Saturday, March 26, 2011

Prayer - what Jesus taught

Whose Father now?

The prayer we call the Our Father was what Jesus told the apostles when they asked him to teach them how to pray. We find this in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6.

We often pray a version close to the first widespread English translation: (King James)
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespass, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

1) Circle the words or ways of saying something that might be confusing to people 400 years later.

A more modern translation: (God’s Word)
Our Father in heaven,
let your name be kept holy.
Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
Give us our daily bread today.
Forgive us as we forgive others.
Don’t allow us to be tempted.
Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

Our Father in Chinese
2) Who is the biggest most important person you can think of? Would you run up to them and call them by a nickname?

3) Jews are not allowed to even speak the name of God, that we say as Yahweh. How would they have reacted to being told to call him “Our Father?” Some writers think that the word Jesus used is more like Daddy.

4) After calling God a nickname, we then say, ‘let your name be kept holy.’ What does that mean? Why would we tell God that?

5) Many people have argued for ages about ‘let your kingdom come.’ What does it mean to you? What else might it mean?

6) When Jesus was born, what do you think ‘our daily bread’ meant? How would you put it today?

7) I usually remember to pray “forgive me,” but I don’t usually tack on “as I forgive other people.” And in case we didn’t catch that difference, right afterward Jesus says: “If you forgive the failures of others, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failures.” Why did Jesus put that in his prayer instructions?

8) What does it mean to be tempted? Why should we pray not to be tempted?

9) Notice how this translation changes “but deliver us from evil” which to us sounds like a negative to “instead” which is what it used to mean. Instead of what?

10) Last week we talked about praying ACTS:
Do you see any of those in the Our Father?

11) One of the problems with knowing a prayer by memory is that it’s easy to pray it too fast and without thinking. Let’s try praying the Our Father super slowly.

12) “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” Jesus said. If that’s true, what are we praying for?

13) Jesus wasn’t telling us to pray with these exact words, but remembering these ideas. The most important Jews at the time tended to pray making a big fuss, and acting all holy. With lots of very precise gestures and bows and rituals. Jesus was freeing his disciples from all of that. Telling them it’s simple, and that prayer is talking to a loving parent who wants to do good things for you. Let’s write our own Our Father.

14) So what’s one thing you take away from this week’s study?

Postscript:  Here's the Our Father our group wrote.
Dear Daddy who art in heaven.
May your name be kept holy.
May your powers, choices and desires thrive forever on earth like heaven.
We ask you for our needs each day.
Forgive us our sins the same way we forgive others.
Save us from sin and the chances to sin.
Save us from the Enemy, and grant us peace.

Next week: persistence

Photo credit: wikimedia commons, andycohn @ Flickr

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prayer - Out of the Box

Last week the youth group went to the parish faith formation hour that was about family prayer.  The formation is focusing on prayer this lent, and I thought that would be a good focus for us, too.  This week we're looking at the ACTS prayer format.  The idea is to pray scripturally, following the modes of prayer that we see people using in the Bible.

Adoration - We adore God for who he is.  (No asking for anything.) "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross." Hebrews 12:2
Example: Praise the names of God.  1 Chronicles 29:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:9

Confession - We see our sin as God sees it. "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
Example: Confess hiding our sins.  Psalm 32:3-5, Psalm 51:6a, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 5:16

Thanksgiving - We focus on what God has done. "Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them." Psalm 111:2
Example: Thank you for providing a way. Isaiah 30:21, Isaiah 42:16 and Proverbs 15:19

Supplication - We call on God for guidance and help, and intercede for others. "And I will do whatever you ask in my name." John 14:13a
Example:  Please help our friend to know Jesus voice and follow him.  John 10:4-5, John 18:37 and Revelation 3:20

I think an alliterating friend I have might have said - Adore, Admit, Acknowledge and Ask.

We have an amazing thing to support it.  A family friend, Marion Grothaus, worked her heart out putting together a collection of scripture to support those four ways to address God, and called it Prayer Out of the Box.  They made a small number and saw fantastic results with them in prayer groups and prison ministry, but never found a publisher. We use them in family, and my wife often prays with friends using them.

Each category has a number of cards with different bits of scripture.  We'll have the kids pick cards for adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, and I'll pick for confession, with that optional for them.

Further Reading: a blogpost on the ACTS model from The Practical Disciple.

