The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus – A Book Review

farewell discourse carsonJohn’s Gospel has long stood as the destination for those seeking to better understand the deity of Jesus Christ. Between the “I am” statements that Jesus makes throughout the book, the miracles that Jesus performs, and the ways that Jesus directs people to trust him in the same way that they trust God, we see in the Gospel of John a picture of the Son of God incarnate during his time on the earth.

Canadian theologian, author, and professor D.A. Carson focuses on what has been known as the Farewell Discourse in “The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus.” Through his exposition, Carson looks at how Jesus shares the same glory as the Father. He focuses, as these passages do, on the three persons of God, looking at the Holy Spirit and his work as Jesus describes the paraclete who would come once Jesus had ascended to the Father. Carson writes, “A God who has always lived in solitary seclusion cannot realistically be described as a loving God; but a God who exists as one God in three persons may indeed be exercising profound love.”

Carson looks at the final prayer of Jesus and describes not only what that prayer meant for the followers who were there with Jesus but also what it means for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ today. The reader is reminded of the many times throughout the Gospels when we see Jesus’ focus on prayer. He was known to have gotten away to commune with the Father, not necessarily for long periods of time, but for consistent times throughout his ministry. Jesus knew the importance of this communion with the Father as he was about the Father’s business.

This exposition is not a traditional commentary, although at times it follows a similar layout to a commentary. The Bible passages are included to give context to his writing and Carson shares helpful information, but there are times when it seems to drag on. More than once, I found myself disengaged, having to go back and reread what I had just read to get back on track again. The writing was not always the most engaging. If you are looking for something more than a devotional book but something that’s not quite as in depth as an academic commentary, Carson’s work may suit you well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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More Than Just A Prayer to Recite…

“Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name….”

If you grew up in the church, the Lord’s Prayer has probably become familiar to you. You may have grown up reciting it to the point that it’s imbedded in your brain and you can recite it without much thought or contemplation.

The Prayer That Turns the World

In his latest book “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down,” Albert Mohler even says that, “many evangelicals can identify with…what it is to pray without really praying.” Although we may have memorized the words of this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we may have not given it much thought. But Mohlers suggests that this prayer and what is contained within it is actually revolutionary if we really take to heart what Jesus said.

Before venturing into an exposition of Jesus’ prayer, Mohler expounds on the idea that evangelicals have gotten good at praying without really praying. He challenges the reader saying that a lot can be told about our relationship with God based on how we pray and how we worship. Mohler defines what prayer is and what prayer isn’t.

Mohler walks through each of the key phrases in Jesus’ prayer, expositing each and pointing towards Jesus’ prayer not as something to simply recite, but as a guide and primer on just how we approach God in prayer. We pray not so that we can simply list off all of the things that we want or need, but to commune with God, to relate to God, and ultimately to be changed by him. As Mohler says, “There is no true intimacy with God without prayer.” Mohler points out that the intentional phrasing in the prayer points us away from our individualism and reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, the body of Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer is also a reminder to us that we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world and a king who far exceeds the political powers which make headlines on a daily basis. Our commission as followers of Christ is to make disciples of this king and citizens of his kingdom. As we pray that the Lord’s will be done, we are asking God to align our will with his, not asking that he make our heart’s desires come true. Our hearts desires in prayer should slowly begin to align to the heart’s desire of God.

We are reminded, through this book, that our prayer for our daily needs may not always be answered in the ways that we might think or even hope. God will provide for our needs but perhaps not the way that we might have imagined. We are taught to forgive as we are forgiven, not because we are forgiven. We receive forgiveness through Christ and because of what we receive, we extend forgiveness to others.

Mohler reminds the reader that Christians are not somehow immune to temptation. No temptation is brought on by God, but it is allowed and with that temptation, we are given the tools by which to triumph over it. The power to resist temptation isn’t something we muster up with enough gumption and energy, it is only something that we can accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reader is reminded at the conclusion of the book that the last phrase that has been tacked on to the Lord’s Prayer was not found in the original manuscripts of the Bible. While that doesn’t make it wrong, it doesn’t make it God’s Word, Mohler writes. It may have been added in the decades and centuries following Jesus to act as a doxology.

