Categories
encouragement theology

What should we pray for?

I often think of the common child’s prayer: “bless Mom, bless Dad, bless my friends, bless my teacher, …”  Now as adults, we can make a much better sounding prayer, with much more more spiritual words.  However, how often do we really think about what we are saying when we pray for others?  What do we pray for?

I am encouraged to pause when reading the Bible when it covers a specific prayer or prayer requests. How often do our prayer requests model these precedents in Scripture?

Paul starts the letter to the Philippians with a prayer of encouragement:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

In this prayer of encouragement, these are some of the specific requests made on behalf of the Philippian Christians:

  1. That your love may abound still more and more” – That their love (agape) would grow in abundance; more than enough
  2. “real knowledge” – That their love would be anchored in understanding and in the Truth of Scripture.
  3. “all discernment” – Also translated as “depth of insight”, that their love would show an understanding of what is good.
  4. “approve the things that are excellent” – That that they would evaluate things for what has real value
  5. “sincere” – lit. “without wax”; illustrating broken pottery that was repainted for a cheap sale.  The prayer for them is that their love and discernment would produce in them a pure faith without secret agendas or motives.
  6. “blameless” – that they would give no cause for offense; have no legitimate accusations against them
  7. “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” – recognizing that the only source of them being able to accomplish this was their salvation in Christ, and his ongoing work in them.
  8. “to the glory and praise of God” – the ultimate goal was for God’s glory in everything.

May we include this in our prayers for others.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Categories
politics, economy, etc. praise theology World etc.

Rights?! What Rights?!

We live in a world obsessed with personal rights.   The recent political manuverings in Washington highlight a popular worldview that everyone has extensive rights, including health care.   Many wonder, how far do personal rights extend?   However, it’s nothing new.  It’s been with us since the curse.

Yet there was One Man who lived very differently.  We read in Philippians 2:6-8 that when Christ came to our world from the Father, he set aside his rights as God to fully incarnate into humanity.  The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ, though God Himself, gave up his rights to live like, look like and be treated like God.

Imagine a king leaving the glorious and lavish environs of his palace to live among the poorest of the poor in his kingdom.  But not just for a night (as if a publicity stunt), rather for years.  Regardless of the squallor in which he lives, where he lays his head or stale bread he feasts upon, the fact remains he is still king.  Christ, the King of Kings, did just that – He left his glorious, righteous throne and laid aside his rights to live as God.

What if you were to wake up tomorrow and be summoned to court only to learn that due to enormous debt you are now a slave of your creditors – for the rest of your life!  You no longer have personal rights – where to live, what to do for a career, ownership of personal property, access to a bank account, or anything that is yours.  You are now the one that is owned.  A bit frightening isn’t it?  The prophet Isaiah foretold the Christ would not have any form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  Christ stepped in humanity not as a nobleman or into a well to do family, but as a lowly slave.  He gave up his rights to look like God.

To leave your rightful throne and live like a common slave is one thing .  To do so to sacrifice your life for wretched lost mankind is completely something different.  Scripture tells us that he humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.  The final hours of Christ leading up to the crucifixion was perhaps that most humiliating and excruciating experience anyone could ever face.  The betrayal, false trials, cruel beatings, mockings and jeerings would crush any man.  Yet Christ endured them all to rescue you and me.  He gave up his rights to be treated like God. 

What’s more amazing is that Christ gave up his these rights so that you and I would gain one of the greatest rights known to man.  In John 1:12, we read these priceless words, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

He gave up his rights so we could have the right to call heaven our eternal home. 

Thank God for the cross! 

Thank God for the empty tomb! 

Thank God he gave up his rights to rescue us.

Categories
encouragement theology

Happy Good Friday!

The irony and twists of God … a happy day because the innocent Christ was brutally slaughtered.  By the grace of God through his blood, we are saved if we will only place our faith and our trust in him.  We celebrate the price and fact of our redemption today, our eternal purchase, and at such cost.

Excerpts from Spurgeon’s sermon The Tomb of Jesus

 [W]e will stand at that tomb; we will examine it, and we trust we shall hear some truth-speaking voice coming from its hollow bosom which will comfort and instruct us, so that we may say of the grave of Jesus when we go away, “It was none other than the gate of heaven”—a sacred place, deeply solemn, and sanctified by the slain body of our precious Saviour. … 

 Away, ye profane—ye souls whose life is laughter, folly, and mirth! Away, ye sordid and carnal minds who have no taste for the spiritual, no delight in the celestial. We ask not your company; we speak to God’s beloved, to the heirs of heaven, to the sanctified, the redeemed, the pure in heart—and we say to them, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Surely ye need no argument to move your feet in the direction of the holy sepulchre; but still we will use the utmost power to draw your spirit thither. Come, then, for ’tis the shrine of greatness, ’tis the resting-place of the man, the Restorer of our race, the Conqueror of death and hell. … 

  First, I would bid you stand and see the place where the Lord lay with emotions of deep sorrow. Oh cone, my beloved brother, thy Jesus once lay there. He was a murdered man, my soul, and thou the murderer.