Photocredit: The Sharpteam @ Flickr.  The prayer heart was Marion's logo for the box.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Temptations Most Effective

Study from a Senior Devil

Note from John: This is the time of year when we hear of Christ fighting Satan’s temptation with good sense and scripture. I managed to find a devil’s guide to temptation (never mind how). It appears to be based on the writings of a senior devil named Screwtape. This author seemed not to be interested in attribution. (Not surprising.) Do know that the author tends to refer to humans as “patients” and to God as the “Enemy.” It can be disorienting.  Recall that the questions are addressed to other devils.

The goal of this study is the counter attack. As you tempt your patient, should they be a Christian, they will undoubtedly follow the Enemy’s example. For each bit of excellent tempting advice below, I want you to imagine what defense your patient might provide. That should take some of the surprise out of your struggles.

You may have heard that Martin Luther said: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” And in John 8:44 Jesus says of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” But nothing could be farther from the truth. All devils love a good joke, especially one with a real bite.

One writer noted about humans and devils that there are two positions: “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” Contrast that with Paul’s ancient nonsense from Ephesians 6:12 - “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

1. How might your patient become aware of their struggle against spiritual forces?

“We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table and the more their wills are interfered with the better. [The Enemy] cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

2. Are there stories in the Bible about the Enemy being pleased with stumbles?

“[The patient] doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?”

3. What is the current jargon which distracts your patient from true or false? Is there a bible passage that would protect them from this?

“Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him … Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself, which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked the same office.”

4. How might your patient keep their self-examination on the real and practical? (You must prevent their reading of Psalm 51.)

“I have explained that you can weaken his prayers by diverting [the patient’s] attention from the Enemy Himself to his own states of mind about the Enemy. On the other hand fear becomes easier to master when the patient’s mind is diverted from the thing feared to the fear itself, considered as a present and undesirable state of his own mind; and when he regards the fear as his appointed cross he will inevitably think of it as a state of mind. One can therefore formulate the general rule; in all activities of mind which favour our cause, encourage the patient to be un-selfconscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favourable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself.”

5. What warning in the Bible would arm your patient against this attack? Which of their activities of mind might favor us most?

“Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.”

6. What good work might your patient put ahead of following God?

“If he is a big enough fool you can get him to realise the character of the friends only while they are absent; their presence can be made to sweep away all criticism. If this succeeds, he can be induced to live, as I have known many humans live, for quite long periods, two parallel lives; he will not only appear to be, but actually be, a different man in each of the circles he frequents. Failing this, there is a subtler and more entertaining method. He can be made to take a positive pleasure in the perception that the two sides of his life are inconsistent. This is done by exploiting his vanity. He can be taught to enjoy kneeling beside the grocer on Sunday just because he remembers that the grocer could not possibly understand the urbane and mocking world which he inhabited on Saturday evening; and contrariwise, to enjoy the bawdy and blasphemy over the coffee with these admirable friends all the more because he is aware of a “deeper”, “spiritual” world within him which they cannot understand. … Thus, while being permanently treacherous to at least two sets of people, he will feel, instead of shame, a continual undercurrent of self-satisfaction.”

7. How would your patient guard against living this kind of double life?

(On humor) “I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. … But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter.”

8. What are sources of flippancy in your patient’s life? How might you encourage it?

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

9. What are the small sins which most tempt your patient? How does the Sermon on the Mount warn against worrying overly about the Big Sins?

“The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin… You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books.

10. Are there any areas of your patient’s life where they are drawn to what’s fashionable or popular over what they themselves prefer?

“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.”

11. Does the bible actually warn against pride? Would the warning cover your patient from pride in humility?

“The next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him… until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches… The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”

12. What does Screwtape mean here? If your patient is regrettably avoiding church shopping, which characteristics should you guide them away from in the first place? Does scripture address this issue?

“I note with great displeasure that the Enemy has, for the time being, put a forcible end to your direct attacks on the patient’s chastity. You ought to have known that He always does in the end, and you ought to have stopped before you reached that stage. For as things are, your man has now discovered the dangerous truth that these attacks don’t last forever; consequently you cannot use again what is, after all, our best weapon—the belief of ignorant humans, that there is no hope of getting rid of us except by yielding. I suppose you’ve tried persuading him that chastity is unhealthy?”

13. What virtues, in addition to chastity, have we successfully given a negative spin to in the current age?

14. Do you have any scary stories of a patient resisting temptation long enough to find out the attack eventually ends?

“The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift… He is also, in theory, committed a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself”. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realize that he is actually in this situation every day. … Your task is purely negative. Don’t let his thoughts come anywhere near it.” (It being his assumption that your patient’s time is his own!)

15. Is there any scripture to keep your patient away from on this point? What might help your patient recognize that his time is not his own?

