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Twenty-four-year-old Lazaro Munero has been planning this daring escape from Communism to make money. He's charging $1000 per person. So he's patched up his old boat and tuned up the 50-h.p. Evinrude outboard motor. Now they're off and running.
They make it through the first day. That night, a storm hits them just off the Florida Keys. The old motor sputters and quits, leaving the boat vulnerable to the tumbling seas. The skiff begins to take on water. Soon, unsteadied by the movements of the frightened passengers, it capsizes. The group decides they'd be better off climbing into the two large inner tubes they carried with them as life preservers.
So the women and Elian are put onto one tube while the men hang onto the other. As the stormy hours drag on, one by one the people begin to give in to the ocean. Lazaro, the dinghy's inexperienced skipper, is probably the first to go down. He's followed by a deluded man who decides to swim for land - and by a second man who sets out to help bring him back and never returns. At least one woman, seeing part of her family drown, decides she has no reason to live and lets go of the inner tube.
Elizabet, battling exhaustion and fatigue, in a final act of maternal love, lashes her six-year-old son Elian onto the inner tube. Then she slips quietly into the deep. During the 2 1/2 days, the 14 refugees are whittled down to just three.
Now it's Thanksgiving morning. Two cousins are out trolling in the deep water out of Fort Lauderdale. They're fishing for dolphin-fish. They spot a small inner tube with what they think is a doll on top. So they sail past and continue fishing, reeling in a dolphin-fish, until one of them suddenly realizes that the doll is alive. They immediately call the Coast Guard. And soon six-year-old Elian Gonzalez's incredible story is tugging on the heart-strings of millions of people all over the world.
Here's the way TIME magazine this week described the dilemma Elian's story is stimulating: "If his sea journey was difficult, his landfall has been little easier. Onshore, Elian has been both cradled and buffeted by the strongest emotion we have, the tenderness of parents toward children in trouble - their own and anyone else's. We sympathize with his father, who wants Elian returned home to Cuba. But then we remember that Elian's mother drowned trying to get him to freedom. And we're disgusted with both Castro and the anti-Castro zealots in Miami who are shamelessly using Elian and his father as fresh draftees in their tiresome feud." ("A Big Battle for a Little Boy," Joshua Cooper Ramo, TIME, January 17, 2000, p. 60)
So here's this precious, innocent 6-year-old boy caught in the middle of a furious battle over where he belongs. Should he be with his dead mother's relatives in Miami to respect her desire for freedom she gave her life for? Or should he be with his living father and both sets of grandparents back home in Cuba? Hence, TIME's poignant cover picture of Elian with the title "Where Does He Belong?"
Imagine how Elian feels? Could there be anything more distressing emotionally than to be torn between two good sides? To wonder where you do belong, where it's best for you to be, to wonder who wants you the most? "Where Does He Belong?"
This, my friends, is the most fundamental, significant question that human beings ask: where do I belong? Where do I fit in? Where is real Home? And how people answer that question radically determines the quality of life experienced today and into eternity. Where do I belong?
That's why the Lord's Prayer, or more accurately called the Disciples' Prayer, is so profound. Over the next six weeks we're going to take a close, careful look at it. Matthew 6:9-13. This Prayer covers the most fundamental human needs there are. It's a complete picture of life as it should be. Six passions of real prayer.
Let me give a quick overview. The first three passions have to do with God and His rightful place in life - His name, His honor and His Kingdom. The second three have to do with our needs and necessities - our bread, our forgiveness and our deliverance. Jesus puts the order of these six passions very intentionally. For two reasons.
First, He's reminding us that only when God is first given His supreme place in our lives can the rest of life fall into proper place. The problem with many of our prayers is that we jump right in and start listing our own needs. What does that say about what's most important to us?
Not in this prayer. Jesus begins with God. You see, only when God is focused upon first can you and I effectively answer the question, where do I belong and how? Only then real life comes into proper and clear focus.
And second, Jesus is showing us the significant unity between human life and divine life and how they should intersect. When we ask for bread, we're bringing the present to God. When we ask for forgiveness, we're bringing the past to God. When we ask for deliverance, we're submitting the future to God. So, Jesus says, in all our requests, we are to bring the whole of human life to God's grace.
But that's not all. Jesus' picture broadens even more. When we ask for bread, we're directing our hearts toward God the Father, the Giver and Sustainer of life. When we ask for forgiveness, we're directing our hearts toward God the Son, our Savior and Redeemer. And when we ask for deliverance, we're directing our hearts toward God the Holy Spirit, the Empowerer and Guide of our lives.
So do you see the comprehensive picture of life Jesus provides in this prayer? Through these six passions, He's teaching us to bring the past, present and future, the whole of human life, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the whole of divine life. And He's teaching us to bring the whole of divinity to the whole of humanity.
No wonder this prayer is so significant! No wonder the Disciples' Prayer is so much more than something we simply recite once in a while at a meal or bedside. It symbolizes the significant steps of our entire spiritual journey. So let's begin at the beginning as we take our first step. Passion number one in real prayer.
Matthew 6:9 - "So when you pray, you should pray like this, 'Our Father in Heaven.'"
Real prayer must always begin here - with a clear conception and accurate acknowledgement of who God is. Human life makes absolutely no proper sense unless we get this picture right! We can't answer the question "Where do I belong?" unless we get the right picture of God.
