Not to Make Us Stars

If we avoid pretentious hypocrisy and superstitious verbosity as Jesus warned His disciples, how should we pray? “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:9).

We have already considered the collective nature of the prayer with a first person plural pronoun (always “our” and “us” in the prayer, never “I” or “me”). We also see that it is a family affair. We are siblings addressing our spiritual Father whose dwelling place transcends the earth.

The first desire that Jesus teaches us to express, the first request we should make, sets the tone for the following petitions and supplements the identification of who we’re praying to.

We ought to have the familiarity of a child approaching his father, and we must also have the humility of a worshipper addressing his God, because we are. Our God is known by his “name,” and this was a typical way for God’s people to abbreviate all of His great attributes. His name reminded them of steadfast love, might, righteousness, and glory. His name referred to His works of creation, judgment, and salvation. His name caused armies to stand and enemies to melt. His name must not be forgotten or used in vain, it must be esteemed.

The desire that drives our prayer is that the heavenly Father would “hallow” His name, that God the Lord would cause His name to be kept holy and that more would come to admire it as holy. From the start our prayer is focused away from our reputation; we are not asking Him to make us stars. He is holy, holy, holy, and we’re asking that He would make His name blaze for all to see it’s worth.

A Way of Life

Our new President has been tweeting for a while, and a few years ago he posted something for the world that continues to be born out in his behavior.

When someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life! (November 11, 2012)

He didn’t say when someone attacks my people, or my family, or even my friends, but just “me” (even though he did post it on an anniversary of 9/11). He doesn’t say that he defends himself, but that he “always attack(s).” He goes even further by multiplying the attack, “100x more.” It’s not occasional, or even frequent, but a personal manifesto for his “way of life.”

I make these distinctions because defending our loved ones, our neighbors, the helpless, is appropriate. There are times when self-defense is allowable. But as Christians we’ve learned a different way of life. If Peter had been a tweeter he might have posted this:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:21–24)

This is why Christians get our worldview, our way to walk, starting in our worship. As we step to the Table of remembrance, set with bread and wine representing the One who was attacked for sake of our salvation, we’re learning to follow one set of steps and not another.

Verbal Forklifts Not Required

Jesus instructed the disciples about two things regarding prayer before He provided the pattern in Matthew 6. He first told them not to parade their über-righteousness before others in verses 5-6. There’s an inferior reward for pretense. In verses 7-8 Jesus provides a second warning and contrast.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7–8)

“Gentiles” refers to pagans, to those who hold other religious beliefs, not to the god-less. Everyone worships, whether or not they call the object of worship their “god.” These men are devoted to prayer and they distribute their prayers in bulk, the more noise the better. This is necessary because their gods are selfish, naturally inattentive to men, certainly not affectionate like a loving father. The gods are capricious, busy, and untrustworthy. They probably don’t even like you. But if you have a problem, and if no one else can help, maybe you can annoy a god to get off the dime by being a flibbertigibbet.

The contrast is not between bulk prayers and boutique prayers, between Costco prayers and craft prayers. The contrast is not between being long-winded and condensed, nor is it about content or presentation at all. It is about motivation. Pray like an intelligent Calvinist. Pray because God is all-knowing ahead of time, as in actually ahead of all time. We don’t need a forklift to dump a mass of prayers in God’s way to force Him to pay attention, we need to approach the Father who loves us.

Won to His Side

The people of Israel often had outside enemies. The genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36 records the increasing numbers and strength of the non-elect line. Chiefs and kings just a land away caused grief to God’s people even when His people were minding their own business within their borders. King David, who eventually defeated and subdued the land of Edom during his reign (2 Samuel 8:13-14), knew many battle songs. He knew what threat felt like, not just triumph.

if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us; We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
(Psalm 124:2–3, 7, ESV)

Hope and help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth. Our call to worship reminds us of this relationship every week.

Our communion at the Lord’s Table reminds us of our redemption every week as well. Our enemy is not Canada or Mexico, Russia or Iraq, our enemy is us, our own hearts, our own sin.