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. … If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. … Once [humans] knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant”. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

16. Does your patient see change as positive, regardless? How might you encourage it?

“The grand problem is that of “unselfishness”. Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.”

17. This is an invaluable distinction. What is the difference between unselfishness and charity, as Screwtape describes it?

18. The JargonDepartment has outdone themselves here, as even the word charity has some negative connotation now. What does their scripture teach about charity?

“If he insists on thinking about Jesus, make that Jesus as imaginary as you possibly can. How? Encourage once again the conception of a ‘historical Jesus’ to be found by clearing away later ‘accretions and perversions’ and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. Why? They all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical. The documents [i.e. scripture] say what they say and cannot be added to; each new ‘historical Jesus’ therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another… We thus distract men’s minds from who He is, and what He did.”

19. What bible verses might draw the patient’s attention to who the Incarnation was and what He did?

“The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth. … [The young] will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time—assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience. Experience, in the peculiar sense we teach them to give it, is, by the bye, a most useful word.”

20. Contrast this with the Enemy’s talk of “storing up treasure in heaven.” How best to encourage worldliness in your patient?

“To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage… Hatred we can manage. The tension of human nerves during noise, danger, and fatigue, makes them prone to any violent emotion and it is only a question of guiding this susceptibility into the right channels. If conscience resists, muddle him. Let him say that he feels hatred not on his own behalf but on that of the women and children, and that a Christian is told to forgive his own, not other people’s enemies. In other words let him consider himself sufficiently identified with the women and children to feel hatred on their behalf, but not sufficiently identified to regard their enemies as his own and therefore proper objects of forgiveness. But hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage.”

21. Who is your client most inclined to hate? In the absence of a good target for hate, a healthy prejudice against “them” is the best option. Who does your client dismiss as a group?

22. Is there any scripture on this, where the Enemy has warned against hate?

“You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the word ‘real’. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, “All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building”; here ‘Real’ means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had. On the other hand, they will also say “It’s all very well discussing that high dive as you sit here in an armchair, but wait till you get up there and see what it’s really like”: here “real” is being used in the opposite sense to mean, not the physical facts (which they know already while discussing the matter in armchairs) but the emotional effect those facts will have on a human consciousness. Either application of the word could be defended; but our business is to keep the two going at once so that the emotional value of the word ‘real’ can be placed now on one side of the account, now on the other, as it happens to suit us. The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist.

23. What are examples in your patient’s life which you wish to convince him are unreal? Which diabolic circumstances do you wish to convince him are real?

“[Your patient] will almost certainly be lost to us if he is killed tonight. This is so obvious that I am ashamed to write it. I sometimes wonder if you young fiends are not kept out on temptation-duty too long at a time—if you are not in some danger of becoming infected by the sentiments and values of the humans among whom you work. They, of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. I know it seems strange that your chief aim at the moment should be the very same thing for which the patient's lover and his mother are praying—namely his bodily safety. But so it is; you should be guarding him like the apple of your eye. If he dies now, you lose him.”

24. Such timely advice! This is why the worst of the Christians are those who feel urgency in reaching others with their beliefs. If, in the worst case scenario, you have lost your patient to the Enemy, what scriptures might lead him to this wholly undesirable sense of urgency?

Obviously too long for one study, the abridged version I took to the Men's study is here on Scribd.
Not necessarily from Amazon, but buy the book! Or John Cleese's excellent reading.
Note from a man who has memorized The Screwtape Letters
Jeff Cheadle's sermon on The Screwtape Letters.
Photo credits, from Flickr: dmitrij, cliff1066

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


photo: Jacob Whittaker @ Flickr

When you think about God, do you have a picture in your head?

If you do, what do you picture?

Where did that picture come from?

Here is a preview of the video.  (You can find the whole thing online, but I encourage you to support the ministry if you like their materials.)

Scripture from the video:
Exodus 3:14 
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

Deuteronomy 4:15-18
You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.

John 4:24  God is sheer being itself – Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.

John 10:10  I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.

Discussion Questions
Why do you think people, including some writers of the Bible use human physical references like “hands,” “feet,” “eyes,” and “he” to describe God, when other Scriptures state that God is a spirit and has no form?

What do these characteristics of God mean: truth, love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion? 

Does he have these characteristics or is He these?  Like ‘He is truthful’ or ‘He is truth’?

Is what we believe or what we do more important to Jesus?  How do you know?

What does Jesus mean by “life in the fullest”?

Do you believe that if you live the way Jesus taught us to live, being in tune with the song, that you will have life in its fullest?

Jot down one thing you got from this video and discussion: