The Angel Behind You

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them . . . coming between the armies of Israel and Egypt (Exodus 14:19-20).

Long walks through the desert are hard and risky.  The wilderness route is void of exit ramps and clean rest areas and Chick-Fil-A drive thru windows. There’s not much to see; the desert is numbingly dull and redundant.  But there’s one thing that can make the most arduous desert journey a glorious venture: the presence of the living God.

The joy of the trip often depends on who you’re with. 

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they didn’t simply scurry away in an exuberant escape from oppression and slavery. The Exodus from Egypt was guided; the people were led.  “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light . . . neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:21-22).   

This pillar was the presence of God, and it was visibly placed at the head of the line.  God was showing the way, guiding their steps, giving direction.

When you know without a doubt that God is in front of you, you’ll go just about anywhere.   

In the Day of Trouble

And then the day of trouble came; chariots and horses and battalions kicking up sand and narrowing the barren gap that separated the Hebrews from their would-be captors. The day of trouble came, and the presence of God that had been visibly up front withdrew and moved behind them. There is much the story leaves out at this point. Did the people see and understand what was happening? Maybe they did.  As for us . . . well, that’s a question to ponder for a moment.

We hit the day of trouble and often become painfully aware of God’s absence.  God no longer seems to be leading us, we don’t know where to go, we’re not sure what’s next.    

Typically, we look for God in front of us.  Faith is best exercised as we look forward.  So much mystery lies ahead of us, our lives cloaked in a future we don’t yet know.  We search for God’s presence in the not-yet-revealed. 

But as we strain to see what’s ahead of us and agonize over the presence of God that we used to see but can no longer detect, that very presence remains with us.  The presence withdraws from our point of focus and moves behind us.

God is working powerfully in the places we’re not looking.   

There All Along

I spend so much mental and emotional energy trying to discern where my journey is headed, the place I’m supposed to be going, the destination at which I have not yet arrived. I’ve found that God can be hard to see when I’m straining forward.

It’s when I look back, looking at the places I’ve been, that God’s presence seems clearer. There God was all along, guiding in ways I didn’t know or notice at the time.  

I don’t want to stretch the meaning of the Exodus story beyond what is proper to the context. As the angel moved behind the Israelites it’s clear that God formed a buffer between the Egyptians and the people. It’s a protective and defensive move. God was buying time, giving them a huge head start through the walls of water.  But perhaps something else was happening at the same time.

Maybe God moved behind them to protect them from their urge to turn back.  

Maybe God moved behind them to teach them that what looks like his absence, his withdrawal, is simply his presence surprising us. 

Sometimes, before the waters part in front of us, God goes to work behind us.

Take a moment today and look back. Are there ways you can detect the presence of an angel behind you?


Ever present God, we are quick to complain of your absence.  As we take a few more steps today in our own journey of faith, surprise us with your presence.  We thank you for your faithfulness that surrounds us on all sides.  Work in the places we tend to overlook.  Move in behind us; guard us from the threats or mistakes of the past. Keep us from turning back.  And remind us how you’ve been there all along, faithfully guiding. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Standing Still, Moving On

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on (Exodus 14:14-15). 

At the Red Sea, panic started to set in. For the people, that is. Not for Moses. Certainly not for God.

We can hardly fault the Israelites for freaking out at that particular place, in that particular moment. Looking back, they could see dust clouds announcing the approach of Pharoah’s army – chariots, horsemen, troops (14:9-10). Looking ahead, they saw a body of water that stopped them in their tracks.

They were terrified and cried out to the Lord (14:10). In response they received two words of instruction.

They were not told to fight the Egyptians.

They were not told to part the waters of the Red Sea.

They were not told to take a different route.

They were told to stand still. And they were told to move on. Those seem contradictory, confusing, inconsistent. But both are rooted in the one thing that God wants his people to learn.

Standing Still

At the sight of the approaching Egyptian army a contagion of fear spread among the Hebrews. There was nowhere to go. They vented their anger at Moses: “What have you done?”  And then they slipped into despair: “Slavery would have been better than a death in the desert” (14:12).   

In the midst of their anger and despair, Moses gave a word of instruction and promise.  “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (14:14).

You need only to be still.  Nothing could be harder.  Stillness is counter-intuitive when we’re eaten up with anxiety. It’s hard to find stillness when you’re trapped, out of options.