  “Ah, you my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were,
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear.”

“Alas! and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?”

 I slew him—this right hand struck the dagger to his heart. My deeds slew Christ. Alas! I slew my best beloved; I killed him who loved me with an everlasting love. Ye eyes, why do you refuse to weep when ye see Jesus’ body mangled and torn? …

Come, view the place then, with all hallowed meditation, where the Lord lay. Spend this afternoon, my beloved brethren, in meditating upon it, and very often go to Christ’s grave, both to weep and to rejoice. Ye timid ones, do not be afraid to approach, for ’tis no vain thing to remember that timidity buried Christ. Faith would not have given him a funeral at all; faith would have kept him above ground, and would never have let him be buried; for it would have said, it would be useless to bury Christ if he were to rise. Fear buried him. Nicodemus, the night disciple, and Joseph of Arimathea, secretly, for fear of the Jews, went and buried him. Therefore, ye timid ones, ye may go too. Ready-to-halt, poor Fearing, and thou, Mrs. Despondency, and Much-afraid, go often there; let it be your favorite haunt, there build a tabernacle, there abide. And often say to your heart, when you are in distress and sorrow, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

Complete sermon here.

Categories
theology

Is there anything more terrifying than the prospect of …

God’s judgment?

We like God’s love.  Is there anything more wonderful than it?

Polite company does not, however, talk about God’s judgment. It seems so out of touch with how nice things are.  The idea of an eternal Hell, wrath filled God, etc. is so entirely incongruous with Disney, Starbucks, and prime time entertainment.  I mean, Hell is passe. It’s also horribly uncomfortable to think about.  Kinda like thinking about the death of a child of someone you didn’t know very well.  Easier to just not think about it. 

Unfortunately, Hell is so entirely probable if God is perfect and/or the Bible is in any way true.  And if it’s a probable event and we know about it, it’s practically criminal to be silent about Hell.  Yet, silent we largely remain, myself included.

But who would go?  Certainly the unrepentant bad guys, Stalin, Hitler, and the criminals, especially those we hate the most, like people who do mean things to children. Most people can live with that idea.  But what about the idea of a much higher standard?  A standard of perfection?  The Adam and Eve standard.  They were cast from God’s presence and condemned to death for … eating an apple.  Disobeying God.  Departing from his will.  We depart from his will frequently if not continually.  When the foundation of God’s law is an affirmative and absolute standard of love, and it is, we typically live in a state of perpetual sin.

The Old Testament features a recurring pattern of God’s judging rebellion, e.g. Sodom, Gomorrah, Noah’s flood, and warning of a final judgment and eternal punishment, e.g. Isaiah 13; Dan. 12.  Some have suggested that the New Testament changes things, that somehow God is different or we know him more now that we know Jesus.  I find that sentiment most odd — that the God of the NT is somehow “new” or different or more “love” and less “wrath” than what we see in the OT — on at least two counts.  First,

Categories
culture theology Uncategorized

Good at Heart?

I recently saw this quote on a popular TV show:

“That man…believes that everyone is corruptible because it is in their very nature to sin.  I bring people here to prove him wrong.”  (See the entire clip here).

This quote, as expressed by the “good guy” speaks to the essence of thought in our culture: man is basically good.

The democrats in life espouse the goodness of man by believing that people will do right if they are only educated properly, given the right opportunities, etc. When we build the proper “village”, people will be good.

The republicans in life espouse the goodness of man by believing that people do right if left alone.  When we stop meddling with others, people will be good.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bible says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).   This is further shown in the New Testament (using Old Testament quotes):

There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together.
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips,
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

-Romans 3:10-18

Apart from God, we are all corrupt and worthless.  Even when we know God, we are not much better, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).

We are all corruptible and sinners by nature.  Thankfully, God offers to cleanse us:

Come now, and let us reason together, says The Lord,
Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.

-Isaiah 1:18

Since God has forgiven us, we can thank him with the Apostle Paul, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

No, we are far from being good at heart.  But thanks to God that he forgives us and brings us back to him!

Categories
culture theology

Really, it’s not about you

What an uncool and unpopular sentiment.  Of course it’s about YOU.  I mean, if I heard anything as a kid, it was “Have it your way” and “You deserve a break today” and “If it doesn’t make you happy …”  The entire sentiment underpinning most marketing is that it’s all about you.  It’s an easy premise to accept.  If most people are anything like me, I find it extraordinarily easy to think of myself first.  I’m a natural at it.  Based on my tenure on this globe thus far, I think this might be the most commonly shared talent.

