Regarding All Sentient Beings…

So begins a prayer chanted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the 1994 John Main Seminar in London. This yearly seminar is sponsored by the World Community for Christian Meditation, and was the first time that the Dalai Lama had been invited to comment publicly on the Gospels of Jesus Christ. It was truly a momentous occasion, captured in detail in the book The Good Heart, A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. I share this prayer – not only because it is poignant and lovely – but because it vividly describes the view that I believe a Christian should have of his fellow man and the world. In Buddhist terms, it beautifully reflects Christ’s example of humility as described in Philippians 2:1-8:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“When His Holiness resumed his place on a straight chair in the center of the raised platform, the lights were dimmed in the auditorium. He tucked and folded various ends and corners of his robes, shifted and settled his body into a quiet position, took out his beads, closed his eyes, and began to pray. It must have struck many members of the audience who have Catholic mothers and grandmothers how the Dalai Lama’s small preparations and especially his completely familiar, comfortable, easy, and tender way with the beads seemed to cut across the divisions of culture and language. The chant itself did not sound at all like a Hail Mary, but the reverence with which it was sung and listened to was unmistakable.

Regarding all sentient beings
as excelling even the wish-granting gem
for accomplishing the highest aim,
may I always hold them most dear.

When in the company of others
I shall always consider myself the lowest of all,
And from the depth of my heart
Hold them dear and supreme.

Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears,
Which endangers myself and others,
I shall confront and avert it
Without delay.

When I see beings of wicked nature
Overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering
I shall hold such rare ones dear,
As if I have found a precious treasure.

When others, out of envy, treat me with abuse,
Insult me or the like,
I shall accept defeat,
And offer the victory to others.

When someone I have benefited
And in whom I have great hopes
Gives me terrible harm,
I shall regard him as my holy spiritual friend.

In short, both directly and indirectly, do I offer
Every benefit and happiness to all sentient beings, my mothers;
May I secretly take upon myself
All their harmful actions and suffering.

May they not be defined by the concepts
Of the eight profane concerns,
And aware that all things are illusory,
may they, ungrasping, be freed from bondage.

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Sermon on the Mount: Week 6

What an incredible thing to know that Jesus Himself taught us how to pray. So often we stutter and mumble while praying, unsure of the “right” thing to say to God, wondering if what we are saying truly expresses our hopes, desires, and needs to our Father. How many of us simply turn to the “Lord’s Prayer” of Matthew 6:9-13? These are words of perfection — words that somehow encompass all that we would ever need or want to say to God.

“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed by Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily  bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

The opening of the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”) rightly expresses worship of our heavenly Father. We should enter into prayer expressing our praise and adoration of the one true God of the universe. But here’s the catch — Jesus is introducing a relationship here. A relationship with a God who is also our Father — someone we can approach with the love and adoration that we would approach our earthly father. I have known people who have not had the gift of an earthly father, and the realization that they have a heavenly father who can fulfill the same role (and infinitely more) is an unbelievable blessing.

The next phrase (“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) expresses both allegiance and submission, which naturally flow from worship. We have first expressed praise for the one sovereign God and, in coming to know who He really is, we naturally bow our knee in front of Him and acknowledge that our greatest desire is to see His kingdom fulfilled on earth. Arthur points out that this portion of the prayer “has the effect, then, of drawing us into intercession for those outside the kingdom of God…we are praying that Jesus’ lost sheep would hear His voice, come to Him, and receive eternal life.” (p 147) We are also submitting to the will of God above all else and recognizing that submission to God’s ultimate purpose-plan must come before any of our own needs and desires.

Note that the next phrase (“Give us this day our daily bread”) only comes after we first express worship, allegiance, and submission to God. Jesus is teaching us here that there is an order to prayer that puts our needs and desires into the context of who God is, and who we are in relation to God. Yes, our needs are important to God — but our needs must be expressed in accordance with the character of God.  We can only understand the character of God by delving into His Word. The petition here is for a daily need to be fulfilled — the “daily bread” — in other words, daily and even momentary sustenance. What we need for now, with the full knowledge that God will provide according to His will.

The next phrase (“And forgive us our debts, and we also have forgiven our debtors”) is a confession and cry for forgiveness that also includes a recognition of the need to forgive others. Jesus had already expressed in the Beatitudes “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  Here He is saying the same thing in a different way — our own forgiveness is undeniably linked to our forgiveness of others. As Arthur states so accurately, “Failing to forgive others shows that we have no comprehension of what we are really asking for, or of the magnitude of our own debt to a holy God.” (p 149) Many people resist the truth and implications of this part of the Prayer. I think Jesus knew this, because he immediately follows the Prayer with a further explanation: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). Plain and simple.

The next phrase (“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”) is a cry for deliverance that only comes after our confession and forgiveness of others. Jesus is not saying here that any temptation could come from God (cr. James 1:13-14), but He is leading us to acknowledge that we are always vulnerable to sin and need constant vigilance to not stray into evil behavior. The flesh is weak and we need God’s daily protection and deliverance if we are to live righteous and holy lives.

The final phrase (“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen”) is a return to worship and is a rightful reminder that it is only because of God’s kingdom, power, and glory that we can approach him on our knees in the first place. In this prayer we have given worship, allegiance, and submission. We have petitioned for our daily needs to be fulfilled according to God’s character. We have confessed our sin and asked forgiveness. We have asked for deliverance and protection. And we have come full circle, worshipping again.

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 10

We finished our study of Ephesians this week with a discussion on the Armor of God and the importance of recognizing that God’s own helmet (His salvation) and sword (His word) have been offered to us. We can surely stand against the enemy with the strength of His might!

Thanks again to Charles Talbert, a great scholar and the author of my frequently-referenced commentary on Ephesians. And many thanks to those who studied along with us on-line. Please join us again!

May we love our Lord Jesus with a love that has unending existence, a love incorruptible!

Ephesians 6:10-24

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A.      The Whole Armor of God

1.       Why do we need it?

a.        Spiritual warfare

  • “In the present, the spiritual powers continue their assault on humans, attempting to create divisions and lawlessness…There is warfare between the heavenly powers and believers. Believers need to know how to resist.” (Talbert, p 158)

b.       Spiritual strength

  • The armor of God provides the tools we need to achieve the goals described in Ephesians: unity of the church, unity with other believers, unity in the household, unity within ourselves

2.       What is it?

a.        Empowerment

  • Strength to enter into battle, resolve to remain in battle, perseverance to withstand the fight — We have access to the “strength of His might”!
  • In the ancient world, putting on another person’s clothes signaled the empowerment of that person (cf 2 Kgs 2:13-15; Judges 6:34; 2 Chr 24:20; Job 29:14-17)

b.       Equipment

  • Concrete tools: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, sword, prayer
  • Not just a conceptual idea – concrete commands to “put on” (6:11), “stand” (6:14), and “receive” or “take” (6:17)
  • God’s own helmet (His salvation) and sword (His word) have been offered to us!

B.      The Text

Parenesis (4:1-6:20) – advice or exhortation

Unity and Diversity: a call to maintain Christian unity (4:1-6) and the goals of Christian diversity (4:7-16)

A “Two Ways” form (4:17-5:21)

The Two Ways form: Part I (4:17-32)

The Two Ways form: Part II (5:1-21)

“Household Code” (5:22-6:9)

Wives and husbands (5:22-33)

Children and parents (6:1-4)

Slaves and masters (6:5-9)

The Whole Armor of God (6:10-20)

Final Greetings (6:21-24)

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[10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Final exhortation: Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

• Note the passive tense (“be strong”). The strength comes from outside of us – it comes from the Lord.

[11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

How can we be strong in the Lord?

• Put on the whole armor of God
• Individual parts of the armor can function independently, but God intends for the whole armor to be used together. An area not protected by the armor is vulnerable.

Why do we need to be strong in the Lord?

• So that we can stand against the schemes of the devil (4:27)

What does this look like?

• Wresting with the cosmic powers of evil that rule the world (2:2) – a spiritual battle – not against other human beings!!

Wrestling was a common custom in the ancient Greek world and would have been very familiar to the Ephesian readers.

• Evil powers are very real (cf, 1 Cor 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11,4:4,11:3). They exist around us on the earth and God permits them to exist in the heavenly places (for the time being).

[14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

What are we to do?

• STAND (repeated in vv 11, 13, 14) and hold your ground against the enemy!

But only after you…

• Fasten on the belt of truth (cf, Isa 11:5; Ps 91:4-5)
• Put on the breastplate of righteousness (cf, Isa 59:17a; 1 Thess 5:8a)
• Put on the shoes…the readiness given by the gospel of peace (cf, Isa 52:7)
• Take up the shield of faith (cf, Eph 3:12; 1 John 5:4)
• Take the helmet of salvation (cf, Isa 59:17a; 1 Thess 5:8b) and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (cf, Isa 11:4, 49:2; the temptation stories in Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13)
• Pray at all times in the Spirit (cf, Rom 8:26-27; Jude v 20; Luke 22:40,46)

“In sum, in this letter the Christian life is depicted neither as a steady progress toward heaven, nor as a sweeping missionary endeavor, nor as a struggle against internal psychological impulses, but rather as warfare against supernatural forces arrayed against believers. In this warfare the powers are defeated by Christ’s exaltation (1:20-22), by Christians’ moral walk in the world that does not leave an opening for the enemy (4:26-27), and by Christians’ donning God’s armor that enables them to stand against the enemy (6:10-17).” (Talbert, p 166)

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, [19] and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, [20] for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

• We should not only pray for ourselves to have strength to stand against the enemy, but we should also pray for all other believers.
• “Paul” also requests prayer for himself, that he will speak with boldness (in Greek “en parrēsia” meaning freedom of speech) instead of fear when preaching the Gospel.

