Praise God for the Bible, the very Word and words of God! At the core of being simply Christian is the ancient Christian experience that in the Bible we meet our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. All the Church wants to do, ever, is see Jesus. Continue reading Reading a Hard Bible for Signs of Jesus→
Before “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after,” there was a plan. The Creator himself, the originator of the “beginning and end,” put in place a forgiveness plan. He ordained each moment of each life. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”(Psalm 139:16). Though God chooses all to be His children, God foreknew that not all people would accept His forgiveness plan. Continue reading My Forgiveness Journey→
Our culture is one that is full of differing diets: gluten-free, paleo, ketogenic—and that is just the beginning. Many of these diets cut out or reduce carbs. So, when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” many readers may not be so appreciative of bread. Continue reading Our Daily Bread—And What About the Future?→
Prisons and slums, natural and human-made disasters and deaths, wars and other forms of suffering all illustrate that our world is far from what it should be. In the midst of all of this, how can we be aware that God is good and worth knowing? How can we be confident that God cares and cares enough to act? Continue reading Terry Smith: In Jesus of Nazareth, God is Revealed→
Love one another. This is the command Jesus gave throughout the gospels. Jesus modeled how to love others and as followers of Christ. We should do the same. Jesus stated love for one another as a part of the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39). Loving others is what marks the life of a true disciple of Christ.
Love For God, Love For Others
You will notice that I did not touch on the first part of the greatest commandment: To love God (Matt. 22:37-38). That is because I wanted to expand on that a bit more. Love for God is essential if we truly want to love others.God has loved us with an everlasting love. He sent His one and only Son to die for us (John 3:16). His one and only! If that doesn’t show the magnitude of God’s love for us I don’t know what else does.
If I had an only son and had to give him up for the lives of total strangers I don’t think I could do that. Because He loved us so much we should in turn love and devote ourselves to Him. Our devotion to God is evident in our love for others.
Both loving God and loving others are interchangeable. When we love God we will love others; and when we love others will love God because God loves people. God’s love for people was evident when He sent His Son to die for our sins, and He calls us to follow His example of love (1 John 4:9-11).
How Do We Love? Whom Do We Love?
Jesus’ command to love others means essentially that we should look out for the needs of others.Look out for their needs as we would look out for our own.We should love our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus was asked by an expert in religious law, “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). That’s a good question. How do we know whom we should love?
Jesus answers the man’s question in the following verses by telling The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). On his way from Jerusalem to Jericho a man was attacked by bandits. He was left for dead. People passed him by, a priest and a Levite, a temple assistant. None of them decided to help the man.
Only a “despised” Samaritan felt compassion for him enough to help him. The Scripture doesn’t say the injured man was Jewish. Perhaps that’s part of Jesus’ point: this man could be anyone and he should be helped.
If the injured man was Jewish, the same point is made. Samaritans and Jews in biblical times did not get along. They were at opposite ends of the spectrum and did not associate with one another. But this Samaritan did not think twice.
The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds, took the man to an inn on his own donkey, and offered to pay the bill for his stay. The one who was despised—the one from whom he would never imagined getting help—was the one who helped the man when no one else would.
When you wonder whom you should love and how we should love, look back on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And go and do likewise.
Adam Harris, a certificate graduate of Steinbach Bible College, is connected with Braeside EMC. He lives in Winnipeg.
Editor’s Note: There will be a series on the Lord’s Prayer in 2019. This follows the Apostles’ Creed (2016), the Protestant (Radical) Reformation (2017), and the Mental Health Initiative (2018), whose articles are, or soon will be, available online in booklet form.
The Lord’s Prayer 2019
by Dr. Arden Thiessen
I once made a bad mistake. I had concluded a committal service at the cemetery by inviting the group to say the Lord’s Prayer with me. Later, at the church reception a total stranger approached me in anger. “You treated my God with contempt,” he shouted. “You said, ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ ‘Which’ implies God is a thing. That’s terrible; you insulted God.” He was furious.
I was so taken aback that I could not even explain why I had done it. I just apologized for my bad language. After he turned away I realized what had happened. I had recited the King James version as I had once memorized it and as I had used it for decades. I still use the Prayer when I lead committal services. But I’ve left the language of 1611.
We speak about reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Or about saying it. Such expressions have a liturgical feel about them. Let’s just pray the prayer from the heart. It should seem like a conversation. However, prayer seems like a mystery; the longer I toil at it the more mysterious it seems.