Mohler concludes his discussion of the Lord’s Prayer by reminding his reader that, “This prayer is dangerous…This prayer is hopeful…This prayer is compassionate…This prayer is reverent…This prayer is good news.” Through the Lord’s Prayer, we not only understand what God asks of us when we come to him but also we begin to understand more of who he is as we unpack this prayer.

If, as Mohler says, you have ever felt like you, “can go through the motions, say all the right words, and even lead a congregation or group in prayer without remembering a single word…or even understanding what (was) prayer for,” you might consider reading “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.” It’s a short enough read that you won’t feel like you are getting bogged down but it packs enough into those few pages that you will feel challenged in how you approach this important prayer the next time you recite it.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Every Season Prayers – A Book Review

every-season-prayersPrayer is conversation with God. Good conversations should be two-sided with both parties dialoguing and exchanging thoughts. The thing about conversations, especially the hard ones, is that it can sometimes be difficult to get them started. That’s where Scotty Smith comes in.

 

Scotty Smith’s book “Every Season Prayers is a fairly exhaustive volume of prayers for different occasions that we may encounter in life. Health concerns. Life change. Prodigal children. If you can think of a situation, chances are, Scotty Smith has covered it in this volume.

 

In the introduction, he states that his intent for this book, “is to equip God’s people to pray, not do their praying for them.” These are supposed to help people get their prayers off the ground, and in many cases, give them words that they are struggling to find in the middle of circumstances that have left them speechless. Smith is giving words to the wordless and helping them articulate what’s going on inside.

 

The prayers within this book are saturated in Scripture. The subtitle for the book is, “Gospel-centered prayers for the whole of life” and he does a great job infusing the Gospel into every prayer throughout this book. The prayers are also filled with honesty and genuineness. There are prayers that are so raw and emotional for moments when one’s own emotionality may dominate so much that they are incapable of thinking clear thoughts and articulating just how they are feeling. Into those moments, Smith gives clear and concise prayers that can easily help someone to find words in the struggles.

 

This book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. Instead, it can be used as a guide and resource, a tool to help people through the various seasons in life that they find themselves. There are short and simple prayers. There are prayers for various seasons in the church such as Lent and Advent. Smith encourages the reader to go beyond the prayers in his book, recommending that they be a springboard into an understanding of the importance of prayer.

 

While I’ve not been fond of using others’ prayers in my own life, I can see how this book would be helpful for those who struggle with knowing just what words they need to use in conversation with God. If you find yourself in that place of struggling for words in prayer, this may be a good starting point for you to move towards finding a place of comfort and security in your times of prayer.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Praying For Your President

Politics aren’t my thing. I just don’t get into them that much. Sure, I vote and take my responsibility as a citizen seriously, but it’s not often that I get into political debates with people. To me, there are much more important things to talk about than someone who’s temporarily filling a political office.

While I don’t get hopped up by politics, it doesn’t stop me from stirring up the hornet’s nest once in a while. I’ve done it since I was in high school, throwing out the provocative statements and then watching as people take the bait. I guess I was always amused at how worked up people could get over things that seemed somewhat insignificant to me.

My intentions when doing this are never malicious, they are always playful. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise though, when we hold to something so passionately in life it’s very difficult for us to joke around about it.

It’s not so unusual for people to call me out on it either. A few times recently, I have posted something that seemed innocent, at first glance, but in the hands of the passionately political has turned into a mud-slinging contest. Comments fly as people drop their “digital hand grenades” and walk away. The vitriol flows like beer at a fraternity party as people allow their deepest disdains to be aired.

As I survey my friends in social media, I have a fairly mixed bag across the political spectrum. So, it’s always interesting to see and to read the comments. Recently, though, I was appalled and taken aback after I asked a simple question about our current president. I wasn’t so surprised by the people who commented so much as I was by some of the comments. Then a friend who resides somewhere to the left of me commented about their sadness at the comments.

That comment was enough to give me pause, to help me consider what was going down.

As I thought about it, two things came to mind.

My father always used to say that we might never get the political leaders that we wanted but we would always get the political leaders that we deserved. It’s a fairly telling statement and one that I have thought of many times over the years since I first heard him say that. It made me realize that if I claim the sovereignty of God and if I believe what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, which now resides in the 13th chapter of Romans, then I need to rethink some of what I think, feel, and believe about politics and political leaders.

The other thing that came to mind was a question and I asked myself, “When’s the last time that you prayed for your president and elected officials?” To be completely honest, mainstream Christianity seems to have a tendency towards accepting the easy and comfortable commandments of the Bible while casting aside the more difficult ones. Jesus preached a sermon in Matthew 5 where he commanded people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. While I’m not sure that we’ve come so far as to be persecuted by our political leaders (except in a very privileged Westernized form of the word), the notion still stands true.

Do I pray for my president?

I don’t have to agree with him. I don’t have to like him. I don’t have to want to hang out with him (or her, when that finally happens). But I do need to pray for them. I need to ask God to get through to them if I think that they are closed to what he has to say. I need to pray that their eyes might be opened. I need to pray for wisdom. I need to pray that God’s sovereignty would reign and that I would trust that sovereignty. I need to do this more than once…….I need to do this continually.

I realized in those moments of seeing the deep emotions of people coming out that I couldn’t participate in it. I realized that I needed to get on my knees and pray for someone who I wasn’t particularly fond of and in doing so, I would be fulfilling the commands that Jesus spoke, no matter how hard they were.

We won’t always agree on ideology, but I think we can agree to the need for prayer for those who lead us.

Next time that I feel the urge to sling mud, to criticize unduly, and to begin a firestorm that isn’t beneficial or helpful, maybe I’ll remember all this and simply bow my head to offer up a prayer.

Social Media and the Church – Part II – Keeping Up With Your Peeps

peepsBy far, one of the greatest benefits from social media that I have experienced in my own setting is in the area of pastoral care. Specifically, this pastoral care has been as it relates to the pulse of the congregation in the area of spiritual, physical, and personal needs.

Social media allows people to stay connected to friends and family that live far away. One of the primary reasons that my wife had gotten into social media years ago was because of that fact. We had moved far away from our family and social media allowed for us to stay in contact with pictures, comments, and notes to our family, making the distance between us feel a little less significant than it really was.

Over my time as a pastor, I have experienced the communication struggle that exists within the church, primarily when people in the congregation are having health or other struggles or concerns. There have been numerous occasions when I found out about a church member or attendee who was in the hospital after surgery had already occurred. No one had told me of this person’s admittance into the hospital or their surgery, but it was presumed that I “should just know.”

As I explained to those people that pastors were not mind readers, I struggled with how to stay in the loop with what was going on in and around the congregation. Social media has provided a great resource to stay in tune with what’s going on. Granted, not everyone is forthcoming with the things in their lives on social media, but my own experience has shown that people are fairly willing to share prayer requests, needs, and concerns with those who are among their social media loops.

Spending a few minutes a day checking into social media to see what’s happening with people connected to your faith community is a worthwhile investment. It takes discipline to ensure that you don’t get completely off track, but perusing your “wall” to see the latest and greatest of what’s happening has been beneficial.

Recently in my congregation, a young woman was hospitalized for six weeks. I first learned of her illness through social media. All along the way, as the doctors tried to discern what it was that they were dealing with, her mother and father were diligently updating social media to ensure that they were getting the same update out to everyone with whom they were connected.

If you have been around a faith community for any length of time, you probably remember the prayer chain. They still exist but are growing less effective in the days of technology, texting, and social media. Now, instead of picking up the phone to call the next person on the list, a mass update can be posted to social media, altering hundreds (or thousands) of people to any prayer requests and needs.