When financial options are exhausted. When a relationship seems damaged beyond repair. When a career is going nowhere. And yet these are the places where God’s work of salvation unfolds.  The stillness Moses commanded is how we get out of the way.  Stillness allows us to enter into that salvation work.

Moving On

But at some point, the stillness must meet with action and risk. At the Red Sea God eventually commanded his people to stop crying and start moving.  “Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on” (Ex. 14:15).

At this moment in Israel’s journey stillness and movement stand shoulder to shoulder. I’m struck by how they connect, how stillness shapes the movement, what the movement reveals about the stillness.

To stand still and never come to a point of moving on is to be paralyzed by fear.

And moving on without first finding that place of stillness easily becomes an impulse reaction that is likewise driven by fear.

Something different is happening at the Red Sea. Moses’ command to “stand still” and God’s command to “move on” are both expressions of trust. The paralysis of fear is absent here. And the out-of-control knee-jerk reaction is also absent.

At the Red Sea to stand still is to believe that “the Lord will fight for you” (14:14). God is present and active; God is on your side; God has the matter firmly in hand.

And to move on is to believe that there’s a way forward that you cannot see in this present moment. There will be firm ground beneath your feet. 

The question for your journey: Which of these is God trying to teach you today?

Is there a way in which God is inviting you to stand still, to be at rest in his care, to get out of the way and see the salvation of the Lord?

Or is this a moment in your life when God is asking you to take a step, to risk moving even though you’re not entirely sure what’s ahead for you?

Standing still and moving on. Both teach us trust. And trust, perhaps even more than destination, is the point of the journey.


With every step of our journey, O God, you are working to teach us to trust you. Sometimes that means being still, getting out of the way. At other times that means risking the next step. We ask you now to give us wisdom to know what you’re asking of us today. Accompany us on the journey, we pray, and lead us to know you better. Give us grace to become who you’ve called us to be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

How Did I End Up Here?

So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18 NLT).

After one full year of seminary in Texas I was sure I had made a mistake. About Texas, not seminary.

True to the song, Georgia was always on my mind. I was single and far from home. I didn’t really know anyone out there. Having left the rolling green hills of north Georgia, the terrain around Dallas-Fort Worth was just plain ugly. How in the world did I end up in Texas? Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ well-known story, I made a plan to return to my father’s house, at least until I could transfer. I had a speech worked out and everything.

But it never happened. I stayed in Texas. Indeed, the ways of God are beyond searching out.

A Roundabout Way

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, we are told, they left the land of their captivity with a “high hand.” The phrase suggests to me a euphoric fist-pumping parade. Some translations simply say they were “marching out boldly.” They were on their way to the promised land.

Egypt and Canaan (the promised land) were connected by a well-traveled highway. It was the shortest and most direct route between the land of their departure and their intended destination. But Exodus 13:18 tells us that God didn’t lead his people that way. Instead, he took them south on a roundabout course through barren terrain that eventually took them to the Red Sea.

And the Red Sea suddenly looked like a death sentence. Pursued by Egyptian chariots, the people were convinced that Moses had led them to their graves. They blamed Moses and regretted having ever left the life they knew in Egypt. But let’s not be too hard on the Israelites. The Bible tells us a couple of things that they could have never known.

For one thing, that easy road went straight through Philistine territory. The Israelites were not ready to face that enemy. In later years they would engage the Philistines, plenty of times in fact. But upon leaving Egypt they were not ready for that challenge. God was at work to guard them from defeat and discouragement.

But why the Red Sea? Wasn’t that just as discouraging? Why that out-of-the-way route? At the Red Sea God revealed his power and he showed his people yet again that he could be trusted. God would have to do things like this over and over again. As has been observed, it didn’t take Moses very long to get the people out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the people.

Meanwhile Back in Texas

Today you may be wondering: If God is faithful to guide me, and if God is good, then how did I end up here (and why?).

I don’t want to sound as if the answer to this is easy. I simply point to the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites to remind you that God doesn’t always take the path we’d take if left to ourselves.

For the next few weeks we’ll be walking with the Israelites on their trek from Egyptian slavery to the rich land God had promised to give them as a home. With every step of this journey we’ll be giving attention, in one way or another, to this basic truth: God is doing more than you know in the roundabout journey that seems to be nowhere near where you want to be.