Other references to Paul in “chains”: Col 4:18; 2 Tim 1:16, 2:9

[21] So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. [22] I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. [23] peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [24] Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Acknowledgement of Tychicus as “beloved brother and faithful minister,” the messenger and deliverer of the letter, and someone who can encourage the Ephesians.

Other references to Tychicus:

• Acts 20:4 as “Asian”
• Colossians 4:7 as the bearer of that letter
• 2 Tim 4:12 as being sent to Ephesus

Typical final greetings for a Pauline letter:

• Peace (2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:13b, 23 2 Thess 3:16)
• Love (cf, 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Cor 16:24)
• Grace (cf, 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:13 Gal 6:18)

…with love “incorruptible” in Greek “en aphtharsia” meaning sincerity, genuineness, unending existence (Strong’s Greek dictionary).

C.      The Major Issues

1.       God’s Armor and the “Modern Church”: Is the battle with spiritual powers or human powers?

a.        Different viewpoints (Talbert, pp 168-169)

  • Berkhof (1962): Paul was using terms from apocalyptic Judaism, but regarded the powers as structures of earthly existence.
  • Cullmann (1957): Paul is referring to the dual powers of spiritual and human authorities.
  • Caird (1976): Paul was referring to spiritual beings that operated in and through the structure of this world.
  • Bultmann (1951): The powers refer to the conflicts and struggles that characterize our human existence.
  • Wilder (1964): The language points to the structural elements of unregenerate society; the fake authorities of culture, which are the objects of Christian social action.
  • Whiteley (1957): The powers refer to “the demonic,” or aspects of creation acting chaotically and destructively that seem to have gotten out of control and threaten the lives of humans.
  • Lincoln (1995): The author of Ephesians believed the powers to be supernatural forces, but these are best thought of now in terms of ideologies and societal structures.
  • Arnold (1992): “If the realm of spirits and angels is a dominant part of the biblical world view, it should thus be a dominant part of a Christian world view in our age.”

b.       Consensus

“The text refers to evil spiritual powers that are hostile to humans. They impinge on human life, controlling those outside the Christian fold and warring against those within the fold…The basic fault line is between those who believe in personal spiritual evil and those who do not.” (Talbert, p 169)

Update from Gonaives, Haiti

Thanks to Pastor Mike Hsu for updating his blog regularly regarding the situation in Haiti and thanks to everyone for your continued prayers. According to Reuters, 695 dead bodies have been recovered in Gonaives alone. Here is the latest from C3 Missions:

Here’s the situation: the kids in the south have endured much but seem to be safe.

Gonaives is a mess. BUT, the 250 orphans in our children’s village are ok. In fact, the water has receded in the village such that the grounds of the children once discarded in this country will become a staging ground for a large relief effort tomorrow (Saturday). Through the help of Ed Barber, one of C3’s key players in Atlanta, we secured 2 helicopters on Friday. Dony and Louis and 140 pastors they’ve trained have set the children’s village as a staging ground for (a) relief to our children in Gonaives – 400 of them; and (b) relief to the 300,000 in Gonaives suffering so miserably. It’s brutal. Right now, I think it’s fair to say that the most miserable place on earth for a human being to “live” is Gonaives, Haiti. We’ve secured a huge supply of food and water. Virtually the entire population of Gonaives have gone without food and water for over 2 days. We’ll start running about 2,000 lbs. of food and water every hour tomorrow. I figure we’ll be able to get in 14,000 lbs. plus before dark, God willing. That will shore up our kids and provide sustaining, life saving relief for thousands others. The biggest threat to this effort is that the people there are so desperate that they rioting is a real possibility. These people aren’t animals. They’re just hungry. They have children to feed. What in the heck would you do if you saw a shot at a meal in that situation? You get that point. It’s our understanding that the local police and U.N. will secure the perimeter of the children’s village to allow us to stage the relief effort. A top gov’t official will be working with us in this relief effort, and we’re hoping that seeing what a little weenie organization like C3 can do frustrated by inaction will motivate other “emergency responders” to get off their butts and get some food and water in there.

Time and circumstances permitting, we’ll fly to the south just to check on all of our kids there and take them a load of food. No guarantees. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Thanks to El Shaddai. Dony and Louis have mobilized an army for this relief effort. Their local leadership inspires. . . .