Another case in point that was not within my own congregation but involved a friend of mine from seminary who lives in Haiti with his wife and family. He had been burned in a grease fire and had to be transported to Florida and eventually his home state, Iowa. Along the way, he and his wife were updating social media and keeping everyone current on their needs and concerns. It literally shrunk the world and allowed them to connect, in seconds, with their own network. As he continues to recover, everyone can stay updated by visiting his or his wife’s social media wall for the latest.

Social media is simply a tool in these circumstances, and it’s important to realize that. Many times, follow up phone calls, emails, or texts have been sent to find out more specifics of the needs. Relying completely on social media to find out about concerns is not advisable, but as one more means to keep a pulse on the things that are happening around your faith community and the community in which you live, it’s a worthwhile investment of just a few minutes a day.

Forgive Us Our Sins……

forgive us our sinsOur Father….

Who art in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……

against……

US……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer?  When’s the last time that you actually thought about it?  I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness.  It’s a strange thing.  We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong.  What happens when someone does something wrong to us?  How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others.  We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is.  We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us.  We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it.  But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant.  What if someone steals from us?  Breaks into our house?  Hits our car?  What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love?  How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness.  I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness weren’t doing harm to anyone else other than me.  It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant.  The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases.  They’re just not people.  I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person.  I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there.  He actually WANTED and PRAYED for them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused.  No anger.  No contempt.  No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean.  I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive?  I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting.  It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has.  I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle.  Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Why God, Why?

oklahoma tornadoThat’s a question that seems to creep up over and over again in the last 2 years.  My parents retired and moved close to my family.  Two months later, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  After some glimpses of hope, all hopes were dashed a few months later and nearly 6 months later, she was gone.  Why God, why?

My good friend and his wife had their third son.  There were some complications at the birth and he ended up in the NICU for the first week or so of his life, but he pulled through okay.  A few months later, he was getting sick and they couldn’t figure out what it was.  After some tests, they discovered a brain tumor which seemed operable.  After the operation, it was discovered that the cancer had spread and he died on his 6 month birthday.  Why God, why?

My father struggled mightily when he retired and losing my mother was just a portion of the total loss that he had experienced.  His health went into a steady decline.  Nearly two years after losing my mom, I lost my dad as well.  So much for retirement.  Why God, why?

Looking at pictures of the devastation in Oklahoma.  Buildings crushed.  Many dead and injured.  A path of destruction that will take a long time to recover from.  Lives forever changed.  Why God, why?

Whenever we experience difficulties like this, our natural tendency is to ask that question, “Why?”  Of course we want an answer, but would any answer really suffice?  There are certain times in life when no answer can really help, no matter how great, no matter how theologically valid, no matter how relevant it might be.

My answer, over and over again, is that the world is broken, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  Then it seems that the next question waiting in the wings is, “Couldn’t you have stopped it, God?”  Not sure I have a good answer for that one though.  Do we expect God’s intervention every time something bad threatens us?  Do we expect that the world will be a completely safe and harmless place?

Answers fall short.  I can’t bring myself to blame God, but I know that some can.  Some may claim that this is the reason they can’t believe in God, how could a loving God allow this to happen?

What’s one of the first things that we hear about though?  It’s about those who are dropping everything that they are doing to lend a helping hand.  It’s about those who are giving of their time, resources, and money to aid those who have lost everything.  It’s about those who have found a way to reach out and love on those who have experienced loss.  In my mind, that’s where God is in all of this, he’s right there as people come alongside other people in love, care, and concern.

Bad things happen in life, but how do we respond?  If it happens to us, do we experience others who come alongside us?  If it happens to others, are we the ones who drop what we are doing to lend a hand?  Maybe, God is there all along, we just haven’t been looking hard to see him.  Maybe he’s right there alongside the broken, the hurting, the wounded, and the weary.  Maybe he was there the whole time.

Hebrews 4:15-16 (The Message), “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

Letting Go – Part II

letting-go

The day that my father died, except for an hour or so for lunch, I was with him the whole day.  I knew things weren’t good and that it wouldn’t be long, but I had no idea what the timeline was.  I was numb and probably in disbelief.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around everything that the last few years had held for me and my family.