If you were to look back and map your life to this point, you might see a route that was at times unplanned and unwelcomed. But never unfruitful. Long after Moses, the apostle Paul would frame the idea in a slightly different way when he wrote, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

God won’t lead you out of Egypt and bail on you at the Red Sea.

So back to Texas. I ended up being there longer than planned. But I was called to pastor my first congregation – a wonderful and very patient group of people in southern Oklahoma. And after that I went to Houston and reconnected with a hometown girl who eventually became my wife. God was so good to me out west – in ways I never dreamed of while plotting my return to the east.    

Whatever path you’re on right now, God is with you. He makes a way, and his way is good.

Trust him and keep moving.


Gracious God, guide us as you will. As we journey with you, calm our fears and forgive our complaining. Make us bold to trust you, especially when the path takes us to hard and threatening places. Make our steps firm and keep us close to you, bringing your work in us to completion, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How to End a Prayer

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen. (footnote to Matthew 6:13)                                                                                                                                        

Knowing how and when to finish is a good thing. I guess I’m especially aware of that this morning since this is the concluding post on the Lord’s Prayer. At Grace Church we’ll begin a new series of messages this Sunday, so this is a final reflection (for now) on the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

How to end? That can be tricky when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer.

Good stories are marked by good endings. Good presentations have good and memorable endings. Good sermons likewise should have a good ending.

But what about prayers? How do you end a prayer?

Found In A Footnote?

The question isn’t merely about language. Most of us know the words that signify a prayer’s conclusion: “In Jesus’ name” and “Amen” top the list. Indeed, those are the things we say to end a prayer, but is that it? What happens to our praying when the prayer itself has ended?

The prayer Jesus taught us to pray doesn’t have a nice ending. Neither Luke nor Matthew gives us as much as an “Amen.” Jesus seems to leave us hanging. If his first disciples had been listening to Jesus speak this prayer, heads bowed and eyes closed, they would have peeked at the end, wondering what happened. They might have awkwardly glanced at each other as if to say, “is that it?”

Over the years, as the New Testament manuscripts were copied and shared, a benediction appeared at the end of the Lord’s prayer. Scholars debate the authenticity of the words we know so well. These words lower the landing gear and bring us to the stopping point; “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.” Many are surprised to see these words only in a footnote to Matthew 6:13. They don’t show up at all in Luke’s gospel. 

I like Ray Pritchard’s conclusion on this matter. In his book And When You Pray, he writes: “After all is said and done, no one can say with certainty that Jesus did or did not say these words. The matter is not totally closed either way. I think he said them at least once when he taught the Lord’s Prayer. I also think he sometimes omitted these words. And I think the manuscript evidence reflects these two traditions.”   

Everything Placed in God’s Hands

The scholars may be right in placing these words in a footnote, but it is good and right that we say these words when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. This is a good way to end a prayer, and here’s why:

Once we’ve said what we need to say, everything from that point on belongs to God.

Once we’ve sought the glory of God’s name and the doing of God’s will; once we’ve asked for God to rule all things; once we’ve asked for our daily bread and for forgiveness; once we’ve asked to be kept from anything that would pull us from God and destroy our faith; once we’ve said all we know to say the rest is up to God.

All authority, all power, all glory belongs to God.

We leave our prayer in God’s hands.

More than that, we leave our very lives in God’s hands.

That’s a good way to end a prayer.

And so today we’re ending our reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. We’re meditating on those last words that we speak so often. But the praying itself does not end.

As Paul urged us, we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We bring our lives before God, and we give expression to what we need and what we yearn for. As Jesus instructed, we speak these things without babbling or rambling on and on (Matt. 6:7). The prayer ends but the praying goes on as we look to God to accomplish all things concerning us.

All authority and power and glory belong to God. We confidently leave our prayer in God’s hands knowing that he will bring all things to completion.

And there’s no better ending than that.


When we’ve said all we know to say, O God, our prayers are placed in your hands. We do this gladly knowing that all authority and power and glory belong to you. You have the power and authority to do what is right and good for us. In all that you do we give you glory. When our prayers have ended, our praying goes on as we place ourselves in your care. We do so even now, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sometimes You Fight, Sometimes You Fail

And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one (Matt. 6:13 NLT).

Time for a brief review: Lord’s Prayer 101.

The prayer Jesus gave us to pray is recorded in two places in the New Testament. The most familiar version, the one repeated weekly in many churches, is found in Matthew 6.

