September 27, 2009

Your Father is God, DON'T WORRY!

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Everybody knows the story of David and Goliath. But the world thinks that David’s young victory is about a little guy triumphing over amazing odds. The world puts the story of David and Goliath on the shelf next to the “Little Engine that Could”.

But David and Goliath is not primarily about determination, perseverance or even courage. Sure David was courageous, but that’s not the main point. What happened on that battle field 3,000 years ago happened because of David’s FAITH.

David knew God had promised that no one could stand in their way as Abraham’s descendants as they took possession of their God-given homeland. Turn to Deuteronomy, chapter 20.

“1When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3He shall say: “Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. 4For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:1-4 NIV).

When David first saw Goliath taunting the Israelites he said, “Who is this… that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26b). When King Saul told David that he was too young and inexperienced to face Goliath, David replied that Goliath would die because he had “defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36 NIV).

David believed that God would KEEP HIS PROMISE and would fight against the enemies of Israel. David knew that when God is the Commander of your army, fear is silly.

Today in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says something very similar: If God is your Father, than worry is silly.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Worry makes us near-sighted. It causes us to focus on details that may or may not matter. Sometimes at the expense of what more important.

When David told King Saul that he would fight Goliath, Saul’s mind thought of the little details of battle, not the big promise of God. He tried to discourage David, saying that Goliath was far more experienced.

When David refused to turn away, Saul turned to other details. Saul dressed David up in his own gear of war. Armor, sword, etc. He figured David would need these to stand a chance against Goliath.

David tried them on, and then took them off. He wasn’t used to wearing these things. Instead David took his shepherding stick and went down by the stream to get a few stones for his sling.

The truth is, David would have defeated Goliath if he had walked into that showdown armed only with a feather duster. The victory wasn’t in the sling. The victory wasn’t in the stones. It wasn’t in the boy. It was in the God whom the boy trusted.

And when it comes to you and me, our LIFE and HEALTH doesn’t depend on food and clothing alone. Our culture values these things highly. But food and clothing are just the details. True life depends on having a faith connection to the Creator.

In verse 33 of our Sermon text Jesus promises…

“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

Being part of God’s Kingdom means believing His promises and basing our decisions on them. That’s what it means to seek God’s rule in our lives. First believing Him, then living by His Word. When we do this, we have God’s guarantee that He will provide our food and drink. A good King takes care of His subjects.

We have God’s righteousness when we trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins. In fact, God says that through faith in Jesus we no only OBTAIN forgiveness, we BECOME the righteousness of God.

Turn to 2 Corinthians 5, verse 21. There Paul writes…

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

Through faith in Jesus we are declared as sinless and perfect as God is.

These are the things that really matter! Not whether we’re eating macaroni and cheese or prime rib. Not whether we’ve got a pair of shoes for every occasion or just one pair of holey sneakers. Faith in Christ. Participation in the reign of God, right now.

Look again at verse 26. Jesus says…

“26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?...
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:26, 28-30 NIV).

Jesus was sitting on a large hillside when he said these words. The people could no doubt hear the birds and maybe they could see the flowers around them, too.

What if tomorrow God forgot to make the flowers grow? What if tomorrow God forgot to feed the birds and they all died? These are silly questions. Here’s another silly question. What if tomorrow God forgot to care for the sinners He redeemed with His own Son’s blood?

Paul said it like this:

“31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 NIV).

If the God of the Bible is our Father, and Jesus says that by faith He is, then we never have reason to worry.

He’s not a stupid Father! He’s not a weak Father! But that’s what we treat Him like when we worry. As if He could forget His own people. As if we might need to pick up the slack for God when He forgets to give us what we need.

He’s given us His Son to be our Savior, our Ever-living, raised-from-the-dead Savior and even calls Him our brother! He will not fail to provide what we need. We ARE far more valuable to our Father than all the little creatures and plants that He feeds and clothes every moment of every day.

Worry settles into the heart when we take God’s responsibilities on our own shoulders. King Saul and his whole army were dismayed when Goliath challenged them because they thought that their sword and skill that had to win the battle.

