Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hallowed Be Your Name as We Look at Creation

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . .

122 Q. What does the first request mean?

A. "Hallowed be your name" means,

Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means,

Help us to direct all our living---what we think, say, and do---so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.

2) Scripture

Romans 1:20a: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

Psalm 139:13-14:

13 For you formed my inward parts;you knitted me together in my mother's womb.14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;my soul knows it very well.

Psalm 19:1:

The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Isaiah 6:3:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Psalm 104:24:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!In wisdom have you made them all;the earth is full of your creatures.

Comment:

When we come to know God as our Father through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, a wonderful transformation takes place. We begin to see the world around us in a different light. Everywhere we now turn, our eyes confronted by the glory of our God in creation. When we look to the heavens and the starry skies, we see the glory of God and his creative work. When we look to the earth, the land, the seas, the animals and plants, we see our Father's glory in all he has made. When we look to ourselves and the intricate design of our own bodies, the wonder of human nature created in his image, we behold the majesty and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!

One of the tragedies of the human race’s fall into sin is its blindness to the glory of God. Instead of praising the creator for all of his works, we merely praise the creation. All that we see still moves unregenerate hearts to wonder and worship, but instead of worshipping the Lord, people worship the creation. We say things like, “Isn’t that a beautiful sunset,” instead of praising the beauty of the Lord who made the sunset. We talk about the immensity of the universe, but fail to honor the immensity of the God who created this vast universe. We praise the intricacy of the human body which scientists continually discover to be more and more complex, but fail to glorify the wisdom of the triune God who created us.

As children of the heavenly Father, we pray that he would continue to restore our spiritual eyesight (and others), so that we might “bless, worship, and praise [him] for all [his] works and all that shines forth from them.” One of those works is his creation. From our Father’s creation, his glorious, divine nature shines forth. We sin when we fail to bless, worship and praise him as our creator, and his glory which shines forth from his creation. We realize our purpose and reason for being when we see his glory and respond with the praise and thanks he deserves. For in his creative work, his children can see his attributes of “power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.”

One of the things the order of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us is to spend more time that we usually do in adoration and praise of our triune God. The acronym ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplications is a good pattern, and fits with the pattern prayer Jesus gives us in his Lord’s Prayer. By simply considering all that confronts us each day as we look at our Lord Jesus Christ’s creative work, we will better praise him and so fulfill the petition to hallow our Father’s name. May our triune God receive glory from all he has made and from his people forever. Amen.

Discussion: What can we learn about God from the things he has made, according to Romans 1:20? What moves the psalmist to praise in Psalm 139:13-14? Compare the underlined phrases in Isaiah 6:3 and Psalm 104:24. How do God’s creatures display his glory?

Prayer Starter: Spend time praising the Father, Son, and Spirit for the glory and attributes revealed in the heavens, the earth, the creatures, and ourselves. Praise him for the attributes that shine forth from his creation.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prayer: Confident Intimacy with the Father

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . .

122 Q. What does the first request mean?

A. "Hallowed be your name" means,

Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means,

Help us to direct all our living---what we think, say, and do---so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.

2) Scripture

Matthew 11:25-27: At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for so it pleased you well. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

1 John 2:12-14:

12 I am writing to you, little children,

because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

Comment:

When we ask the Father to hallow his name, we are asking him to reveal himself so that we ourselves and others might truly honor and praise him. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, our “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

But if we are to glorify God as we ought, we must first know him. This means, not only that we know about God, but also that we know him personally as our Father, who has adopted us by grace into his favor and family.

Only those who know God can truly honor him and hallow his name. Psalm 9:10, for example, says that “those who know your name put their trust in you.” Trusting the Lord brings him honor, but who will honor the Lord with such trust? Only those who know God as their Father through Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches us that knowing the Father is an impossibility for the naturally proud, independent human heart. Our fallen human nature is unlike the receptive nature of little children who receive the instruction of their parents. Instead, fallen man leans on his own understanding rather than the word of the heavenly Father (Prov. 3:5).

Therefore, the Spirit must do a work in our hearts. The Spirit of Christ must cause us to receive the revelation of God that comes to us in the gospel and Scriptures. In other words, the Son must reveal the Father to us, and make us receptive to that revelation like little children.

How can we be sure that the Son of God desires that we know the Father? For most who read these words, your baptism into name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, shows you the good will of the Lord. Your baptism is the offer of the gospel made to you personally, telling you of the triune God’s desire that you know him as your Father through the work of the Son and the indwelling of the Spirit.

When we come to our Father in prayer, then, we should come as those who know him. God is not a stranger to his children, but the most intimate of fathers. 1 John 2:12-14 addresses Christians at various levels of maturity: children, young men, and fathers. But, significantly, it is not just fathers who know God, it is also the children.

So when you come in prayer to God, who is your Father on account of Jesus Christ, come to him as one who knows God intimately. Come to the Father whom you know and love, through Jesus Christ who has brought you into this favor, and by the Spirit who lifts your heart to heaven.

Discussion: What did you learn from today’s devotional? Why is knowing God the key to honoring him?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer thank Jesus for bringing you into this intimate relationship with his Father. Pour out your heart to the Father, knowing that he knows you and you know him.


The Fear of Death

Hebrews 2:14-15: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

In some ways, the fear of death is the fear of missing out on life. We run after sex and pleasure, possessions and power, because we are afraid we will miss out on life. But the truth is that true, abundant life is found in fellowship with Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father. As the apostle teaches us, life is found in the fulfillment of our purpose, which is fellowship and friendship with the triune God:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete" (1 John 1:1-4).

The post below from Russell Moore speaks eloquently about the fear of death. Click on Read More if you want to read the entire article. --Bill

John Updike Is Dead

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Thousands of years ago, a farmer-poet named Job wailed, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25). The same can be said now of a novelist-poet named John.

John Updike is dead.

John Updike, one of the most significant American novelists of the past half-century, died of cancer today. He was 76. And he was, if the themes of his fiction and poetry have any root in his own psyche, scared to death of death.


The New York Times story on Updike’s passing describes the author as the most self-consciously Protestant of contemporary American novelists, dependent especially on the theology of Karl Barth. The Times story also picks up on Updike’s fearful fascination with death, a fascination the article sums up in Updike’s final passage from his short story “Pigeon Feathers”:

“The story is about a boy, David, who is forced to shoot some pigeons in a barn, and then watches, fascinated, as their feathers float to the ground: ‘He was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole creation by refusing to let David live forever.’”

I’ve read all Updike’s novels but the last one (a sequel to his Witches of Eastwick) and I always finish them with something of the same kind of sick fascination that the boy David would have seen the pigeons torn apart by gunfire. There’s something beautiful there, a spark of divine creativity, but something sad and pitiable as well. Updike, it seems to me, had a love/hate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Few novelists could illustrate the suffocation of upwardly mobile but spiritually rootless middle class America with more vivid imagery than Updike, especially in his series of four books on the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Those books also lay out the problem of sin, guilt, and judgment better than many gospel tracts, except without the solution at the end.

