Author Archives: Dr. Richard J. Alberta

About Dr. Richard J. Alberta

Retired Pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Forty years of Ministry. B.A Rutgers University; M. Div. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; D. Min. Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 30: “How We Should Pray-With Reverence!” 09.19.2018

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV) “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …”

In 1785, John Adams was appointed to be the first American Ambassador to England. Arriving in London, this required him to visit King George the Third. Never having come into the presence of royalty, Adams found himself receiving instructions on exactly how that is done. He had to learn to bow in the King’s presence and to semi-curtsy three times as he approached him…not making eye contact until the King spoke. All of this was quite foreign to Adams and perhaps even slightly irritating. After all, the king was just a man. But, he obliged his hosts.

I sometimes wonder if modern Christians really understand what it means to come into the presence of God Almighty. I have no desire to be critical or unkind, but I have been troubled more than once by irreverent prayers and approaches to God. I have experienced the greatest possible personal intimacy with God for many years. But I shudder to hear someone open in prayer with “Good Morning Father!” As if they just ran into each other at the coffee pot. This seems to me to be a classic example of “anthropomorphizing” God … attributing to God merely human characteristics. Speaking of Him as if He is somehow a human being. It’s not that it is vulgar, it is simply inadequate and diminishing to His Holy character.

Yes, we are reminded that Jesus called the Father in Heaven “Abba.” Everyone “knows” that means “Daddy.” But does it? Not exactly. The preacher who explains with great passion that God wants us to relate to Him as “Daddy” is well-meaning but probably somewhat out-of-focus. I realize that these comments may disappoint some of my blog friends, but they are important. God wants us to rejoice in the intimacy of His love but the picture of us jumping on His Divine lap is not what Jesus had in mind. It’s not that we are to abandon sweet thoughts of father-child closeness. It’s just that Jesus was calling for a deeper intimacy that will yield greater blessings than spiritual snuggling.

In an essay in the Journal of Theological Studies (9 Vol. 39, 1988) New Testament scholar James Barr wrote an article titled “Abba Isn’t Daddy.” We read:
“It is fair to say that Abba in Jesus’ time belonged to a familiar or colloquial register of language, as distinct from more formal and ceremonious language. . . . But in any case it was not a childish expression comparable with ‘Daddy’: it was a more solemn, responsible, adult address to a Father. (p. 46)

Now, let me say that if this corrective is accurate (I think it definitely is) then we are left a little uneasy. We LIKE TO THINK OF GOD AS DADDY and I understand that. But the problem in our Christian age is the diminished understanding of God and his nature. As many have observed, we have eclipsed the “Weightiness” of God as we consider His Glory and exchanged it, at times, for a playground mentality where we are just “hangin’ out with God.”

This current trend of reducing God to our “cosmic buddy” effects the way we worship. Having presided over several thousand worship services, I learned to strive for joy and celebration in the context of dignity and respect for God. I failed miserably at times. But that was always the primary concern. I remember reading about a girls’ sports team that was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush. He greeted them warmly and graciously including the young lady who chose to wear flip-flops and jeans. The others were dressed carefully with respect. OK. Where am I going with this? My point is that God and His Holiness are totally OTHER than the world in which we live. Thus, what we do in worship… private or public … must be scrutinized thru the lenses of fear and trembling. Did I make that up? No. Consider the words of the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV) “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
At this point, we may fairly ask “How did this happen? What explains this almost careless and fearless way of worshipping?” I think the answer is simply that it has been an over-reaction to what is called “dead orthodoxy.” Sitting in church where everything is done properly but without joy and life. I am not advocating for dead and cheerless worship but rather for inspiring worship characterized by “reverence and awe.”

Back to the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, we are entering worship. Indeed, we may pray the Lord’s Prayer in a singular context. I’m sure that is acceptable to the Lord Jesus Christ.

“My Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…” We may pray that way with others or alone. The point is that He is near to us. Arguably, it should say “In the heavens…” which would be consistent with ancient Hebrew thinking about layers of heaven. The point being that God is all around His entire creation. (For an interesting treatment of this subject, I recommend the late theologian Dallas Willard and his fine book “The Divine Conspiracy.”)

What Jesus is saying to the disciples on the mountainside is this: “You need to understand something. It is the greatest possible privilege that you have as a human being to even approach the Maker of Heaven and Earth and use His Divine name! No other entity in the universe can do that. The stars and planets cannot, and the flowers cannot and the most awesome lion in the forest cannot! But you can. Therefore, be careful and filled with respect. His very name is hallowed.”