Did you see Thursday's newspaper with the article titled "Are We Our Own Favorite Martian?" Apparently, an international team of 10 astronomers have proposed that Mars, which is smaller and farther from the sun, became suitable for life before Earth cooled sufficiently from its fiery birth.
So how did life originate here on earth? According to these astronomers, Martian rocks, containing the cells of life, were blasted off its surface by incoming comets or asteroids (which still happens from time to time). Those rock incubators of life were hurled to earth, thus seeding our planet with that single ancestral cell, similar to modern bacteria, which later developed into plants, animals and humans. Quite a picture of our origins, isn't it?
The senior scientist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, made this comment: "Mars was available for life before Earth. So it's quite possible that our ancestral cell was Martian."
So we could all be Martians! Take a look around you. This explains a lot! Quite a comforting thought! Feel any better about who you are and where you belong? You see, our belief about origin impacts our belief about belonging which impacts our belief about life, past-present-and future.
That's why Jesus begins this model prayer with a simple yet profound declaration: God is our Father. He is where we come from. Not some cell blasted from the surface of Mars. But a Father-God in Heaven. Our Father is our Origin and His Heaven is our Destiny.
And in between, His heart is our Home. Father. Our Father. Origin, Destiny, Home. This is who we belong to. This is where we belong. Our Father in Heaven.
So what difference does this picture Jesus paints of God make in our lives? Jesus intentionally uses a daring word of intimacy to describe God. "Abba." "Daddy." "Father." A family word that only a child would dare to breathe. The Jews would never utter a word like this to address God. The Greeks never even conceived of a god like this.
In fact, a significant Greek legend of the gods is the one of Prometheus. Prometheus is a god in the days before humans possessed fire. And life without fire is cheerless and comfortless. So out of pity Prometheus takes fire from heaven and gives it as a gift to humans.
Along comes Zeus, the king of the gods. He's furious that humans should receive this gift. So he takes Prometheus and chains him to a rock in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, where he's tortured by heat and thirst during the day and by cold during the night. And if that isn't punishment enough, Zeus prepares a vulture to tear out Prometheus' liver, which always grows back only to be torn out again.
That's what happened to the god who tried to help humans. The whole concept is that the gods are jealous, vengeful, grudging and the last thing they want to do is to help humans. No wonder the Greek and Roman society was so filled with immorality, violence and lack of human respect. "The gods don't care so why should we?"
So Jesus' picture of God is a radical departure from the norm. He deliberately uses a daringly intimate name for God. Why? Because He knows the God He wants us to pray to is three things and He describes these characteristics in the next two chapters, Matthew 6-7: God is personal, God is loving and God is powerful.
First, God is Abba Personal. Look at Matthew 6:26, 30: "(26) Look at the birds of the air. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your Heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds . . . (30) God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today but tomorrow is thrown into the fire. So you can be even more sure that God will clothe you."
God is Abba Personal: He feeds the birds and clothes the grass. He's not simply a notion, an idea or faceless force in the universe. He's real, personal, close - He feeds and clothes you and me, too.
Second, God is Abba Loving. Look at Matthew 7:9-11: "(9) If your children ask for bread, which of you would give them a stone? (10) Or if your children ask for a fish, would you give them a snake? (11) Even though you are bad, you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more your Heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask Him!"
God is Abba Loving: He's not an ogre who delights in terrifying us with hideous cruelty, or the kind of father we sometimes see or hear about - dictator, unreasonable, unfaithful, never around, demanding, hurtful. He defines true fatherhood as loving, kind, respectful, interested in and caring for His children.
And third, God is Abba Powerful. Look at Matthew 7:7: "(7) Keep on asking, and God will give to you. Keep on searching, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will open for you."
God is Abba Powerful: the phrase "Our Father in heaven" conveys not simply place but authority and power at His command as the creator and ruler of all things. He has the capability of doing what His heart longs for.
This is our Heavenly Father: personal, loving and powerful. I like the way John Stott puts it: "He's not only good but great. He combines fatherly love with heavenly power, and what His love directs His power is able to perform."
This, says Jesus, is the God to whom we pray. Our Father in Heaven. Is this the One to whom you pray? Is this your picture of Him? Don't you want Him to make this kind of difference in your life?
The story is told of one of the great Roman Emperors who won a powerful victory in battle against the enemy. So he had the privilege, which Rome gave to her victorious warriors, of marching his troops through the streets of Rome, with all his captured trophies and prisoners following behind.
The streets were lined with thousands of cheering people as the Emperor and his army proudly paraded through the city. Tall, muscular soldiers lined the streets' edges to keep the people in their places.
As the triumphal procession paraded past the royal viewing box, where the Empress and her family were sitting and watching, the Emperor's youngest son suddenly took off. He jumped off the platform, burrowed his way through the crowds, and tried to dodge between the legs of the soldiers to run out onto the road to meet his father's chariot.
The soldier instantly stooped down and stopped the boy, swooping him up into his strong arms. "You can't do that, boy!" He snarled. "Don't you know who that is in the chariot? That's the Emperor, god of Rome. You can't run out to his chariot!"
The little boy started smiling, and then he laughed as he tried to wriggle free. "He may be your Emperor," he said, "but he's my father!"
That's the kind of confidence and boldness Jesus invites you and me to have with God today. He's mighty, He's powerful, He's the Emperor of the Universe. And He's our Father. That's where we belong today. Our Father in Heaven. Don't you want to come to Him and find your Home in His heart forever?
Greg Nelson, CVC Senior Pastor
January 15, 2000