I used to work in a ministry where we would visit church visitors.  Part of the visit was to see where they were spiritually.  One of the key questions we would ask was, “If you were to stand before God and he were to ask, ‘Why should I let you into my Heaven?’, how would you answer?”  So many church people talked about how they tried to live their lives like Jesus. The most common answer was about how they had lived.

Those responses remind me of what Jesus foretold as recalled by Matthew in chapter 7 of his book:

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

God wants for us to rely upon him and what he has done for us.  Our “goodness” will spring from that faith, from trusting in Christ for our strength, and from desiring to please the God that has given us everything.  Those who try to justify themselves based on their own actions will be rejected — even called “evil.”  Again, Paul warned the Corinthians (2 Cor. 10) that all glory is to God, not man:

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Woe to the men and women who stand before God at judgement and try to explain how well they’ve lived their lives and what tragedy for them to hear, “away from me” …  Again, Paul explained to the Ephesians in chapter 2 of his letter, “8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”  And to the Romans, “9That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom. 10)

All glory, honor, and power shall be to our lord and God forever and ever.

That is the way it is.  It’s not because God begrudges us attention, to the contrary, in the context of holiness, it’s a mystery why he has anything to do with our rebellion.  He is pure love.  As stated, as the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we naturally love ourselves.  The foundation of the law is to love God with all we are and to love others as we love ourselves.  Every time we fail to do that, we rebel against God.  Hah!  I am a natural-born rebel.  On rare occasions when I selflessly love through the power of Christ in me, then, I am living as God intended.  Regardless of my rebel nature in the flesh, he covers my sin in the blood sacrifice of his son … Why?  It’s unwarranted.  I don’t know why God did it.  It’s amazing grace.  It’s all about him and what he’s done for us – our creator, our redeemer, and our perfector.  All glory and honor to Jesus Christ.  It’s not about us.  Amen.

Categories
encouragement theology

The Wisdom of God

The Wisdom of God

I have been reading through James lately and am being taught about the wisdom of God vs. the wisdom of the world.

Some attributes that we see from the world’s wisdom:

  • Feeds our own lusts (1:14, 4:3)
  • Builds within us a covetousness that develops into other sins (1:15; 4:2)
  • Enemy of God (4:4)
  • Jealous, bitter (3:14; 4:5)
  • Has no hope (3:15)

In contrast, some attributes of God’s wisdom:

Categories
encouragement theology

Do our words make us hypocrites?

“For we all stumble in many ways.  If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body as well…for every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.  But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” -James 3:2, 7-11

This passage of Scripture struck me as I was reading today.  How often do I have something bad to say about other people when their lives interfere with my own?  What will be my reaction to the driver who cuts me off on the way home from church tomorrow?

The challenge here in James is that it describes others as being “made in the likeness of God”.  Note also that the audience of our words is never spoken here in James — the core issue is our own heart, not with who hears us.  May we remember that about the next person who bothers or annoys us: let us remember that they are in God’s image, and may we also remember to keep our mouths shut.

Even when I am alone in my car!

Categories
praise theology

Angel Heart

Just ran across Spurgeon’s quote, “Beware of no man more than of yourself…we carry our worst enemies within us.”  While running this morning, I was listening to Todd Agnew and his song “If You Wanted Me” where he questions why God made us so prone to fall in love with the world, which is similar in theme to Spurgeon’s thought.  Agnew starts the song referencing Peter’s walking on water, which is really a clever start to the song.  Through God, all things are possible to those who believe in the name of Christ.  God reveals his strength and grace through his act of saving us and thereafter perfecting us, and His strength and grace are so apparent precisely because we are so inherently and naturally fallen and hostile to what is holy.  He overcomes and transforms our black hearts.  To Christ alone goes all the glory for creation, salvation and sanctification.  With mysterious love and through his power, He enables us to accomplish things we could never accomplish on our own.  God is great.

Categories
marriage and family theology

Marriage and Christ

My friend Anna raised some good points on her blog recently concerning marriage and love.  The longer I know Christ and the longer I’m married, the more interesting I find it that we’re betrothed to Christ.  Talk about being unevenly yoked .  First Jesus died for us, and now he’s betrothed to us?  Amazing grace.  At least for us, in our human marriages, we are to find our satisfaction and identity in Christ instead of demanding meaning and satisfaction from our spouses.  Easy to say, difficult to do.  Another mystery to me is what satisfaction Christ finds in his commitment to us?  Why does he hold us so dearly?  He who serves the least, ie us, is the greatest.  We denied and crucified him and are adulteress of heart, but yet he holds us firm in the palm of his nail scarred hands.  Amazing grace.