The pastors that I work with had driven me down to Williamsburg and my wife met us at the facility where dad had been.  She brought our daughter and stayed for a few hours.  After lunch, my fellow pastors left and I had the whole afternoon by myself.  I was expecting that someone might come to visit, but I remained there by myself.  I just continued to love on my father, reading Scripture to him, singing songs over him, and assuring him that we would be fine.  He had done a fine job of raising his two sons and he had fought long enough.  He needed to hear that it was all right to leave us.

Many times throughout that afternoon, I cradled his head in my hands and kissed his head.  I whispered that I loved him in his ear.  I told him how I couldn’t have asked for a better father.  Having been on morphine since that morning, I knew that his consciousness would most likely not return.

Taking a break from reading, singing, and speaking, I decided to write in my journal.  Little did I know how the words that I would write and the prayer that I would utter would come true.

“It’s hard to express how it feels to lose both of your parents before your 40th birthday.  I thought that I would have had so much more time with them, but God had other plans.  When Dad is gone, there will be a finality to things that is seemingly unbearable.  I know God gives strength, but I am taking it moment by moment right now.

It’s so hard because I feel like I’m reliving my life from 2 years ago.  Just watching Dad simply breathing in his bed is reminding me of Mom’s last days.  Lord, please take him quickly.”

It would seem that God answered my prayer as Dad passed within hours of my writing.  Part of me thought that I should have been more careful of what I asked for, but then I realized that this was better.  I didn’t want him to die, but I also didn’t want him to “live” a life like he had been living.  In actuality, what he was experiencing could hardly be called “living.”

One of my prayers after my mom died and as my father’s health began to deteriorate was that Dad not die alone.  He felt so lost and alone when he left Connecticut.  Losing Mom just pushed him further into that darkness and it was hard for me to bear.  With a full-time job, 3 kids and a family, seminary studies, and various other things happening in my life, it was hard for me to spend as much time with Dad as I wanted.  I did what I could, but even when I wasn’t there, I couldn’t help but think about the sad picture in my mind of him being in there all alone.

I know that people die alone every day, but it seemed unbearable for me to think about that happening to Dad.  I couldn’t imagine one of the nurses walking in and finding that he was gone and yet not knowing exactly when he died.  That seemed so harsh, even though I knew it was possible.  But I held out hope that it wouldn’t happen.

When he finally went, it was all so painfully familiar to me.  Just as I had watched my mother’s neck for a sign of a pulse, I watched my father take his final breaths, wondering if each one would be the last one.  When that last breath came and went and I knew that he was gone, I simply sat there for a minute.  I don’t remember exactly what I did, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to think that I might have prayed a prayer of “thanks” to God.  Like I said, it wasn’t because I wanted Dad to die but because I didn’t want his suffering to continue.  Mom suffered for 6 months.  Dad had suffered for far longer.

While there is a sense of relief to me that his suffering is gone, the pain of dragging this out is so fresh.  It’s hard to let go.  It’s hard to break free of the numbness that I feel.  It’s hard to come to grips with the reality that is before me.  Yes, time heals all wounds, but the scars never go away.  They remain, reminding us of the pain that we have experienced, calling out, sometimes screaming, to us not to forget how they go there.

Right now, the bandages of loved ones and friends have covered up those scars, at least temporarily.  Each day, I lift the bandages to reveal what’s underneath.  Each day, I wish that I would lift the bandage and find that it has all been just a dream, but the scars remain.  Each day, I wish that I could just make that one phone call, but realizing that is impossible, I simply reach for my phone to listen to voicemails that I have saved.  Hearing the words “I love you” from both my mom and dad in the form of a voicemail recording will have to suffice for now.

In the meantime, I press on.  Life goes on, people forget, but I refuse to do so.  Mom and Dad have left indelible marks on my life and the lives of so many other people.  I am a living legacy, so may the mark that I leave be just as long-lasting as the ones left on me.