We too, can lose heart when we begin to think that forgiveness depends on us sinning less tomorrow. But it isn’t our doing better that kills the giant called SIN, it’s Jesus’ perfect life that did that. We just trust in the promise, just like David.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying never prepare for the future.

In Proverbs 10, verse 5 it says…

5 He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son,
but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son” (Proverbs 10:4-5 NIV).

Preparation for the future is different than worry. Peter says that all Christians should be prepared to tell people why they trust in Jesus. (1 Peter 3:15) Paul says that we should prepare ourselves to face the Devil’s temptations by putting on God’s armor. (Ephesians 6:11)

Letting our minds race around what might be said, or what might be done, or what possibly could go wrong – is not an exercise of preparing, but of worrying. It is also not an exercise of faith, but of doubt. Preparation for the future is different than worry.

Ever get stuck in the snow? Or mud? In your car I mean. Our instinct is to step on the gas. More power will help, right? But usually what works best is a steady foot on the gas. Let the weight of the car give the car some traction. Give just enough gas to move the care forward instead of polishing your own personal ice-rink with your tires.

That’s what worry is like. Spinning your tires. Thinking, oh, I can get out of this if I just put a little more mind power into it. Oh, no, it’s not working. Better spin faster. And on it goes until we’re tired and frustrated to finally sleep.

But Jesus wants us to know that even though our minds are attracted to worry, worry is really no good. Worry is not only powerless to help us, it is also a cumbersome weight that pulls us down.

Look at verse 27. Jesus says,

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV).

Worry is powerless to help us, and it is therefore foolish to waste our time and energy worrying.

I’d like to prove this fact for you right now. I’ve got a feather here. Just one single feather. I’m going to put it here in front of you. And now I’m going to move this feather onto the ground just by using the power of worry.

(Pastor concentrates hard on the feather, but nothing happens.)

Okay, maybe I’m not good at worrying. I thought I was a pretty good worrier, but I guess I’m going to need some help. Is there anyone out there who is good at worrying? Raise you hand if you’ve got some experience worrying?

(Pastor asks one person to help him “worry” the feather onto the ground. They both concentrate hard, but nothing happens to the feather.)

Looks like we’re going to need everyone’s help here. I need you all to help me worry about this feather. With our combined worrying we surely move mountains, we must be able to move this feather.

(Everyone in the congregation concentrates hard on worrying the feather to the ground, but again, nothing happens.)

Some of you are thinking, this is a very silly exercise. And Jesus would agree. Worrying about anything is a very silly exercise indeed. Worry is powerless to do anything, except waste our time, waster our energy and draw our attention away from our Father in heaven. That’s why Jesus commands His followers “Don’t worry!”, three separate times!

Did you notice that? Look at verse 25. Verse 31. Verse 34. Jesus knows that worry is a persistent problem.

There’s one more thing Jesus wants us to know about worry. Look at verse 34. Jesus says,

“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV).

I think we would all agreed that it’s foolish to let the past weigh us down. Christ Jesus cuts us free from all our past sins. It would be foolish to let guilt over those sins weigh us down. It is equally foolish to look forward and borrow tomorrow’s responsibilities today. In the present we can’t really do anything about tomorrow’s problems. We can’t really even be sure what tomorrow’s problems will be!

Have you ever gotten all prepared for some problem that you just KNOW is going to happen, and then it doesn’t? Ever had to talk to someone about something very important and gotten all tense about what they might say or do, and it turns out to be no problem at all?

When we borrow from tomorrow’s problems we borrow weight that isn’t meant for today. Leave it be, Jesus says. Quit pretending you’re God and just trust in the Father. Let today be what it is, and trust that God will care for you tomorrow also. He’s your Father, you know. He cares for you.

I’d like to end this message with a prayer.


Father in Heaven,
Forgive us for the times we try to wrestle Your responsibilities away from You. Help us not to worry, but to trust in Your promises. Help us to grow in faith, trusting in You and Your Son, knowing that You’ll take care of all the little details of our lives.