I was struck several years ago by a New York Times review of a collection of Updike’s early stories. Of Updike, the Times wrote: “While his male characters pursue sex with dogged zeal, be it with a neighbor’s wife, a colleague or a prostitute, they also suffer from a spiritual hunger, a craving, if not for God then for some reassurance that there is something between them and the abyss they can glimpse just beyond the familiar world with ‘its signals and buildings and cars and bricks.’”

This assessment was on to something.

After all, Updike’s “Rabbit” is aptly named. He moves through a life of casual sexual encounters, all of them ending in despair and emptiness. He seeks security in his material prosperity, in his high school athletic glory days, and in his sullen family. But, behind it all, he is terrifed of death. Like an animal, he seeks to obey his appetites.

But, like an animal, he is always peering over his shoulder for the Predator he fears is pursuing him. He’s paralyzed by the thought that his death will be no different from that of an animal. In the midst of all this, Rabbit’s conscience seems to point him to something else after that he fears so badly, a final accounting for his life.

And there’s nothing scarier than that.

One can’t help but wonder if Mr. Updike’s pen was, in fact, his therapy. He seemed to think it was, speaking of a compulsion to write that would have led him to compose ketchup labels if he couldn’t write poems and stories and essays. Maybe all these words helped him to cope with the terror he ascribes to “Rabbit” and dozens of other fictional characters.

Perhaps, as we note Updike’s passing, we should listen to this angst. It’s a pheomemon not limited to famous novelists. It’s what all of unregenerate humanity holds in common, whether the unemployed janitor you pass on the sidewalk this afternoon or the Wall Street tycoon planning his next bailout appeal this evening.

The Scripture calls this angst “a fearful expectation of judgment” (Heb 10:27), a warning etched on the conscience that holds every man and woman in the “lifelong slavery” of “fear of death” (Heb 2:15). It takes more, much more, than familial security, financial prosperity, or sexual promiscuity to silence this gnawing within.

The only thing that can quiet the conscience is a strangely other voice, a voice Mr. Updike seemed alternately drawn toward, and repulsed by. It’s the voice of One who has gone as a pioneer behind the veil of death (Heb 6:19-20), a voice that pronounces the verdict of “no condemnation” (Rom 8:1).

Who knows what happens in the final moments of a man’s life? I can only pray that John Updike heard that voice, the voice of a Galilean whose footsepts in his novels can be heard everywhere in the distance.

I hope that sometime in the moments before the dreaded death overtook him, the Rabbit stopped running at last.




The Priority of God's Glory in our Prayers

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . .

122 Q. What does the first request mean?

A. "Hallowed be your name" means,

Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means,

Help us to direct all our living---what we think, say, and do---so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.

2) Scripture

Matthew 6:25-33: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:1: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Comment:

There are six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer:

  1. Hallowed be your name.
  2. Your kingdom come.
  3. Your will be done.
  4. Give us today our daily bread.
  5. Forgive us our debts.
  6. Lead us not into temptation.

It is significant that in these six petitions, God’s glory comes before our needs. While it is true that our needs and our Father’s glory are not opposed, nevertheless, God’s glory should still be the priority and main concern of his adopted children.

We have a word for children who care nothing for their fathers, but only for what their fathers can give them: we call such children selfish and spoiled. There is something fundamentally wrong with the motivation of children who love the gifts of their parents more than their parents themselves.

In a similar way, the order of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer shows us what it means to truly love our heavenly Father above all else. As his children through Christ, we desire to see God’s name hallowed. In other words, we want to see our Father glorified in the world by ourselves and by others. We want him to be glorified because we love him.

Too often Christians forget this in their prayers. Prayer requests devolve into requests for Aunt Mabel’s ingrown toenail, cousin Ned’s bursitis, and a friend of a friend who knows someone who has cancer. We can and should certainly pray for such things, but we need to learn to pray for such things in a right way. Our prayer should be that God’s name would be hallowed and glorified in such situations. Our prayer should be that our Father would use these trials to bring these dear people to give him the thanks and praise he deserves.

In Matthew 6:25-33, we have an excellent transition from “our Father in heaven” to “hallowed be your name.” In verses 25-32 Jesus is assuring us that our heavenly Father will provide for the needs of his children. But in verse 33 Jesus shows us the proper response of grace adopted children. Children who have God as their Father, though the work of his Son, should seek their Father’s glory above all else. Their goal and priority should be to glorify the Father and the Son in whatever they think, say, or do. The Father’s love for them creates a corresponding love in their hearts that finds expression in prayer and lives that seek the Father and the Son’s glory above their own needs.

May the Holy Spirit work in our hearts so that our main motivation might be “to walk and to please God” our Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Discussion: What can we learn about our priorities in prayer from the order of the six petitions (or requests) of the Lord’s Prayer? How is Matthew 6:25-33 related to the movement from “our Father in heaven” to “hallowed be your name?”

Prayer Starter: Pray for the people on your prayer list, that the Father’s name might be hallowed in their hearts and lives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I Post Articles and Speak About Abortion on This Blog

Why do I post articles about the sin of abortion on a blog designed to help us to know the Father and the Son in a deeper way?

The answer has to do with the identity of Jesus and the implications that stem from who he is. As Christians we believe in the incarnation. The incarnation is described in the Apostles Creed when it says: "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary."

As Christians we believe that Jesus took to his divine nature our human nature at the moment of conception, when he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit." Mary's womb became the temporary dwelling place for Jesus Christ, the God-man.

By his incarnation, the Son of God sanctified or made sacred all of human life from the moment of conception until we draw our last breath. Therefore, the Christian position is to argue for this view of life in human society.

Obviously, our American society has rejected this Christian view of life. And, while we recognize society's right to reject the way of the Lord, there is always a price to pay for sin. The same God who entered our world to save the world also judges the world. Part of his judgment according to Romans 1 is to let people go on sinning with all of the misery that sin brings as people move further and further away from God. This partial judgment in time culminates in the judgment Christ brings when he returns from heaven ("from there he will come to judge the living and the dead" also from the Apostles Creed).

The two paragraphs below are from Dr. Robert George. If you want to read his whole article, you may find it here.

My wife is a pharmacist, and so far she has been able to avoid involvement in abortions through working for Catholic or Seventh Day Adventist hospitals. What I think would concern most Christian health workers is referred to by Dr. George when he writes of the possible "revocation of conscience and religious liberty protections for pro-life doctors and other healthcare workers and pharmacists."

It may be that soon true Christians will have to forego their livelihood for the sake of their Lord, who for their sake "was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary," so that he might die in their place to give them forgiveness of sins and eternal life. --Bill

The Tragic Legacy of Roe Vs. Wade

Dr. Robert George of Princeton has written an important article for Public Discourse on the moral implications of Roe Vs. Wade.