Maybe that should not surprise us. Even the Apostle Paul, who understood many things far better than I do, says simply, “We don’t know how to pray as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). So, while I may not understand it either, I will try to say a few sensible things about it.
I am puzzled. The first line of Jesus’ prayer sounds as if the prayer is intended to be used in the assembly of believers. “Our” implies the prayer will spoken by a group. However, the context shows that Jesus was not thinking of group prayer here (He did that in Matt. 18). Here he says if someone wants to pray they are to go to their room, shut the door, and then pray (Matt. 6:6). This sounds like personal, private prayer.
Jesus used the term “Our Father” only this once. Normally, when he taught his disciples, he spoke of “Your Father.” (The concept that Jesus and his followers have the same Father is, however, taught in Hebrews 2:11-12. When we allow ourselves to be sanctified by Jesus we become his brothers and sisters.)
I have thought that Jesus meant that he and we have the same Father. Like, “When you speak to the Father you are also speaking to my Father.” Helmut Thielicke has a significant addition to that. He suggests Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” because we are to remind ourselves that Jesus is with us when we pray. “Our” refers to Jesus and me.
In prayer we stand beside Jesus and tell the Father what we need; in other words, Jesus and I are together on this. This is another way of reminding ourselves of the same truth that we verbalize when we conclude our prayers with “In Jesus’ name” (Matt. 18:19, 20; John 15:16). By reminding ourselves that we are onside with Jesus, that we are praying with him, that we are praying for that which we can request in Jesus’ name, we are reminding ourselves that it is important that we pray for that which agrees with Jesus’ will.
Jesus was the messenger of the Holy Trinity who came to us in the far country of earth to seek us and reconnect us to the Triune God in heaven. Among other things he wants to be with us in our praying. If we could remember this, our prayers would likely seem more valid and more essential in heaven. It might also destroy our self-centred, narcissistic focus on ourselves. That would likely be seen in heaven as a healthy and wholesome change. And maybe we could even learn to enjoy the liberty of being more interested in Jesus’ concerns than in ours.
Father, a New Concept?
I’ve heard it said that Jesus introduced a new God concept when he spoke of “Father.” That hardly agrees with the evidence. First of all, God himself assumed the role of father when he declared, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22, 23). The Lord assured King David about the son who would succeed him, “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam. 7:14). The Lord in his compassion is compared to a kind father (Psalm 103:13). Isaiah uses the “Father” term three times (Isa. 63:16; 64:8). What Jesus does is that he takes a concept that had been only sparingly used in the Old Testament and makes it central for the lives of his people.
Jesus is not only teaching his disciples how to pray, he is showing them how to think of God. In Israel’s history it was a momentous day when Moses heard that the God with the generic Semitic title of Elohim was for them the God with the personal name Yahweh. Now Jesus takes the revelation of who God is one step further. Not only is God personal, he is like a father.
God is There for Us
Like a good father, God is there for us before we pray. He has far deeper and more informed interests in our lives than we ourselves have. It may seem as if God is not hearing our prayers; but like a good father he may be waiting to give us what we need instead of what we desire.
Like a good father he knows our needs before we report them to him (Matt. 6:8). Why then pray if God already knows more than we ourselves know? Because God wants us to grow into a relationship with him. Good relationships require intelligent verbal interaction. That is true of the spousal relationship, of the parent-child relationship, of the members on a hockey team, and of the corporate board. It is especially true of our relationship with God.
It starts by turning to him and speaking out, “Our Father.” With that we treat him as a personal God. And the greatest blessing of the prayer life is not that we get a few things for free, without our toil, but that we sense we’ve been in fellowship, we’ve been in the presence of our Father. When people stop talking with God they may still do some theologizing, but they are then only talking about God.
I understand Roman people would pray to “Father Jupiter,” and Greeks would turn to “Father Zeus” in prayer. Jesus’ followers are to pray to the Father who is in heaven. This is where the mystery of which I spoke above reaches its depth. How is it possible that we people of earth can with our words, even just with our thoughts, connect with God in his eternal, spiritual dimension?
The mysteries of heaven continue to confound me. Where is it? What is it? How can the God of heaven, who is Spirit, influence affairs in our kingdom of sticks and stones and flesh and bones? I wonder, and I keep on praying.
And now a concluding thought for your reflection. I suggest that if every one of the seven billion people on earth would pray to God simultaneously, God would pay fatherly attention to each one of them. That’s how it works in heaven!