Forgive us for the times we have treated you like you didn’t know what we really needed, or like you were powerless to give us the right things. When we worry, help us to remember the birds and the flowers, which you feed and clothe. And help us to remember the way you have already clothed us with Christ’s righteousness, totally apart from our help.

When we find ourselves worrying about something, help us to realize it, Lord, and to throw off our worry with prayer.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name, through whom You have made all worry a silly thing.


The Peace of God which surpasses all our understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

September 20, 2009

Being Heaven-Minded - Sep 20, 2009

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We’re in the second part of the Sermon on the Mount today. In the beginning of that Sermon, Jesus addressed the FALSE TEACHINGS of the Pharisees. Here in the second part Jesus has been addressing the FALSE WORSHIP of the Pharisees.

Jesus hasn’t been using the word, “Pharisee”, but we can be sure they understood that He was talking about them.

When Jesus described how NOT to worship, He described how THEY worshipped! He said, don’t be like the people who love to give to the needy – IN PUBLIC so everyone can see how generous they are. Don’t be like the people who love to pray – OUTLOUD so everyone can hear what good followers of God they are. Don’t be like the people who love to fast – BUT TELEGRAPH IT to everyone by the way their faces look, so that everyone knows they GENEROUS and PIOUS and they even go BEYOND what God commands them to do. They fast not only ONCE a year but twice a week!

This was how the Pharisees “worshipped” God. And as Jesus later said, ““Everything they do is done for men to see…” (Matthew 23:5 NIV).

Their spiritually was a show. Their religion, a machine they used to get attention. Their thoughts were not focused on the God of Heaven, but on the things of earth.

True followers of God are HEAVENMINDED. And that’s what Jesus is going to talk about today, being Heaven-minded.

Turn to Matthew 6, verse 19.

“19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV).

Where you invest, YOU are invested. Let me explain.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger made movies, he was selling himself. He was selling an image of strength, an Austrian accent, little lines like “I’ll be back”. He was selling his personality. Who he was and how he did things.

When you make money at your job, you’re doing the same thing. You take your talents and abilities, your personality and time and you turn it into a paycheck. You’re taking who you are and what you do and making it into money.

When you then invest that money in the stock market, you’re really investing PART OF YOU.

Think about the stock market crash of 1929. Some people had invested everything they had into the market. They had invested more than money. They had invested their hopes and dreams, their time and effort, their emotions – their lives into that stock market. When it failed, they felt they had NOTHING LEFT. Some even took their own lives in despair.

When you invest something of yours, you are investing part of YOU.

With this in mind, Jesus says we’ve got two investment choices. Either we can invest in this earth. In the physical things that we can see and feel. Or, we can invest in Heaven.

But Jesus says, if you’re going to invest in the world be aware of this – EVERYTHING in this world eventually FALLS APART, or DISAPPEARS.

But investing in Heaven is a different thing. In God’s presence NOTHING DECAYS and nothing can ever be STOLEN. The treasures of Heaven are secure and eternal.

So, let’s take it back to the Pharisees for a moment. In all their acts of fake worship, the Pharisees were investing in the world. Get me attention, get me a reputation. That’s what they were investing in. And all of that was going to fall apart eventually. The better thing to invest in was a relationship with God.

Jesus says that the difference between a Heaven-minded person and an Earth-minded person is like the difference between someone who can see and someone who is blind.

Matthew 6, verse 22. Jesus continues by saying…

“22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 NIV).

Human beings are born into darkness. They are sinful from conception and without faith in God when they’re born.

But when the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel, these things change. Through the Bible, God shows people that they’re sinners, but He loves them. Loves them so much that He’s opened the way to Heaven for them. How? God’s sinless Son took the sinner’s place in hell. Jesus suffered their hell while He was dying on the cross. Because of His suffering, our sins have been paid for. In Jesus we have forgiveness.

And to prove that this all was not just some religious story made up to make people feel better about their mistakes, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Our Savior lives, now and forever.