If it had not been the Lord who was given as our sacrifice, when guilt rose up against us, we would have been swallowed up alive. We have been delivered like a bird from the trap of temptation, the snare of sin is broken and we have eternal life.

Our help is in the name of the Lord who made His grave with the wicked, who makes an offering for sin, who makes many to be accounted righteous, and who makes intercession for the transgressors. The bread and the wine are for those He’s won to His side.

Open Up the Spigot

Jesus warned about two ways of praying wrongly before providing a pattern of prayer for His disciples. I skipped these preparatory points in order to talk about “Our Father” when I was preaching about kids in worship. But these unsuitable practices are to be avoided.

Jesus said,

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5–6)

Don’t be a hypocrite, meaning, don’t be an actor who looks like he is depending on God in prayer who is actually just stepping to the front of a stage. Don’t pretend to honor God while actually just showing off. In prayer we want something from God, but hypocrites seek acclaim from men whether or not they think they’ll get an answer from God.

Two more observations. First, this is not a prohibition from praying in public, it is a prohibition against not depending on God and instead wanting to be seen by others. Jesus prayed alone and He prayed with others around, so it can’t be sin by definition. But it is easy for sinners to take a good thing and distort it for their own glory.

Second, the result of proper praying is not being seen by God and receiving answers to our prayers, at least not according to verse 8. Jesus said “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” There is reward that comes from God when we pray in faith, not in pretense or even based on our precision. It pleases the Father just to be asked. We’re too often concerned about managing where the drops of water will fall while He’s ready to open up the spigot.

Four Chariots Wide

These sermon notes on self-control are better than a heap of Babylonian bricks. Wilson aims his admonition at the angry, but certainly there is application for all sorts of afflicting or tempting emotions. It all starts from the text: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, KVJ).

Notice that a man who is not self-governed is compared in the first instance to a man who is defenseless. Not having rule in his own spirit, which means he does not have rule over his own spirit, means that the walls of his “city” are little more than rubble. Now this means that self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall. But there is more. The man who has “no rule” is a man who has no rule over his spirit. In other words, the problem is that his soul is tempestuous. He lets others live in his head rent-free. This is the man who is defenseless.

Someone who is self-controlled in his spirit is someone who is a warrior. His city is not defenseless, but this control is not just a defensive posture. Note what Proverbs tells us elsewhere. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32).

A man with self-control in his spirit can defend his city, but more than this, he can take a city.

Read the rest.

A Principal Ornament

Our elders are continuing to read The Supper of the Lamb and, in the chapter we talked about at our last meeting, Capon described how “a husband’s hunger is one of the principal ornaments of his household.” Too big a lunch means he’s not ready to be grateful for whatever his wife has prepared. Hunger is a sauce that sweetens even bitter things.

What kid wouldn’t love coming to the table to hear his dad talk about how he’s been looking forward to this meal all day? This isn’t dad being angry if the food takes a few minutes longer in the oven or if the menu is different than what his wife originally planned. He’s satisfied in anticipation, giving thanks before any bites because he knows what’s gone into the preparation.

I am very encouraged at how many of the young kids among us—I’m thinking in particular of those who are old enough to walk and talk but who haven’t been baptized yet—those who see what’s happening, who want to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Of course they could be doing it because it looks like a fun snack. That’s not what it is. But I would rather have that mistake for a while than the mistake of them not wanting to do what we’re doing for a long time. “Look at all those miserable, fearful people. I don’t want anything to do with that.”

Fathers and mothers who come to the Lord’s Table hungry for communion with their heavenly Father and with their spiritual family are showing that this is a table of joy. We know what went into preparing it, in heaven and on earth. May another generation see our glad hunger for Christ and come to love hungering for Him too.

Pater Noster

We started a series of exhortations about the Lord’s Prayer last week. Jesus assumes that men pray; even hypocrites and idolators pray. When we pray we should avoid pretense and superstition. I’ll probably come back to both of those preparatory instructions later.

