Monday, January 30, 2012

A Congregational Prayer

This prayer was offered yesterday, though the personalized requests have been omitted.

Gracious Heavenly Father,

We bow before You for You are Lord of heaven and earth. You have called heaven your throne and the earth your footstool. And when the highest heavens cannot contain you, we ask,  “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him?” Your majesty and glory bring us awe. So I pray that we come not as a matter of liturgy.  Break the chains of routine and mundaneness. In a fresh way, with a renewed spirit, may we fear Your Name, revere You and worship You as Soverign King. And may we take refuge under the shelter of Your wings, abiding in Your shadow, and embrace You as children trusting their Father.

By Your great love You sent Your Son. And we are eternally thankful for the Person and work of Jesus Christ. By Him we have an unshakable hope. We are free, in Christ, to pray and worship, and with our unified voice we exalt You, O Lord. For we know where we came. We know of our trespasses. We rebelled against you. By our wicked sin we tried to seize Your crown thinking we could be god. Lord, we deserve death and judgment and hell. Even now you restrain your wrath for the fullness of time, and show us grace by withholding your judgment. Let us use this time to repent and draw near to you Lord. In these few moments, we individually confess our sins.

We are unrighteous and unholy, but you demonstrated your love in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Grant us faith to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. Grant us faith to believe in our hearts that You raised Him from the dead.  God, grant us the gift of salvation. We thank you that Jesus bore on Himself the wrath due our sin and freed us from the bondage of sin and death. He shed His blood for us. We thank you that we are clothed in His righteousness. Most of all Lord, we thank You that through Christ we are restored unto You. We are reconciled with the Almighty and may commune with You once more.

And we give you great thanks for sending Your Holy Spirit. It is a great comfort to know that we have a Helper. You have made us Your temple and dwell within us, and walk among us. You are our God, and we are Your people. Thank you that the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…according to Your will. We thank you for the promise of fruit in our lives, and ask by the Spirit to grow in love, joy, piece, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Help us to grow toward love for one another. Your Son commanded us to love one another, just as he loves us. May we be known by our love so the world sees us as disciples of Jesus. We pray that this love leads us to a unity of the body. Let us have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus: to count others more significant than ourselves, to look to the interests of others, and to humbly sacrifice ourselves to serve others. Complete our joy by making us of the same mind, to take up our cross and follow our Savior. Show us how we may lay down our lives for our friends.

Father, this is our prayer for our church as a whole, and this is our prayer for our men in particular.  Bless the Men’s Ministry as it seeks to encourage men in their walk of faith. Give us servants’ hearts as we seek to love others through acts of mercy. Pour out your grace on us so that we may humbly lead our families, care for souls and encourage one another. Bond us together and conform us to the image of Christ.

For those that are sick, we ask for Your healing hand and relief from suffering. Give each person the strength they need to recover and the grace to know that You love them and care for them.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Any value we have comes from You, Lord. And may Your Name be exalted in worship today as the only One worthy to receive worship. Stir in us the hearts of the heavenly hosts as they fell on their faces and cried out, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Matthew 26:36-46, An Example of Prayer

When I pray with other Christians, I often hear two extremes when making requests before God. The most common extreme is to ask God for anything and everything, not understanding how every circumstance works in God's sovereign will. They simply hope God gives and don't pause to see if God has a greater plan by withholding. Over enough time, this perspective can lead Christians to wonder if God is listening or cares about them. The opposite extreme comes from misunderstanding God's sovereignty. These Christians think that it's not worth asking for anything because God will supply it if it's in his will. An obedient Christian might reason that they don't want to wrongly request something that may be outside of God's plan. It's a fatalistic perspective that leads to despair when communing with God. I wrote a post a while back showing that God calls us to pray, and this prayer is a means of unfolding his purposes.

A study of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane shows a healthy dynamic between praying for our desires yet submitting to God's Lordship:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand”  [Matt 26:36-46].
The first thing to notice is that Jesus, the Son of God, very God of very God, requests that if it is possible, he would like to avoid the impending crucifixion. In this man's heart, there is a genuine desire to avoid death. He also acknowledges that God controls the situation when he submits "if it be possible." Jesus knows the Father can create or destroy any plan he desires, but Jesus also knows that salvation through the offering of his body is the predestined plan from before the foundations of the world. So Jesus confesses God's authority and lays his request at the feet of his Father.