Turn to First Peter 1, verse 3. First Peter is just a few books back from Revelation. Peter, John, Jude, Revelation. First Peter 1, verse 3. To fellow followers of Jesus, Peter writes…

“3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NIV).

Our first birth was into spiritual deadness and blindness. Through Jesus’ resurrection we are born all over again, forgiven and spiritually alive.

We sinners made saints. Blind beggars who can now see. Because of Jesus our Savior, we have been made princes and princesses of Heaven. Owners of an everlasting inheritance.

But if we replace God with something else, be it ourselves, or money or some false god, then darkness returns. And with darkness, stumbling and pain.

When I was a kid, my Dad used to take the church youth group down to the Black Hills of South Dakota every summer for a camping trip.

We’d explore different parts of the Black Hills each time. Once we crossed over into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower. Once we hiked up to the castle lookout tower on Harney Peak. And once we took a tour down into a deep cave.

In the cave the guide gave us each a simple lantern. It was a sideways bucket with a candle in it. Then he led us down into the darkness. When we had gone far enough he had us sit in a circle in a place where the path widened out a bit. When we were all there, he had us blow our candles out.

He said we were now experiencing complete darkness. We were far enough down in the cave that NO light could reach us. Try as you might, you really couldn’t see you hand in front of your face.

Now, the cave wasn’t much of a maze. There were only a few different paths that you might follow. So, on the way back out of the cave they let us explore on our own. Of course, everyone wanted to find their own special way up.

As I was finding my way out, my candle started to flicker. It had burned down to the end. The kids that were with me were either to far ahead or to far behind for me to use their light. So when mine went out, I couldn’t see a thing.

Stupidly, I tried to keep moving forward. Slowly, feeling my way along the walls. But even moving slowly, when I bashed my knee into a large, chunky boulder it hurt. A lot. I decided to wait until the grownups caught up.

Turn to First Timothy 6, verse 9. The apostle Paul wrote this to a young pastor named Timothy.

“9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NIV).

If we try to find our way through life without Jesus, we’re just groping in the dark, no doubt headed for some painful experiences.

Turn back to Matthew 6, verse 24. There are somethings that seem grey in the Bible. Hard for us to understand. Hard to define. In this section Jesus is all black and white.

You can either invest in the world, or in heaven. You can either see through the eyes of faith, or you’re blind. And true devotion can’t be divided. Matthew 6, verse 24. Jesus says…

“24“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24 NIV).

Over 20 years ago a survey was taken in America (James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Prentice Hall, 1991)). The survey asked people, “What would you do for 10 million dollars?” There was a list of things people could pick from. Things like…

“Abandon your family.”
“Abandon your church.”
“Become a prostitute for a week.”
“Leave your spouse.”
“Kill a stranger.”

The results were startling. For 10 million dollars…

…25 percent would abandon their family.
…25 percent would abandon their church.
…23 percent would become a prostitute for a week.
…16 percent would leave their spouse.
…7 percent would murder a stranger.

You can’t be Heaven-minded and Earth-minded. There is only one throne on top the human heart. Either God sits there as King, or something else.

Part of being Heaven-minded is truly meaning what we say in the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re saying, “God I want to do what you want me to do, just like the angels do. Perfectly.”

But being Heaven-minded also means confessing our sins to God when we fail to do His will. Being Heaven-minded means trusting Him when He tells us, “I forgive you. Because of My Son, I forgive you.”

Let’s be serious here. Maybe we’ve never been offered 10 million dollars to do something we know is wrong, but how many times haven’t we chosen evil over the good, for far less than a million?

How about every day.

That’s why the Master we serve is so special. His Word says,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV).

Invest in your relationship with the Father, not in things that never satisfy and won’t last.

Let Jesus illuminate your every step, by listening to His Words every day.

Serve the Master, by believing His promise and learning to live His way.

Be, Heaven-minded.


The Peace of God which surpasses all our understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

September 13, 2009

Jesus Teaches Fasting - Sep 13, 2009

To LISTEN to this week's sermon online click here. To DOWNLOAD an MP3, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as".


Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What I have in my hand right here is a flashlight. It has a working switch. It has batteries. It has a light bulb. It even has the one thing that makes a flashlight valuable. It has light.

However, if I don’t turn it on, it won’t help me find my way in the darkness. If I point it the wrong way, again, it won’t help me. If I shine it directly into my eyes, it’s going to make things harder to see, not easier. In order for this flashlight to be a useful tool, it needs to be USED PROPERLY.


We have many tools meant to help us worship. We might think of the organ, the hymnal, the bulletin, the Bible, our voices, our emotions, our minds, our hearts. But, in order for these things to be useful in worshipping our God, they need to be USED PROPERLY.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had many of the same kinds of worship tools that we have now, and some different ones as well. But they didn’t use these tools properly. For example, when the Pharisees they pray out-loud prayers, they were actually talking to the people around them, not to God. That was an abuse of prayer.

Their acts of worship did nothing to help them see inside themselves, nor did their acts of worship help them to see God better. Their “worship” was done so that they would be seen by other men (Pastor holds flashlight above himself, shining on himself).

We’ve been studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for a while now. We’re now in the middle of the second part of that sermon, at a place where Jesus is addressing the false worship of the Pharisees. Jesus is also explaining what true worship is like.

He’s already talked about the worship tools of charitable giving and prayer. Today Jesus talks about the worship tool we call “fasting”. Turn to Matthew 6, verse 16. There Jesus says…

“16“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18 NIV).


The Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday, of every week. God didn’t command them to do this in the Bible, they simply chose to do it. They picked Monday and Thursday because Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the Law on a Thursday, and on Monday he came back down.

Monday and Thursday also happened to be the market days when people came into town from the country. Local courts were in session on these days also. Whether they intended it or not, on these days the Pharisees had a bigger crowd to see them fast.

And people would notice that the Pharisees were fasting. The Pharisees made sure of that. First of all, they made it known that Monday and Thursday were their fasting days. Then they made their time of fasting obvious by changing their appearance.

Jesus teaches that this is a MISUSE OF A WORSHIP TOOL. They were shining the “flashlight of fasting” on themselves so that others would notice them. But fasting is a worship tool that is mean to be used in secret.


Of the three worship tools that Jesus talks about in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, I think fasting is the least known to us and the least used. We know about charitable giving. We know about prayer. But how much do we know about fasting? Do we ever use this tool?

Do me a favor, raise your hand if you’ve EVER fasted with a religious purpose in mind.

Raise your hand if you consider fasting a very important part of your worship life.

If you look in our Catechism you won’t find fasting in the table of contents or in the index. You’ll find it mentioned in connection with the Lord’s Supper, but not explained in much detail.

So it isn’t surprising that we don’t consider fasting an important part of our worship. If you look in the Old Testament, God only required the Israelites to fast once a year. That doesn’t sound very important.

Even though God only commanded the Israelites to fast once a year, we find examples of people fasting all over in the Bible. Sometimes it’s an individual fasting as part of their worship in the Temple (Hannah). Sometimes it’s a congregation fasting before they send out a team of evangelists (Paul and Barnabas). Sometimes it’s a whole city fasting to God (Jonah’s Nineveh).


There are three basic kinds of fasting. There’s the NORMAL fast, when no food is eaten. There’s the ABSOLUTE fast, when food and water avoided. And there’s the PARTIAL fast, where only certain foods are avoided.

Simple enough. But the question remains: What is fasting good for? What exactly does it accomplish?


You know how I said that God commanded the Israelites to fast once a year? That day when all the people were supposed to fast was the Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement was the only day of the whole year that God permitted a priest, and it had to be THE HIGH PRIEST, to enter the innermost room of the Temple. The Most Holy Place.

On this day a sacrifice was made for all the sins of the people of Israel. And the blood of that special sacrifice was carried into the Most Holy Place.

There were all sorts of things that made this day special. Unique. Set apart from all other days. Fasting was ONE of the things that helped to set this day apart. Fasting can help identify a time as HOLY or SPECIAL toward God.


When we look up examples of fasting in the Bible, we find that prayer is associated with fasting. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that fasting is associated with prayer. Prayer is the bigger thing. Fasting is the smaller accessory. Fasting is added to prayer to make it stand out.

We often bow our heads when we pray. Ever think about why we do that? The Bible says that when Jesus prayed He actually “looked up to heaven”. Why do we look down? I think it’s a way of expressing that we are sinners who come before God in humility. He is so much greater than we are, so we bow in reverence and awe.

In moments of deep distress or need we might express this humble approaching of God even more intensely. We might actually fall down on our knees in order to pray to God. We might curl ourselves over more tightly than usual, or squeeze our hands together harder in our focused concentration.

That’s what fasting is. Fasting is a premeditated and more intensive “falling on your knees” or “bowing your head” before God.


Turn to Jonah 3, verse 1. Jonah is eight books back from Matthew. Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Here were see another thing that fasting expresses. Verse 1…

“1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3 NIV).

Their fasting was a physical expression of their sorrow over sin. That’s why it was valuable to God. It communicated that they were repentant.


Sometimes we are drawn to fasting naturally. Our mind is so concentrated on something that food is the last thing we want to think about. We say, who can think of food at a time like this!

Usually, I can.

I’d always been curious about fasting. I never understood what was so special about it. So, I tried it a few times, thinking, maybe if I just do it, I’ll understand.

It didn’t work for me. I found that instead of being more focused on spiritual things, I was just more cranky and irritable.

Fasting is a worship tool, but maybe not one that is particularly beneficial for you. Or, maybe it is, but you need to learn it slowly. Easing into it instead of diving in like I did.


In the Psalm that we read together today, the Psalmist says that he humbled himself with fasting. That reveals one of the great benefits of fasting. It helps us to cultivate stronger SELF-CONTROL.

Fasting is a form of self-denial. What your body wants, you say no to. And that’s a good thing to practice. For there are many times when our hearts want things that will not be good for us.

Turn to James 4, verse 6. James is just a few books back from Revelation. James, Peter, John, Jude, Revelation. Verse 4…

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NIV).

If fasting helps us to grow more humble. And God helps the humble, that alone is enough reason to fast.

In Isaiah, God describes one last benefit of fasting. Turn to Isaiah 58, verse 7. There God is describing what fasting is for…

“7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
” (Isaiah 58:7-8 NIV).

In Isaiah God points out that fasting is not just abstaining from using what you have. Sometimes fasting is going without so someone else can have what is yours.

That’s the kind of fasting Jesus knew all about.

He went without His fully glory as the Son of God every day that walked this earth as a Man. He went without food quite often because He was busy tending to the needs of the spiritually poor people of Israel. He went without justice, all the way to the cross, carrying our sins, suffering our pain, so that we could have life and forgiveness.

And on the cross He went without the Father’s presence. He felt the darkness of being truly alone. And He did all this so that we wouldn’t have to. So that we could know the loving embrace of the Father when we leave this world of sorrow.

Jesus went without forgiveness, so that we could have His.

Maybe that’s why Jesus never commands us to fast. He’s done our fasting for us already. But, if you decide to fast in your worship of the Father, remember to do it for the Father’s eyes only.

In fact, that’s Jesus’ underlying point in this part of His sermon. Do all your worship with the Father in mind. Worship to the Father. For the Father. In His way. Through His Son.


The Peace of God which surpasses all our understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

September 6, 2009

Jesus Teaches Prayer - Sep 6, 2009

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about correcting the Pharisees’ FALSE TEACHINGS. The second part, is all about correcting the Pharisees’ FALSE RELIGION. That’s the part of the Sermon on the Mount that we’re in right now. Jesus is addressing the HYPOCRITICAL WORSHIP of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were unbelievers. But they weren’t the type of unbelievers who avoided church. They were the type of unbelievers who go to church regularly so that others will see them there. They did all the outward things that God told the Israelites to do in connect with worship. They gave to the poor. They prayed. They fasted. They came to the Temple on all the special worship days. But they didn’t do all these things because they were interested in a RELATIONSHIP with their Creator. They did these things only to earn the REPUTATION as a follower of God. That pretty much sums up the Pharisees’ religion: A reputation, not a relationship.

