10 righteous persons there.  But what I want to point to is how Abraham grieved over the world of which he was not even a citizen, how he prayed for mercy for it. The fact that judgment fell on Sodom asks us to believe that an omniscient God knows better than we how to judge and when to judge. What we learn, however, is Abraham prayed for his world, and we ought also to pray for ours. 

Pray for the nation’s well-being, even if they worship idols.

In the history of Israel, after they became the owners of the land promised to Abraham, they were faithless and worshiped things other than God.  God’s way of getting their attention was to uproot them from home and send them as captives into Babylon. They could live with their families in homes there, but they were not free to leave.  They deeply missed their homeland, and some who claimed to speak for God promised them that their captivity would be short.  But the prophet Jeremiah called those prophets liars and said to the Jews living in Babylon:

Jeremiah 29: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel to all the exiles I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens, eat the produce. Marry and have children; let those children marry and bear children. Multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.

Interesting, isn’t it?  Here they are under house arrest, so to speak, with freedom to go to the marketplace but not freedom to go home to Israel.  They are surrounded by idol-worshipers, and they cannot carry out their temple worship.  Yet Jeremiah counsels them to settle down, have families, and pray for the welfare of Babylon. 

Because we can vote, we feel we have some control over the direction of the nation, and half of us are angry every election to see that God lost again. Many American Christians feel like this country has become a place where we are exiles. We mourn that our nation has no moral center and is worshiping idols.  What should we do as exiles in our own country?

 We should pray for things to go well.  Pray for peace, pray for prosperity, no matter who is the president or on the Supreme Court or the governor of our state or the mayor of our town.  In its prosperity and peace is our own, says Jeremiah. And during a peaceful exile, we can raise families who obey the true God and are faithful to him. 

This advice to the Jews in Babylon runs counter to our culture wars.  Instead of badmouthing Democrats or Republicans, American Christians can and ought to band together to pray for the well-being of this nation and the nations where other Christians live, in fact for the whole global village.

Like Sodom, Babylon was judged by God, who is, after all, omniscient about the timing of judgment. This is another lesson we can take away.

Obey the laws and pay your taxes; give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.

Those Christians who lived in Rome, right under the Emperor’s nose, could be hauled into court and required to swear an oath of loyalty that included a statement that the Emperor was divine.  Into this context, St. Paul wrote the following:

Romans 13: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

This reminds me of Quaker history.  During the English Civil War, Quakers were always in trouble. Even though they lived in a Christian nation, they confronted the principality within political power every time they refused to take the loyalty oath to whoever was in power that day, whether to Oliver Cromwell or to King Charles II.  As a people of prayer, Quakers felt compelled to act on the words of Jesus to “swear not at all.”  But, like Paul invoking his Roman citizenship, Fox and Margaret Fell and others visited Cromwell and later the King to plead for justice, for the magistrate’s sword to fall on evil doers, not on peaceful people who belonged to the kingdom of God and did no harm to their neighbors. 

St Paul goes on to write about our posture toward those who share our space on this earth:

Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments about adultery, murder, theft, coveting and any other commandment are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.  Let us live honorably as in the day, laying aside the works of darkness, wearing the armor of light. Let us not live in reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy. Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ and don’t try to gratify every desire.

The Palestine Jesus came to was not independent, but was a territory in the Roman Empire.  Significantly, the Roman armies as they occupied all these territories also put an end to local conflicts and wars, so that there was order where before there was danger and chaos.  And yet some among the occupied peoples would cheerfully have traded the Pax Romana for the right to be their own nation with their own government.  In the midst of the chosen people in their promised homeland, Jesus responded to Pilate’s question “Are you the king of the Jews?” with this: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”(John 18:33-38)

Jesus is the king and Jesus is the truth: John 14:6 I am he in whom the truth is summed up and impersonated. And the judgment is that Jesus came into the world to light it up and people preferred the darkness to the light because he exposed their evil. May we take the opportunity of meeting Jesus to move closer to the light rather than running from it.

We don’t declare war on other people, whether the war is cultural or physical.  Just as the kingdom of God is invisible but real within and among us, so also are the enemies of our souls.  And the battlefield is prayer.