Dr. George writes:

‘The Roe justices were also wrong to imagine that legal abortion would prove to be enlightened or in the slightest respect humane. On the contrary, the policy imposed by the Court has proven to be an unmitigated disaster. In the thirty-six years since Roe and Doe, abortion has taken the lives of more than fifty million unborn victims—each a distinct, unique, precious human being. It has done immeasurable moral, psychological, and sometimes physical harm to women who are so very often, and in so many respects, truly abortion’s “secondary victims.” It has corrupted physicians and nurses by turning healers into killers. It has undermined the moral authority of the law by its injustice. It has abetted irresponsible—even predatory—male sexual behavior. Far from reducing the rate of out-of-wedlock births, particularly to poor women, illegitimacy has skyrocketed in the age of abortion. Now the abortion license has metastasized into widespread elite support for deadly embryo experimentation and even, in my home state of New Jersey, to the express legalization of the horrific and grisly practice of fetal farming—the creation of human beings by cloning or other processes for the purpose of harvesting their tissues and organs at any point up to birth for experimentation and transplantation...

The Republican Party’s support for the unborn has brought into its ranks many disaffected rank-and-file Democrats, including a large number of Catholics and Evangelicals. I am one. Indeed, it overstates the matter only a bit to say that, as a result of the conflict of worldviews that began with abortion, the Republicans have become the party of the religiously engaged, while the Democrats have become the party of liberal secularists. Barack Obama is trying to win over religiously serious Catholics and Evangelicals, without altering in the slightest his support for abortion, including late-term and partial-birth abortions, the funding of abortion and embryo-destructive research with taxpayer dollars, the elimination of informed consent and parental notification laws, and the revocation of conscience and religious liberty protections for pro-life doctors and other healthcare workers and pharmacists. He will ultimately fail. We must see to it that he fails.

Prayer: Heavenly Fellowship with God

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

“Our Father in heaven . . . .”

121 Q. Why the words "in heaven"?

A. These words teach us not to think of God's heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.

2) Scripture

Habakkuk 1:13a: You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong . . . .

Matthew 5:48: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

1 Corinthians 6:17: But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Micah 7:19b: You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

Psalm 103:12: as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Comment:

David Broughton Knox, the great Australian Bible teacher once said, “Prayer is fellowship with God; prayer is heaven anticipated.”[1]

Fellowship with God is the reason for our existence, and we experience this fellowship when we pray to our heavenly Father through the Son and by the Spirit. If anyone doubts fellowship and friendship is the purpose of our existence, all one needs to do is to consider where those who belong to Christ are headed. Revelation 21:3 teaches that the chief blessing of heaven will be fellowship/friendship with God: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

But heaven is a place of perfection. The heavenly Father is perfect, says Jesus. So how can we who are still evil, as Jesus put it in Luke 11:13, have fellowship and perfect friendship with such a perfect Father? As D. B. Knox again said, “God’s presence is a place of perfection ---and we cannot be in God’s presence and receive his approval and friendship unless we are perfect---unless he sees in us no fault at all.”[2]

It is Jesus Christ, the righteous One, who gives us access into the heaven of the Father’s presence. Jesus Christ fulfilled every command of God and lived a perfectly righteous life. When you are joined to him by faith, you receive his perfect righteousness and favor with the Father. The heavenly Father, in all his perfection, views you as completely approved in his sight without any fault at all, through your union with his Son. In Christ (Paul’s phrase for union with Christ) our sins have been completely forgiven. In Christ we are counted just as righteous as Jesus himself in the Father’s eyes, through our real union with him. This is what enables us to have full fellowship with the Father in prayer. This is what makes prayer a delight, and even as anticipation of heaven!

Every phrase in this Lord’s Prayer is precious and meaningful. That our Father is in heaven speaks not only of his majesty and perfection, but also of our justification and forgiveness, so that already we may enjoy full fellowship with God our Father in prayer. Prayer is not a burden, but a delight. It is a foretaste of our heavenly fellowship.

Discussion: Discuss the meaning of D. Broughton Knox’s statement: “Prayer is fellowship with God; prayer is heaven anticipated.” How is heaven associated with fellowship? How is prayer associated with heaven? How did Jesus make full fellowship, friendship, and approval with his heavenly Father possible?

Prayer Starter: Begin your fellowship with the Father by praising him for his attributes such as holiness, justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, and power. Thank him that he is your Father through Christ and his gospel work on your behalf.






[1] Knox, David Broughton. Selected Works, Volume 3: The Christian Life. Matthias Media, 2006, p. 92.
[2] Knox, p. 93.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prayer: The Great King and Expectant Faith

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

Lord's Prayer: “Our Father in heaven . . . .”

121 Q. Why the words "in heaven"?

A. These words teach us not to think of God's heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.

2) Scripture

Matthew 21:17-22: And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Comment:

The withering of the fig tree took place in the last week of our Lord’s life. Apparently he stayed outside the city in the nearby village of Bethany, possibly staying with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, as he traveled back and forth from Jerusalem each day.

The road from Bethany to Jerusalem took one over the Mount of Olives from which could be seen one of the great building and architectural feats of the day, the Herodion. The Herodion was built by King Herod, the same Herod who rebuilt the temple and who sought to kill Jesus as an infant.

The unique feature of the Herodion was that Herod literally moved a mountain to build it. He moved the earth from the top of one hill to raise the adjacent hill even higher, upon which he built his palace/fortress, which was named the Herodion, in honor of himself, of course! Thus, Herod showed his great power and glory to move even mountains.

With the sight of the Herodion in clear view in the background, Jesus teaches his disciples an important lesson about the need to pray with expectant faith. When we pray as children of the heavenly Father, we are praying to someone far greater than an earthly king like Herod. We are praying to the One who possesses “heavenly majesty” and “almighty power.” We are praying to the Great King over the universe, who can easily move mountains in order to build his Son’s church.

When we pray to the Great King, who has become our Father through Christ, we should pray with expectant faith as the catechism teaches. Our Father can easily meet our needs for both body and soul. We insult his power and his goodness if we don’t pray with an expectant faith that believes he will meet our needs according to his gracious and sovereign will in Christ.

Discussion: What lesson is Jesus’ teaching us about prayer from Matthew 21:17-22? How does this lesson about prayer relate to Q&A 121 and its teaching about prayer?

Prayer Starter: What do you need for body and soul? Pray for yourself, your loved ones, unconverted friends and family, and your church, that the Father would meet temporal and spiritual needs for his honor and the honor of his Son, for he is truly worthy of our praise.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Prayer: Taking Hold of His Power to Meet Our Desperate Need

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

121 Q. Why the words "in heaven"?

A. These words teach us not to think of God's heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.

2) Scripture

Ephesians 1:15-21: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Comment:

The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer emphasize two important truths about our God: his immanence and transcendence. Our God is both the near God (immanence) and the God who is far above us in power and majesty (transcendence). Through faith in God’s beloved Son, God is our Father, who is near and dear to us. But the same loving and near Father is also the almighty creator, sustainer and ruler of all things. His majesty and power are infinite.