Last Sunday we heard Jesus talk about how the Pharisees gave to the poor. They gave alright, but in very public ways so that they’d get attention. In doing this they rendered their charitable giving spiritually worthless in God’s sight. He was not pleased at all by their faithless giving.

This week Jesus moves on from charitable giving to another aspect of the Pharisees’ false religion – PRAYER.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)

5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Have you ever been in a public place and heard a parent disciplining their child? But as you listen, you hear that mom or dad’s words are really being spoken to the audience around the naughty child? I like to call this “supermarket discipline”. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.

Spoken in a voice that has no edge of seriousness in it at all:

“Nicole, you shouldn’t doo-ing that.”
“You get back here right now.”
“Do we have to go home right now?”
“If you don’t listen to me, there aren’t going to be any treats later.”

Everyone knows that mom or dad isn’t going to actually do a thing unless little Nikki smashes a king size jar of pickles on the floor. Everyone knows that mom or dad is actually talking to the strangers who are thinking, “Yikes, control your kid.”

This is really hypocritical parenting. Fake parenting. Pretend parenting.

The Pharisees did the same thing when it came to prayer. Their prayers were not really spoken to God, they were spoken for the ears of the people who heard them praying. They were fake prayers. Pretender prayers.

Jesus told a parable to illustrate this to the people. It’s found in Luke 18, verse 9.

“9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV).

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was evident in their “look-at-me” prayers. Jesus says, Don’t be like them. They will be humbled in the end. Instead, when you pray – be real.

Look at Matthew 6, verse 6 again.

“6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NIV).

If our prayers are really prayers, if they’re US TALKING TO GOD, than no one else besides Him needs to hear us. Why not go to a venue were nobody else can possible hear our words our see our bowed heads. A private place can help us to be GENUINE with God. To really speak what is on our mind. To talk to God with no pretense. To be real with Him in a way that we might find hard to do around other people.

This is one reason why evening and morning prayers are a really good idea. If we pray when we wake up and before we fall asleep that’s one place were we are IN OUR OWN ROOM, and we can pray to God openly. Genuinely.

It’s kinda like what people do when they get a cell phone call from someone they’ve got to talk to about a serious thing. They don’t stick around, they excuse themselves and take the call out of the restaurant. Where their conversation is not out in the open for all to listen in on.

So, Jesus says, 1) don’t pray like a hypocrite, and 2) be genuine. And then He gives His followers one more direction on how not to pray. Matthew 6, verse 7.

“7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8 NIV).

The pagans thought of their gods like “big people”. Their gods had the same bad character traits that people had, they just also had a lot of power. Pagans figured that if they threw up enough prayers at their gods, they could push that god into giving them what they wanted.

Now, Jesus does teach us to pray repeatedly. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father three times about the same thing. Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to KNOCK and the door will be opened. But Jesus never teaches us to use prayers like currency. You know, like if I pray enough times about this God will eventually listen and give in to what I’m asking. Or, if I ask enough other Christians to pray for me then I’ll have a better chance of getting the answer I want.

That’s a pagan thought. It’s really treating God like a human that we can manipulate if we use the right methods. Jesus says, don’t do that, your Father already knows what you need before you ask him – He’s not like you, He’s God.

That leads us to a question: If God already knows what we need and what we’ll ask for, why does He want us to pray?

I’m sure there are more reasons than I can think of. But I thought of three reasons why God might want us to pray to Him, even though He knows what we need.

First, by praying we remind ourselves that we can do NOTHING without God, but with Him we can do EVERTHING. We can do everything through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Prayer keeps our hearts focused on God as the One who we are dependent on for EVERYTHING.

Secondly, we were made to interact with God in a Father to child relationship. Think about it for moment. God made Adam and Eve to be His children. In a loving relationship with Him. God wanted people to have this with, so He made the human race. But Adam’s sin destroyed this relationship. And as you know, only through Christ Jesus does this relationship get restored. Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins, we are forgiven and brought back into the family of God. That’s why Jesus teaches HIS FOLLOWERS to call God, OUR FATHER.

The point is, every time redeemed sinners like you and I talk to our heavenly Father, that restored relationship is being used! Our Father loves to hear us talk to Him, just like parents love to hear their children talk to them. Every time we say, “Father”, to Him, we identify HIM as our God.

Right now, my daughter Carmen has been busting out a lot of new words. She’s to that stage where she can mimic anything you ask her to, and she’s making more and more word connections to things.

Recently she started calling me Dad AND Papa. I can’t really explain how that makes me feel, but I’d guess that God feels something the same when He hears His followers talk to Him in the quiet of their private moments.

Thirdly, the Bible teaches us that peace if obtained through prayer. Turn to Philippians 4, verse 6.

“6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

Here Paul says, Don’t worry, pray, and God will replace your burden with His peace, the peace which comes from Jesus gives. That’s the peace which reminds us that our failings are forgiven. That’s the peace which reminds us that Jesus has promised to never leave us, but to guide us by His Word and His Spirit. That’s the peace which we have access to through prayer.

So, Jesus has described how to pray and how not to pray. Don’t be a hypocrite. Be genuine. Don’t treat God like a human being. Jesus then gives an example prayer to His followers. Turn to Matthew 6, verse 9. You might be familiar with this one, we call it the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus says…

“9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

This prayer is very short, very concise, but packed with meaning. Here’s a little exercise you can try at home. Open you Bible up to the Lord’s Prayer and try to make it shorter without losing meaning.

It’s just about impossible to do. The Lord’s Prayer is SHORT, BUT VERY SWEET. It’s so rich with meaning that in His catechism, Martin Luther devotes at least a page to each line! In fact, Luther says,

“Since our Lord is the author of this prayer, it is without a doubt the most sublime, the loftiest, and the most excellent. If he, the good and faithful Teacher, had known a better one, he would surely have taught us that too.

…It would be better for you to pray one Lord’s Prayer with a devout heart and with thought given to the words… than… all other prayers” (Luther, M. (1999, c1969). Vol. 42: Luther's works, vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (42:21-22). Philadelphia: Fortress Press).

With this prayer, Jesus gives us a prayer to model our own after. Christian prayer should be short and sweet with meaning, for pagan prayers are long and full of emptiness.

We don’t have time right now to go through each line of Jesus’ prayer. We could easily spend a sermon on each. But note this about the Lord’s Prayer, only one line is dedicated to a non-Spiritual request. The line about God giving us the food we need for each day. The rest are all about Spiritual things. We’re drawn to pray about physical things, when the Spiritual are so much more weighty.

Note also that Jesus includes in His model prayer, that we ask for forgiveness for our sins. This is a safeguard against ever forgetting that apart from God we would be damned. Only because of Jesus can we pray to God, for only the righteous can speak with the Father safely. And we have been declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection. As surely as He lives, we are redeemed. Connected to Jesus by faith, His righteousness is now ours. That’s why Jesus throws those last two verses in. He says,

“14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV).

The forgiven, forgive. We cannot claim to be God’s people if we refuse to forgive. We cannot ask FOR forgiveness day after day if we don’t extend that same forgiveness of Christ to those around us. It is the hypocrite who tries to claim forgiveness without giving it. Jesus says, you are no pretenders, so forgive just as God forgave you.

Jesus teaches us that our prayer should be GENUINE, TO THE POINT, SPIRITUAL, and spoken from a forgiving heart of a forgiven child of God. I’d like to pray the Lord’s Prayer together now. But in a different way than we usually do. I’ll speak with my mouth, you speak ONLY with your hearts as I do. Say this prayer inside yourself with focus on its meaning, and with thought given to each word.

Though far above us, Your are Our Father,
May who You are be honored by all,
May your control permeate our hearts,
May what you desire be done by us as perfectly as the angels do.
Give us the portion of food we need for today.
Forgive our sins, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t carry us into temptation, but away from Satan. Amen.

The Peace of God which surpasses all our understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.