Put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the wiles of the Devil, for we struggle not against flesh and blood enemies but against the rulers (arche, as in archetypes), the authorities (the judges), the cosmic rulers of darkness (blindness, ignorance of spiritual truths) in our time, the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places…stand therefore, having protected your guts with the belt of truth and your heart with the breastplate of righteousness (integrity in thought, word, deed), wearing whatever readies you to proclaim the gospel of peace (harmony and tranquility between people and between people and God), holding the shield of faith and wearing the helmet of salvation, armed with the sword of the Spirit, speaking the word of God.  Then pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and pleading.  Stay alert and always persevere in pleading for all the saints.

Beloved, let us love each other, for love comes from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God; those who do not love, do not know God for God IS love. 1 John 4:7, 8.

Our city is not an earthly city, not an earthly kingdom or nation. The foundation, the blueprints and buildings all come from God who is truth; God sent Jesus who is the Truth,; Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who will guide us into all truth.  And the truth sets us free to live as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Like Abraham, we are called by God to live by faith, waiting for the City of God to be given to us, the new Jerusalem that John saw descending from heaven. In that city, all tears are wiped away, there is healing for all nations, and we share in the wedding supper of the Lamb of God.  Is it here yet?  Here and there we catch gleams of it, and we cannot get enough.  This is the city where God is the light, where Jesus is the King, and where the drama of salvation has its fulfillment.

Jesus said that we act out of our hearts, our imaginations.  George Fox talked about Sodom as a parable for the wicked imagination that dwells within each of us. We know our own need for mercy. What if we pray for mercy for our neighbors when their behaviors scandalize or repel us?  Like us, they may also have a part of their hearts hungering for God.  We can pray for the same mercy for them as we hope for ourselves.  

Our prayers for the world we live in, to which we don’t belong, are for the well-being of those who do belong to it.  We recognize that God has set up governments to keep peace, to limit wrongdoing, and God expects us to be good citizens, paying our taxes, paying fees, respecting and honoring the authorities.  Yet because Jesus is our King and we belong in and to his kingdom, we are not pawns in their game.  We are to owe others only love.  Love fulfills the law.  When we live according to love, we discipline the desires of our bodies and the lusts of our imaginations.  

We fight the evil around us through prayer, as Ephesians teaches us.  We wear the protection provided by God’s grace. When we speak or act the prophetic word of God, we carry into the enemy territory the good news of peace and harmony between humans and between humans and God.

Come ye that love the Lord and let your joys be known
Join in a song with sweet accord, (2X)
And thus surround the throne (2X)

We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion,
We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God,
But children of the heavenly King (2X)
May speak their joys abroad,(2X)

Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground (2X)
To fairer worlds on high (2X)

Monday, July 23, 2012

King Jesus Prays for Us

Preached at Northwest Yearly Meeting (annual conference of NW Evangelical Quakers)
July 22, 2012
John 17

During this whole Yearly Meeting, we want to let Jesus speak to us.  And one of the ways we will invite Jesus to speak is to overhear and let into our hearts what Jesus prayed in the Gospel of John.  Jesus prayed for each and all of us, and this is the same prayer Jesus is praying for us right now.  As Hebrews 4:12-16 says:

The word of God—and this is the same “word” applied to Jesus in John 1 and the word spoken on God’s behalf by the prophets and apostles—lays our hearts bare, sorts out our motivations and history, and judges our intentions and thoughts.  We are naked before God, stripped completely bare.

This is so important.  How many times do we think we have hidden something from God?  How often do we act out of thoughts and intentions we don’t even understand.  But Jesus sorts them out and introduces them to us.

So, because the person who makes atonement for us is Jesus, God’s son, who sympathizes with our human weaknesses, who has in every respect been tempted or tested as we are yet who has made no mistakes, hurt no one, but instead has hit the mark, stayed in God’s will, let’s hold fast to what we have embraced as truth. Let us therefore come near the throne of grace confidently, boldly, openly, frankly, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

I remember the first time I read Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found his brand of humor very entertaining and loved his imagination that turned things inside out.  Maybe some of you have read this, also. When I was thinking about what to say about prayer, for some reason Hitchhiker’s Guide came to mind.  Do any of you remember what the Guide has inscribed on its cover?  DON’T PANIC in large friendly letters. 