Matthew’s version of the prayer falls nicely into two parts, each part containing three petitions or requests. The first set of petitions is God focused: the hallowing of God’s name, the doing of God’s will and the coming of God’s kingdom.

The second part is made up of petitions that deal with us and our needs: daily bread, forgiveness, and being guarded from temptation and evil.

This is the most commonly observed structure of the Lord’s Prayer: Two sets of three, or 3+3. This is helpful. Furthermore, it is true. But there is another way to understand the prayer.

Our Deepest Prayer

Rather than seeing two sets of three, the petition that asks God to glorify or hallow his name is seen as the anchor of the entire prayer. The honoring of God’s name is our deepest prayer. And everything else is a means by which God does that.      

God’s will is done and his kingdom is established so that his name will be honored and hallowed.

God provides daily bread not simply to feed us, but to magnify and hallow his name.

God forgives, and we likewise forgive, so that God will be glorified, his name hallowed.

Everything in the prayer, everything about our lives, is ultimately about showing that God is at the center of our lives and worthy of our deepest affections. In this God’s name is hallowed. And we hallow his name even in our battle with temptation. When you fight temptation, the name is hallowed. And even when you fail, the name can be hallowed.

When You Fight Temptation 

Every time you resist temptation you show with your life that God is better, more satisfying, than whatever it is that tempts you. John Piper writes that “In temptation sin comes to us and says, ‘the future with God on his narrow way is hard and unhappy, but the way I promise is pleasant and satisfying’.”[1]

When you fight temptation you name the lie, and you choose God: God over gossip or greed or lust or revenge. When you fight temptation the name of God is hallowed. It has been said that “lead us not into temptation” implies an acknowledgement of our weakness. “Deliver us from evil” acknowledges God’s power. That’s why, when we pray these words, we honor and hallow God’s name.

When You Fail

But what if you don’t put up a fight? What if you simply give in, or maybe you fight the temptation and fail. God’s name is not hallowed by our shame-filled promises to do better, to never do it again, to make up for our failure.

When temptation seems to have the upper hand God is honored by those who confess and tell the truth and then look to the mercy of the cross. God is glorified in genuine repentance. God’s name is hallowed by a contrite heart. This is not a perfunctory “I’m sorry” that allows us to run off and indulge our favorite temptation. It is a plea for grace: grace that pardons and grace that gives strength to fight again.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he hallowed the name of God. He did what he taught us to pray – and we can do the same. God is better than bread. God is better than fame. God is better than power.

That’s what Jesus said with his life.

What are you saying with yours?


In all that comes my way today, O God, I want to hallow and honor your name. Grant me grace to fight familiar temptations and their empty promises. And when I fail, grant me the grace that Jesus secured through his death on the cross. Let my life hallow you name, in the fight and even in failure, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] John Piper, Living by Faith in Future Grace, p. 326.

With Us In the Shadow Places

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John ion the Jordan . . . at once the Spirit sent him out into the desert (Mark 1:9, 12).

And lead us not into temptation . . . (Matt. 6:13)

Without fanfare or publicity or the work of an advance team, Jesus showed up at the Jordan to be baptized by John. 

This wasn’t so strange really.  The entire region of Judea and most of the population of Jerusalem were going out to see the charismatic figure who dressed and preached like Elijah (Mark 1:5-7). That Jesus would also make his way there fits perfectly with what was happening at the time.

Except for this: all who went to be baptized by John were confessing their sin.  In that regard Jesus had no business there. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to be baptized John put him off and didn’t want to do it.  But Jesus would not be deterred.  He was baptized in the Jordan, a place of confession and repentance.  

And then, sopping wet and spirit-filled, Jesus went to the wilderness. 

Two Way Traffic

As Mark tells the story, he was scarcely dry from the Jordan’s waters, the sand stained wet where Jesus walked with intent and urgency to the desert. There Satan would have at him for forty days – tempting him to indulge his appetites, exalt himself, take shortcuts, lay claim to power and wealth.

Jesus shows up in a scene of confession of sin. And Jesus shows up in a place of temptation to sin.  And between the place of confession (Jordan) and the site of temptation (desert) there is the Father’s voice speaking the word that confirms Jesus’ identity. Between confession and temptation there is the descent of the Spirit.