The power of God is a great encouragement to pray, because our task as the church of Jesus Christ is an impossible one. Christian preaching, teaching, and witness has for its task the restoration of spiritual sight to those who are spiritually blind, and the resurrection of souls that are spiritually dead. As the apostle once asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” and the answer, of course, is no one.

The unbeliever you work with, whose conversion you pray for, is spiritually blind, deaf, and dead. Sin has blinded the human heart to its true condition. Jesus once said to professing believers, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17) If this is the situation with some who name the name of Christ, how much worse is the condition of those who do not know Christ or his gospel!

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that prayer is born of need (see Lord’s Day 45). Maybe part of the reason we pray so little is that we have not yet realized our desperate need. Not only does the conversion of a soul require the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to open the eyes of our understanding and give us new life, but living a life worthy of the gospel also requires supernatural power beyond our abilities.

Where can we receive this power? Where will ministers receive power to raise spiritual corpses from the grave? Where will we find the power that will convert our unsaved family members and friends? Where will we find power to live a life worthy of those who have been baptized into the name of Jesus Christ? The answer is found in prayer to our Father in heaven. From “his almighty power” we can “expect everything for body and soul.”

Discussion: How does the phrase “our Father in heaven” teach us both God’s nearness and his exalted nature? In what ways are the tasks given to the Christian church and believers beyond our abilities? What does our impossible task mean for us with regard to prayer?

Prayer Starter: Praise and thank the Father that he has promised to exercise his mighty power on our behalf. Pray for ministers who preach and teach the gospel that they might speak with clarity and power. Pray for the exercise of Christ’s mighty power in the lives of unconverted family members and friends.

The Sola Panel | Not a clue

Do you know what the gospel is? So many people don't have a clue as to what it means to be a Christian. How would you answer the questions: Who is Jesus? What did Jesus come to do? Who belongs to Jesus? I urge you to click on Two Ways to Live if you don't know and want to know how to belong to Jesus Christ, who heals our souls. The following brief article is about the widespread ignorance about Christianity that exists today. --Bill

The Sola Panel Not a clue

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Leaving the Cancer of Sin Behind or Living in Remission from Sin's Cancerous Rule


Mark 7:20-23: "And he [Jesus] said, 'What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'"


I have been thinking about this passage lately. What do all of these sins have in common?


Besides the obvious fact that all of these sins come from the heart and defile a person, making him or her unfit for God's holy presence, is there anything else that ties these sins together?


Do you know what cancer is? Cancer starts with a cell that is out of control --- a cell unwilling to be ruled by the head of the body. A cancerous cell is an autonomous cell---a cell that is doing its own thing. Cancer is essentially rebellion in our bodies, and it results in disease and death.


This is what ties the above sins together in Jesus' list. Every one of these sins is characterized by rebellion against the Lord and his Word. Every one of these sins is about independence from the Lord and doing your own thing. Every one of these sins is like cancer---unwilling to listen to the head, Jesus Christ.


The result of such sins is death, for death is the essence of the concept of defilement or uncleanness to which Jesus refers. Each of these sins result in death, rather than life, for they alienate us from the One who is life, Jesus Christ.


Too often we think of sins as merely the breaking of rules, and certainly, sin is the transgression of God's rules. But it is more. Sin is rebellion against the Lord and his Word. Sin is living an autonomous life---a self-ruled life, rather than a Christ-ruled life. In fact, the word autonomy comes from two Greek words, autos meaning self, and nomos meaning law. The autonomous person, therefore, is the person who is a law unto himself---a self-ruled person.


What is the answer to our sin and defilement? Let me suggest three things based on God's Word:


  1. We must agree with the Lord Jesus Christ's assessment of evil. We must submit ourselves to Jesus' diagnosis of evil. Sometimes people will agree with part of Jesus' list. They are willing to call the sins of violence in the list evil, but not the sexual sins. Or they are willing to call the sins of sex wrong but not the sins of the tongue. But until we stop being a law unto ourselves, the spiritual cancer will remain. We must agree with our Great Physician's diagnosis of sin and the death it brings.

  2. We must look to the One who can cure us as he suffers in our place on the cross. Jesus has been lifted up on the cross, where he bore our defilement and death. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). By looking to him in faith, our souls are given life-giving forgiveness and cleansing.

  3. Jesus has been given to us as a gift by the Father. His work on the cross brings our pardon and cleansing. But we must move on to also imitate him as our example. After receiving him as a gift for our justification and cleansing, then we must learn to imitate his submission to the Father's will, through the power of the Holy Spirit he gives us. Christ has saved us so that we might live a new life---a life no longer mired in the cancerous rebellion of death. Our new goal must be to live a life that pleases our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we live in remission from the cancerous rebellion that results in all the evils in Jesus's list.

In summary, let's learn to look at sin as a cancerous, rebellion against God. Let's submit to Jesus' definition of sin, for he is our Physician and Lord who rules us for life-giving purposes by his Word. Let's find healing in Christ's atoning work on our behalf. And, let's leave the death of autonomy behind as we gladly submit our wills to Jesus Christ to whom we belong, our bridegroom, joy-giver, life-giving healer, and Lord.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Refreshingly Biblical View of American Politics

It is refreshing to read a truly biblical take on what is happening politically in the United States. To get that "take" we need someone from another country, Peter Jones, in this instance, who is a native of England, but whose real country is with the Lord in heaven. I commend his article to you as we begin the Obama administration. Click on "Read More!" if you want to read the whole thing. --Bill

54: Salt and Light
Article by Peter Jones

On January 20, 2009, I wished the new President well on his Inauguration, though I am concerned about a linguistic scam that has produced a euphoria of naïve optimism. With not a hint of self doubt, Barack Obama earlier declared: "We are the ones we've been waiting for," and his wife Michelle agreed. "We need a leader," she said of her husband, "who's going to touch our souls because, you see, our souls are broken."





Such this-worldly optimism is perennial. C S Lewis wrote of it in 1942, as the clean shaven gentleman, of obvious intellectual sophistication, in The Great Divorce, says:

...there has been a revolution of opinion...We now see...the promise of a new dawn, the slow turning of a whole nation towards the light...a spiritual city...a nursery [for] the creative functions of man.

Alas, blinded by his vision, the clean-shaven gentleman misses heaven!

Millions, with promises of "hope" and "change" and "we will get there," recently bought the vision of a nation turning to the light. Thomas Sowell observes: "It is one of the painful signs of our times that millions of people are so easily swayed by rhetoric that they show virtually no interest at all in finding out the hard facts." We are now beginning to find out what the political rhetoric meant. With the appointment of many from the earlier Clinton administration, getting "there" clearly means getting an America transformed by the vision first unveiled at the election of Bill Clinton. That vision has now come into even clearer focus-a pan-sexual, religiously syncretistic, warming alarmist, anti-family, global/anti-nation-state, radical feministic society, that will be exported worldwide in Sixties' revolutionary Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tax-funded jet-liner. The brokenness will not be healed by the Sixties ideology that was coronated on January 20.

