Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
“Above all else guard your heart, for
it is the wellspring of life” Proverbs 4:23
‘The treadmill test is just a
walk in the park,’ the doctor had said, ‘ a mere formality. There is nothing
wrong with your heart’… well that wasn’t that reassuring because I had been
referred to the Cardio unit at Greenlane by my GP because I’d gone to him
complaining of shortness of breath when I’d been out walking in the park… then
six minutes into the treadmill test the technicians had stopped it told me I’d
better lie down and called the Doctor to come in urgently… That was the
beginning of quite a week in the Carter family’s life.
A phone call on Tuesday then
into hospital on Wednesday for an Angiogram, informed that,” yes there is
nothing wrong with my heart, it’s just the plumbing round it is blocked up.”
Told I was in the grey area between fixing it with Stents and a bypass
operation, they’d get back to me on that one. Then Kris went to the doctor on
Friday, and ended up in hospital overnight with various tests being run. In the
end they could find nothing wrong with her, her heart was 3% bigger than the
average. “So they put us through that to tell us our Mum has a big heart, we
could have told them that”, say the kids. Still it is good to know Kris is OK.
But in the midst of this we
have felt the presence of God:Shown
through the prayers and care of our church family at St Peter’s (thanks). Shown
through a great GP, who is a good Christian man and the provision of a public
health system, full of excellent doctors and medical staff. People emailing me
and when I’ve told them what has been going on they have said, no wonder you’ve
been on our heart so much this week.
In the next while I’ll be going into hospital to
have some stents put into my arteries (they are going for the repaving option
rather than the bypass as I told my brother in law who is a roading
contractor). In one day out the next unable to drive for 48hrs after that and
then I should find a whole new lease on life and be full of energy…. Look out
soon I’ll be firing on all cylinders.
This is an introductory sermon to a Series I am preaching on the Lord's Prayer called 'Journey to the Heart of Prayer: exploring the Lord's Prayer'. It's part of an ongoing exploration of Jesus Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7. As an Introduction as well as expounding Matthew 6:1-8,16-18 it also is a summary of where we have come so far in the Sermon on the Mount. For those reading it on line there are lots of hyper links back to the two previous series I have preached on this year long study of the Sermon on the Mount... 'The Jesus Guide to Happiness' ... exploring the Beatitudes and 'It's Life Jim But Not As We Know It' looking at Jesus ethical Teachings in Matthew 5.
Bian Lian is the Chinese mask dance. On stage to the delight of the
audience the dancer changes masks almost as
if by magic. In doing so he changes his persona as well; becoming character
after character after character. It really is quite captivating. Let me show
you what I mean.
Jesus warns his disciples that our religious observance can
be like that mask dance as well. It can become nothing more than a public
performance, for the benefit of an audience if we are not careful. Rather he
says that our religious observances our religious practises are best done in
private, in secret, with the attention being on an audience of one. Our
heavenly Father, the one who made us, loves us, sent his son Jesus into the
world to show us how to live as God’s people and who has made a way for us to
come back to a right relationship with through his death and resurrection.
Today we start a new
series ‘ A Journey To The Heart of Prayer’ exploringthe Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, the prayer
that Jesus taught his disciples. My hope is that as we dig into Jesus prayer as
a model for our own prayers, that our prayer life might deepen and grow,
individually and corporately.
We are going to start that series, that exploration by
taking a journey behind the mask to the heart of devotion. Looking at the wider context that Matthew puts
the Lord’s Prayer in.
Of course the wider context is Jesus Sermon on the Mount. We
see that the journey to the heart of prayer starts with what Philip Yancy calls
God’s revolution of Grace in the beatitudes. Jesus says that it’s not those who
have got it all together that are blessed it’s not an elite group in society,
the rich, male, religious Jews… rather it’s those who are poor, who hunger and
thirst for righteousness, there is the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s when, as was
wonderfully portrayed in the video we watched during the offering, when we drop
the mask, that we’ve got it all together and we know that we need God, and
That journey to the heart of Prayer is also a journey into a
new life, a life where as we encounter and know God’s lavish, over the top
generous, undeserved Grace, that we journey through life with a changed heart.
Those who are blessed because Jesus meets them in their poverty are too be salt
and light. To live in a way that shows the flavour and reflects the light of
the one who loves us. Over the past eight weeks we’ve been working through
Jesus articulating that in terms of our moral responsibility, our ethics, and
the way we relate to others. Jesus said that our righteousness was to be
greater than the scribes and teachers of the law, and he had given a series of
case studies to show us what he meant.
That it wasn’t just a matter of thou shall not kill, but at
a heart level we were to overcome anger with seeking reconciliation just as we
had received God’s grace. To be bridge builders not grave diggers.