There is a well-worn path between confession and temptation. The path is walked frequently and in both directions. We’re either confessing the sins we’ve done and regret (“forgive us”), or we’re fighting temptations to sins we promised we’d never do (“lead us not”). When we lose the desert struggle, we go back to the place of confession. And no sooner do we come from that place of confession and repentance than we find ourselves headed back to the place of temptation. Two-way traffic, all lanes open. 

Between ‘Forgive Us’ and ‘Lead Us Not’

Finding God in the everyday sometimes means recognizing that Jesus stands with us in the shadow places of our living.  He wades into the waters where confession is made and stands with us there, not out of his need but out of his grace.  And Jesus walks with us to desert places where we fight the lure and power of sin.  Jesus shows up at the river and in the desert.

The truly good news in all of this is that we are not defined by the things we’ve done and regret.  And we are not defined by the things we try so hard to keep from doing.  Between the river and the desert, between the confession and temptation, there is the voice of the one who loves us and claims us and gives us the gift of his very life.

Perhaps you’re on that path today.  You’re in a shadow place: a place where you feel the weight of something that needs to be named and confessed, a place where you’re feeling the pull of temptation. Jesus stands with you there.  Between confession and temptation, Jesus calls you the beloved.  That is who you truly are.    


We give you thanks, Lord Jesus, for the way you show up in the shadow places of our lives.  Confession and temptation are not wedges that drive us from you, but windows to your presence with us.  Remind us that you have claimed us, that we belong to you as your beloved children.  Let that truth anchor us, removing regret over what has been done in the past and fear of what we might face in the future. Amen.

Debts and Trespasses

And forgive us our debts . . . (Matt. 6:12 ESV).

Debts or trespasses: which is it?

I grew up in Baptist churches saying “trespasses.”  Now that I’m a Presbyterian, I say “debts.” My vocabulary has changed, but my life hasn’t. The bottom line is I need forgiveness.  

I need forgiveness for my trespasses: A trespass is crossing a line . . . breaking the rule . . . ignoring and exceeding a limit. To trespass is to go where I should not have gone. That’s fairly easy to understand.

But I also need forgiveness for my debts: My debt is a little harder to grasp when it comes to God and God’s forgiveness. Maybe the idea is simply that I owe God the full devotion and allegiance of my life. I am to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. I have refused to do so. I have loved other things. What I owe to God I have given to other things and thus I owe a debt.

In Jesus’ ministry forgiveness figures prominently in both parable and prayer. When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to ask for forgiveness, and in one of his best-known stories he described forgiveness in terms of debt (Matt. 18:21-35).

Again, call them what you will: Trespasses, debts. What matters more than our failures is what we do with them. More importantly, what matters is what God does with them.

No Threats

We live in a world that basically deals with trespasses and debts by making threats. If you own a piece of land, you can easily purchase paper signs that can be stapled to fence posts and trees warning in large letters NO TRESPASSING. Usually in smaller letters you’ll see the threat: “Violators will be prosecuted.” We answer trespasses with a threat.

Likewise, debts will eventually be answered with a threat. A letter may come initially as a gentle reminder. The letters will gradually become less gentle. After enough time you’ll get mail from an agency or firm of some kind that specializes in the language of threat. They want what you owe and something bad is promised if you can’t pay up.

God does not respond to trespasses and debts that way. What God offers and what Jesus taught us to ask for is forgiveness. Far too many people think of God and relate to God in a context of threat. We’re all aware of trespasses and debts, our own and others.’ That’s not really news. What is news is that God’s response is not threat and punishment.

Forgiven and Forgiving

God answers trespasses and debts with mercy and forgiveness. Yes, there’s more to say about our repentance and our sorrow for sin, but don’t miss the bottom line. God delights in mercy and revels in removing the stain of sin from us (Isaiah 1:18). Our God is a forgiving God. That’s the deep conviction that undergirds the prayer Jesus gave us: “Forgive us . . . as we forgive.”  

We’ll close our reflections this week with two questions. We’ve already seen that they sit quietly behind the words Jesus gave us to pray. First, why do so many live their days unforgiven, failing to find the peace that forgiveness brings, never knowing deep down the grace that God so much wants to give? Second, why do we find it so hard to forgive others, to relinquish the hurt and bitterness of the wrongs done against us?  

Forgiven people are forgiving people. As we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, we’re asking for the help of God’s Spirit. By the gift of his grace, we can become both.    