Hallowed. The Greek word “hagios” meaning Holy and pure and totally set apart. Like no other! As the Prophet Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 10:7 (NIV) “Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”

How then shall we pray? First, about His desires and then about our own! Next: Praying for His Kingdom.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 29: “Motives, Manipulations and Prayer” Part Two 09.18.2018

Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV) “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I have a particularly cranky response to sportscasters when watching a big game. I admit it. Maybe it is just me but in my view, usually, they talk far too much! I often think that perhaps they get paid by the number of words they use. So, it’s not unusual for me to simply mute the sound and watch the game. I wonder … does God ever put us on “mute?”

The Lord Jesus Christ said this: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

This is really interesting. The word “babbling” is a combination of two Greek words: “battos” meaning to stammer and “logos” meaning “word.” So, Jesus is literally saying “Don’t go on and on with stammering words” as if that will be persuasive. But wait…. did Jesus not teach a couple of parables that seem to contradict that warning? Suppose someone sitting on the mountainside once again speaks up. He or she might say “Wait Jesus. Please? We heard you tell a parable about a woman who needed justice against her enemy. It went something like this:

The woman brought her case to an indifferent and uncaring judge but he ignored her pleas. Finally, the judge said ‘ok’ because she was wearing him out! She was bothering him so much that he gave in. Well … were you not saying that God will also respond and that if an unjust judge finally answers the prayer would not the perfectly Holy God also answer the prayer? What’s the difference?” (Luke 18: 2-7)

I think our Lord would commend the question and then answer it. First, he was teaching that we should “always pray and not give up.” That is found in the same parable; Luke 18:1. He was not saying don’t repeat your request but rather, don’t stop bringing it AND if it is just and right….IF IT IS JUST AND RIGHT…sooner or later the Father will answer it and provide relief. In other words, we should continually pray, for example, for a missionary being held unjustly. Everyday several times. But we don’t need to give God the details and endlessly “explain” everything to Him. That is why some of our best prayer experiences will be those results rooted in short and humble prayers. Prayer is not about length but frequency!

Sometimes we find ourselves praying as if God is uninformed. As if God is listening and might say “Oh? No kidding? That happened?” Rather Jesus said:

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Prayer, then, is in the asking not in the informing. That might even go back to the tiresome sports broadcaster who insists on telling the viewer what they already know because they are watching the game. At this point, let’s look at the parallel passage in Luke. Notice that the same theme of persistence is taught:

Luke 11:5-10 (NIV) “Then he said to them, suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Jesus often used this technique of the “absurd comparison.” Once again, as in the case of the unjust judge, we see a selfish and even lazy fellow who won’t answer the petition. He literally will not open his door to his friend! Our Lord says: “Yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” This is a great word picture! It literally says “Because of the man’s lack of prudence….or because of the man’s impudence!” The point seems to be that God wants to hear from His children secretly but frequently and boldly so as to trust Him in all things! He never stands far off … although it may seem that way.

Consider these words of David when it FELT AS IF God was ignoring him:

Psalm 13:1-2 (NIV) “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

But prayer that is “unanswered” for a time is essential for the building of trust. After all, God has our best interests at heart in all things. Thus, David says:

Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV) “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”

So …next let us look carefully at how we approach God our Father. Free of babble and filled with reverence!

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 28: “Motives, Manipulations and Prayer”  Part One 09.17.2018

Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV) “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

In the television news coverage of Hurricane Florence, off the Carolinas, there was an interesting moment captured on film. A reporter stood in the heavy rains leaning dramatically to one side as if he was about to be blown away. Apparently, this was a bit of theatre on his part. While he was inviting the viewers to fear for his safety, two other people were walking calmly behind him standing straight up and undeterred. Hard to understand how the winds could be so different only a few feet apart. A reasonable conclusion was that our wind-driven friend had a motive beyond reporting. This was his chance to look courageous and determined in spite of grave danger. Consider…how often does “how we look” affect our behaviors and actions? We can even carry such silly and impure desires into our prayer life.

As we look closely at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, we must remember that it is rooted in his teaching about motives. Several times he warned them about people who get their reward not from God but from other people who observe them.

Matthew 6:1 (NIV) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Prayer can be nothing more than vain nonsense. Everyone who has been in prayer meetings knows of the person who prays extra long and with great pathos. Often using the King James language with a dash of drama, such people are boorish. Or that person prays five times in between the prayers of others. Embarrassing. Yes, there are some who have a “gift” of prayer but somehow that is easily discerned from “performance prayer.” Once again, even in prayer, perhaps especially in prayer, motives matter! Let’s look closely.