George Weigel, the Catholic journalist is not fooled, He says: "By the dawn's early light on Nov. 5, 2008, two distinct Americas hove into view ... the culture of life and the culture of death."1

By the term "culture," Weigel describes two mutually exclusive, antithetical, life and death worldviews that slice through the American experiment. I am not seeking to demonize the Left or "angelize" the Right, because both sides deal only in surface issues of culture and politics. But in the final religious and scriptural analysis, the world is divided into two worldviews that contradict each other at every significant point.

According to the apostle Paul, there are in this world two systems of essential religious thinking and acting. They cannot be harmonized, for they are each other's very opposite, one the result of human disobedience, the other divine revelation. One proposes a self-creating, self-perfecting, evolving Nature; the other describes a fallen world in apostate opposition to God, and in need of divine reconciliation.

The political programs of the Right and the Left are but pale, inconsistent and hopelessly mixed-up reflections of these two options, so much so that Christians must have another focus other than politics as the goal of their lives. Fortunately, Scripture gives that focus-the function of the church to be both a beacon of saving light and a source of sanctifying salt to a culture with broken souls, in rebellion against God's will for his creatures.

There is nothing that quite focuses the attention of Christians about their real calling than a political program that takes us towards a culture of death. To be sure, we must strive as citizens to preserve the culture. But the real change, the deep healing from brokenness, comes only when sinful human beings are confronted with the love of God and are radically transformed from top to bottom. "My chains fell off...," said Charles Wesley. With that kind of liberation two things take place:

God is given his rightful place, which is the whole point of human existence. In meeting God as Savior in the person of the dying Jesus, we meet a holy, transcendent God who enters fallen human reality for the purpose of saving undeserving sinners. No other God in any other religion brings about the saving miracle we all so desperately need. Indeed, only the God who made the cosmos can save it. So in the Savior we meet the holy and loving Creator whom we then trust as Lord. In this we shine as light.
We find our calling. The sinful human heart having lost its egotistical pretensions to believe it can save itself, begins to love all sinners. Motivated at the deepest level by an inward sense of gratitude, we can begin living in a way that pleases the Father. A group of people like that makes up a local church whose goal is to live out the Gospel before a watching and spiritually hungry world. In this we function as salt.
This is our Christian task after January 20, 2009. Let's go for it.

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14)

1 George Weigel, "The Two Americas," catholicexchange.com (November 25th, 2008).




Monday, January 19, 2009

A Pastor's Open Letter to the President-Elect




I've never heard of Ron Jones, the author of this letter to President-elect Obama, but I certainly agree with his appeal. Proverbs 21:1 gives us hope. The pictures above are of a baby aborted at 22 weeks, burned by by a saline abortion. The other picture shows the well formed feet of a ten week old fetus. --Bill

Open Letter to President-Elect Obama
by Ron Jones - January 14th, 2009

January 14, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President-Elect of the United States
Hay-Adams Hotel
800 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

As the leader of a church with more than 5,000 attendees located just a short drive from the White House, I join millions of Americans in honoring your inauguration as our forty-fourth President.

All Americans celebrate the arrival of a new President and the peaceful transfer of power as more evidence of our great democracy. This occasion also marks a monumental civil rights achievement for our nation. I rejoice in the fact that an African-American has been elected, a true affirmation of our nation’s fundamental premise that all persons are created equal by the hand of God.

Holy Scripture exhorts us to pray for kings and all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Please know, we the people of Immanuel Bible Church pledge to pray for you, your family and your Administration. These are difficult times to lead our nation. No President has ever done so without acknowledging the need for divine guidance.

We will pray that God will grant you Solomon-like wisdom in all of the decisions you make, knowing that King Solomon himself wrote, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1).

You assume the Presidency on Tuesday during a time of economic crisis at home and conflict abroad. Yet as these great challenges loom ahead, I ask you to “defend the cause of the weak” and “maintain the rights of the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3-4).

In 2005, America aborted 1.2 million unborn children who are precious to their Creator. Since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 legalized abortion, the total number of dead has exceeded 45 million. That’s more than seven times the number of Jews killed during the Nazi Holocaust. Abortion is a human tragedy, and it is something we believe breaks our Lord’s heart as He created each of these unborn children in His image.

Mr. President-Elect, you talked a great deal in your campaign about “the little guy,” who is often mistreated in our society. Surely you understand that the smallest and most vulnerable Americans in 2009 are those in the womb, whose lives are unprotected by the law, and thus dependent upon the decisions of others. Surely America is better than this.

Fundamentally, does the unborn child have value independent of his mother? Clearly, the answer from science is yes. From the moment of conception, the life forming within the womb has all the same DNA as a fully-matured adult person. And the answer from biblical revelation is equally compelling. John the baptizer leapt in his mother’s womb when she met her pregnant cousin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Even so our hearts respond to the sanctity of unborn life.

I pray that you will reconsider your views on this moral issue. I raise my voice on behalf of the voiceless, pleading with you to take the lead in building an America where all of our children, whatever their race or family income, are welcomed into the world, protected by the law and have a seat at the table with the rest of the American family.

These precious unborn children have been deprived of life without due process of law. More than 3,300 abortions per day, or 138 per hour, happen in clear violation of the Constitution and the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which makes it plain that our liberty comes straight from God and that our first right is the sacred right to life.

Furthermore, think of what those parents have missed because of abortion – a baby’s smile, a child’s first steps. Think of what the world has missed – a gifted teacher, a doting father, a dedicated missionary, a talented artist or entrepreneur, a future President.

During your campaign you spoke much about hope. You inspired a nation. You have written about The Audacity of Hope. And yet, your past support for abortion is a hope-stealer. Abortion robs our nation of a tiny bit of tomorrow’s hope found in every unborn child.

Specifically, it is my hope and prayer that you will reconsider your support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), even though you promised Planned Parenthood that signing the FOCA is “the first thing I’d do as President.” FOCA is by far the most radical piece of abortion legislation ever introduced into the Congress. My concerns with the bill are many, but chiefly they are:

According to pro-choice advocates, FOCA would overturn the ban on partial-birth abortion, again allowing this barbaric procedure described as “near infanticide” by pro-choice senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

FOCA may invalidate scores of pro-life laws passed by dozens of states.

According to the pro-choice National Organization for Women, FOCA would eliminate existing laws against taxpayer-funded abortions.

The Freedom of Choice Act is inconsistent with the Christian ethic of compassion for the least among us. King David’s heartfelt lyrics in Psalm 139 remind us that God is the author of life: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

It is my sincere hope that you will join us in a celebration of God’s gift of life, and resist those who would allow another generation of Americans to disappear.