Now in the passage that
We had read out to us this morning Jesus applies the same idea to peoples
religious observances, their religious obligation or as we might call it their
He says “Be careful not to practice your
righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have
no reward from your Father in heaven.”
focus of our religious observances is not to be that the world is our stage.
Rather the focus is that secret heart relationship with God. Again in a very
modern teaching style Jesus gives three case studies to show us what he means. He
picks three examples of religious observance that are common to most religions
round the world giving money to the poor and needy, prayer and fasting, and
shows us what he means.
In each case, he gives an over exaggerated,
satirical sketch of some people’s behaviour. Maybe today he’s gt rowan Atkinson
to do a Mr Bean take off of them. Maybe
we don’t read the bible and realise that Jesus is being humorous and satirical,
but we are supposed to laugh at the ridiculous behaviour of those who seek
public recognition for the righteous acts. Then in a very matter of fact way
Jesus tell us how to journey beyond the mask to the heart of devotion.
when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites
do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell
you, they have received their reward in full.3 But
when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand
is doing,4 so that your giving may be in
secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The word hypocrite has become quite well
known in our society today and it is often used in the same way as in Jesus
day. It’s used to talk of people who put on a public veneer of righteousness
that does not match up with what’s underneath.In the ancient near east a hypocrite was an orator or an actor who
performed for an audience, to get their accolades and for reward. Jesus
says if your giving to the poor is like that, well it’s great that you give to
the poor, but you’ve got your reward.
In Jerusalem when there was an urgent need a trumpet would
sound and people would come to the temple to give. Well says Jesus you see
people hurrying off check books in hand off to the charity auction or whatever
and they want to be seen, that’s Ok they’ve got their reward when they make it
to the society pages. But you don’t need the trumpet blast and the flash bulb,
in fact be careful you don’t even do it to blow your own horn, rather do it in
secret without the fanfare. Do it because of the grace of your father in
heaven. He will see it and reward you. If your business transaction is with the
world that’s where your read is, if it’s with God that’s where the reward comes
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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received
their reward in full.6 But 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.7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans,
for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do
not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Likewise says Jesus when you pray it’s not about who sees
you praying. Again in Jerusalem there were public times of prayer, and men
would be invited to come to the front and lead prayer in the synagogue. And
Jesus says if you pray at those times so that people will be impressed by your
religious fervour, well you’ve got your reward. Rather at the heart of your
prayer life is a secret place. Is an out of the public eye relationship with
God. This is not by the way a condemnation of public prayer, there are times
when we gather that it is right to offer up public prayers. But rather that our
prayers at that time should come from the wellspring of our private prayer
Likewise the words are not the key thing. It’s not about the
length of prayer or the flowery nature of the words or saying the right
formula, or rather ironically when you think of how we use the Lord’s Prayer
repeating the same thing over and over again. Why use all those words, why
shout God knows what we need even before we ask him.
I love this summary from Leonard Sweets Book Soulstunami… it
kind of puts it in perspective doesn’t it.
you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their
faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received
their reward in full.17 But when you fast,
put oil on your head and wash your face,18 so
that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your
Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will
Jews used to religiously fast two days a
week. Originally fasting was a sign of humbling one’s self before God, of
showing repentance, that we were sorry for our sins. It was accompanied often
by putting on sackcloth and ashes. By Jesus day, showing people you were
fasting by the way you looked and dressed had become part of the ritual. Jesus
dosen’t say don’t fast rather he says when you do, don’t make a big thing of
it. Again if you simply want people to see you are doing the right thing, you’ve
got your reward. Rather it’s between you and God.
uses the economic metaphor of transactions to say that if God is our audience
when it comes to our religious devotion then God is also the one who rewards
us. WE may use them like a mask to seek
the fickle adulation of the crowd, but in the end at the heart of our devotion
is the faithful love of God. The reward is that we grow deep in our knowing and
being known by the one who genuinely loves us.
The journey to the heart of prayer is a journey
behind the mask that we show each other, it’s a journey to a secret place, a
journey to a heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness, that is whole
hearted about meeting heart to heart with God. At the heart of our religious
observances says Jesus is our relationship with the God whom loves us. In these
18 verses Jesus uses the term father nine times when he talking about God. At
the heart of our devotion is an audience of one, God Our heavenly father. That
is where it starts and finishes, and that is where we will finish now and start
again next week with Jesus revolutionary opening line to his prayer “Our Father
who is in heaven.’
Earnest Gordon’s book ‘The
Miracle on the River Kwai’ is the amazing story of the power and victory of the
gospel in the face of oppression, cruelty, brutality, violence hatred and
death. It is Gordon, a Scotsman’s war time memoirs; Gordon was a soldier and
became a Prisoner Of War during the Second World War. He was forced by the
Japanese to work on the infamous Burma railway. Allied soldiers were forced to
work long hours mistreated, starved, beaten to death, seen as less than human.