The next statement subjects the prayer, the request, the desire completely to God's will. "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." God's will is the supremely important driver of the universe and all things must necessarily be subject to God's will. Jesus is placing himself in subjection, and his prayer works to align his will with God's will. In our lives, avoidance of this does not mean that our will supersedes God's, it simply means that we will struggle accepting God's will for our lives. Those who avoid this aspect of prayer will be frustrated Christians, or worse.

Finally, Jesus intercedes for himself three times. He repeats his request, in its proper place of subjection, to his Father through the night. But the prayer changes slightly the second time. As Jesus wrestles through the crucifixion, it sounds as though he more willingly accepts it the more he prays about it. As Jesus is our omniscient God, he clearly knows he must be and will be crucified shortly. But rather than pout, challenge God or disobey, he draws nearer to his Father. "Your will be done, my Father, your will be done." It's not a fatalistic acceptance of the cruel hand of God, but a loving trust knowing God's plan is for good.

Much more could be observed, especially in Jesus' interaction with his sleepy disciples. I adjure you to meditate on this Scripture and pray how God would have you grow in your prayer life. But know that it's okay to offer your true desires before your Father. Ask God to draw you to him and to make your will the same as his, and have faith that his sovereign plan, even for your life, is ultimately for good.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Matthew 7:1, Judge Not

Whenever someone does not like that you are making a moral judgment that condemns their actions, they love to trot out Matthew 7:1. "But Jesus says, 'Judge not, that you be not judged.'" Sadly, Christians are guilty of abusing this as well.

Author and apologist Greg Koukl has written a very good exposition of this verse.
     Here’s another example of applying [this tactic] to a passage that is almost universally misunderstood: “Do not judge lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1). This is a verse everybody knows and quotes when convenient, even if they do not usually abide by the Bible. Jesus qualified this command, though, in a way that most do not:
     And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3, 5)
     A closer look at the facts of the context shows that Jesus did not condemn all judgments, only hypocritical ones — arrogant condemnations characterized by disdain and condescension. Not all judgments are of this sort, so not all judgments are condemned. In fact, even in this passage Jesus actually encourages a different sort of judgment once the hypocrisy has been dealt with (“first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”).
     Koukl, Gregory (2009-05-19). Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Kindle Locations 2847-2856). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 
D.A. Carson also has a very good devotional on the passage.

There is a difference between judgment, hypocritical judgment, and judgmentalism.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Matthew 21:45, They Perceived

The Triumphal Entry marks a turning point in Jesus' ministry, and his actions appear more provocative to Jerusalem's religious leaders. After this, they become hell-bent on destroying Jesus.

After clearing the temple, the annoyed priests and elders challenge Jesus' authority. Completely blind to the works [of the Father] Jesus performs in the temple after clearing it (Matt 21:14-15), they try to trap him diplomatically. The ensuing dialog ends with Jesus speaking parables against the priests and Pharisees.

Back in Matthew 13, Jesus said, "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." He fulfilled Isaiah 6:9-10 and darkened the religious leaders with his teaching.

But now his teaching has changed with his actions. Consider verse 45, "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them." Somewhere inside their self-centered brains Jesus finally unlocked the capability to discern his meaning. The leaders knew Jesus was calling them the disobedient, lazy son and the belligerent, murderous tenants. Though they did not perceive until Jesus finished his parables, for they spoke judgment on themselves, "They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons”" [Matt 21:41].

And the final irony is they still would not listen. Their ears and minds were finally opened and they still rejected Jesus, trying to arrest him [v46]. Rather, they should have listened to the Parable of the Two Sons and repented, "And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe [John]" [Matt 21:32]. Instead they confirmed the parables and remained hard-hearted.