That’s a part of what Jesus came to tell us and said indirectly to his disciples in his prayer for them recorded in John 17.

Here’s what Jesus prayed for us:

Father, it’s time.  Let’s celebrate each other—you lift me up and I will lift you up.  You have given me the authority to do as I please with all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given to me.  And this is what eternal life is:  to be intimate with you, the only true God and with me, Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I lifted you up and celebrated you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. So now, Father, lift me up in your own presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed.

I have made your essential self visible to those whom you gave me from this world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept watch on and held onto your word. Now they are intimately aware that everything you have given me is from you; for the spoken words you gave to me I have given to them and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you. They have believed that you sent me.

I am asking on their behalf—not for the whole world, but for those you have given me because they are yours.  Everyone who is mine is yours, and everyone who is yours is mine.  I have been lifted up, celebrated, glorified in them.  And now I am no longer physically present in this world because I am coming to you, but they are still here.  Holy Father, protect them in your essential self, in your character, in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one—not divided by dissension but united in will and spirit.

While I was on earth physically, I guarded them and kept them from getting lost, except for Judas.  I am coming to you now, and I am asking you while I am here so that they may be filled up with my gladness and joy. I have given them your word. Make them clean and pure through the accurate understanding of you and themselves.  Your word provides both.  For their sakes, I also make myself clean and pure, so that they may also be clean and pure in truth.

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. The world has detested them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  The world doesn’t own us and is not our home.  I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but I do ask you to protect them from evil and the evil one. 

I ask not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory you have given me, the way you have lifted me up and celebrated me, I have given to them, so that we can all be one.  I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these know you have sent me.  I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

We read in the other gospels of his later prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, how he groaned and sweated drops of blood, how he asked for the cup to pass from him but submitted to the will of his Father.  That picture helps us understand that Jesus too loved life, loved this good earth, and was not eager to die. 

This picture is calmer and looks past death.  Notice how often he speaks as if he has already been through the resurrection.  “Now I am no longer physically present” and “while I was on earth physically.” I think this gives us a good picture of the eternal prayer of Jesus for us that he is praying right now.

The preoccupations in this prayer affected the apostle John in everything he remembered and wrote.  It burned into his heart and inhabits the gospel and the letters that he wrote.  It affected the vision he had of Jesus in the Revelation as well.

Let’s consider some of the things we learn about Jesus from his prayer.  First, he prayed with the understanding that God had given him authority, had made him king, and this authority is over all entities.

“You have given me the authority to do as I please with all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given to me.”

One of the Messianic Psalms—pointing to the coming and work of Jesus—is Psalm 2.  This Psalm talks of the nations conspiring to rebel against God and the one God has sent, and God’s response is this:

“On Zion, my sacred hill,” God says, “I have installed my king.”
“I will announce,” says the King, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours. You will shatter their power.’”  (Psalm 2:6-8)

Another vision of the Messiah came to Daniel in his captivity in Babylon.  Daniel 7 describes the political powers of Daniel’s world in their rapacity, violence, tyranny and arrogance.  Then Daniel saw God, the Ancient of Days, sovereignly defeating these powers. 

And then Daniel saw this:
During this vision in the night, I saw one like a son of man. He was approaching me, surrounded by clouds, and he went to the Ancient One and was presented to him. He was given authority, honor, and royal power, so that the people of all nations, races, and languages would serve him. His authority would last forever and his kingdom would never end. (Daniel 7:13-14)

This central statement of the authority Jesus has over nations is echoed in John’s revelation also:  There were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:11-16)

And Paul concurs:
For in Christ deity fills up a body, and you have been filled up in him and with him, who is the head of every leader/ruler and authority. … God made you alive together with Jesus when he forgave us all our sins, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. Jesus set this aside, nailing it to the cross. Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities and boldly exposed them, triumphing over them.  (Col. 2:9, 13-15)

Jesus prays from the position of authority that God has given him, that he held from before the foundation of the world.  We can be strengthened by our association with this King on the white horse. In fact, the word Comforter means in its roots to strengthen greatly.  Jesus doesn’t come to make us feel satisfied with or well adjusted to imprisonment or exile, but to help us to stand up and be strong and free.  He makes us partners in his authority, a fact witnessed to in numerous passages of the Bible.  That’s a part of this prayer.