I welcome you and your family to join us for worship at Immanuel. You can learn more about the church at www.immanuelbible.net. May God bless you, your family and our great country.

With sincere respect in Christ,

Dr. Ron Jones
Senior Pastor of Immanuel Bible Church

And here is the rest of it.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Meditation on an Amy Carmichael Poem

Sunrise Hope

For sunrise hope and sunset calm,
And all that lies between,
For all the sweetness and the balm
That is and that has been,
For comradeship, for peace in strife,
And light on darkened days,
For work to do, and strength for life---
We sing our hymn of praise.

But oh, we press beyond, above
These gifts of pure delight,
And find in Thee and in Thy love
Contentment infinite.
O Lord beloved, in whom are found
All joys of time or place,
What will it be when joy is crowned
By vision of Thy face?

I'm convinced that the crucial, continual issue of life is idolatry in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says:

"Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life."

1 John 5:21, the parting word from the apostle in his first letter says:

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

But how do we avoid idolatry, when we are so prone to treasure the Father's gifts above the Giver himself?

Amy Carmichael's poem gets at the answer when she says:

"But oh, we press beyond, above
These gifts of pure delight,
And find in Thee and Thy love
Contentment infinite.
O Lord beloved, in whom are found
All joys of time or place . . . ."

I find that last line so helpful. In Him is found all the joys of time and place! My task then is to enjoy and recognize that earthly joys are pointers to One higher, and as I recognize and thankfully worship Him, I can avoid the idolatry that will ultimately destroy the soul.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unbelief and Sins of Worry, Pride, and Guilt

Some good thoughts from Jean Williams on unbelief and how that affects us. --Bill



John Owen on despondancy and unbelief


There is not any thing that, in our communion with him, the Lord is more troubled with us for, if I may say so, than our unbelieving fears, that keep us off from receiving that strong consolation which he is so willing to give to us.- John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 77.



HT Of First Importance



No, I'm not doing a series on unbelief - not at the moment, anyway! But no doubt it will come up in just about all of my posts. For we all struggle with unbelief. Every time I'm anxious or desponding I doubt God's goodness, every time I'm proud I doubt God's greatness, every time I wallow in guilt I doubt God's grace. Unbelief is at the root of all my sin and every one of my fears. God help us to trust his love and goodness this year!


Asking for Good Gifts from a Good Father

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

120 Q. Why did Christ command us to call God "our Father"?

A. At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer---the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith.

2) Scripture

Luke 11:11-13: What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Hebrews 12:9-10: Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

2 Peter 1:3-4: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Comment:

The Heidelberg tells us that just as "our fathers do not refuse us . . . God our Father will even less refuse us." This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. It is the same argument Jesus used in Luke 11:11-13. Jesus argues that if sinful, earthly fathers give good gifts to their children, how much more will the holy, and wholly good, heavenly Father give good gifts to his children? The question answers itself! God our Father will definitely give us all we need to live, physically and spiritually.

So there is a contrast made in the catechism and Luke 11 between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. But there is also a contrast made between the kinds of things we request from our eathly fathers and our heavenly Father.

We ask our earthly fathers for "the things of this life," as the catechism puts it. We ask for things like "fish" and "eggs" as Jesus put it. But Jesus seems to think we should ask our heavenly Father for things that go way beyond "the things of this life." Jesus urges us to ask for the very best gift --- the things of the life to come, that is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants us to ask for spiritual life, eternal life, i. e., a new quality of life --- the life of the age to come!

Jesus is enthusiastic about the gift of the Spirit and the blessings he brings. You can hear it in his words of exclamation: "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Jesus knows that this gift from the Father brings the abundant life in him, that he intended for us from the beginning.

May we ask our heavenly Father for "the things of this life?" Of course. But the requests of our hearts should mirror the enthusiasm of our Lord for the gift of the Spirit and the life of heaven. Life in the Spirit can cause us "to partake of the divine nature" through our fellowship with the Father and the Son. Such fellowship and friendship with God brings a new quality of life free of the corruption that spoils life now, and brings eternal death.

May Christ by his Spirit save us from desires that bring corruption, so that we might enter into abundant life with our Father. Having received the Spirit by faith in Christ, may we continue to ask for and desire the Spirit in greater measure, for our joy and our Father's glory. Amen.

Discussion: Describe the argument made in the catechism and Luke 11:11-13. There is a contrast between earthly fathers and the heavenly Father. Explain the contrast between what may be asked of earthly fathers and the heavenly father. The Father has promised to give us Christ and his blessings, why, then, do we need to ask for them?

Prayer Starter: Bring petitions (requests) before the Father and try to ask for the things of the Spirit, and not just the things of this life.

Law and Gospel Reflected in the Attitude of Prayer

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

120 Q. Why did Christ command us to call God "our Father"?

A. At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer---the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith.

2) Scripture

Matthew 10:28-31: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Comment:

In the space of just three verses, our Lord tells us to fear God and not to fear God! What are we to make of such teaching? Is this contradictory nonsense or profound truth?

Christ's teaching is reflected in the catechism's description of our attitude in prayer to our Father: "childlike awe and trust." We must recognize who it is to whom we are praying. He is the the God in whose hands are our lives. He is the one who can send to hell, and he is the one who in grace give us the bliss of heaven. The threats of the law are real and culminate in hell. The blessings of the gospel are equally real and culminate in heaven. How utterly vital it is to be sure God is for us and not against us, for such is his holiness and power to condemn or bless our lives!

The law and its ultimate threat of hell should produce in us a holy fear and awe, but the gospel and its ultimate blessing of heaven should produce in us a trust in the God who is now our Father through Christ. As Jesus taught us, we both fear and fear not. In the words of Q&A 120, we possess a "childlike awe and trust" of our Father.

When we pray to our Father in heaven, it is good for to keep both "awe and trust" in our hearts. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," therefore we need a real appreciation of God's power to bless or curse our lives. But the gospel brings us into a new relationship with this most awesome God, so that he is now eager to bless and do good to his children. So let us come to him with this holy mixture of incense in our prayers: both fearing and trusting, revering and relying, kneeling before him and embracing him in our hearts.

Discussion: How is the fear of God brought forth in our hearts? How is trust in our Father developed in our hearts? Why do we need both attitudes in our prayer to him?

Prayer Starter: Express your reverence for your Father, and then your trust in him, before you bring requests to him. Use Matthew 10:29-31 to guide you in your time of revering and relying or awe and trust.



Friday, January 16, 2009

How to Read a 291-Page Book in Two Hours

For those who are frustrated by the books they would like to read and the books they do read, here are some good thoughts on how to read more efficiently. The article is called How to Read a 291-Page Book in Two Hours. --Bill

General Revelation Can Enhance the Praise of the Christ's People

Not everyone is a fan of poetry, and I can't say I am an avid reader of peotry except the poetry of the Bible. But recently I picked up the book, Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael. I've read a number of them, and they are quite good. Here is the first poem in the book:

God of the Stars

I am the God of the stars.
They do not lose their way;
Not one do I mislay.
Their times are in My Hand;
They move at My command.