May our generation heed the voice of God and turn to His Son for repentance. May we each hear and perceive, see and follow the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

John 15:22,24: Not Guilty of Sin

This past week our senior pastor preached on John 15:18-27. It was a very good, if sobering, sermon on how the world rejects and hates Jesus, and therefore rejects and hates Christians. This is, however, a comfort because it links us to Christ and shows us we are His. During the sermon though, there were a couple of verses that seemed a bit shocking.

From John 15:

[22] If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
[24] If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.

At face value, it sounds as if Jesus is saying that before him, people were not guilty of sin. If that were true, much [Reformed, Evangelical] theology would have to be discarded. What is particularly interesting is it appears as if the ESV is trying to insert meaning into the text and soften what it actually says by adding the word 'guilty' to the verses. The NKJV for these verses say:

Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ 
During the sermon, our pastor pointed out that claiming that people had no sin before Christ is taking those verses too far. He appealed to D.A. Carson and made a brief comment about how knowledge of Christ increases a person's responsibility and guilt if they reject Him. Not much more was said, and this is good because the sermon wasn't really about this passage. But the desire to investigate more wasn't satisfied by his appeal to [a very good] authority. For those interested in reading Carson's thoughts, find a copy of The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John.

Understanding the context of the passage helps to interpret the meaning of those difficult verses. The entire paragraph is speaking about persecuting, hating and rejecting Jesus. The other important piece of information is the link between the Father and the Son. Jesus demonstrates his Sonship by speaking the Word and doing the Father's works. Putting these together shows that Jesus is saying that they are persecuting, hating and rejecting the Father because they're doing those things to him, and he explicitly says this in verse 24.

So when the world hates Jesus, they are sinning because they are hating both Him and His Father. They would have no sin against Him or the Father if he hadn't come and spoken or done His works. So the sin spoken of is not sin in general. It's not saying the world was guiltless before Christ came. The world was guiltless of this particular sin--hating the Father and His Son--before Jesus came. And by this we see fulfillment of the Christological Psalm 69 (in particular, verse 4). They hated Jesus without a cause, and they bear sin because of the witness Jesus is of His Father.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Psalm 8: Out of the mouths of babes

Psalm 8
            1       O LORD, our Lord,
      how majestic is your name in all the earth!
                  You have set your glory above the heavens.
            2       Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
                  you have established strength because of your foes,
      to still the enemy and the avenger.
            3       When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
      the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
            4       what is man that you are mindful of him,
      and the son of man that you care for him?
            5       Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
      and crowned him with glory and honor.
            6       You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
      you have put all things under his feet,
            7       all sheep and oxen,
      and also the beasts of the field,
            8       the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
      whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
            9       O LORD, our Lord,
      how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In the Institutes, Calvin points out about verse 2, "Thus he declares not only that the human race are a bright mirror of the Creator’s works, but that infants hanging on their mothers’ breasts have tongues eloquent enough to proclaim his glory without the aid of other orators."

As a father of a newborn, the only oration coming from my babe is loud, cranky crying! But what a reminder it should be that she declares the majesty of her Maker. There are seemingly more important creations--quadrillions of galaxies hurtling throughout the universe, but God looks down on those created in his image, bearing his likeness, showing his love to each person. The promises of John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 are for my humble children, and not for the spanning majesty of the rest of creation.

And we can see Christ in this too. He came to be a little lower than the heavenly beings, though in the form of God. And out of the mouth of that babe was the establishment of the New Covenant, fulfilled thirty or so years later when he cried out, "It is finished!" And now to him is given dominion; the Father has put all things under his feet. Indeed, how majestic is his name in all the earth!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Today's M'Cheyne reading includes the account of Abraham asking God to spare Sodom if enough righteous people lived there. In the conversation, you can almost hear God saying there are not even fifty, or forty, or thirty righteous people there. It seems like Abraham can sense this as he continues to change his request to smaller numbers, converging in size toward Lot and his family.

The base question is, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" [Gen 18:23]. God answered and continues to answer "no", and through it we see the justice and mercy of our Lord.

Destroying Them All

What happens in Genesis 18 calls to mind many other cases where God exercised grace because of the remnant until the number of faithful dwindled to the point that God rescused only them from sweeping judgment.