In addition to the God-given authority and strength of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus also is the truth we need. Jesus shows us God.

“I have made your essential self visible to those whom you gave me from this world.”

Psalm 22 is another Messianic psalm. It is best known for the first verse, which Jesus said from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This sense of abandonment helps us believe that we have a high priest who has tasted all the same emotions we have—one of which is that great desperation that we have been abandoned by God.  Yet that is only one part of the psalm, and Jesus knew the whole psalm.  Jesus in this prayer reminds us of a different part of the psalm.

I will tell of Your name to my kindred; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you children of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of God. For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not look away from me, but heard me when I cried. (Psalm 22:22-24)

Jesus came to tell us the truth, to be the truth about God.  In John 11:41-42, we read another of his prayers:

“Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then he called Lazarus from the tomb, just as he continues to call all of us from death into life.  Which is what God is like.

The Revelation to John has this picture of Jesus in it:
I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.

Compare this to Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days:

An Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool, his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence.

See how much Jesus resembles God?  The portraits share so much, assuring us that Jesus accurately and fully represents the character and purposes of God—he makes known to us God’s name.

“I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but I do ask you to protect them from evil and the evil one.”

 Jesus protected his disciples, losing only one, despite the fact that all ran away, and one denied him outright.  He is praying right now for God to protect us from evil and the Evil One while we are in this world—this system of politics and pride and domination that infects us at times. Keep us, Lord, from participating in evil.

Psalm 23:  the Lord is our shepherd—his authority and his support make us strong through the valley of death; we will fear no evil.

Jesus is not surprised by betrayal.  He warned Peter that he would be a coward and deny knowing Jesus.  He warned Judas by referencing this scripture when Judas was leaving their last meal together.  Jesus also knows that God will not let his enemies triumph over him and that he will be in God’s presence forever.

The betrayals made a big impression on John, who writes in 1 John 2:22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?”  This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” And later in 1 John 4:2-5: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.  And this is the spirit of antichrist, which is already in the world.  Little children, You are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

1 John 5:5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This helps us see that what Jesus taught John is the basis for the unity of believers.  1 John 1:1-5: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed and we have seen it and testified to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This Jesus we can know for ourselves and in ourselves.

Jesus prayed: For the words you gave to me I have given to them and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you. They have believed that you sent me…. I ask not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus prays for us to be united with him and the Father, thus united together.  Our unity comes from our shared love for Jesus and our confidence in Jesus as the only begotten son of God, the personification of grace and truth. Jesus is the judge of all.  Jesus is the Word of God.  Jesus is the love of God: God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

So we have overheard what Jesus prayed for his disciples right before the worst hours of their lives and what Jesus is praying for us right now:

Jesus has all authority and power.  Jesus is King over nations, governments, cultures. Jesus is the Truth we need, the Word of God, the Love we need. Jesus shows us the character of God. Jesus protects us from evil and from the evil one.  God’s will and what Jesus prays for are identical: that we will be one in our confidence that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world, and that like Jesus, we live every day in intimacy with God, doing his daily will.

DON’T PANIC, in large friendly letters.  Jesus is praying for you, for me, for us together right now. 

If any of you want to pray down here in the front for Jesus’s prayer to be answered in your life to a greater extent, there is time and space to do so.  We will close the service with the great opera singer Jessye Norman singing Ride On, King Jesus.  Feel free to leave at the end.

