Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #29

Eternity Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 145)

I praise You, Sovereign and Almighty God. My words mix with the praises of Your worshipers from ages past to eons future in a symphony of eternal praise. Each day I lend my note to the throng of voices calling out to You. My prayers today are but the middle of a song that will continue forever and ever. Here are some of the verses:

You are Great. Your height and depth and breadth of existence and character are so great they are beyond comprehending. No one can fully fathom You. This is enough to warrant our unending praise.

You are Glorious. We’ve caught glimpses of Your splendor of majesty in Your creative works here in this universe: glorious mountains and majestic sunsets, intricate designs in nature and vast constellations, songs of birds in the morning and smells of the earth on the wind. We’ve heard tell of more in the descriptions told by men like Isaiah and Daniel and John, pictures of Your glorious visage. Some day we’ll see as much of Your glory as we can bear—what worship then will come from our hearts and lips!

You are Mighty. You are tirelessly involved in Your creative acts in our world. One generation after another has had ample opportunity to see You working for our good. Transforming hearts and minds—restoring lives broken by sin—is Your ongoing task among us. Your open hand satisfies the desires of every living thing.

You are More: faithful to Your promises, loving to all You have made, righteous, near to all who call on You, upholding those who fall, and lifting up the lowly. The list goes on.

So my voice is tuned to sing Your praises, LORD. Let every creature great and small praise Your holy name forever. And as our ears become attuned to the song of the ages, we’ll hear Your own voice, deep and rich and melodious singing from eternity. What joy is ours to sing with You for ever and ever.

(Photo Credits: By Astroval1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; By Mount_Everest_as_seen_from_Drukair2.jpg: shrimpo1967derivative work: Papa Lima Whiskey 2 (talk) – This file was derived fromMount Everest as seen from Drukair2.jpg:, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18262217; By Andrew – originally posted to Flickr as Rock wren, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4215694)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 15

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Nature or Nurture?

There is a debate within psychology concerning you and me. Are we the product of our genetic/biological pre-wiring, some ask, or do our behaviours stem from external influences in our environment? Is it nature or nurture that makes us do what we do? Francis Galton (a contemporary and cousin of Charles Darwin) was convinced it was all nature, suggesting society could be improved by “better breeding.” Studies such as Bandura’s ‘Bobo Doll Experiment’ of the mid-twentieth century supported the theory that social behaviour is learned entirely through observation and imitation. Current thought is that neither heredity nor the environment act alone to make us behave the way we do—but rather they interact in a complex manner not yet fully understood.

In the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus faced a similar controversy. With clarity that was both unorthodox and unflinching, He challenged the Jewish teachers of the day who had come to Him with acrid criticism.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” demanded the Pharisees. “They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

This may sound anything but significant to us, but to theses Jews tradition was everything (Remember Tevye in ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’?). Jewish life was orchestrated around a complex regimen of rituals known as the kashrut or kosher law, including symbolic washing of hands before eating. The Jewish teachers were censuring Jesus for allowing—perhaps even leading—His followers to violate what was most sacred to them: tradition.

“And why do you break the command of God,” countered Jesus, “for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus went on to give them an example of their hypocrisy and injustice. He quoted the fifth commandment given to the people by God—“honour your father and mother,” a clear, straightforward command. Yet, he observed, you ‘teachers of the law’ have twisted your expectations of the people so that they must support you financially rather than supporting their aged and needy parents. What kind of tradition is that?

But He was not done with them yet. He wanted to help them escape from the corruption and delusion to which their external traditions had bound them. Without internal transformation tradition was only lip service.

“Listen and understand,” Jesus articulated carefully. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”

We may not understand at first how shocking and offensive this comment would have been to the Jews—to any Jew. He was saying that all the Jewish traditions that require cleanliness—the kosher and traditional cleansing rituals—are misused and misunderstood if people think by observing them they become ‘righteous.’ The core problem of humanity is not dirty hands or germs ingested when eating pork. It is a foundational problem of the heart.

“Don’t you see,” added Jesus, “that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus is making a very clear statement about humanity’s condition in relationship to God. He’s saying that the nature of each of us is to reject God’s authority over our lives. All of us have deep within us a core of rebellion against God. Do you see that in your heart? I see it in mine. God is more concerned with that inner bent of heart than clean or dirty hands, good or evil deeds. The only solution—if we want to have that core problem corrected—is what Jesus offers. He offers the great exchange: we give up our autonomy, and He takes the rap for our sin. The kind of freedom we need comes at a cost.

But lives lived by that reality do begin to notice something: autonomy becomes increasing dependence upon God; selfishness gradually gives way to compassion for others; emotional chaos and confusion are more and more replaced by peace that passes understanding; internal commitment becomes authentic outward expressions of truth and goodness.

So we’re left with a choice. We can ride with the easy idea that if we do a few good deeds we can be ‘good enough’ for God. Or we can admit and accept what Jesus offers: a new heart. What do we want—external or internal?

(Photo credit: By T.K. Naliaka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36622513)

ROMANS 13

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What’s Natural

Ever played the game Tribond? Given three words one must guess the bond between those seemingly unconnected words, like: What do a car, an elephant, and a tree have in common? Pause and think. They all have trunks. That was easy. Now here’s a harder one: What do beauty, disasters and resources have in common?

Natural. All three can be described by the adjective ‘natural’. Natural is a catchword that invokes something primeval; it describes what occurs without human intention or interference. The environment is natural when we have neither removed anything from it (like old growth forests) nor added to it (like fish ladders or high-rises).

We find the concept discussed in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, an epistle in which the Apostle Paul exposes the central truths of Christianity. But here, ‘natural’ refers to human nature.

“The hour has come,” alerts Paul, “for you to wake up from your slumber, because we are nearer now than when we first believed.”

He’s speaking to Christians, the early believers who were still trying to discover how their faith would affect their lives, and how a right view of God would transform their minds. But anyone who is willing to learn can glean from what he says.

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:11-14).

Paul is bringing us to a crossroads of the natural. He’s exposing the false assumption that whatever is natural must be good for us. Remember the poison dart frogs of South America? The Golden Poison Frog (P. terribilis) contains enough toxin to kill ten to twenty people. That’s natural.

He shows us that we, in fact, have access to two streams or paths of human nature. One, described by darkness, is the natural bent we were born with, and bent truly describes this nature. It’s a contortion or deformation of what we were designed to be by nature. It consists of a destructive tendency to abuse our consciousness – the ability to be aware of truth; to abuse our reproductivity – a gift given us by God, the sustainability of our species; and to abuse interpersonal relationships – healthy social interactions. It is characterized by self-absorption and oblivion to the above abuses.

The other nature is … well … supernatural; it is the truly human nature modeled by Jesus Christ and made available only when we invite His Spirit into our lives. This nature is described by light, decency and daytime. It is clothed and in its right mind. This nature is available by the superhuman determination of God to rescue us from our self-destructive tendencies.

Yes, both paths are natural. The desires of the sinful nature are most easily accessible, but they are gratified at the expense of our true humanity. Ask anyone who has helplessly observed a family member self-destruct under the influence of drugs, alcohol, the sexual revolution, the gender revolution, eating disorders, materialism or other natural choices. It’s staggering.

The work of the Spirit of God in our lives, on the other hand, means that God takes His own nature and makes it second-nature to us. It happens by degrees, don’t get Paul wrong. Those who open themselves to this path of the crossroad don’t become perfect immediately. We obey and grow, and then we stumble and fall back into the old ways. But Jesus helps us up. He forgives us and gives us the strength to try again. It’s sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but the trend is forward.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,” says Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

That is how we change from being controlled by our flesh-nature, to being natural-born children of God. Which path does it move you toward?

(Photo Credit: “DendrobatidFrog,Peru,02-02” by Tim Ross – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DendrobatidFrog,Peru,02-02.jpg#/media/File:DendrobatidFrog,Peru,02-02.jpg)