Through the care of two fellow prisoners as he was near deaths door Gordon’s
Christian faith came alive and as he recovered he became the unofficial Chaplin
for the camp. One of his carers Dusty was tortured and killed on a tree only
months before the end of the war, because his guards could not break him or
make him angry, it made them loose face so they crucified him. He imitated Christ
in life so they made him imitate Christ in death. Faith however spread through
the camp and people began living out Jesus teaching.
Gordon tells of coming across
Japanese soldiers who had been wounded and were not being cared for by their
own people because they couldn’t fight so they were of no use, they hadn’t died
in the defence of the emperor so they written off as cowardly. He says that his
men would stop and bind up their wounds, give them what food and water they
had, share their meagre medical supplies and give them a kind word. The
Japanese guards tried to dissuade them they would dodge round them and kneel
down to help. One of their own officers tried to stop them and Gordon says in
response he told him Jesus parable of the good Samaritan, and as he turned his
back Jesus words came to Gordon’s mind ‘Love your enemies’.
Over 8,000 allied pow’s died
on that infamous stretch of railroad. When the starving prisoners in Gordon’s
camp were liberated, their liberators wanted to exact revenge and kill the
guards, they were only saved when their victims stepped into intercede on their
After the war Gordonbecame a Presbyterian Minister and moved to
the Us where he became the dean of the chapel at Princeton university. The book
was made into a movie called ‘to end all wars” just before Gordon’s death in
2002. While I can’t watch I without tears in my eyes, many critics sadly wrote
it off as mere Christian propaganda. The film ends showing Gordon himself,
meeting with one of his former guards who had becomea Buddhist monk, as he did every year to pray
In the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus had proclaimed a revolution of grace, inviting not the spiritually elite
but the spiritually poor to be part of his new Kingdom, to live together as
God’s people. He had told this unlikely group that they and we who come after
them were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To live in a
different and new way that reflected God’s revolution of grace, a way that is
summed up by Dietrich Bonheoffer, who learned to live out Jesus words in a Nazi
prison, as being about the word that now appears in the reading we had this
morning…”love”. A new way of living that is most profoundly captured in Jesus
saying to love your enemies, the lavish extravagant grace of Jesus calls us to
share that same lavish extravagant over the top love with everyone, especially
those who oppose, oppress or persecute us. In a world where you can friend and unfriend
people with the click of a button we are called to be committed to loving our
43 “You have heard that it was
said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children
of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Love your neighbours
comes from the passage in Leviticus we had read out to us today. The people of
Israel were called to show care and kindness to their fellow Israelites, and
while you won’t find and hate your enemies in the Old Testament, there are
passages in scripture advising the Israelites not to form treaties or even seek
the welfare of some of the countries that surrounded them. BY Jesus day it had
become ensconced in their thinking that as they were God’s chosen people they
could choose simply to care for and be kind to one another: That it was for
friends only. But this is not what the scriptures of the Old Testament pointed
towards, they had been chosen so that the other nations might know what God was
like, and experience God’s goodness through their goodness and love,. The book
of Jonah in the Old Testament is a book full of amazing stories and great
events and it is a book that highlights the difference between Israel’s fierce
nationalism expounded by Jonah not wanting to go to Ninivah and God’s great
love for all people, as Jonah warned the people of Ninivah, Israel’s enemies of
impending judgment they repented and changed their ways so god Spared them. Jesus
tells his followers that we too are to reflect that love of God for all people.
In Occupied first
century Judea, Jesus teaching to love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you would have been very revolutionary. The Jews would automatically
though ‘Jesus is saying we should love the Romans, and pray for them.” In the early church Jesus teaching would have
equally been relevant and easily applied as they had found themselves accused
and ostracized for breaking the faith and teaching a different faith in Jewish
circles and we forget how revolutionary and politically challenging it was in
the roman empire to proclaim Jesus is Lord, when all were called to swear
allegiance to “Caesar as Lord”. Round the world today in countries and places
where the church is persecuted, Jesus teaching is poignant. Many of us however
may not readily relate to it, we don’t experience persecution and we may not
experience enmity or hatred. But Jesus is calling us not simply to love our
friends or those with our church community or culture but those outside as
well, the ‘other’, the unloving and the unlovable, people that rub us up the
wrong way and treat us the wrong way.
Praying for those who
persecute you is also a great place to start when it comes to that often asked
question how do I start loving people who are unloving or down right unlovable.