Ride on, King Jesus
No man can a-hinder me
Ride on, King Jesus, ride on
No man, can a-hinder me
Ride on, King Jesus
No man can a-hinder me
Ride on, King Jesus, ride on
No man, can a-hinder me
For He is King of kings
He is Lord of lords
Jesus Christ, the first and last
No man works like Him
For He is King of kings
He is Lord of lords
Jesus Christ, the first and last
No man works like Him
King Jesus rides on a milky-white horse
No man works like Him
The river of Jordan He did cross
No man works like Him
For He is King of kings
He is Lord and lords
Jesus Christ, the first and last, oh
King Jesus rides in the middle of the air, oh
He calls His saints from everywhere, oh
Ride on, King Jesus
No man can a-hinder me
Ride on, King Jesus, ride on
No man, can a-hinder me
He is the King
He is the Lord, oh yes
He is the King
He is the Lord, oh
Jesus Christ, the first and last
No man works like Him
Ride on, ride on, ride on, ride on Jesus

Monday, July 9, 2012

How Prison Simplifies Things: Philippians 1:19-26

In 1965, Bob Dylan wrote these lyrics:  “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose; you’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.  How does it feel, how does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”  Today we will see that Christians need to embrace the truth that following Jesus is living like a rolling stone, but instead of anxiety, sorrow, and lostness, it means a personal daily dynamic relationship with Almighty God, the Father of Jesus and our Father as well. We know what God is like because we saw his Son Jesus live as a human being in that exact kind of relationship with his Father—Whoever has seen me has seen the Father, Jesus said—and we are holy homes for the Spirit Jesus sends us to strengthen us and lead us into all truth.

Paul has been thanking God for the Philippians and praying for them with joy.

They have shared in the gospel, the good news, with him
He has confidence in Jesus who began a good work among them and will continue it to completion
He knows they hold him in their hearts
They share in God’s grace with him
He longs for them with the compassion of Christ Jesus

He prays for their love to overflow with knowledge and insight into what is best
He prays that they will be pure and blameless in the day when they meet Christ face to face
He prays they will produce the harvest of righteousness, right living, that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God

You all know I am imprisoned, he says, and this has helped spread the gospel because everyone knows I am imprisoned for Christ.  And because of this, most of the other Christians have been made confident in the Lord and dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.  Some are trying to outdo each other and me, proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, intending to increase my suffering in prison; but others are acting out of good will, proclaiming Christ out of love for my sake since I can’t do it.  What does it matter whether their motivation is false or true? Christ is proclaimed in every way and I rejoice.

Presently he is in prison—Paul had been in prison on his first visit to Philippi, an earthquake set them free, and the jailer converted with his family,

This is such a great picture of the freeing force of the Gospel; literally, it is an earthquake and a jail, but symbolically, it is Paul’s and Silas’s obedience to God and rejoicing in hard circumstances broke open the whole system of spiritual imprisonment. This experience explains Paul’s confidence about being in prison now—that it will work to spread the Gospel, just as it did before when he was in Philippi.

Presently he sees that some preach the gospel from bad motives—on his first visit Paul cast a spirit out of girl who kept shouting the truth about Paul and Silas. “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She followed them, shouting, for many days.  Paul got annoyed, and he ordered her spirit of divination out of her in the name of Jesus Christ.  This got him imprisoned.

But now, he cannot stop those preaching the gospel out of competitive motives, trying to take Paul’s place or make him feel worse in his prison.  And he rejoices that they are preaching the gospel.  Even if the messenger is messed up, the message is still true.

All these are in-references that the Philippian church would get.  After Paul reminds them of being in prison back when he first visited, he points out he is in a literal prison in Rome guarded by centurions; and he says he is in a figurative prison, guarded by two desires:  the desire to be with Jesus and the desire to be with the Philippians. We would term this “being in a bind”—impossible to choose between the options. 

And now for the passage for today: Philippians 1:19-26

And I will continue to rejoice because I know that because you are praying (petitionary prayer, an expression of personal need) and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is supplying me, this imprisonment will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and anticipate that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be shown to be great now as always in my physical body, whether by my life or my death. Truly therefore to me, living is Christ and dying is gain, advantage. Living in this body means work with results, and I do not know which I prefer.  I am a prisoner of these two desires: I want to be unloosed and be with Christ, because that is more useful for me, but I am torn because I know that my staying alive is necessary for you.  Since I am convinced you need me, I know I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in your fidelity and conviction, so that I may share abundantly in your glorying in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Being in prison has simplified Paul’s world down to essentials.  Life, Death, and the Gospel.