I am the God of the stars,
Today, as yesterday,
The God of thee and thine,
Less thine they are than Mine;
And shall Mine go astray?

I am the God of the stars.
Lift up thine eyes and see
As far as mortal may
Into Eternity;
And stay thy heart on Me.

In this poem we see how seeing God's glory in creation enhances our worship of God in Christ. The regular orbits and preservation of the stars by God's power speaks to how the Father can be trusted to order and preserve the lives of his children. The immensity of the universe speaks to us of God's eternity, and since, as Ecclesiastes teaches us that the Lord has put eternity into the hearts of humanity, we must find our true satisfaction in Him who alone is eternal and able to meet the needs our hearts.



The Capital Sin of Our Age and What to Do About It

Excellent insight brought forth by Dr. Currid, who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte and pastors a church in Charlotte as well. --Bill

The Relevancy of the Word

Writing earlier this century, Professor John Murray diagnosed a main issue facing the church: "There is no [denying] the fact that the situation in which we are placed today is one of peculiar gravity. There is ... the intense secularism of the man of today. It is the challenge of the secularized mind, and the supposed irrelevance [of the historical gospel], that have constrained the leading exponents of today's Protestantism to reconstruct the gospel so that it will be relevant. This is the capital sin of our generation."

Murray goes on, "But the question for us is: how are we, holding to the sufficiency of Scripture, going to meet the secularism, or whatever else the attitude may be, of this modern man?"

In other words, what is the church to do in the face of the increasing compromise of the word of God? The answer John Murray gives? Proclaim the word of God in all its majesty and fullness!

"If Scripture is the revelation of the gospel, then it is this revelation in all its fullness, richness, wisdom, and power, that must be applied to man in whatever situation he is to be found. We must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application, what is the wisdom and power of God for man. There will then be commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit."

"The word of God is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12).


Confessional, Creedal, Liturgical, and Sacramental


I thought this post by Jared Nelson at Dead Theologians makes a good point, although I think his point about denominations is a little off point, because he defines the word denomination by its derivation and not its use. Other than that minor quibble, it is worth reading. I have posted the beginning of the article. If you want to read the rest, just click on Read More! --Bill

Things you are but won't admit

Posted by Jared Nelson

About once a month, I will use one of the following five terms and someone will argue that:

1. They are not that term
2. You should not be that term
3. That term may be coming between you and your personallordandsaviorjesuschrist.

Well, Christians are (or should be) all of these terms whether they like it or not:

Confessional – No, this does not mean you confess your sins to a clergyman or anyone else, though that wouldn’t hurt you either. This means the heart of Christianity involves that act of confessing the faith. Confessing means to acknowledge, own, or affirm. This did not start with Constantine oppressing the Church at Nicea but is the common practice of New Testament Christians such as

Nathanael:



John 1:49 Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"


Peter:



Matt 16:16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."


Thomas:



John 20:28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"


Creedal – creeds are the contents of what is believed. Creed comes from the latin that means to believe, and a creed merely answers what is believed. One of the most ignorant things one can say is “no creed but Christ.” This is asinine because first, that very statement is a creed – a statement of belief. And second, that statement in a non-answer. It merely tries to be clever in not answering Christ’s most important question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20) What is a ‘Christ’? Is that all that is necessary? Does Paul add too much to ask that “confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ” (Romans 10:9) or has Paul added too much creedalism in asking one to believe Jesus is Lord? Paul goes further in adding content to what is to be believed:



1Cor 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.


Paul says much more than that Jesus is Christ. Who do you say that Jesus is? What you say is your belief or creed. In saying it, you are confessing a creed. Now, I don’t like to say silly things about Jesus, so I like to say those things Scripture said. So did the early church in constructing the earliest creeds like the Apostles Creed. It is a “ready answer for the hope you have”

Denominational – denominate means to give measure or to name. To call something “non-denominational” is to name something “unnamed” and give the measure of something as non-measured. You may not have a name for something, but you must at least have some confession to what you believe, unless everyone merely comes to your church to chant to themselves in non-language. The minute you have a confession, you denominate yourself. The minute you answer your denomination as nondenominational, you have denominated yourself. Again, our answer to questions of belief should clarify, not confuse in non-answers.

Liturgical – this word denotes the established order for worship. Do you usually sing songs before a sermon? There you go, that’s your liturgy. Do you have an invitation from Scripture, some hymns a prayer and a sermon? That’s a bit of a better liturgy. Are there prayers, creeds, read Scripture, a sermon and the Lord’s Supper? Now that’s a great liturgy, but a liturgy no more or less so than the others. The choice is not between liturgy and no liturgy, but what is included in the liturgy and how much thought is given to the content and purpose of it.

Sacramental – Sacraments are “means of grace.” Now you know you don’t have those! Although, Paul did comment about preaching:



Rom 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?


There, Paul does give preaching a status as a means by which God accomplishes salvation. So, perhaps preaching may be seen as a “means of grace” if by means of grace what is meant is a set form by which it is acknowledged that grace is figured and offered to the person who accepts by faith. There may be more tangable ways the word is offered, such as if you have an alter call that offers restitution, or a prayer prayed with heads bowed and eyes closed that offers salvation, then you have sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are preferred by some since they are ordained by God in Scripture (as a means of grace by the word – Ephesians 5:26, 1 Cor 11:26), but everyone has sacraments in the eyes of the congregation, the difference is whether they are Scriptural ones or the ones we replace them with.

So are you Confessional, Creedal, Liturgical, Denominational and Sacramental? If you are Christian you are. So, don’t disparage one who uses the terms for which all Christians actually believe, whether they know it or not.



The Sola Panel | Factotum #4: Encouraging prayer (part 1)

The Sola Panel Factotum #4: Encouraging prayer (part 1)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

One of Christ's Benefits: The Privilege of Prayer

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

120 Q. Why did Christ command us to call God "our Father"?

A. At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer---the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith.

2) Scripture

Matthew 6:7-9a: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven . . . ."

Luke 11:1-2a: Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name. . . ."

Comment:

The catechism is now going to take us through each petition of the Lord's Prayer, and one of the first lessons it teaches us is the privilege of prayer. Prayer to God as our Father is one of the wonderful benefits of Christ. The Heidelberg teaches us that "God through Christ has become our Father." In other words, the delightful privilege of calling God our Father comes only through Jesus Christ.

Not everyone has this blessing of calling God their Father. Only Christ's disciples may legitimately call him Father. Jesus gave his Lord's Prayer, not to all people, but only to his disciples, whom he is addressing in verses 7-8. In these verses, Jesus contrasts his disciples who have the privilege of speaking to the Father, and the "Gentiles" who do not know God as Father.