Arden Thiessen, DMin, has long served our conference as a pastor, Bible college professor, EMC moderator, and author. He and his wife Helen live in Steinbach, Man., and are part of Steinbach EMC.
What a joyful message filled with excitement and hope. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!
I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, singing that song as a little boy during one of our Sunday School Christmas programs in church. Mrs. Dyck made sure that when we got to that “Go Tell It” we were all nearly shouting at the top of our lungs. We had no fear. We sang with all our hearts and voices and didn’t care if we were out of tune. Our excitement was all that mattered.
What Happened To The Excitement?
Somehow we got to a place in our lives where we don’t get as excited about Christmas as we once did. We don’t get as excited about Jesus’ birth as we once did, and Christmas has become a time when we focus on our families and church families. It has become a rather private time of celebration.
Perhaps this is at least in part because of the move in society away from the religious aspects of Christmas and even the avoidance in society to speak the phrase “Merry Christmas” replacing it, instead, with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or the infamous “Merry X-mas.”
Why is it Offensive?
The attack on Christ is not an attack on Christmas. Society doesn’t care whether we celebrate Christmas or not. Society doesn’t care whether we believe in Jesus or not. People say that using the word “Christ” is somehow offensive, and I have never understood why. What is so offensive? Is it offensive to believe that Jesus was a real person who lived roughly 2,000 years ago? To believe that Jesus taught that we should love one another?
Is it offensive to believe that Jesus lived a life without sin? To believe that Jesus modeled a way of life that is worthy to be imitated? To believe that Jesus was crucified and that God raised Him from the dead? To identify one’s self as a person who believes these things? To offer expressions of good will to others in the name of Jesus? There is nothing offensive in the words “Merry Christmas.”
They Don’t Know What It Means!
I think I have figured it out. We refer to “Jesus Christ” as if those were His first and last names, but Christ is not an actual name. No wonder society finds the phrase “Merry Christmas” offensive. People don’t understand what it means.
The King of Kings
Christmas celebrates the birth of the King of Kings. The Bible says that some day God will establish His Kingdom on earth. His Kingdom will be a perfect Kingdom. Nations will no longer fight against nations. Peace will exist throughout the whole earth. There will be no more disease, violence, corruption, injustice, suffering. The lion will lay down with the lamb and the whole earth will be like paradise. This coming Kingdom will be ruled by “the Christ.”
And as Christians, we believe that Jesus is that “Christ.” He is the coming ruler of the Kingdom of God. And although He was born, lived His life, died and was raised from the dead those so many years ago, we as Christians believe that He will one day return to set up the Kingdom of God as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
If you look at the teachings of Jesus, the one thing He said more than anything else was “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1.15 calls this “Kingdom of God is at hand” message, “the gospel.” And, in general, society has not heard this “gospel.” Society has not heard that God will someday turn the earth into a paradise.
He is Also Our Saviour
When God created Adam, the first man, God was making a promise. You see, the word “Adam” is spelled in Hebrew with three letters alef, dalet, and mem. The prefix letter alef means “I will” and dalet and mem together mean “bleed.”
Was it by accident that when God created Adam, the first man, the letters used could be interpreted as “I will bleed”? Is there a hint here of a promise that some day Jesus would shed his blood for us in order to pay the penalty for our sins? I think so.
Not only is Jesus the King of Kings, He is also our Saviour. Christmas celebrates the birth of Immanuel, God Incarnate—the God who bled on our behalf in order to save us from our sins.
What an Amazing God!
The only true, all-powerful God, the Ruler of the Universe, the God of all compassion and mercy, left Heaven and was born in humblest of circumstances. He lived with us as one of us and showed us by being the way, the truth and the life. And we have come to know Him, and He has come to live within our hearts. What a reason to celebrate!
Good News of Great Joy for all People!
These are the words the angels spoke to the shepherds in Luke 2.10 and the angel went on to say: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
The birth of Jesus: our Saviour, the Christ, the One Lord God Himself in the flesh. The most important birth in eternity—and that’s a very long time. There will never be a more important birth. What a reason to celebrate!
To loosely paraphrase Isaiah 9.2, there are people who are living in darkness and they are desperate for light. The darkness has spread over the whole earth and people everywhere are longing for relief from their suffering, distress, and hopeless despair. And we have the message they are waiting to hear.
We have the message of light and hope for the world. And how will they hear if we don’t tell them? Romans 10:13-14 says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling to them?”