But since the subject for my message last Lord’s Day was kids in worship, I want to point out the first part of Jesus’ pattern. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven….”

The medieval church referred to Matthew 6:6-9 less as the Lord’s Prayer or the Disciples’ Prayer and more often as the Pater noster. In Greek the prayer begins, Pater hemon, which is Pater noster in Latin, and “Our Father” in English. This is not as much the prayer of a believer as it is a prayer of the church, or at least of the family. We are brothers and sisters who come together to our Father.

When we come to the time of confession in our corporate worship it’s appropriate to think about God, the Lord, the Almighty. He is our Creator, the one with whom we have to do. He is also the Lawmaker, the Judge, and He is perfect in holiness. And for us in the church, He is our honored Father. As the ultimate Father He doesn’t lower the standard, He holds His children to it in love and with discipline as necessary. He also restores His children to fellowship by forgiving them.

Our sin is a reflection on our Father’s name. Our sin has consequences on our family. But He is a faithful and merciful Father who sent His Son to bring many sons to glory. So we confess as children to our Father.

Flammable Under Certain Conditions

On June 5th last year our school had its first graduation. It’s taken me until now to post my notes. Hahaha!


Good evening to our (almost) graduates, their parents and families and friends, and to all of our guests. Good evening to our teachers, along with the younger Raggants here to see what this graduation thing might look like for them in two (to twelve) years. Thank You to the Board for allowing me the privilege of giving this first commencement address.

Many schools have started for many reasons. Whether parents school their children at home or find a trustworthy school nearby or pool their resources to begin a cooperative work, children have been being taught for a long time in many places. It’s a present perfect progressive sort of thing.

In this place, a small group of parents with a growing conviction about one principle decided that we could not sit still. This principle is as simple as an ocean wave. The principle is as small as a mustard seed. The principle is like oxygen, always present, not always appreciated, and flammable under certain conditions. The principle is: Jesus is Lord.

According to God’s Word through the apostle Paul, to be a Christian requires one to make this confession. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be” schooled. Ah, it seems I’ve misquoted the epistle to the Romans. Mea culpa. But I wonder if the change in verb might help us meditate on the work leading to (ad), and leading away from (ab), the commencement tonight.

Paul actually wrote in chapter 10 that all those confessing Jesus as Lord will be saved. The Greek word is a form of sozo, and the Latin translation is a future linking verb with the predicate adjective salvus from which our English word “salvation” derives. Confess and believe and be saved.

But saved from what? Saved for what? This is what the E in ECS is good for. This is the Big E. The evangel is the good news that every bitter and blinding separation caused by sin is overcome in Jesus. You are saved from separation from God, reconciled to the Father by the Son. This reconciliation is supernatural, eternal, and effective now. You belonged to the domain of darkness, you were outside the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, now you have been brought in. “Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

For what? You are redeemed for life. Life is when separated things are united. This includes your soul being united to God along with your mind and your body. In Romans 12 the apostle urges the Christians to present their bodies as living sacrifices for the Lord and to be renewed in their minds for discerning what is good and acceptable and perfect to the Lord.

The presenting of our bodies and renewal of our minds do not take place automatically. They require the Spirit and the Spirit grows us up into salvation. We who “were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [we’ve] been committed” (Romans 6:17). Confessing Christ as Lord is the beginning and the ongoing motivation. Jesus is Lord is a first principle, not in isolation like a bookmark that keeps track of what page you’re on, but like the spine that holds all the pages together.

This principle motivated Abraham Kuyper to help open the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880. In his inaugural speech he said this:

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically (airtight or insulated) sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”

As the graduates have heard, and hopefully will remember forever, the translation of “a square inch” is not the most powerful image, or even the most accurate. Kuyper said there is not an een duimbreed, better understood as “the width of a thumb.” You cannot frame or feel anything that falls outside of Christ’s sovereignty or His interests.