I once met a man who wanted me to meet with a group for weekly prayer. He described how he and others met together over lunch to "practice silence." He excitedly told me about how the group would center themselves through silence, and this would be their time of prayer.

But notice that Jesus defines prayer as speech --- as words! "When you pray, say!" Prayer is not meditation or silence. Rather, prayer is speaking to the God who has become our heavenly Father through Christ. Prayer is for those who have welcomed Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and received the birth from above, so that now they are children of God (John 1:12-13).

Why do people "heap up empty phrases," babble incoherently, or sit in silence and call it prayer? More than likely, it is because "God through Christ" has not yet "become [their] Father." Prayer is the exclusive privilege of the child of God. Prayer is simply the words of the children of God to their Father in heaven.

Discussion: What wonderful benefit of Christ is described by Jesus and the opening words of the Lord's Prayer? What privilege is at the heart of prayer?

Prayer Starter: Thank your heavenly Father for the privilege of calling him Father through faith Christ. Thank him for sending his Son to make this blessing possible.




Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Research Tools

This post from Between Two Worlds might interest some. --Bill

David Instone-Brewer:

Our aim should be maximum time for reading, thinking and creative writing, with automatic facilities for searching, creating bibliographies and backups, and minimum time for writing and filing notes on what you've read. Utopia? Not any more.


With the following free software you can:

  • access your work on any computer, and write it at the same time as a colleague

  • never lose your work - automatically save to the internet every few seconds

  • never ruin your work - previous versions of a document are always available

  • add library catalog entries to your bibliography automatically, in your chosen style

  • attach notes to a book or article which you can search and find later

  • copy web pages or articles or documents which you can search later

  • search videos from many sources (like YouTube) and save them (increasingly important!)

  • copy pages from online books and save them as searchable documents

  • save photocopies online and search them as though they were text documents

Check out his post for four free softwares that, when combined, can do all of this.





Suggestions for Starting Family Worship

Here is a good post on family worship by James Grant. Click on Read More to read the rest of the article. --Bill

Three Main Steps to Starting Family Worship

January 14th, 2009 by JHG

Here they are:

  1. Plan to have family worship after an evening meal
  2. Read through a good book (like this one)
  3. Say the Lord’s prayer after reading the book

Now for the more full explanation. When I first discovered the tradition of family worship, it was a real breakthrough for me and my family. Although it took a while to get past the awkwardness of the moment, since we had not done this before, it is well worth the effort. But to start off, we need to keep it very simple.

I have discovered that men who have not lead their families this way are generally uncomfortable with starting this out. Two things usually stand out as concerns: 1) they do not pray well, and 2) they cannot explain the Bible well. So my advice for starting this tradition deals with those specific objections, and makes things as simple as possible.

First, plan to have family worship after the evening meal. It is usually the best time to accomplish this because everyone is settling down for the evening. If you do not eat together as a family, then start doing it. If you want to pick one night, pick Saturday night to start, and that way you are connecting your Saturday evening into your Sunday worship. As you do this, you can expand to other nights. But as you begin, do not do it every night. You are setting yourself up for failure.

Second, read through a good book. My suggestion is the Jesus Storybook Bible. We read through this book as a family, and I love it. Guess what…so did my kids! The great thing about this book is it explains stuff. So this will take away the initial worry of trying to explain a Bible passage that you do not understand. And as you read this, your kids will start asking you to read it after every meal, not just the Saturday evening meal! They will want to finish that book and go onto to more books. After the Jesus Storybook Bible, try The Big Picture Story Bible and The Child’s Story Bible.

Third, once you finish reading the book, say the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Make sure you say it the same way (i.e., debts or trespasses), but just say the Lord’s Prayer. Overtime, you can add to this, but in my opinion, this is the best way to start at first.

So here you go: after you finish your Saturday evening meal, pull the book out, say you are going to read a short chapter about the Bible to get everyone reading for worship on Sunday. Read it. Pray the Lord’s Prayer as a family.

As you advance at this, you can add more to it. I noticed that Tim Challies pointed to a website with lots of resources. Joel Beeke has a short booklet on this topic, and Terry Johnson’s book on the subject is very good and comprehensive; he will direct you to other resources as well. But whether you are starting out or have been doing this for a while, don’t make it into a burden. You will defeat your purpose if you treat this as a strict discipline. Your kids need to enjoy this, and if you include them and keep it simple at first, they will help you build it into more.




Prayer: Born of Desperate Need

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

118 Q. What did God command us to pray for?

A. Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.

119 Q. What is this prayer?


A. 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. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

2) Scripture

Psalm 119:53:

Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
who forsake your law.

John 6:27-29, 35: Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” . . . 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Comment:

Christopher Ash comments on Psalm 119:53 this way: "So often we think of someone who has no time for God as 'nice" or 'decent,' 'really quite good underneath.' And we find it hard really to feel that he or she is in desperate need of justification by faith, that rebellion against God is really so serious, because we don't really feel that God could be angry with him or her. We need to learn that to live in God's world, taking God's good gifts, but turning away from the written instruction God has given, is a personal insult and an outrage against the Creator of the universe. The singer [psalmist] is right to feel hot indignation . . . ."

I begin with this quote from Ash, because many people today are totally unaware of their spiritual need. We see ourselves as "nice" people, but are blind to our desperate spiritual need. According to the catechism, if we would truly pray we must see our need, and especially our spiritual need.

How does the Lord show us our need? How does he remove our blindness to our spiritual need and the spiritual need of others? He reveals our need through his Word, which comes to us as law and gospel.

Consider how our Lord Jesus showed the oft-divorced, and sexually immoral Samaritan woman her need. In her case, he began with the gospel: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). He created thirst in her heart by showing her the wonderful blessing of the gospel. Then, he followed this gospel word with a word of law to show to her her sin and need of Christ: "Go, call your husband" (John 4:16).

Without the Word of God, we cannot see our spiritual need. As Calvin once said, "Prayer is born of need." Q&A 118 tells us that our need (and our neighbor's), both spiritual and physical, are summarized for us in the words of our Lord's Prayer. Concerning our spiritual need, the Lord's Prayer teaches our need to trust, love, fear/hallow, seek, and follow the Lord; it teaches our need of forgiveness and our need to forgive, and our need of deliverance from temptation and the evil one. Concerning our physical need, it teaches our need for daily provision to meet the necessities of everyday life.

What does the heavenly Father give us to meet our needs? He gives us daily bread. For our spiritual need, this daily bread is Jesus Christ, whom we grasp by the hand of faith expressed by prayer. For our physical need, as children of the heavenly Father, who has given us the best gift of his Son, we can count on him to give us the lesser gifts of our daily necessities.

Discussion: Why are people blind to their spiritual need? What does the Lord use to open people's eyes to their spiritual need? Where do we find our spiritual and physical needs explained and summarized?

Prayer Starter: Express your spiritual and physical needs to your heavenly Father. Express your trust in the Father's goodness and power to provide for your needs.

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