Jesus says bring them to me, if you need help to love them start on your knees,
If we are praying God’s blessings and praying for their good, it will move into
how we think about them and how we act. Then we can begin to show love in
practical terms In Luke’s version of Jesus teaching he gets more practical
saying “ bless those who curse you”. What can you say that encourages and builds
some one up when they have tried to rip you down. Paul in Romans 12:20-22 gets
real practical… if you enemy is hungry feed them, if they are thirsty feed
I love the
little golden book called the tawny scrawny lion. It is so old that I remember
having it read to me when I was a child and I got a copy for my kids which was
re released as part of the 50th anniversary of ‘little golden books’.
It tells the story of a lion chasing animals to eat them and the animals
finally getting feed up with it. A rabbit goes and talks to the lion and offers
to have the lion over for dinner with his five fat brothers and five fat sisters.
He catches some fish and gathers some vegetables for dinner. You can imagine
the lion is thinking rabbit stew, but is made to feel at home by the rabbits
and feed well. The story ends with the lion not needing to chase the other
animals as he is now well feed and satisfied and befriended by the rabbits.
In real life, and I
think I may have told you this before. I remember seeing a world vision video
on reconciliation in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, where a woman had lost
nearly 50 members of her immediate family to the violence in that country. Her
next door neighbour had lead a mod that had beaten to death many of her family.
The women decided the only way she was going to overcome her grief was through
forgiveness. Her neighbour was in prison, leaving his elderly father with no
one to care for him and so she wrote a letter to the neighbour in prison
forgiving him and prepared a banquet for his father.I was also talking to a women this week who
had been sexually abused by her step farther and after years of this had been
rescued. She talked of learning about love and forgiving in being a caretaker
for her stepfather in his old age.
46 If you love those who love you, what
reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?47 And if you greet only
your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do
To greet people in
Jewish society was just a quick saying hello, but rather it was to wish them
well, to bless them. Jesus call to love even our enemies is a call to
extraordinary love, not just settling for the way it is in society around us. I
know that the examples I’ve used so far are from extraordinary circumstances,
and they are the ones that inspire us, but we are called to this extraordinary
love in our ordinary life. If we just love the people we like, or who are like
us, what good is it says Jesus even the tax collectors, that loathed group of traitors
who work for the Romans can do that. If we simply greet those who are our mates
we are just like the pagans. Can I tell you in the showing love stakes we are often
shown up by people of other faiths or no faith. What good does it do. No we are
to be extraordinary. Patsy was a housewife in Tauranga she got
involved with organising the o hour famine and decided she would go down to the
local gang headquarters and ask them to get involved.She knocked on the door and was greeted by
one of the gang leaders. She had bought along some baking for them and handed
it over before asking them to sponsor her and get involved in the 40 hr famine.
She was instantly known as mum by them after this. I can’t report that it
bought transformational change to those guys life, but here is an example of
that love your enemies. Maybe the Light of Christ just shone for a moment
through the crack of the barbwire topped corrugated defensive wall of that
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your
heavenly Father is perfect.
has been misused down through history to talk of the need for moral
perfectionism as the demand of the gospel. I don’t know about you but I find
myself responding by says… hey ‘no ones perfect’… and it is easy to let what is
seen as Jesus conclusion to this section of the Sermon of the Mount demotivate
us when it comes to seeing Jesus teaching as obtainable. Right… it seems to be simple
pie in the sky idealism that I for one cannot live up to. But that is if we
mis-understand what Jesus is saying here.
Yes only God is perfect, he is just and
righteous in all he does, he is faithful to his word and can be trusted, he is
slow to anger and quick to bless, and these are attributes that Jesus showed in
his life. Here the call is that just as God is unbiased in how he shows his
love to people, so should we be .Just as God is with the rain and the sunshine.
In doing this says Jesus we show the family likeness of being sons and daughter
of the most high. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
sums it up by saying we should imitate God’s wholehearted love, that we should
not be divided in our heart we should not show partiality to anyone. But love
says that this part of the sermon of the Mount is what slits us into two groups
those who want to imitate Jesus and those who simply admire him”. As we will
hear later Jesus finishes his whole Sermon by calling people not to be just
hearers of his words but doers as well. The thing that really takes this out of
the realm of idealism and makes it something for you and I to implement in our
lives is the fact that the Sermon on the Mount is not all about us, it’s about
Jesus as well, as we look at it is the blue print of Jesus life, he lived it
out, He asks nothing of his followers he does not face himself. Jesus loves his
enemies, while we yet God’s enemies, Christ died for us, to reconcile us to
him, to restore that friendship.I want
to finish with a quote from NT Wright which sums up this whole section of the
sermon on the mount. He says
“it’s not all about how we behave. It’s about
discovering the living God in the Loving and dying of Jesus and learning to
reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it badly”.
And who needs
it more badly than those who do not love
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.