Every Caesar is dead. Just ask Plutarch, Livy, Suetonius, Tacitus, or even Shakespeare. But Jesus lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Dominum Jesum. Jesus reigns. He sits at God’s right hand and before He ascended He said that all authority in heaven and on earth were given to Him. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom. So we make students in His name.

Kuyper saw in his day that schools were not starting with Jesus as Lord. He said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Something better is possible. You’ve tasted it.

The world crisis involves not inequality, self-interest, or justice, but a living person—involves Him who once swore that he was a King and who for the sake of this royal claim gave up his life on the cross of Golgotha. (Kuyper)

Every person, every school, every graduate, every government, will either confess or contest that Jesus is Lord. That is either reality or delusion. You will believe it to be the key to the development of human life or to its destruction. Your schooling has pointed you like a arrow to be true.

You must do more than be able to agree about the sovereignty of God, you must acknowledge it in your moments. The lordship of Christ should be a point of humility, not of pride. The hostility between the seed of the woman and the seed of there serpent will either be a theory, a theology, or a conviction.

When presidents offer to be your savior, when money offers to be your security, when others offer to provide you will approval and acceptance, you will know that these are useless apart from the Lord.

Jesus is Lord of every public sphere: the scientific world, the business world, the world of art, the world of politics. But also over every sphere of your life: your conscience, your faith, your reason, your talents, your time, your will, your work, your words. All things, visible and invisible, are for Him.

You will miss the daily reminders of our responsibilities to love our neighbors by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You will miss the Creed and the Cantus. You will hear about Mr. Bowers “accidentally” falling on a 2nd grader from Facebook rather than after recess. No one will read great books to you while you eat lunch. These are just some of the unique enculturation flavors you’ve tasted at ECS, and they are all for the Lord.

The principle that motivated the start of this school is the principle, the passion, we hope you’ll carry into any further schooling you pursue, any work you do, the families you begin.

The breath of Kuyper’s address applies tonight:

Only by ever focusing on our sacred principle each time the waves crashed over us did our weary head raise itself bravely from the water. If this cause be not of the Mighty One of Jacob, how could it stand.

The school has survived four years. You have survived your years here. But this work is “worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

We pray that our students:

won’t be embarrassed by old-fashioned virtues, like hard work and discipline. They will respect authority and defy the authorities. They won’t get fired from jobs because of laziness, and they will get fired from them because of something they said about homosexuality. They won’t resent money and success, and they won’t be dazzled by money and success. They will laugh at the hipsters, and they will laugh at themselves laughing at the hipsters. They will loathe the enticements of corrupt entertainment, and they will love a true story. They would rather die than become one of the cool kids. They will be cool. (Douglas Wilson Rules for Reformers)

You may be free from your responsibilities at ECS, but you are not free from responsibility for the gifts of enculturation that were given to you at ECS. You are free to serve the Lord. This is the starting principle of all you do, it is the goal of all you do. Jesus is the beginning and the end.

I can say on behalf of the school board and teachers, we love you—Dineke, Andrew, and John—we are thankful to God for you, and we pray that you—as the very first raggants trained and released into the world-wide wild—will risk your lives and disturb the lives of others in the name of the Lord.

Outright Dependence

Prayer is an indispensable way that that we express our dependence on God during corporate worship but not the only way. We also demonstrate dependence when we attend to God’s Word, and Scripture directs our Lord’s Day service from the opening call to the final commission. There is fellowship when we hear His Word and when we respond with words of prayer. Communication renews and sustain our relationship with God week by week.

Both of these are word-based and necessary. There is at least one more act of outright dependence, and that is when we eat the bread and drink the wine.

After Jesus fed the 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, the crowd followed after Him to Capernaum. In their conversation Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). But the Jews grumbled at this claim, so Jesus pressed further.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56)

We do this by faith at the Lord’s Table. Is God pleased with you due to your abilities? Of course not, so come and eat Christ’s flesh. Does God forgive your sins by sacrifices you’ve made? Never, so come and drink Christ’s blood.

At this Table there is dependence on the Holy One of God. In Him alone is eternal life.