The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:5-8 ESV)

Pre-exilic Israel

And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 14:12-14 ESV)

The kingdom of heaven

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30 ESV)

Making Them an Example

Previously earthly judgments serve as a warning for all alive today. God is calling us to repentance and warning that the pending final judgment looms. Read 2 Peter 2 and Luke 17 to see how the angel stands with his sword drawn stretched out over the land (1 Chron 21:16). Let Noah, Lot and Daniel serve as an example.

That flood should have already swept us away. It is only God's mercy that spares the unrighteous, that some may repent. But his judgment is inevitable.

How many upon the earth are righteous? Do not be enslaved to the defilements of the world, but call upon Jesus and be saved--you will be cleansed in his righteousness. Accept the mercy of God through his Son!

Monday, January 16, 2012

On the Existence of God

Calvin has a wonderful section on the "knowledge of God" in his Institutes (I, iii).

He begins his argument:
That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker...Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart. Nay, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact.
Calvin speaks of physical idolatry (worshiping wood and stone), but we only need look at our hearts to see that we all worship something, even the most atheist within the world has a heart of worship. So then Calvin goes on to refute what amounts to a tired argument:

It is most absurd, therefore, to maintain, as some do, that religion was devised by the cunning and craft of a few individuals, as a means of keeping the body of the people in due subjection, while there was nothing which those very individuals, while teaching others to worship God, less believed than the existence of a God...The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf. How so, unless in vindication of the divine majesty, which smites their consciences the more strongly the more they endeavour to flee from it. They all, indeed, look out for hiding-places where they may conceal themselves from the presence of the Lord, and again efface it from their mind; but after all their efforts they remain caught within the net.
So the argument is that it is ridiculous to suppose that atheists have invented religion, and acknowledges that even though many traditions of men have crept into what is called religion, it is nonetheless supported by men who believe in God. Then he says that the most ardent opponents of Deity live their lives in such a manner as to show that they believe in God, even if they will not confess it. I believe this is true today by the virtue that agnostics and atheists are willing to exercise morality.

For the world (as will be shortly seen) labours as much as it can to shake off all knowledge of God, and corrupts his worship in innumerable ways. I only say, that, when the stupid hardness of heart, which the wicked eagerly court as a means of despising God, becomes enfeebled, the sense of Deity, which of all things they wished most to be extinguished, is still in vigour, and now and then breaks forth.
We will refuse to acknowledge Deity because it is inconvenient, and we wish to be our own gods. But that itself is evidence of God, since the selfish acknowledge that something ought to be at the center of the universe.

Thank God that he has revealed himself. He has given us the knowledge of himself through creation and conscience, through Word and prophesy, but best of all by his Son. We can know God because we can know his Son, who walked on this earth and spoke of his Father. We may be reconciled to God because this Son of God has taken the wrath of God on himself that we might have his righteousness--if only we will believe in him. 

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me." --Jesus [John 14:1]

Friday, January 13, 2012

How Does the Bible Apply to My Life?

I have heard several Christians lament that the Bible doesn't answer more questions about how to make individual or mundane decisions more clearly. Honestly, I believe this is a strength of living under grace, for it allows each to be convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).

In D.A. Carson's Call to Spiritual Reformation, he gives good council on how living a life of faith practically works itself out from the doctrines of Christianity.

    If we are to join Paul in his petition, we will have to align ourselves with his motives: "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way." In thought, word, and deed, in action and in reaction, I must be asking myself, "What would Jesus have me do? What is speech or conduct worthy of him? What sort of speech or conduct in this context should I avoid, simply because it would shame him? What would please him the most?"
    Rightly pursued, these simple questions would transform how we work, what we do with leisure time, how we talk with our spouses and children, what responsibilities we take on in our churches, what we read, what we watch on television, how we treat our neighbors, what we do with our money.
    Transparently, we cannot begin to be utterly pleasing to Jesus unless God fills us with the knowledge of his will. Conversely, the knowledge of his will is not an end in itself but has as its goal such Christian maturity that our deepest desire is to please the Lord Christ.
D. A. Carson. Call to Spiritual Reformation, A: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (p. 106). Kindle Edition.