Cause me to know the full extent of my debt, O God. Let me sense the weight of it and the futility of thinking that somehow, I’ll work it off.  And then in your mercy, let me sense the freedom that comes in Jesus and his full payment on my behalf. Let it sink in deep, so that I might become a person who knows what it is to be forgiven and thus one who knows how to forgive, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

There for the Asking

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matt. 6:12 ESV).

Several years ago my wife gave me a Bible. You might think that between two pastors our home would have plenty of Bibles, and you’d be right. But this Bible is different. It is organized in such a way to allow a reading of the entire Bible, all sixty-six books, in 90 days. Twelve pages every day for ninety days and you’ve done it. The whole Bible. 

I ploughed into my “90 Day Bible” with enthusiasm and did fairly well for a little over a week. Then I came to Leviticus.

I won’t waste time with excuses – but Leviticus is indeed a Biblical ‘brick wall’ for all well- intentioned Bible readers. While I readily confess my own struggles with it, Leviticus does get a bad rap as the quicksand of the biblical canon. Perhaps we give up on it too easily.

Sin is Real, God is Holy

You may not be able to do this right now, but when you get a chance pick up a Bible and look through Leviticus. I’m not asking you to read it all. Read a chapter or two, beginning almost anywhere, and you’ll notice a couple of things before you’ve read very far.

First, you’ll probably notice the detail with which sacrifices were offered. That’s part of why we find the book challenging. The text describes the process of sacrificial rituals with excruciating care. You’ll read about what parts of the bull were to be burned and where the blood was to be sprinkled. You’ll find detailed information about scabs and bodily discharges, about what made a person unclean and all that they had to do to become clean again. No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “TMI.”  Too much information. Such could easily be said of Leviticus.

But before you close the book, in either impatience or confusion (or both), notice this: In Leviticus sin is very real and God is very holy.

The two are integrally connected. If God is a big celestial Grand-daddy, then sin isn’t a very big deal. But when God is holy – truly holy – then our sin is seen as a real problem. We know something isn’t right. Something is keeping us from being able to come before God. God’s perfections are glorious. Our imperfections are glaring.

How do glaringly imperfect people approach a gloriously perfect God?   

Just Ask

That’s the drama of Leviticus. In Leviticus people are working hard to come before God. They bring offerings and slaughter bulls and splatter blood here and there and stay outside the camp until the expiration date on their uncleanness rolls around.     

God is holy and sin is real, and bridging the gap is hard work. ‘Gotta get it right.’

In Jesus we get another way of coming before a holy, glorious God. We ask for forgiveness. That’s what Jesus taught us to do. He gave us the words. “Forgive us.” All we do is ask. No more bulls, no more excruciating rituals. Just ask.

And there’s more. Jesus went to the cross. He bled there. A perfect sacrifice, a onetime death. And because of what happened on that cross you and I can know with certainty that the asking is enough. You can stand before God forgiven. You can live this day in his presence forgiven.

Have you ever found yourself working hard to make up for your failures? Did that hard work ever really leave you knowing that you were truly forgiven? 

Why not try praying what Jesus taught us to pray? “Forgive us.”

It’s there for the asking. Thanks be to God.


We do not utter these words, O God, like an incantation. We do not say the words to get what we want. When we ask for your forgiveness, we do so because of the sacrifice made on the cross – and because we love your Son and want to be like him. So forgive us, we pray, and form the life of Jesus in us. We ask in his name. Amen. 

Bread and Forgiveness

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors . . . (Matt. 6:12 ESV)

Last week was all about bread. Daily bread.

Jesus teaches us to be bold in asking for this (Luke 11:1-12). Asking for bread reminds us of our dependence and God’s faithfulness in providing. And yet, the bread we need on our tables points beyond itself to a deeper need. Jesus is the bread of life, and apart from him our needs and hungers are never truly met.   

This week we turn our attention to the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, the request for forgiveness is spoken immediately after the request for bread. What bread is to the body, forgiveness is to the soul.

We can’t live without bread. And we can’t live without forgiveness.

When it comes to bread, we know this is true. You need not live in some famine-stricken part of the world to know this. Even in a land of abundance, a few hours without bread will usually leave us looking for a snack. It doesn’t take long before we feel our lack; we sense what we interpret as a ‘need.’ No doubt about it, we need bread.