In Luke Chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Thus, these instructions were obviously given more than once. They were repeated on the mountainside. But in the Luke passage, our Lord says more about what we might call “principles of prayer.” So, as a cross-reference to our study, we will digress at some point and look at the Luke portion. But, for now, we read:

“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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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.”

We must never pray for the purpose of being seen or heard. This, of course, does not mean that we should never pray with other Christians or attend an open prayer meeting. Not at all. But once again, we must check our motives. Actually, God loves it when we draw near to Him in a secret relationship. The times when I have most dramatically seen the Lord answer an important prayer have been when I told no one of the prayer itself. Only God heard it.

I once asked the Lord for fifty dollars when I was a seminarian invited to a mission’s conference. I had a plane ticket and a place to stay but nothing really in my pocket. Donna would be home with two little boys and one on the way. She needed our last few dollars. OK. At that time, I was paid $ 18.00 every Monday for some work I did for a wealthy woman in her home. The day after I asked the Lord for the $ 50.00 for travel, she left a check for $68.00! It was, in her words, a Christmas gift but she had no idea that the Lord had prompted her to write the larger check. Or … she wrote it before my prayer and He prompted me to ask for it! In any case, the mystery of secret and trusting prayer is a great adventure.

“Go to your room” or your closet and pray privately. It will be a secret between you and God. Too many Christians think the best method is to share their prayer desires with everyone they meet so that God will be petitioned by whole squads of praying disciples. That can be good, but Jesus is saying something different. He is saying that God sees what is done in secret. God hears what is said in secret. God loves a secret relationship with his children.

It’s that same word we looked at earlier. “Krooptos” from which we get the word “crypt.” Deep and hidden like a burial vault. No one knows about it except God Himself. Therefore, we conclude that Jesus is teaching that private prayer should out number open and public prayer by a long shot.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Next: “Let us not babble!” Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Registration for our Psalms Group

Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018

Blog Friends,

There seems to be some problems on the CS website for the small group registration.  I am sure they will be corrected shortly.  In the meantime, you can register for our group by going to “Small Groups” and finding the entry for Psalms.  The data in that description are incorrect but if you press the tab it will take you to the registration option.

If you want to review all of the offerings, perhaps check again tomorrow or Tuesday.  They  will straighten it out.

Blessings!  Pastor Alberta

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A New Grandson!

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018

Blog Friends,

I will be in Virginia for a few days to meet our new grandson, Brooks, who was born on Thursday!  So… I will take a few days off and resume our studies on Monday, September 18.  It would be difficult for me to write our daily entries while travelling.

In the meantime, try to read ahead and consider:

Matt. 6.5-15  What does secrecy have to do with the Lord’s prayer?

v. 16-18    Should we be fasting?

v. 19-24    How are we to think about money and “stuff?”

V. 25-34    Can we really not WORRY?

Talk to you soon.  Thanks for being part of this time together.  I’m enjoying it very much!  By the way: four sons and 13 grandkids! One wife. God be praised!

Blessings!  Pastor Alberta

 

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 27: “Giving to the Needy” 09.07.2018

Matthew 6:1-4 (NIV) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So 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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The French play write Moliere filled his stories with amusing people. In one play (I can’t find the exact reference; if anyone knows it please advise) someone criticizes their friend with these words: “You always do the right thing for the wrong reason!” How often that is true. I suppose it is better to do the right thing regardless of the motive. But the Lord Jesus Christ is deeply interested in our motives because he is deeply interested in our hearts. Thus, this teaching is not primarily about generosity to the person in need. That is assumed by Jesus. It is about MOTIVES. It is about WHY we do things, even good things.

I suspect that I have never had a totally pure motive. I might preach a fine sermon to the glory of Christ, but I also enjoy the accolades that may follow. Maybe that is ok. Perhaps the point is balance. Am I desirous of preaching to glorify Christ and be thanked incidentally or the other way around? Motives are tricky to untangle. This really gets to the heart of what we are deep down. Put another way, if our motives are vain then deep down inside, we are shallow. Let’s consider the words of our Lord:

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

The Lord Jesus Christ does not deny that rewards are a reality in life. We want to be rewarded for the things we do. Something as simple as baking a fine cake might bring the reward of joy watching kids devour it at the birthday party. It can be rewarding to labor over the lawn and see it well-groomed at the end of the work. A paycheck is a reward. Perhaps the question is this: are we seeking Kingdom of God rewards when it comes to our actions and choices? The person who gives generously and visibly does so to receive the respect or appreciation of other people. But do we seek the approval of God? What if we give a substantial amount anonymously? What if we deliberately do not let others know what we have done? We will have eliminated the possibility of a “right now” earthly reward. But so what? How we do these things tells us much about our motives and thus reveals our hearts.