I want us to focus on boldness as an answer to the Philippians’ prayers for Paul:  I eagerly expect and anticipate that I will not be put to shame or dishonored in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my physical body whether by my life or my death. Truly therefore to me, living is Christ and dying is gain, advantage.

Boldness means:
freedom to speak unreservedly,
openly, frankly
without rhetorical flourishes, plainly.
Boldness means:
free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, assurance.
Paul’s boldness derives from his cheerful conviction that he has nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose can seem pretty low down and desperate, but for Paul, it is really that every outcome is good for someone.  It’s a recognition that he actually cannot lose, regardless of how things turn out.

Christians need to recognize two truths. First, the Kingdom of God comes first in priority.  Second, when that is true, there is no way to lose.

Here’s what Jesus said about putting the Kingdom first:

Count the cost, don’t bite off more than you can chew; if you can’t put God first, don’t bother; Seek first the kingdom of God.  In Romans 14: 17, Paul says that the kingdom of God is righteousness—right living and integrity; peace—harmony and concord with God and with others; and joy—gladness in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said there are some things you may want to put first but Jesus won’t let you if you want to be in God’s kingdom. The gate is too narrow to squeeze through with all the things you think you need.  Pack lightly.

  • Perhaps you have to have a place to call home, to sleep at night:  Jesus says, The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
  • You want to fulfill your obligations to social expectations: Jesus says, Let the dead bury the dead.
  • You put relationships and family first: Jesus says, Hate family for my sake.
  • You need a certain level of wealth: Jesus says, sell all you have and give it to the poor.
  • You expect sexual fulfillment: Jesus says, some are eunuchs for the kingdom of God.
  • You are counting on good deeds, piety: Jesus says, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, scouring the earth for one convert. 
  • You rely on status and/or intelligence: Jesus says, be born again, be like a child. 

The Kingdom of God is for those with nothing to lose—the poor, the beggar in spirit, destitute of wealth, no influence, no power, no position, helpless, needy.

The Kingdom of God is for those who are persecuted, bullied, harassed, pursued, mistreated for living right.

The Kingdom of God is for those who come like children.

The Kingdom of God is for those who do the will of our Father in heaven.

Jesus lived every day by listening to our Father in heaven and doing what the Father told him to do, and that’s the example we are following. One clear part of the will of our Father in heaven is to get more people into the Kingdom of God.

Tell people the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news. Paul summarized it in 1 Cor. 15:
Christ died for our sins
He was buried
He was raised on the third day
He appeared to disciples and many others
He appeared to me
He will conquer death and we will live again
He rules over everything

Note that Paul has personal experience of this gospel.  We also need to experience it personally.  As George Fox put it, we need to possess what we profess.  Fox wrote about his own prison experience:  “While I was in prison, [other religious groups] prophesied that this year Christ should come and reign for 1000 years.  And they looked upon this reign to be outward: when he was come inwardly in the hearts of his people to reign and rule; where these professors would not receive him.  So they failed in their prophecy and expectation and had not the possession of him.  But Christ is come and doth dwell and reign in the hearts of his people.  Thousands at the door of whose hearts he has been knocking have opened to him and he is come in and doth sup with them and they with him; the heavenly supper with the heavenly and spiritual man.”

Christians need to recognize two truths. One, the Kingdom of God comes first in priority.  Two, when that is true, we have nothing to lose. God knows what we need and will care for us.  When we know we have nothing to lose, we are remarkably free to speak the truth. Whatever happens can be for God’s glory and our joy.  The door of death leads directly to God, and continued life gives additional opportunity to see good results from our work.  With a nod of apology to Bob Dylan, we are NOT on our own, but we are holy rolling stones, pushing everything else aside or leaving it behind so that we can embrace God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—welcoming the kind of invisibility that makes God visible, being unknown so that God is known, giving up our secrets, listening every day for our direction home.

As always, credit to Strong’s Concordance for help with the words.  And blessings to Bob Dylan.