But forgiveness is a different matter. We go long stretches without seeking it. Some go a lifetime. We don’t necessarily feel that we need it. The lack of it doesn’t always register with us as an ache the way our hunger for bread does. Jesus, however, placed bread and forgiveness on equal footing.

Bread can keep us from dying. Forgiveness allows us to truly live.

Forgiveness Comes First

On one occasion Jesus was teaching to a packed house. Literally. The house where was teaching was packed and the crowd spilled into the yard. There was no room at the doors, no way to get in and find a seat, no seat to be had.

That’s when the roof came down. Again, literally. Four men had carried a paralyzed friend to see Jesus. They believed Jesus could heal, make lame legs strong. Finding no way into the house they went to the rooftop and started tearing a hole in it. They lowered their friend on his mat to the place where Jesus stood.

And when Jesus saw this paralyzed man and perceived the faith of his friends, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  

Forgiveness came first.

Some very pious men were standing close enough to hear Jesus speak these words, and they were scandalized by what they heard, offended and angry. This Nazarene rabbi was claiming to do what only Go could do. Jesus perceived their anger and doubled down on what he had said. He did this by making the paralyzed man walk. When Jesus healed the man’s legs, he was doing so to prove another point, namely that he had authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12).

This is not to say that forgiveness is more important than walking. The story does suggest however that walking is not living. Plenty of people can walk who need forgiveness.

Forgiven and Forgiving

We need daily bread. We need forgiveness – to be forgiven and to forgive. Ours souls can’t thrive under the weight of guilt. And our souls can’t thrive under the weight of bitterness. So Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us . . .  as we forgive.”

These words Jesus gave us to pray are not easy. Some of you might struggle to believe that your failures have ever truly been forgiven. Maybe you’ve sought forgiveness from someone you harmed, but you’re not sure it was ever given. Others of you might struggle to forgive. The hurt is deep, the pain too fresh. Wherever you are with this, just pray as Jesus taught. “Father forgive me . . . and help me to forgive.”  

We are kept alive by mercy as much as we are by a meal. In asking for forgiveness we find our way beyond survival to real life.

Where do you need forgiveness?

Where are you struggling to forgive?


Forgive us, O God, and help us to forgive. Unless we receive this grace from you and learn to give it to others, we won’t be the people you made us to be. As you provide for our every need, grant us your mercy and make us merciful, that we might truly live. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tested in Blessing

Give us this day our daily bread (Matt. 6:11)

Some of the best-known stories in the pages of the Bible are bread stories.

As Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God provided bread from heaven every morning. The people were to gather what they needed for that day. Trying to stockpile bread for tomorrow ended in rot and decay (Exodus 16:4).

Jesus replicated God’s gift of wilderness manna when he fed a multitude with a few loaves of bread and some fish. Gathered in a desolate place, thousands had more than they could eat (John 6:11-12). Later Jesus would say that he himself was the bread of life, the bread that comes from heaven and gives life to all people (John 6:35).

And then there’s Elijah and the widow discovering the daily deposit of oil and flour (1 Kings 17:14).  

The wilderness manna, the oil and flour, the multitudes fed with fishes and loaves: we naturally regard these things as gifts from God, great blessings that speak of God’s love and grace. But in Deuteronomy 8 we learn that often God uses blessings to test us.

In his farewell address to the people of Israel, Moses recalled the story of God’s faithful provision, and he challenged the people with these words:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deut. 8:2-3).

We associate testing almost entirely with pain. But God does not test us solely in trouble and affliction. Testing is not confined to the heartache we experience in loss and grief, in illness and death, in physical pain and mental distress. Such things test us, to be sure – but just as often God tests us in blessing.

The blessings and gifts reveal the posture of hearts as much as the suffering does.

When we wake up every morning and find fresh oil and flour, the miracle of daily bread on the ground, the test is this: will we love the oil and flour? Will we depend on bread? Or will we love the God who meet us daily with more grace and sustains us in wilderness places?

How has God met you with daily bread? How have you been blessed today – and what does the blessing show you about the affections of your heart and the object of your hope?

Prayer: Gracious God, your blessings often expose what’s in our hearts. As the Psalmist says, “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” But somehow our trust is easily drawn away from you to whatever it is that your hand provides. We depend on the bread or the paycheck or the thing we possess. Today, O God, we give you thanks for your many gifts to us, asking for grace that sustains us in suffering and keeps us looking to you in blessing. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.