Years ago, a man asked me to be the agent for a group that was generous. They were investors and they wanted to help the needy as they became aware of their needs. They wanted total anonymity. A carpenter whose tools were stolen. A young mother in need of medical care. These men wanted to forward the funds to me and I would then be responsible for getting them to the person in need. It was a wonderful idea and we did bless a number of people. But acts of righteousness can be obnoxious to God if they are done for the glory of the man or woman doing them. That person has no reward from God in the form of blessing.

“So 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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

The Christian is to be an anonymous source of blessings! Now, there may be a time when we make our giving public to encourage others to do so. More than once as a Pastor, I held up a check that we wrote when I was asking people to give an extra amount. My point was that I was not asking anything of them that Donna and I were not doing ourselves. But for the most part, we are to live out a “secret” relationship with our Heavenly Father.

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This is delightful to contemplate. The word used here for “secret” is the Greek “krooptos” from which we get the word “crypt” meaning an underground, hidden vault! God wants us to hide our works of righteousness from others whenever possible. He is watching us in secret and he rewards us. He is keeping track. So, this teaching is easy. Jesus wants us to examine not just what we do but why we do it.

A modern song goes this way: “Change my heart Oh God, make it ever true. Change my heart Oh God, may I be like you!” We need to pray for hearts that want only one reward … and that from God. Not salvation because that comes by faith in Christ. No. Our desired reward must be the approval of God. To make Him joyful and to do that, we need to drop all concerns with how we look to other people. We must do the right thing for the right reason. Lest we be hypocrites.

More than any other group, Jesus condemned the hypocrites. The word is related to “actors.” Even their prayers were repulsive to God. Thus, next we come to Jesus looking at us sitting on the mountainside and teaching us to pray. What a privilege!

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 26: “Love For Our Enemies” 09.06.2018

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Some of us may remember a radio announcement that began this way: “This is a test. It is only a test. You will hear a thirty second audible signal testing the air defense system. In case of attack, you will hear instructions…this is only a test.” I think that was close to the announcement if not a verbatim. It was heard regularly during the cold war.

I think that this passage from our study might open with “This is a test. But it is not only a test!” In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ has been giving us a whole array of tests as we listen to him speak. First, he characterized us in verses 3 through 12; then, he proceeded to give us real life and real time examples of how we are to live out that saved status as his true disciples. He often did so with antithetical statements that were paradoxical. For example, “You have heard it was said, but I say to you…” Then Jesus unfolded HIS expectations of his true disciples. However, some of these were tests of the heart and heart attitudes. In this teaching, Jesus is saying we can observe our heart status, and we can also SEE WHAT’S GOING ON IN OTHER HEARTS! Here is the real test that will show us much about our hearts and allow others to see into them!

A Christian will have enemies if they live out their faith. Those enemies may resent their worldview or activities. Believe me as a preacher, I have experienced enemies. All of us can tell a story about friends or family who despise our Christian life and witness. Let’s look again at what our Lord said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

This statement “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” is not found in the Word of God. Apparently, it was common expression in the first century. It was popular. So, Jesus addressed it and, as usual, set forth his Divine application. Notice why we are to be those who love our enemies. The entirety of the Christian life, after being saved by faith, is summed up in this statement: “That you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven.” C.S. Lewis once said that, in a sense we are to be “little Christs!” He meant that we are to be like Christ himself. Jesus is calling us to be like God the Father. God does not stop being good to those who are His enemies. What does He do?

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

He is good to those who never give Him a thought! So … the right way to look at this, if I may say so humbly, is to see every hurtful event that comes our way from other people … every one … is an opportunity to practice being like God Himself who is good to those who are not good to Him. Anyone can be decent even kind to the people they like and who “deserve” such treatment. Jesus goes on to say:

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

When people claiming to be Christians refuse to speak to anyone, they are grieving God. And I regret to say I have seen that far too often. Ignoring people. Not even acknowledging them. Acting no better than pagan unbelievers. In contrast, we are to be “perfect!” What does that mean? Here we have a word that does not mean that we are to strive to be sinless. The word in the text is “telios” which is rooted in the word for reaching a goal or a conclusion. In other words, we are to strive in our journeys to be more and more like God Himself. We will not get there completely on this side of the Kingdom, but we should see that as our destination. To treat people with grace as God himself does.

Matthew 26:47-50 (NIV) “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.”

“Friend” is a very uncomplicated Greek word. It means “friend.” Here is our question: if someone was coming to capture us and schedule our execution, would we call that person ‘friend?” This is a test. How do you, how do I, treat those with whom we have had breakage or tension or pain? Like friends? “This is a test…”

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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