God has placed us where we are right now, at least in part, because there are people around us who are waiting for us to tell them the Gospel. So have no fear. Shout and sing with all our hearts and voices. This joyful message is filled with excitement and hope. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
James Regehr has served as a pastor, including at Treesbank Community Church, and as the host of a Christian radio program. He lives in Yorkton, Sask., with his wife BettyAnn, and is shown here with his service dog.
How shall we think of war as we pray for peace this Advent season? However we do, let’s be careful not to glorify war.
Peace negotiators strive in Yemen, parts of Syria are reduced to rubble, and South Sudan suffers a civil war. Meanwhile, Canadians recently recalled the First World War, a conflict of a century ago with lingering effects. In many parts of Europe, Asia, North America, and elsewhere, the legacy of World War Two remains just below the surface. The effects of the Korean War continue.
Canadian veterans of peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan suffer and show it in various ways. For some it means PTSD, broken families, addiction, homelessness, or suicide. “War is hell,” said William T. Sherman, a general in the Union army during the American Civil War. Hell isn’t what we want to see on the earth (Matt. 6:10).
War takes a horrible physical, mental, and spiritual toll on soldiers and civilians; we know this. And yet it can still be more than we realize. William P. Mahedy, a Roman Catholic chaplain who served in Vietnam and then became an Episcopal priest, said, “A great many Vietnam veterans have become religious agnostics or are now hostile to religion because they took seriously what they learned in Bible classes or in the parochial schools about killing.”
Combat shattered their worldview, he said. “For great numbers of veterans, duty in Vietnam was a journey into spiritual darkness—the very darkest night of the soul.” The average age of Vietnam veterans was just over 19, Mahedy says.
Christ came into the world to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:16-17). He came to restore humanity, reconcile us to himself and each other through the Cross (Eph. 2:11-22), and heal the planet (Rom. 8:18-22).
Because of Christ let’s be careful how we think about war. While our views might vary, let’s not glorify war. People need to hear about and follow Jesus, and for that they need to be alive.
For the first centuries of the Church’s life, there was much debate about exactly who this Jesus was the Church found itself worshipping and following. One of the simplest and most profound truths it discovered was this: you will never predict who Jesus is by thinking profound and lofty philosophical thoughts, hoping that your rational concepts somehow coincide with Christ.
The mistake that was so hard to overcome for these early Christians was the belief that by thinking philosophical Greek thoughts about natures and essences, eventually they would figure out who this God-man was. That never worked.
So if not by thinking, how else? By looking. By watching to see what he does, how he lives, and the manner of his speech. What kind of choice does he make here? What does he refuse there? How does he act in this situation here? The mystery of Jesus appears in the manner in which he takes the days his Father gave him, and weaves an utterly unique, never-anticipated tapestry from them.
Jesus arrives and lives so freely, with such dashing improv, that no human could ever guess what he would do next. When the Church finally came to this basic discovery in the 7th century (thank you, Maximus the Confessor) they arrived at a beautiful vision of who Jesus was that has never been surpassed. When you watch Jesus acting, the humanity and divinity appear in matchless unity.
Thus, the basic act of the disciple is looking. Staying alert. Watching intently. Noticing the subtle change in his bearing. Disciples do not predict where Jesus will go by trying to be super-smart—they can only follow.
Once we see Jesus, we can think about it. We can try to appreciate with our intellect something of the love we see unfolding. First we look and then we treasure up all these things, pondering them in our heart. For example, after Jesus lived, the disciples saw the Old Testament as full of references to Christ. Before Christ came and lived however, no one could have guessed his life would happen as it did.
But this order of first looking and then thinking is sure hard for us modern people. We have a hard time believing that after all these centuries we still need to keep tracking Christ’s every move. We constantly seek the “key” to Jesus’ life. We try to detect a pattern or principle that we can detach from Jesus and put to use in our lives.
I see this mistake happening often. We say for instance, Jesus showed hospitality; we then go and detach hospitality from Jesus and make it a kind of free-standing principle or idea in our lives and tell ourselves that we are still following Jesus.
It’s a lot easier just being generally hospitable than it is following Jesus. I can get hospitality. But you cannot be a disciple by following general principles like hospitality (or leadership, or counter-cultural resistance, or honesty, or nonviolence, or whatever other detachable principle). Jesus is simply unpredictable and he will always bust open my lousy principles and concepts. In order to be Christ-like I have to track his footsteps through the gospels in daily looking and attentive curious waiting.
What this means is that we must keep going back to the words, the phrases, the sentences in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus. Nothing can ever substitute for contemplation, for sitting with Mary at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he says next.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference